Will Joel and Ellie finally reach the doctors in “The Last of Us”? Will Michelle Yeoh take home the Oscar for best actress?
Both questions will be answered this Sunday, but viewers will have to make a choice about which answer they want in real time. The season finale of the HBO hit is up against the live telecast of the Oscars on ABC.
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Of course, there’s an opportunity to see both. The Oscars begin at 8 p.m. Eastern; “ The Last of Us ” airs at 9 p.m. Viewers could begin their night watching the Oscars, click over to “The Last of Us,” and return for the ceremony’s last hour. That’s when the biggest categories are usually handed out, but that plan comes with the risk of missing any buzzy, unscripted moments. And if you choose to stick with the Oscars throughout? You risk spoilers on the fate of Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal’s characters.
The debate essentially boils down to zeitgeist, says Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University specializing in media and director for the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture.
“Watching television isn’t just about watching a show. … It’s about talking about it and putting your two cents in,” Thompson said. “I suspect a lot of people are going to want to talk about ‘The Last of Us,’ and get on their keyboards and talk to others, and all of that kind of thing.”
Thompson says the Oscars have “more to lose” in the match up against the apocalyptic, mushroom-infected zombie video game adaptation.
Last year’s telecast reached an estimated 15.36 million viewers, an improvement from the record low 9.85 million who tuned in to watch in 2021. The Oscars have advertising dollars at stake, which is not something that the premium cable channel HBO has to worry about (although “The Last of Us” did attract a series high of 8.1 million viewers for its penultimate episode).
“The Oscars really is a live event, which you really need to watch live to register the ratings for the broadcast. That’s the audience that they’re counting,” Thompson said. “If people choose to watch ‘The Last of Us,’ that’s going to eat into the Oscars ratings. If people choose to watch the Oscars, they’ve got lots of other times to watch ‘The Last of Us.’”
Interestingly, HBO did concede to the ratings behemoth that is the Super Bowl, dropping the fifth episode of “The Last of Us” on HBO Max and HBO On Demand early last month, on the Friday before the big game. The channel aired the episode as the Philadelphia Eagles played against the Kansas City Chiefs (for the record: The Chiefs were victorious and that Super Bowl was the third most-watched TV show in history, with an average of 113.1 million people watching, per Nielsen).
The network has no official explanation for that programming move and a publicist for the network said they have “nothing to contribute” on their decision to keep the schedule as is during the Oscars.
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Pascal, however, gets the best of both worlds on Sunday. “The Last of Us” star will also present at the Academy Awards. It’s unclear when in the three-hour telecast he’ll appear.
So which channel will you watch the internet’s favorite dad on? ABC or HBO?
The Associated Press contributed to this article.