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February 2nd, 2010
11:47 AM ET

'Avatar' and atomization at the Oscars

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/SHOWBIZ/Movies/01/31/boxoffice.ew/story.avatar.weta.jpg caption="James Cameron's 'Avatar' follows Jake Sully on his Pandora mission to learn about the Na'vi, a fictional species.." width=300 height=169]

Michael Medved
Special to CNN

While dramatizing the against-the-odds rescue of a noble, harmonious alien society called the Na'vi, James Cameron's "Avatar" may also effectuate the rescue of a nasty, contentious alien society known as Hollywood - or at least save Tinseltown's annual Oscar extravaganza from its long-term ratings slump.

The annual Academy Awards telecast used to be one of the big, unifying cultural events that most Americans shared and talked about - like the Super Bowl, or presidential election night, or Christmas Eve. As recently as the 1990's, more than 40 million U.S. viewers - according to The Nielsen Company - watched the broadcast in whole or in part, and spoke the next day about the best and worst gowns, the dumbest acceptance speeches, and the biggest surprises in the major categories.

Beginning with the awards for the film year 2003, however, the ratings for Hollywood's big show took a sharp turn for the worse, dipping consistently below the 40 million figure (despite sharply increased population) and reaching an all-time low in 2008, according to Nielsen.

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