Dude, Where Are All My Shows (in the top 20 season-to-date ratings)?

In recent years, this TV Addict has started to notice a disturbing trend in the world of television. One that has nothing to do with network executives penchant for continuing to employee one Michael Rappaport (Although that does seriously concern me, and frankly must stop!) Rather, the gap continues to widen between what I (the TV Addict) watch and you, the rest of America. A trend made all the more clear after taking a look at the Top 20 Shows in season-to-date ratings that was recently published in the January 9, 2009 issue of Entertainment Weekly.

Among the multiple incarnations of CSI, the rest of CBS’ seemingly unstoppable procedural lineup (CSI: CRIMINAL MENTALISTS THAT DISAPPEAR WITHOUT A TRACE AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR) and the bane of my existence known as reality television, this self proclaimed TV Addict and lover of all things small screen watch only four, count ‘em, four of the country’s Top 20 shows.

Begging the slightly awkward yet somewhat obvious question, what happened America? Or, to paraphrase the theme song from another TV Addict favorite that 97% of you completely ignored, “We used to be friends….” And more to the point, we used to be on the same page.

FRIENDS, SEINFELD, THE WEST WING, all top 20 shows that we used to wholeheartedly agree upon. Yet nowadays, I’m more likely to find my favorite shows hovering around the bottom 20 shows ratings wise (see TERMINATOR, LIPSTICK JUNGLE, or the CW’s entire prime-time lineup) or worse, canceled (ELI STONE, may you rest in peace). While you, America, are off enjoying an endless supply of D-List celebrities dancing, going to rehab or in general, trying to re-capture the magic that is commonly referred to as their fifteen minutes of fame.

I hope you’re happy.

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  • Amelia

    well this self proclaimed TV addict only watches one of the shows in the top 20, grey’s anatomy. and i also don’t consider that show top priority over other shows that i need to watch through out the week.

    after you started listing your favorite shows i dont think we agree on them either, but veronica mars was a great show, and a very catchy theme song…

  • Just Jody

    I don’t think it’s so much the people who are reading your blog that are watching those top 20 shows. it’s the rest of America who mostly watch TV because it’s on, not because they love smart writing and complex characters. (Not to say that the CSI’s etc. don’t have smart writing, just that they’re more about the case of the week)

    I’m also only watching Grey’s Anatomy from that list, and it’s not a top priority for me (anymore) either.

  • I only watch 2 shows on that list – House and NCIS.

    Bones is my favorite show, and it’s probably around 25 on the list.

    I also watch LOST, Chuck (very low), and Heroes (I’m still clinging, for now, because my husband makes me, but it deserves its lower ratings).

    I don’t even want to talk about the loss of Pushing Daisies! That is excellent TV!

    I would point out though that internet TV fans, who we hang out with, and general TV fans are VERY DIFFERENT.

  • Hil

    I don’t watch a single thing on the top 20. Although that is pretty normal for me. I think back in the 1990s The X-Files was one of the few that made an appearance there. Was LOST ever in the top 20? That would be the other show.

  • Ugh. Michael Rappaport is the most annoying actor on television! I cringe every time he shows up on my telly.

    I know, it’s sad. I love my scripted serials and wish the rest of America was on the same page.

  • CT

    Even if you throw my must-see’s in with yours, it only adds one — SURVIVOR. Who the hell ARE these people watching this stuff? LOL

  • bws

    Hmmm. I only watch Desperate Housewives and Home Edition in the top 20. And I don’t really watch Home Edition. It’s just on in the background while I make dinner.

    That list makes me sad. Numbers are the only thing that matter. The fact is that average Americans love CBS procedurals I hate them.

    LOST used to be a top 5 show. It’s first season and the start of season 2 hovered around 20 million viewers. But as the show became increasingly complex, more people dropped off. It does around 11-13 million now and I expect it to be there when season 5 starts next week. Not a lot of people jump back on after they leave. However, I have convinced 8 people over the last two years to catch up on DVD. Now they’re more excited for season 5 than anyone!

  • Michael

    Well mine is even worse, I have one, Survivor. Thanks for the Veronica Mars shout-out, such a good show.

