• Wed, Aug 7 - 10:52 am ET

8 TV Shows We Can’t Believe Get Such High Ratings

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Attention TV viewers! It’s time to talk about ratings. You know ratings. The stuff Kris Jenner feeds herself with every morning through an I.V. The stuff you might not pay much attention to unless your favorite show might get canceled. I vote we pay attention to Nielsen ratings before our shows are in danger.

I’ve lost a lot of my favorite series prematurely over the years, and there are plenty that I missed out on because they were canceled before their time. Over and over again, those canceled shows get great reviews and/or bring something new and adventurous to the TV landscape. The only problem is that not as many people are watching those shows as are watching cop shows or singing shows or CBS sitcoms. In fact, people are generally just watching CBS. I might as well have just called this post “Why Is CBS Still A Thing?” because 12 out of the top 25 highest-rated shows of 2012-2013 were on CBS. That’s nearly half. Why do people choose to watch these shows over original, quality TV content? I guess it’s the same reason sequels and remakes and comic book adaptations succeed at the box office. People like formulas. They like predictability. And I can sympathize with that to a certain extent, but I also really resent it, because I love TV.

After perusing this list of most-watched shows, I decided to pick eight of them and give you my personal argument about why they don’t deserve to be there. Some reasoning is logical, some is just based on my own personal rants because really, how are so many people watching these shows?!

1. NCIS (CBS) 21.6 million viewers (ranked #1)

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This show is entering its 11th season this fall. How many original storylines can you come up with for eleven years on a show that’s already a spin-off (of JAG) and does the same thing countless other procedural shows do? Oh, and did I mention it also has a spin-off of its own? A spin-off that was ranked #4 in the ratings. On top of that, I’ve never met a single person who watches it. Where are these 21.6 million people?

2. The Big Bang Theory (CBS) 19 million (ranked #2)

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I’ve watched it. Multiple episodes. I don’t get the appeal. It’s pleasant enough to have on in the background while you’re occupied with something else, but do people really schedule this show into their lives and pay attention to it? The characters are grating, the storylines are the opposite of inventive, and the jokes are blah. Plus, it takes a really good show these days to convince me to sit through a laugh track. This doesn’t do it.

3. American Idol (FOX) 15.1 million Wednesday, 14.8 million Thursday (ranked #6 and #8)

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It’s run its course. Its judges table is constantly changing or up in the air, its winners become has-beens, and even though it’s one of the first shows in its genre, it’s being beaten at its own game by shows like The Voice (another ratings champ) that take creative approaches to the competition and avoid exploiting non-talents and petty judges’ feuds for laughs and drama.

4. Two and a Half Men (CBS) 13.9 million (ranked #12)

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Ugh, this show. TV obsessives generally hate it, and even the critics who try to defend it admit that it’s a pretty bad show. For instance, Entertainment Weekly, in its review of last season’s finale, declared, “As a TV show, it’s not that great, but as a bad-joke delivery system, it’s a smooth product, with no rough edges.” What glowing praise! This is a show that has lost two of its main characters and brought in Ashton Kutcher and hasn’t suffered from it. I think they could cast dogs in all the roles and it would still get incredible ratings.

5. Blue Bloods (CBS) 13.3 million (ranked #14)

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Oh good, another procedural show about police officers. On CBS. Excuse me while I zzzzzzz.

6. Criminal Minds (CBS) 12.6 million (ranked #18)

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What else can I say? Please refer to number 5.

7. Duck Dynasty (A&E) 12.4 million (ranked #21)

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Honestly, I don’t have much of a problem with this show. The characters seem to have a sense of humor about themselves. As Esquire explains, “while they are proudly rural, defined by family traditions that mostly involve guns and God, they’re willing to be open-minded, not only about the value of other people but about the ridiculousness of themselves.” That’s great, and guilty pleasures are awesome. I encourage them. But when this show gets higher ratings than brilliant dramas like Mad Men or smart comedies like Parks and Recreation, the guilt should override the pleasure.

8. CSI (CBS) 11.9 million (ranked #24)

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This show is constantly the butt of jokes, from its spin-offs to the way its characters unrealistically use technology to solve crimes. (ENHANCE!) Why aren’t people bored of this yet?

Now compare this list to Metacritic’s TV Critic Top 10 List for 2012, which tallies up end-of-they-year lists from major publications. Only two of the shows on that list (Modern Family and The Walking Dead) made it onto the list of highest-rated shows. I think The Walking Dead is a really hopeful show for the TV landscape, because it’s critically acclaimed, highly rated and it’s on a cable network. However, another AMC drama, Breaking Bad, made it to #1 on Metacritic’s list, but only saw 2.8 million viewers for its mid-season finale. It’s clear that being on cable isn’t holding shows back from earning high ratings, so what gives?

