Evolution of Television Audiences

Seems the OJ trial may have an effect on television audiences after all. Notice what shows American audiences watch now. Notice a trend? Forensics.

   1. “Dancing With the Stars,” ABC

   2. “American Idol” (Thursday), Fox

   3. “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox

   4. “NCIS,” CBS

   5. “Dancing With the Stars Results,” ABC

   6. “NCIS: Los Angeles,” CBS

   7. “60 Minutes,” CBS

   8. “The Mentalist,” CBS

   9. “Criminal Minds,” CBS

   10. “The Voice,” NBC

   11. “The Good Wife,” CBS

   12. “Castle,” ABC

   13. “Survivor:RedemptionIsland,” CBS

   14. “Bones,” Fox

   15. “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” 10.67 million.

   16. “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS

   17. “Blue Bloods,” CBS

   18. “Body of Proof,” ABC

   19. “Grey’s Anatomy,” ABC

   20. “Desperate Housewives,” ABC

(AP, Neilsen)

During the early 1980’s, we watched one hour dramas. Then around 1984 Bill Cosby took a chance and created a half-hour comedy (which was expected to fail.) But of course it didn’t and that started a comedy craze with Cheers, Family Ties, the Simpsons, etc.

Then around 1990 or so, Dateline emerged. Within a few years, magazine shows were everywhere and on every network.

And then the OJ trial came along. Granted it took awhile, but look at what we watch now. Coroners are stars. And despite the billions of cable-satellite channels we have today, those above statistics prove we favor bodies over many reality shows.

Yes, we consume lots of reality shows, but these ratings are only for traditional networks. Cable channels usually only pull in less then ten million viewers unless it’s a super major hyped up event like the recent royal wedding.

Also, notice that the one-hour show is once again king (reality shows included.) Despite studies that say Americans have short-attention spans, this list shows otherwise.

As I mention my very unscientific findings, the Los Angeles Times just posted an article titled ‘TV dramas are losing favor with busy television audiences.’ In it, the author states that today’s multi-taskers want simpler storylines. Nothing too complex for the brain. As one quote read, “After a hard day’s work I don’t want to think.” Most of the shows mentioned above require some kind of thought while others like Dancing can allow brain cells to nap while gazing at pretty costumes. American Idol and the Voice utilize another sense – hearing.

Of the 22 current dramas, the article states only FIVE are likely to make it to a sophomore year. (Networks are releasing fall schedules now.)

By that comparison it’s even more interesting to see crime scene-like shows in the top 20.

And more than half have a continuous storyline, meaning each show (usually) doesn’t stand on its own. Characters are slowly fleshed out amidst weekly situations like murders, medical mysteries and other related crimes.

I never watched Lost, and yet by the time I wanted to five or six seasons in, I’d have to briefed on what’s already happened, even before attempting a new season. I will admit I did see the very last ten minutes. My reaction? Eh, ok. But there were people I knew who were so riled up about what happened they couldn’t contain themselves when they talked about it. I have no idea what significance the Smoke Monster plays, but I know if I mentioned it out loud, someone would surely speak up about it.

Today traditional networks usually don’t give audiences time to build relationships with characters. Remember Lonestar? Cancelled after two shows. Luckily I didn’t waste my time with it.

What I’m saying is the above top 20 were given a reasonable amount of time or promotion to attract an audience. And by these rankings, they’re obviously doing the right thing.

The only real bite-sized show mentioned is 60 Minutes. Three stories per hour (although the actual show above is the post-Osama kill with Obama.) Twenty minute stories allows one to digest what happened.

It could be another reason why movies may do so well. Two hours – one story. We can handle that – even with complicated plotlines.

I also believe the list displays Americans’ guilty pleasures. We all love juicy gossip, even more so when things don’t happen to us, so why wouldn’t Desperate Housewives do well? The show is still going strong despite declining ratings in the past few years. And who doesn’t want to see a celebrity trip or fall on national television? And if they can’t dance? All the better! (I will admit it does bother me when dancers are said to be ‘fighting for their lives’ to be kept on the show. A good time should not be compared to real victims of natural disasters or incurable medical ailments.)

Lastly, we apparently like to watch shows with ‘the’ in the title. Or they have two or three words. But those words pack a punch. Once again, Desperate Housewives comes to mind. Tells you everything you need to know. The only really convoluted one is Castle. Makes you think about fairy tales, not mystery writers. (The lead character’s name is Richard Castle. Yes, I watch; my mother got me hooked on it.)

Should be interesting to see what happens when networks release their fall schedules. Could really shakeup the pop culture landscape – Ashton Kutcher anyone? Or it may not. As cliché as it sounds, only time will tell whatAmerica will watch next.


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