Part of the problem is bloat. The Academy Awards show is now competing with new award shows the spring up, mushroomlike, on basic cable and the weblets every week. So every year it tries to distinguish itself by becoming more and more long-winded, more and more pretentious and self-congratulatory.
Pretty soon all this self-importance and political "awareness" and "courage" will fuse and they Academy will declare itself the third branch of the US legislature. Or, perhaps some new UN Council on Eating Your (Political) Vegetables.
Once again, it's not fair to John Stewart, but look back at the times Johnny Carson hosted the awards. Carson's shtick as the bemused midwesterner surrounded by Hollywood glamour worked. Perhaps because it wasn't based on condescension to mid-America and uber-hippness.
Or, for a crushing comparison, go back to Bob Hope's hosting. Bob, a show business insider from the days of vaudeville, still adopted the stance of an outsider, bemoaning his lack of an Oscar as he skewered those who received them.
Oh, well. Stewart won't be asked back. Maybe next year it will be Kanye West and Snoop Dogg co-emceeing. Bet that would make 'em tune in...
UPDATE: Peggy Noonan agrees with me!
But viewership of the Oscars continues to decline, even in the great movie-loving nation. Why? Here's one practical reason.
What happened to the Oscars is what happened to the Olympics. They became common. They made themselves common. When the Olympics were held every four years, they were a real event. It was something to look forward to and be surprised by: The Olympics are on this year. Four years was enough time for a whole new cast of athletes, what felt like a whole new generation, to come up. Enough time for history to have passed, to have yielded up new geopolitical realities, new reasons to applaud and hope for this nation or that one.
Everyone watched. It was a success. So they decided to get even more success by making the Olympics every two years. It's not an event now, it's an expected thing, part of the usual tapestry. It's more common, less special. Viewership is down.
In the same way, the Oscars used to be the big awards show. Then another came by, and another: Golden Globes, People's Choice, Independent Spirit, Foreign Press.
Movie stars put on their gowns and tuxes all the time now. It must be embarrassing--I mean this seriously--to spend half your year accepting awards on TV, and for what is already highly compensated work.
It's like what happened a few years ago, when network programmers found that "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" was an overnight sensation. So they put it on four nights a week. And it stopped being a sensation.
Hollywood should stop diminishing its own mystique. It should discourage the proliferation of awards shows. They're getting embarrassing for everybody.