  • I’m actually up to 5 because I do watch Cold Case but technically I don’t watch Desperate Housewives enough to be a regular viewer. I agree with someone who said Americans watch tv cause it’s on. It’s not about good writing or good characters. Proedurals do well cause people can tune in or tune out at will and never be behind.

  • Josh Emerson

    Wow, I only watch one show on that list: Grey’s Anatomy. My top favorite shows are almost all on NBC, and we know how they’re doing in the ratings, so that’s that.

    Luckily, what matters more is how the shows are doing both in the key demo (HIMYM is kicking ass, for example), and how they’re doing compared to the rest of the network (The Office and 30 Rock survive because they’re on NBC).

  • Ace

    Ok, I have a theory as to why most of the shows you watch arent’ in the top 20. Most of the shows listed up there have an older viewing audience (don’t get mad at me some of them are good shows [esp. NCIS], but it is true that their audience tends to be older). Older audiences tend to not use DVR as much as we wippersnappers might. The thing scares and confuses my 55 yr old mother. So while we have been recording our beloved Pushing Daisies and Gossip Girl for watching when we actually have time (or even buying them on iTunes), our parents are just watching their shows when they air (or in the case of football, everyone is watching it live b/c who watches sports the next day?? Ok, so this girl does not.) so they get factored into the ratings. Which just proves that the current ratings system is broken and needs to be fixed fast before other good shows go down too.

    That was kind of rambly but my point is that older audiences usually watch TV when it actually airs, so their shows get higher ratings. While we youth with our technology are killing our own shows :(.

  • Jillian

    I don’t watch any of those… if LOST cracks the list, then I’ll have one. Still, I think I watch a lot of television shows. Loyally.

    Maybe I should stop being only a TV addict and become a TV *evangelist*.

  • bws

    Lost probably won’t crack this list because American Idol will take up the two spots pushing everyone else down. Ugh.

    When they add the DVR numbers, it doesn’t make a tremendous difference. Some shows add a few more viewers than others but it doesn’t completely shake up the list of top shows. So the DVR proponents are not necessarily ruining TV. There are just more choices now with the hundreds of cable channels. TV execs may think that if a show doesn’t do 10 million, it’s a loser. And I actually don’t mind discounting DVR viewers because DVR viewers ignore the ads that pay for the show. The biggest problem with TV ratings is that it’s wild extrapolation. No one is literally counting 21.3 million CSI viewers.

  • I only watch three of those shows: House, Survivor, and Brothers & Sisters. Survivor varies greatly in quality from season to season and Gabon was one of its worst. And out of all scripted dramas, Brothers & Sisters is my lowest priority (almost dumped it along with Grey’s & Betty but held on since it’s the only thing on Sunday nights).

    Here’s my theory… Twelve out of the top 20 shows are on CBS. Whether it’s the stereotype or the actual truth, CBS has a reputation for swinging towards older watchers. Older watchers are the ones most likely to watch a show live rather than via TiVo or DVR (“we’re computer-illiterate & computer-free” as my 70-year-old mom chants annoyingly as if it’s a good thing). The ratings system hasn’t totally figured out what to do with TiVo & DVR ratings, and even if they’re catching up probably put more stock in the live ratings.

    Also, if I understand correctly, ratings are only counted for “Neilsen families” which means families that have had the special Neilsen chips implanted in their TVs, VCRs, etc. The keyword there being families. I have nothing to back this up, but I’m guessing that Neilsen probably prefers families to be part of the their ratings systems rather than households with one individual, which would probably skew toward young, single, and male (like me). Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about that.

    I know someone with a wife & three kids who was selected by Neilsen, and his family watches almost nothing in that top 20 list *nor* the popular shows that you read about in TV Guide & Ent Weekly (or here). They mostly watch sports, kids shows, American Idol, and whatever may be family friendly as they channel surf (they don’t have TiVo). So, they’re not helping any of us true TV addicts.

    I don’t know if it’s that people aren’t watching enough of what you would guess they’d be watching as much as it is an outdated system can’t track accurately what most people are watching. Or, there really are more people out there watching CBS, not knowing what they’re missing on other channels.

  • Woops. I just looked at this thread more closely and realized that Ace already stated the same theory before I did. Sorry about that.

