LOS ANGELES (AFP) - TV ratings for the Oscars' US broadcast fell 16 per cent from last year, according to figures published on Monday, amid lukewarm reviews and criticism for its first-time host Neil Patrick Harris.
Sunday night's show averaged 36.6 million viewers, down from 43.7 million last year, according to Nielsen ratings cited by industry journal Variety, which noted that the total viewer count was the lowest in six years.
Some blamed the relative lack of mass-appeal movies among those nominated, while for others the predictability of the awards races this year did not help - almost all of the categories went without surprise.
The Oscars' hosting job is a notoriously thankless task. Previous low-points of recent years include the wince-inducing duo of James Franco and Anne Hathaway in 2011.
Harris also had a tough act to follow: last year's host Ellen DeGeneres powered the show to a 10-year ratings high.
But critics were scathing about Harris' stewardship of this year's three-and-a-half hour Academy Awards show, including his stripping to his briefs in a skit about best picture winner Birdman.
Jokes which came in for particular scorn included his "I could eat her with her spoon" line about Reese Witherspoon, and a quip about a having balls to wear a pom-pom covered dress, immediately after an Oscar winner had referred to her son's suicide.
Most liked his opening song-and-dance number, and his first joke about honouring "Hollywood's best and whitest" - a reference to the lack of non-white nominees at the show.
But after that, "flat setups began crashing into flubbed punchlines with the alacrity of a drunk sailor inviting the entire pub to have a go if they think they're hard enough," commented a BBC reviewer.
The New York Times called his performance "bland," adding: "Oscar nights almost always drag on too long, but this one was a slog almost from the very beginning." In theory, Harris was as qualified as it is possible to be: he has won four Primetime Emmys for hosting Broadway's Tony awards.
But the Washington Post wrote: "It was bound to happen eventually. Neil Patrick Harris, the man who can host anything, finally stumbled." "Even stripped to his skivvies in a Birdman parody... (Harris) couldn't deliver quite all the thrills needed to get through the three-hour, 38-minute Oscar folderol without a yawn," it added.
The Hollywood Reporter had at least some good things to say.
"Harris mastered the challenge of commanding the room, chumming up to folks in the front rows throughout the show, while speaking directly to movie-lovers at home," it said.
But the Los Angeles Times commented: "Even the preternaturally prepped and prolific Neil Patrick Harris seemed... reduced at times to a small figure on a big stage making 'good job' remarks to performers..."
"At one point he stripped to his underwear, a la Michael Keaton in Birdman, and it was just as embarrassing as you might assume it would be."