There may be blood after preliminary ratings for last night’s Academy Awards suggest that it was by far the lowest-rated Oscarcast ever.

According to Nielsen Media Research, the overnights show a 14% drop below the previous worst ever performance by an Oscar, in 2003. Worse, it was down 24% year-to-year in the 18-49-year-old demo. Sunday’s show drew around 32 million U.S. viewers, which isn’t that different from what American Idol scores on a strong week (or at least, what it scored on a strong week last season).

Last night’s telecast, which saw the Cohen brothers’ No Country For Old Men win Best Picture, was also down a staggering 21% from the year-ago numbers, when Martin Scorsese’s The Departed won the top prize. Around 40 million viewers tuned in last year.

Why didn’t viewers rush back to the red carpet after the writers strike wrecked The Golden Globes and other awardfests this winter? Pick your theory. The Best Picture nominees, aside from Juno, were all serious dramatic downers this year. There was no big blockbuster to drive moviegoers to the party. Jon Stewart was less than hilarious when he first hosted two years ago and didn’t grab people this year. The rains in L.A. put a damper on the red carpet event. The show never got up to speed with just two weeks after the strike to prepare. Younger viewers think the whole thing is a big fat bore. Five years of nightly, round-the-clock entertainment stalker shows has led to celebrity burn out.

Whatever the reason, TV is still reeling after the writers strike and the Oscars did nothing to stop the bleeding. All those promos on CTV last night telling viewers to hang in there for new episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, ER and Desperate Housewives in April basically also said turn off the set until then. Can these hit shows expect similar drops when they all return? If you are in TV ad sales right now, you couldn’t be more scared than if Javier Bardem was on your trail.

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