  • BWS… as per your top DVR’d shows SShhhhhhh, don’t spoil my post for next week!

  • bws

    I hope it’s not surprising to anyone that the DVR numbers don’t add 100% more viewers to these totals. Bean counters may find better information if they take larger samples but trust me, “Pushing Daisies” isn’t adding 10 million viewers via DVRs. I only personally know one other person who watched (past tense!! Ugh.) it.

  • Ace

    Todd — no worries, just goes to show that it is a good theory. I don’t think DVR watchers would add a ton to shows, but I think they would have added enough to save shows like Pushing Daisies. But like you said, DVR use = no ad revenue so I get why they are hesitant to count them. But at the same time, when a show takes 40 minutes to watch w/out commercials or 60 with, I”m going 40 every time.

    As for the cable TV, I think that also fits into the generation gap. Someone like my grandfather doesn’t really seek out cable channels to watch new shows (“in my day there were 3 stations and they all showed Gunsmoke reruns, and we liked it!”). Not to mention most of the content of those shows is quite racy by their standards (frankly some of them even push my standards [True Blood is good, but let’s be realistic and acknowledge that it is basically porn with a better plot]). So, while we are finding good things to watch on cable, CBS’s viewers are perfectly happy to sit back, relax and watch the 45th version of CSI.

  • Ace

    I will say that when there is a show that I really really like, I do NOT DVR it in hopes to help (i.e., Pushing Daisies, Chuck). Even though I know only Nielsons really help (*sigh*), I feel better about it.

  • bws

    I DVR everything. I haven’t watched a non-super bowl commercial since 2004. If I “catch-up” to live TV while watching something, I take a break and do something else until I have enough of a buffer. That’s the way it is.

    That’s why I’m totally fine with some form of product placement. HBO and Showtime do it all the time. Doesn’t bother me. I don’t care if TV characters go to a bar and order a “Miller Lite” instead of a beer. Especially if it might mean that show can make some extra money and stay on the air.

  • edward

    Im really upset i only have 1 show on the list hous, what happend to Lipstick Jungle, Supernatural, FNL, HIMYM, BBT, etcetera, what has happened with the good show what happened to the americans… o yeah Bush lol.

  • blueberry

    What? No Pushing Daisies?

  • tim w. in tx

    You’re not the only one TVA. I, too, only watch “desperate”, ‘grey’s” and ‘survivor.” LOL I do believe the shows that register in the top 20 are all CBS (for the most part) and the CBS viewer is one who doesn’t ‘change the channel.’ My Grandmother, God rest her soul, was a devout CBS watcher. Wouldn’t turn the TV. LOL Afraid it’d ‘tear up the knob.” LOL And I guess, Neilsens have a lot of older viewers filling out those forms. I know I don’t.

  • According to me, you’ve got good taste. Replace Brothers & Sisters with Survivor and that’s my list.

  • allie

    Not a bad list. I watch numbers 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 14, 16 & 20.

  • Nuj

    And I actually don’t mind discounting DVR viewers because DVR viewers ignore the ads that pay for the show.

    Sorry, I disagree, Ace. 🙂 Those of us who DVR a show are watching EVERY commercial, albeit in fast-forward. We see more of the commercials than the people who watch live and leave the room to go to the bathroom, get food, or even sit and talk to each other. (Obviously, not every DVR watcher is paying attention while fast forwarding, and not every live watcher is leaving the room–but I think the networks and advertisers are oversimplifying if they think like you say.)

  • ewanspotter

    It doesn’t bother me that I only watch two shows on this list (NCIS and House). As we all know, ratings don’t always equal quality. And, above all else, I’ve gotten used to the fact that people are sheep. If someone or something tells them a program is popular, then they watch. Not because they actually love it, but because they want watercooler material.

  • Ace

    Nuj, I didn’t say that, bws did :-P. In fact I said the exact opposite. I really want them to count DVR viewers!

  • It’s odd that “NCIS” and several like it are in the top 20, yet not on the Emmy list, but again I don’t see “30 Rock” here and you know the judges will give it plenty of awards! Talk about bias! One reason why I don’t even watch the awards anymore!