Thursday, May 10, 2007

Why isn't anybody watching TV anymore?

This AP article about dwindling TV veiwership, and the implications it has on the advertising dollars that the networks depend upon for their survival, was interesting.
In TV's worst spring in recent memory, an alarming number of Americans drifted away from television the past two months: More than 2.5 million fewer people were watching ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox than at the same time last year, statistics show.

Everyone has a theory to explain the plummeting ratings: earlier Daylight Savings Time, more reruns, bad shows, more shows being recorded or downloaded or streamed.
Those are all valid reasons as to why fewer people are watching TV. The article seems to focus on viewers who use technologies such as DVR recording and downloading and streaming from the internet to watch their favorite shows; more and more people are watching television programming in this manner, and ratings agencies like Neilsen haven't yet found a good way to measure these type of viewers. The article unfortunately doesn't really pay much attention to what I think is the main reason fewer people are watching TV: most of the stuff on television these days is simply crap.

The reality-show craze, to which the networks have devoted a considerable amount of airtime, has simply run its course. It's little wonder that shows like Survivor and American Idol are suffering from their lowest-rated seasons ever: more and more people are beginning to realize just how stupid and stale they really are. Unfortunately, the networks are not quick to pick up on this fact; they are going to milk the dying reality-show fad for all it's worth and will continue to throw more seasons of lame and vapid shows like Survivor, American Idol, The Apprentice, Dancing With The Stars, The Amazing Race, Hell's Kitchen, Supernanny, etc. at us. As they do that, millions of American televisions - mine included - will be turned off.

There are other shows, many of them once-watchable, and many of them long-running, that simply need to be put out of their misery. I have to agree with's list of five shows that need to be cancelled: 24 “jumped the shark” this season with the implausible plotline revolving around Jack Bauer’s family and their involvement in the very terrorist activities Jack is trying to prevent. ER, a show I actually used to watch with regularity, jumped the shark a long time ago; that it is still even on the air is a testament to NBC's ossification. Lost is just too convoluted and complex for many people to follow (ABC recently announced that the 2009-2010 season will be the last for Lost; I think that's a few years too late). We don’t need three different episodes of CSI (nor, for that matter, do we need three separate episodes of Law and Order; both of these “franchises” are currently overexposed and CBS and NBC would do well to get rid of CSI: New York and Law and Order: Criminal Intent, respectively). I even, sadly, have to agree that it’s probably time for The Simpsons to go: I still watch it, but it’s just not as funny as it used to be.

And that's just the beginning. Heroes might be watchable if I were twelve; otherwise, it's just a transparent attempt by NBC to tap into the "comic book" demographic that makes movies like the Spider-Man series so successful. Grey's Anatomy started out well enough, but seems to have quickly degenerated into just another "how many people can a given character sleep with in a given season" type of show. I've never understood all the hype surrounding Desperate Housewives (although, given that I'm clearly not part of its intended demographic, I'm willing to give it a benefit of the doubt). And don't even get me started on Dateline NBC's sleazy and cynical To Catch A Predator series. Primetime television, as we come to the end of the 2006-2007 television season, is by and large a wasteland of the old, the uninventive and the inane. When The Sopranos ends its run on HBO in a few weeks, will there be anything worth watching anymore?

Maybe that's a little harsh. To be sure, there are still a few good shows on television right now. My Name Is Earl is entertaining; it and The Office are, at this point, the only things suggesting that NBC even has a pulse. Fox's House proves that the medical drama is still a viable genre; ABC seems to be doing well with Ugly Betty and my wife has become a fan if its newest offering, Notes from the Underbelly. But the good shows are few and far between.

Every so often, critics like to speak of a "New Golden Age" of television, based on a the presence of a handful of strong, fresh and exciting shows. I, however, would like to propose the opposite: as of 2007, we are actually suffering through a "New Dark Age" of television programming. And this is one of the main reasons why fewer and fewer people are bothering to turn on their TVs.

UPDATE: A big welcome to everyone who has clicked to this post through from the Houston Chronicle's ed/op page. And thanks to the Chron for showing me some love!


Gut Bar said...

People have interactive things to do.
I might watch more TV, but the commercials are abismal and too long.
You lose interest, and start channel
surfing. Then it's off the mess around online.

Wally said...

I've noticed a new trend; a lot more folks seem to be enjoying the outdoors these days. We've noticed a 300% increase in the number of joggers/walkers and people riding bicycles. I've even seen more kids in the streets. My thought is that t.v. is dying a natural death as folks more enjoy interactive media. As well, more and more of us, particularly those of us who are "churched" found ourselves increasingly turned off by the whole "American" cultural scene. It's degrading to the human experience. Practically everything "American" is repulsive from the politics to the entertainment industry and particularly the news shows and the Jerry Springer type offerings. My guess is that as the political season winds out, there will be an ever increasing number of people dodging the tube just so they can avoid watching the posturing of the political schills.

Anonymous said...

Television is escape to unreality.