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The Oscars are getting an overhaul — and a 'popular film' award

It's the first time the academy has added a new category since 2001, when it added an award for best animated feature.
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Hollywood's big night is getting a reboot.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group that puts on the Oscars, announced a series of changes on Wednesday — including shortening the telecast to three hours and adding a category celebrating achievement in "popular film."

Shortening the ceremony is an attempt to deliver "a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide," the academy said in a letter to its members, seeming to acknowledge criticisms that the event had become bloated in recent years. (The most recent telecast, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, ran nearly four hours.)

In what promises to be a controversial move, the academy said it will begin to "present select categories" during commercial breaks — a change that could mean the winners of behind-the-scenes technical categories will no longer give their acceptance speeches to a live TV audience.

"The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast," the academy said in the letter, co-signed by president John Bailey and CEO Dawn Hudson.

The introduction of a new category — the first since 2001, when the academy added best animated feature — promises to reshape the awards season and could divide the film industry.

The academy's letter did not provide a precise definition of a "popular film." The category is presumably intended to honor crowd-pleasing box-office smashes that sometimes get left out of awards consideration, such as superhero epics.

The academy tried something similar in 2009, when it increased the number of best picture nominees from five to as many as 10. That move followed the success of "The Dark Knight," a critically celebrated Batman movie that received eight Oscar nominations but was locked out of the best picture race.

The eligibility requirements and "other key details" about the new category "will be forthcoming," the academy said. But the new award, potentially a bid to reverse slumping ratings for the Oscars and draw a wider audience, was already riling up cinephiles on Twitter:

Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang mocked the changes, joking on Twitter that the Oscars should be honored for "Best Achievement in Pandering." New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis agreed, referring to the new category as a "stupid, insulting and pathetically desperate change."

The academy is also planning to move up the air date of the 2020 broadcast by two weeks, from Feb. 23 to Feb. 9, a change that could push other prominent award shows to eye other dates on the calendar. (The next Academy Awards will still be held on the previously announced date — Feb. 24, 2019 — and televised on ABC.)