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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Oh good, another procedural show about police officers. On CBS. Excuse me while I zzzzzzz.
6. Criminal Minds (CBS) 12.6 million (ranked #18)
What else can I say? Please refer to number 5.
7. Duck Dynasty (A&E) 12.4 million (ranked #21)
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)
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)