If one of the shows on my list is your favorite, I won’t tell you to give it up, but I think we as TV viewers need to consider what kinds of shows we’re supporting. For every mindless reality show or formulaic sitcom, make sure there’s an inventive comedy or a well-produced drama thrown in. We need to start viewing low-rated but critically acclaimed series we do like independent films. Support them. Instead of paying to see them, that means watching them, showing your appreciation for them on social media and through word of mouth, and just generally seeking out shows that do new things with the TV format. Because life’s too short to just watch crime shows. And CBS.

(Lead GIF: Tumblr)

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  • Katie

    I struggle with pretentious TV-watching because, I mean, who am I to judge what other people like? But at the same time… I do it anyway. I can usually gauge if I’ll be friends with someone depending on if they list really any of the shows above. “Oh you like Two and a Half Men? I’ve got to go home and watch Season 2 of Happy Endings on repeat. I don’t think we should hang out again.”

    • Jill O’Rourke

      Same here! Also RIP Happy Endings.

    • Jenni

      I do waayyyy too much judgement based on what people watch. One time I walked in on a friend watching King of Queens and I wanted to run out of her apartment.

    • http://twilightirruption.blogspot.com/ abbeysbooks

      I do the same with books on shelves and lying around.

    • Jenni

      That’s the problem with Kindles…so much less opportunity to judge.

    • Samantha_Escobar

      I’m judging you right now, it’s okay.

    • http://twilightirruption.blogspot.com/ abbeysbooks

      So that’s why Kindles are so popular. Can’t tell when someone is reading 50 Shades. Or do they still read that anymore?

    • cmh96734

      I think I love you, Katie. This is the very best comment on this post.
      Thank you for putting my opinions into perspective and making me laugh at the same time.

  • Colleen

    I am a fan of the Big Bang Theory, because my husband and his friends are very similar to Sheldon and his friends. I’m like a Penny/Leslie hybrid, myself.

    • mse

      See, the reason why I dislike The Big Bang Theory is BECAUSE I know just about enough people around me who are like that. I’m also annoyed by how everytime I’m in a discussion about television and it comes up that I’m studying physics people start recommending me this show and I’m just like… NO.

    • CB

      See, I kind of liked that, back when I was still in astronomy. It gave people a reference point for “she is human” and “that is an actual career.”

    • Jill O’Rourke

      It does get a lot of awards attention, which is more than you can say for the rest of these shows. I just don’t get the appeal.

  • Bethanny

    I don’t really watch TV, but I love Big Bang Theory. A friend just gave me all the previous seasons for my birthday, and I’ve watched them all again. I find it pretty funny, and am encouraged that the characters are similar to people I know both in quirkiness and not being Hollywood pretty. It’s pretty much the only “mindless” TV I’ve enjoyed since the end of Buffy. The rest of these shows I’ll give you, and there are a couple of them I’ve never heard of.

    • Jill O’Rourke

      I actually thought a few of the shows had been canceled years ago, because they’re just not on my radar at all. Apparently they’re on millions of other people’s though.

    • CB

      Agreed. I don’t like it for “this is a Quality Show that makes me reevaluate my life and/or think and/or laugh unexpectedly and forever.” I like it for tv that I find funny and sometimes touching without having to expend effort. It’s fun!

  • Dina Bo Bina

    I really think the only reason CBS shows are ranked so high is because mostly older or non-technological people still watch tv the old fashioned way. I’ve also never met anybody who’s had a nielson box so I wonder how they pick these people. Big Bang Theory has it’s moments but true nerds like the ones depicted in the show and the one typing this message rather rewatch the first 3 seasons of Community on Hulu over and over then sit through more than 2 episodes of it.

    • Jill O’Rourke

      Totally agree about CBS. The only show I watch on that channel is Craig Ferguson, and even he jokes that the network probably doesn’t realize he’s still on the air.

  • Winter

    Agreee with all except criminal minds and big bang theory. Once you start criminal minds and you get into the behaverial science behind it, it is a great show! Plus the characters compared to all the other cbs shows have more depth, you see more of their personal side and i actually think its an underrated show. If nothing else watching shermar moore for one hr is great lol. And i love the beginning and ending quotes that they do in each episode

    • Jill O’Rourke

      I guess I’ve just been jaded by the countless crime shows on the air. It takes a really unique spin on the genre to get me interested. Like I enjoy Grimm for the supernatural elements and Rizzoli and Isles because of the female friendship.

    • CortCab

      I loved Criminal Minds for about the first 6 seasons or so. But the fact that they’re still going is a little crazy to me.

  • Rachel

    I think ppl like shows like ncis, criminal minds, and blue bloods because they’re very straightforward, minimal drama shows. There’s a bad guy, witty banter, likeable characters, and a storyline. No crazy plots like shows similar to pretty little liars *shudders* and it’s just simple classic tv. You don’t have to get too involved, keep up or start from the beginning like Game of Thrones. As far as big bang and 2 1/2, i’ll never as long as i live understand the hype.

    • Jill O’Rourke

      Definitely. People like formulas, and I think there’s a place for that but I just hate that the shows that do something different get the short end of the stick. There needs to be a better balance.

