Putting Television Ratings in Perspective

Vulture has put together a comparison of how much the media landscape has changed during the last twenty years. Any show currently on the air (including “hit” shows), if it were getting the same ratings in ‘94 would have been canceled immediately. Granted, there are more choices for consumers instead of just the four networks and there are options in how and when you watch shows. And certainly more options in terms of channels. This is all very good.

But I can’t help but feeling like the network executives are still operating under the assumption that they’re the only game in town. Further, if television is no longer free — meaning most people pay for it with cable anyway — why do the networks still operate by the old rules? Why are they pumping out more shows like Mad Men, or the ones on FX?

Check out the chart Vulture put together:

14.3 million: Viewers for the season premiere of Modern Family, by all accounts a hit, and an Emmy darling if ever there were one.

15.5 million: Viewers for an October 1997 episode of Promised Land, the spinoff of Touched by an Angel. It wasn’t even sweeps.

27.7 million: Viewers for the season premiere of Two and a Half Men — a shockingly high number, and the most-watched sitcom since 2005’s Everybody Loves Raymond series finale.

27.3 million: Viewers who watched a rerun of Grace Under Fire on a Tuesday in March 1995A rerun.

9.2 million: Viewers it takes to get picked up, this time for New Girl.

9.2 million: Viewers who watched Who Wants to Marry My Dad? on August 4, 2003.

9.8 million: What landed My So-Called Lifein the bottom 10 for its entire run, before it was canceled.

1.6 million: Difference between the premiere of Up All Night (6 million), NBC’s hit new comedy, and the premiere ofThanks, CBS’s Puritan sitcom that aired six episodes in 1999. Thanks had 1.6 million more viewers.

1: Number of This American Lifesegments about Thanks.

0: Wikipedia entries about the show Hiller and Diller, a 1997 sitcom starring Richard Lewis and Kevin Nealon. It bottomed out around 12 million viewers and was widely considered a ratings failure, though it brought in around 16 million viewers its first season.

8: Number of cited references on the robust Wikipedia page for Person of Interest, which has aired one episode that attracted 13.2 million viewers.

10.9 million: People who tuned in for kicky period piece Pan Am’s premiere, enough to earn it its hit wings.

10.1 million: People who tuned in for kicky period piece Brisco County Jr. in 1994, shortly before it was canceled.

41 million: Home Improvement’s ratings for a not-at-all-special third-season episode in February 1994.

10: Number of the ten lowest-rated shows the week of February 7-13, 1994 that did better than Parks and Recreation orCommunity’s season premieres.

5: Number of the same lowest-rated shows that week that did better than Parks and Rec and Community combined.

So why haven’t television executives figured out a better metric for measuring a show’s success than ratings?

Comments on this entry are closed.