All Quiet on the Western Mezzanine: What It Was Like Inside the 2023 Oscars

From missed trailers to a packed open bar, the Academy Awards experience was very different for the Dolby Theater audience

Did you know brand recall increases when viewers see an ad on TV AND streaming? Download "A Practical Playbook for Multiscreen TV" to learn more.

If I had made an Oscars speech at Sunday night’s 95th Academy Awards, it’d be to thank my mom for digging in my childhood bedroom closet to find a suit I could wear to the ceremony.

Sure, I looked more like I was about to make a First Communion than attend the Oscars, but when you get an unexpected opportunity to attend the Academy Awards, you should take it. Shouldn’t you?

Though many aspects of Hollywood’s biggest night lived up to the “visually stunning experience” promised by executive producer and showrunner Glenn Weiss ahead of Sunday’s ceremony—which featured seven Oscar wins for Everything Everywhere All At Once (including Best Picture and a Best Actress trophy for previous Adweek cover star Michelle Yeoh), a historic night for Asian representation in film and even an actor parading around as Cocaine Bear—it wasn’t all glitz, glam and bear cosplay.

From some of the most unexpected snubs of the night being brands to Hollywood’s secret “energy” crisis, here’s what you didn’t know about the 95th Academy Awards.

Not all viewing experiences are created equal

The view from Mezzanine 3 in the Dolby Theater.Bill Bradley/Adweek

“Ouch” was the first word I heard after entering the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles when the ushers looked at my seating assignment.

I was high up in Mezzanine 3, so far past the nosebleeds that a camera suspended from the ceiling blocked the view of a pea-sized Lady Gaga for most of her stripped-down performance of “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick.

But being at the Oscars is still being at the Oscars, even though you’d have to duck if Tom Cruise did a flyby in an F-14. However, attending the show made it clear that there are distinct differences between the experience in the theater and the one viewers see at home.

For instance, this year’s Oscars was supposed to introduce a more multiscreen experience, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences posting videos of acceptance speeches on TikTok and Facebook, and Disney+ even streaming the Oscars show live in parts of Europe.

One of the biggest announcements of the two-screen experience was QR codes appearing ahead of commercials that introduced nominees, humanizing the important players for theatergoers and home viewers alike.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned.

Though video vignettes highlighting the upcoming lesser-known nominees played in the theater during commercial breaks, the QR codes appeared for mere seconds for home viewers, who likely missed out on those videos. That is unless they had their phone pointing at the TV for the entirety of the nearly four-hour show.

But home viewers weren’t the only ones missing out on content.

Regardless of the Academy’s move to social media, those in the theater are largely oblivious to the viral moments going on outside the Dolby’s walls, including Hugh Grant’s controversial pre-show red carpet interview with Ashley Graham, which had Twitter in an uproar over the actor’s supposedly rude behavior.

Additionally, multiple times during the show, including when Halle Bailey and Melissa McCarthy introduced the first Little Mermaid trailer for home audiences, theatergoers were instead treated to PSAs for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences programs, leading to audible groans from the poor unfortunate souls wanting to make the upcoming Disney movie part of their world.

The slap left more of an impression than expected

Ahead of Sunday’s ceremony, Oscars producers made it clear that Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards was old news, with executive producer Molly McNearney saying during an Oscars Creative Team virtual conference that the moment would be addressed and then moved passed.

“We don’t want to make this year about last year,” McNearney said—before the show went on to make it about last year.

Though the slap was supposed to be forgotten, Jimmy Kimmel, who returned to host the show for the first time since 2018, referenced the moment multiple times. Notably, during a time when the nearly four-hour show was dragging, Kimmel even joked that it was a point where viewers “miss the slap.”

And there’s a lot of truth behind the host’s words.

The Academy quickly condemned the slap after it happened in 2022 and even brought in a shadowy “crisis team” to ensure there’d be no further incidents. After all, the altercation ultimately overshadowed important moments, including Apple TV+’s CODA making history as the first streaming offering to win Best Picture—a feat that may remain on an island since streamers had a notably down year at the 2023 awards.

However, the slap may also have helped boost Oscars ratings, with the 94th Oscars scoring 16.6 million average total viewers and a 3.8 rating in the key adults 18-49 demo, up 58% from 2021’s historic low.

Regardless of the eventual ratings for the 95th Oscars, the show didn’t necessarily have one specific viral moment, positive or negative, that would have everyone talking the next day. So in a sense, it was a return to normal. But in a time when linear pay TV has dipped below 50% of the U.S. for the first time, it’s yet to be seen if a return to normal equals a return to ratings.

The Oscars’ energy crisis

It may be the worst-kept secret at the Oscars, bar none, but people enjoy the open bar.

The applause is a pivotal character on Oscars night, even potentially tipping off winners as it seemingly did when Michelle Yeoh received thunderous praise ahead of her win for Best Actress.

But during the middle portion of the ceremony, that enthusiasm grew smaller, especially as the Mezzanine—mostly a group of enthusiastic family members and producers cheering on their loved ones and colleagues—got emptier as the night went on.

There were high moments during the middle of the show, including Rihanna performing “Lift Me Up” from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and “Naatu Naatu” winning for Best Original Song, but when the bar trips and the subsequent bathroom breaks added up, attendees were often left outside the show, waiting for the next commercial break to come back in.

The biggest snubs and surprises were brands

Jimmy Kimmel’s surprise snack box.Bill Bradley/Adweek

Disney announced on Friday that it sold out ad inventory for the 95th Academy Awards, securing a broad range of sponsors representing 15 categories.

Participating partners included the extensive list of Allstate; Amazon XCM; Applebee’s; Audible; AutoDesk;; Carnival (Orion); (CBS) Paramount +; Chase; EJ Gallo; Constellation Brands; GSK; Henkel; Hulu; Hyundai; Intuit Turbo Tax; KDP Dr. Pepper; Liberty Mutual; Lucid Motors; Novartis; Progressive; Rocket Mortgage (Quicken Loans); Snapchat; Sony; Starbucks; Stellantis; TIAA Cref; Universal; Volvo; Warner Brothers and Walt Disney Motion Pictures.

But you’d be hard-pressed to see those categories show up at the Oscars.

Rolex, one of the top sponsors, had clock displays throughout the theater, but most of the other sponsors didn’t have an in-person presence.

However, one brand doesn’t have anything to be salty about.

Halfway through the show, Kimmel mentioned that he had placed food under everyone’s seat in the theater. It was a moment so brief that many likely missed it entirely.

But the lucky theatergoers that got the message and opened the boxes were treated to bottles of Open Water, packs of candy and Shappy Pretzels, a favorite brand of the late-night host—and now perhaps a go-to of Oscar-winners. The pretzels had a supposedly hand-written note from Kimmel on their bags. And with the Dolby Theater’s capacity reaching 3,400, the brand may have been the big winner of the night.

So even on a night without a particularly viral moment, the pretzels at least provided one surprise twist.

Enjoying Adweek's Content? Register for More Access!