  • The Redhead

    I agree with you on everything EXCEPT Big Bang Theory. That show is hilarious and some of the performances are just incredible. I didn’t start watching until a few seasons in because I didn’t think I would like it… I was wrong!

    • Jill O’Rourke

      Wow, it’s really a love it or hate it show, I guess. Who knew there’d be such disagreement over a group of nerds?

    • cmh96734

      I am with you, Jill. I fucking hate, hate, hate “The Big Bang Theory”. I have given it the benefit of the doubt, watched many episodes, and it is just too cliche and awful to stand.

      It is also worth noting that my husband is pursuing his PhD in physics and abhors “The Big Bang Theory”.

  • Katy Hearne

    I would so watch “Two and a Half Men” if it was cast with dogs. Why isn’t that a thing? Who do I write to make that a thing?

    • Jill O’Rourke

      1) You should write to your local congressman.
      2) It is! And here I was thinking the real star of that show is Tom Selleck’s mustache.

  • Samantha_Escobar

    FUCK BIG BANG THEORY.

    • Jill O’Rourke

      Fight the system!

  • Misenhammer

    I hate Big Bang theory so much. My mom in law always says my husband is just like the awful “smart” one and I am sincerely offended by that. Every character is annoying and unloveable and the jokes are NOT FUNNY. THEY JUST AREN’T. WHY IS ANYONE WASTING THEIR TIME ON BORING JOKES WHEN SHOWS LIKE PARKS AND REC AND WORKAHOLICS AND PEEP SHOW EXIST?? I seriously hate this show so, so, so much. And if you like it because you know people “just like the characters,” which seems to be the main motivation of many viewers, that is dumb and you should hate your friends as much as I do. And I also hate you for ruining television.

  • Shea

    I agree with you on all of it except Big Bang Theory. It’s one of my favorite shows! I saw the GIF at the top and thought “They can’t be considering Big Bang Theory a bad show! They must just be using this hilarious GIF to make a point!” But, alas, I was wrong. I am indeed a nerd/geek myself, however, so that’s probably why I’m on the love side of the love/hate spectrum. I even have two Sheldon Cooper posters in my room. I guess we’ll agree to disagree.

  • Elizabeth Parker

    Criminal Minds is one of my fave shows just because it’s so DISTURBING. lol. I love Big Bang Theory but I feel like you have to be a certain degree of nerd to like it/get the jokes.

    • Psych Student

      I’m with you! I love the most recent seasons that have gotten more disturbing. I love the characters, love the violence, love everything about the show. It is one of the show that I will watch over and over again even though I already know the whole episode.

  • DuBois

    Ah, the laugh-track line hit home with me… while I’m quite willing to watch older shows that used laugh tracks (like Cheers and Seinfeld), I don’t know if I could sit through a new show that uses a laugh track.

    Fixed-set, studio audience, laugh-track, obviously shot on videotape, in 2013? Yuck. (I know that some shows that LOOK “filmy” were actually shot on videotape, but that’s a technical matter.)

    • Jill O’Rourke

      I feel the same way about the laugh track. I watch so many Friends reruns and it doesn’t bother me at all, but watching a modern show with a laugh track just seems so wrong.

  • MCR

    The popularity of these shows, and many more, is a mystery to me. I don’t think I’m remotely pretentious where TV is concerned. I can probably appreciate plain old effortless entertainment more than most. I just don’t see how most of these programs are enjoyable. The dramas are formulaic and predictable, and the comedies are full of tired jokes you can see coming a mile away. They’re simply no fun!

    • http://twilightirruption.blogspot.com/ abbeysbooks

      My problem with them is in the framing of the images and the acting. So many cliched gestures and facial expressions.

    • MCR

      That, too. The annoying thing is, I know they can do better because there really have been excellent shows on TV, and they’re not necessarily big budget ones.

    • http://twilightirruption.blogspot.com/ abbeysbooks

      I don’t think they care and they probably don’t have much shooting time. Cartier-Bresson used to bitch about the images all the time.

    • http://twilightirruption.blogspot.com/ abbeysbooks

      Not to worry. TV is dying. Youtube is growing.

    • MCR

      That’s a reason not to worry?

    • http://twilightirruption.blogspot.com/ abbeysbooks

      The world is changing. That may well be a reason to worry but what’s the point of doing it.

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  • That_Darn_Kat

    I love BBT and NCIS. I love the characters and back story of NCIS and how they grow and their relationships. Abby and Gibbs are 2 of my absolute favorites from that show. That being said, I watched NCIS: LA for a while, and just couldn’t get into it, because I couldn’t really get a feel for the characters.

    My sister loves Criminal Minds, because that’s what she wants to do, so she loves to watch (and read) anything to do with forensic psychology and psychopaths.

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  • Brandon Roberts

    i like the duck dynasty guys they are hilarious as for the other ones yeah your right but i think that’s how obama tortures people and you thought waterboarding was bad