When the Academy Awards Turned to Television

This Sunday night, Hollywood stars will make their yearly journey to the Dolby Theatre for the 89th Academy Awards, while audiences eagerly await the announcements of the film industry’s most coveted awards.

These days, we take it for granted that the Oscars will be televised, but that wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until 1953 that NBC aired the 25th Academy Awards live on television, although it had been covered on live radio since 1930.

Nevertheless, for the first time in 1953, those with television sets could see with their own eyes the grandeur and glamour of the Academy Awards from inside Hollywood’s RKO Pantages Theater. Over 34 million viewers watched the telecast, and the Oscars was changed forever. After the ceremony, The Hollywood Reporter reflected, “the long-predicted marriage between the motion picture industry and television came off without a hitch.”

Veteran entertainer Bob Hope was the master of ceremonies for the night – he played the role a total of 18 times between 1939 and 1977. For Hope’s first show, it was an exciting one – there was a major upset in the Best Picture category. High Noon was heavily favored to win, but lost to The Greatest Show on Earth – now widely considered one of the worst movies to have been bestowed the honor.

Back in 1953, television was still a nascent medium, and it wasn’t embraced by all of the Hollywood elite. Even Hope joked about it in his opening monologue, saying that TV was “where movies go when they die.” Nevertheless, the telecast was a huge hit and the tradition continued. The next year, the show drew 40 million viewers (which is some 6 million more viewers than 2015’s show).

This year though, critics are expecting high ratings for the 89th Academy Awards. If this year’s Golden Globes are any indication, audiences will await with baited breaths to see if Hollywood will speak out against the political turmoil happening in Washington.

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