Thursday, April 09, 2009

Saving TV shows

I just read an article on 10 TV shows that need to return next fall. I have to say that I agreed with most of their choices (but definitely NOT all of them). And I'd add a few of my own to the list, if I could.

My problem is this: TV shows live or die by the Nielsen ratings, a system developed back in the 1950's whereupon approximately 1500 homes would receive boxes that would record the TV viewing choices daily, and thus these people would decide which TV shows lived or died. There were also the so-called "Sweeps" when in certain months thousands of homes would receive diaries, in which they would record TV viewing choices during peak months.

There are any number of complaints about the antiquity of this system. Not the least of which is that it was designed to measure TV viewing when there were 4 networks, not 400. The second biggest complaint is that people are often inclined to falsify the diaries, with people claiming to watch "Masterpiece Theater" when they are in fact watching "Rock of Love" (Don't even get me started.) There is also the complaint that it cannot measure internet TV viewing, which is becoming more and more frequent, especially given the variety of devices that can now display TV.

The Nielsens have been responsible for cancellation of a number of shows I felt deserved better. Just to name a few at random, in no particular order: "Firefly", "Las Vegas", "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip", "Commander-in-Chief", "Dharma and Greg", "Joan of Arcadia", "Sports Night", "Ed", "Action", "Titus", "Rodney", and "Eli Stone".

(Look, I'm not gonna link to all those. I'm not your damn search engine!)

Those of you who recognize the above shows may realize that, with a few exceptions, they were all aimed at persons with above average IQ's. Almost all of them were well-written, well-acted (OK, OK, I liked "Las Vegas" for the hot women), and actually left their viewers waiting for what came next.

The problem is that with so many viewing choices, the advertisers cannot depend on the Nielsen ratings to determine if a show lives or dies. There has to be a new way of determining this. The new Fox show "Dollhouse", created by Joss Whedon, was created as a late season replacement and has been on for only 8 episodes, and has been dropped into the Friday night TV graveyard. And yet it already has its own fan-created wiki site, with over 100 articles on it, entirely written by viewers of the show (which are obviously numbered in the thousands).

We. Need. Something. New.

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