The writers’ strike ended several days ago, in time to salvage this year’s Oscars telecast. This matters to the industry, but the buzz on the telecast is that it may score record-low ratings, the victim of the network TV’s supposedly slow slide into irrelevancy (don’t tell that to the near record number of viewers for last month’s Super Bowl, broadcast on network TV).

 

Then there’s the tone of this year’s Best Picture nominees. Can you say “downbeat”? With the exception of “Juno”—which has developed into a $100-million-plus hit—the major nominees are gloomy.

 

All we ask is that the show entertains, maybe even makes us laugh. If anyone can do that, it’s Oscar host Jon Stewart. So … here we go.

 

8:30—Diet Coke is a proud supporter of “The Heart Truth.” Who knew?

 

8:32—First joke: “make-up sex.” Oooo-kay. Maybe he’s just warming up. Ah, there it is! A crack about this year’s “psychopathic” Best Picture nominees.

 

8:35—First Clinton joke. The Jewish “Atonement” joke gets some laughs—including a hearty one from me. A “Norbit” joke scores! And with a decent lawyer joke, Stewart is officially on a roll.

 

8:38—An Iraq War joke—and a zinger about the age of the Republican nominee for president. A partisan joke about the assumption that the next president will be a Democrat, with a funny line about disaster movies.

 

Monologue over. It took a while for Stewart to warm up, but this outing turned out better than his last.

 

8:42—BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Winner: “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” The speech is much shorter than the presentation of the nominees. Can we get this woman to produce the next Oscars telecast? She’s on to something.

 

8:47—George Clooney introduces a clip reel encompassing 80 years of highlights. That was nice, but … no clips of Robert Altman’s eloquent acceptance speech of his honorary Oscar shortly before his death?

 

8:52—BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Presenter Steve Carell reminds us of how funny he can be.

Winner: “Ratatouille”

 

8:56—BEST MAKEUP

Winner: “La Vie en Rose” Great choice! Not to underrate Marion Cotillard’s performance, but the makeup was superb.

 

9:07—BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Winner: “The Golden Compass”! I was sure it would go to “Transformers.” The four winners are, again, a model in brevity when it comes to their acceptance speech.

 

9:12—BEST ART DIRECTION

My wife comments about presenter Cate Blanchett’s hair: “I’m disappointed. It looks like something I’d wake up in.”

Winner: “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Well deserved. Dante Ferreti’s Italian accent is thick.