It seems no amount of fist bumps could trigger an attendant bump in ratings.
Photo: Christopher Polk (Getty Images)

It looks like the answer to the question, “what is the shape of water, anyway?” might be, “The least-watched Oscars broadcast in history.” Deadline reports that Sunday night’s airing of the 90th annual Academy Awards is shaping up to be an all-time low, ratings-wise, possibly because of those “Walmart box” videos.

The telecast received an 18.9 Live+Same Day rating in early assessments, which, if true, would constitute the lowest ratings in the history of the Oscars. (That honor previously went to the Jon Stewart-hosted ceremony back in 2008, when No Country For Old Men won Best Picture and the show had a 21.9 rating.) It’s a drop of 16 percent from last year, which was already a nine-year low. Then again, The Shape Of Water is the highest-grossing Best Picture winner in five years, which is a useful reminder that higher-profile nominees don’t really mean a damn thing when it comes to TV ratings of the ceremony.

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Honestly, this is a good reminder that the Academy still doesn’t really have a clue about how to boost ratings. Including more popular films doesn’t seem to matter, and hot-button political campaigns don’t move the dial at all. The two highest-rated Oscar broadcasts of the 21st century do have one thing in common, though: Popular hosts whose fanbases aren’t necessarily going to watch the Oscars on their own. Take Chris Rock, who hosted in 2005, or Ellen Degeneres, who hosted in 2014: The audiences for an edgy black comedian and a genteel daytime talk-show host includes lots of people who don’t give a fuck about the Oscars, at least when it comes to watching the broadcast live. (Rock famously demonstrated this with a pre-recorded bit in which he asked black moviegoers which Oscar-nominated films they had seen.) Perhaps, if the network wants to draw in more viewers next year, they’ll get Blake Shelton and Taylor Swift to co-host, with some assistance from whatever 14-year-old became famous on YouTube that month.