And they thought Anne Hathaway and James Franco would bring in more viewers.
Sunday's 84th Academy Awards, hosted by Oscar stalwart Billy Crystal for the ninth time, enjoyed a small bump over last year's much-maligned festivities, according to preliminary numbers.
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The three-hour telecast drew 39.3 million viewers and an 11.7 rating in the adults 18-to-49 demographic, up from 37.9 million and just a tick below last year's 11.8.
The audience was the second biggest since the 2007 ceremony, when 40.2 million tuned in. (The 2010 show scored 41.7 million.)
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Elsewhere, networks forfeited the night to the Oscars for the most part, airing repeats, except for The Amazing Race (7.6 million, 2.1) and Celebrity Apprentice (5 million, 1.8), which fell 25 and 30 percent, respectively, to hit series ratings lows.
CBS: The Amazing Race 7.6 million viewers (2.1 demo rating)
ABC: Oscars Red Carpet Live 8.64 million (3.0); 84th Academy Awards 6.3 million viewers (1.7) [8:30-11:30 p.m.]
Fox: The Simpsons (R) 3.9 million (1.6); Napoleon Dynamite 3.6 million (1.6)
NBC: Celebrity Apprentice (R) 2.5 million (0.8)
CBS: The Mentalist (R) 4.8 million (0.9)
Fox: Family Guy (R) 3.5 million (1.6); American Dad! (R) 3.2 million (1.5)
NBC: Celebrity Apprentice 5 million viewers (1.8) [9-11 p.m.]
CBS: CSI: Miami (R) 5.8 million (1.2)