How can we help prevent another "Better Off Ted"/"Arrested Development" debacle?
November 12, 2010 6:33 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to help a TV show we love stay on the air?

I know Nielsen is the way that most ratings are compiled and besides becoming a Nielsen family (which is impossible, I think), is there any way for us to help? There are a variety of shows that we watch and that we love, but that are on the bubble so to speak. I know we are just one family but with so much crappy TV airing every week, we like to help support the shows we enjoy.

We try to watch shows like Conan and Louie at "live+7" to help, but does it really matter? We are a DirecTV household with DVRs.

Does it matter if we DVR a show and watch it the same day or a different day or not at all? Is anyone tracking (and using) this information? Is it better, for example, for us to subscribe to Showtime and watch Dexter as it airs, or buy the DVDs (or maybe buy them on iTunes or watch shows at the network's website if available)?
posted by getawaysticks to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
DVD sales helped Family Guy return after being cancelled.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:47 AM on November 12, 2010

Best answer: When you become a Nielsen family, you have to sign this scary secrecy pledge saying you'll never, ever discuss being a Nielsen family. Therefore, my family is CLEARLY NOT a Nielsen family, because I would NEVER EVER TALK ABOUT being such a thing, because it would HARM THE MAGNIFICENT NIELSEN CORPORATION.

I take it you get my gist?

Okay: when you become a Nielsen family, they pretty much back a truck up to your house and unload a BOATLOAD of equipment. There is a big box which attaches to every TV in the house. There are SCADS of wires. More importantly: they give you special remote controls which each family member uses to "log in" to each TV (I always thought it would be hilarious to log in as my five year-old and then watch seventeen straight hours of Skinemax).

Which is to say: even when they're explicitly trying to track your viewing habits, it's hard as hell for them to do so. In the average non-Nielsen household (WHICH, IF ANYONE IS READING THIS, I ASSUREDLY AM!), it would be pretty damned impossible for them to determine exactly what you were watching.

Ergo: go buy Dexter. You have my official NON-NIELSEN FAMILY MEMBER permission.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:48 AM on November 12, 2010 [16 favorites]

Wow. A truck full of a boatload. Words... not so good... this day. Maybe all the Nielsen boxes which ARE NOT IN MY HOME are scrambling my brain waves.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:49 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Watch episodes online.

Tracking what people watch at home is still a little murky and your support might not get registered, but if you go to Hulu or the network's web site and watch it, you will definitely be counted.
posted by timdicator at 6:49 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

On that note, even just "watching" it should help. Put it on in a background tab and turn the volume all the way down.
posted by theichibun at 6:52 AM on November 12, 2010

Indirect advice: television networks (Showtime excluded) are in the business of selling advertising. The more feedback the networks get as to viewership, the more they can sell the ads for. And/or, the more advertisers who want to support that program.

I'm almost sure all the cable providers have the ability to know what people are watching. I remember that Tivo had the ability to track what people replayed over and over, and presumably what they skipped over. Whether they use that to sell ads, or how much a DVR'd viewing counts versus a live viewing, I'm not sure.

I do know that for cable networks, traditionally anyway, they sell based on how many households the channel is available in. That's one of the ways certain "news" channels get to proclaim they are the most watched: they are available on the most TV sets. So by that metric, subscribing to Showtime would be helpful.

What I do is try to watch programming on Hulu- they have ads, and it is a very direct way to show support for a program. I would guess that the various network websites work similarly.

Couldn't hurt to send emails/letters. So few people do that, that one positive letter does count for a lot.
posted by gjc at 6:54 AM on November 12, 2010

Best answer: Tell a couple hundred thousand of your friends to watch. According to this dude, letter writing doesn't really do the trick anymore.
posted by thejoshu at 7:05 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I hate to be the one pissing on the parade here but unless you are a nielsen household, in which case each and every program will count as if 10,000 or so people watched it, you can pretty much forget making a difference merely by watching. it's far too complicated to count everyone watching, which is why nielsen is making so much money estimating what you are watching based on a bunch of people who are more or less like you.

what really matters is interaction and money. if oprah talks about a book and everyone goes out buying it, networks notice. if you start purchasing the books people present on the daily show, publishers notice. if suddenly the masturbating bear is a trending topic ... well, jeff zucker isn't that smart but he sure as hell felt it when team coco went diddeliwutzki. you get the idea. a show networks and marketers is effective in reaching you is one they want to keep on the air.

here's something even more effective than being a good consumer lemming: purchase commercials. that is the nuclear option. if you call tbs up and tell them you want to purchase ten slots on conan over the next six weeks, they will listen. they will probably throw in four more just as a thanks. a show can do rather badly in terms of ratings if it's considered a tastemaker. that's how john steward can get such massive commercial buys in spite of his relatively small direct audience. oh, and next time your friendly neighborhood monstromart electronics dealer or some magazine you subscribe to wants to know what kind of media you consume, make sure to mention conan. they will make sure everyone and their granny hears about it.

adage has a decent overview of what a 30 sec commercial on different days/shows/networks will cost you.
posted by krautland at 7:06 AM on November 12, 2010

Online viewing does not yet count for TV ratings. (See this NY Magazine article for more information.)

The best way to keep shows on the air under the current (very flawed) system is to watch them live (or "live+7," as you say you have been doing) and convince others to do the same. The good news is that things are changing and networks and advertisers are beginning to account for the different ways in which people get their TV nowadays. (It's unclear how Conan will do going forward, but Louie has already been renewed and hopefully by the time the second season airs these new measurement tools will be in's a great show.)
posted by cosmic osmo at 7:16 AM on November 12, 2010

On further reflection...even your live+7 viewing doesn't officially count unless you're a Nielsen family. So, wait until the Spring (when online viewing begins to be taken into consideration) and watch the shows on ad-supported sites. In the meantime, iTunes downloads and DVD sales are a way to help your favorite shows make the network money even though they don't affect ratings.
posted by cosmic osmo at 7:34 AM on November 12, 2010

Even if you are in a Nielsen household, If you're over the age of 49, you don't matter. OTOH, if you are a male between 18-34, then you are really worth something.

Incidentally, people always suggest that the companies could just get viewer info from their cable boxes or DVRs. They miss that the important thing is which family members are watching, and that is not captured at all. If you ever do Nielsen diaries, there is a column for each person in the household, and you need to mark down an X next to who is watching the TV at any time. And each person needs the age and sex provided.
posted by smackfu at 9:14 AM on November 12, 2010

(Smackfu has it: if you are in the male-aged-18-to-34 demographic, and in the right "market", Nielsen will practically offer to buy you hookers and beer to get you to participate (OR SO I'VE HEARD). And the logging is electronic these days, but they still get VERY PISSED and call you if you fail to log in prior to watching the tube. Yes, every time (SUPPOSEDLY!).)
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:31 AM on November 12, 2010

Best answer: If you want to drum up some grass roots support, start a blog, a Facebook page, etc. and then get quoted by entertainment bloggers, writers, journalists. Grassroots support will get the attention of network PR and media relations departments, but it's got to be really well organized.

Are the shows in actual danger of being canceled?

And watching on Tivo makes no difference to the networks. You can skip the ads, which is the main point of broadcasting,
posted by Ideefixe at 10:16 AM on November 12, 2010

Best answer: I have to agree with krautland on this one. There's very little you can do. Believe me, I feel your frustration, as it seems like everything I like on TV gets canceled too. But the TV ratings are based on a) numbers so large that you couldn't hope to influence a network to keep a show merely on your family alone watching it, and b) the only people being counted are Nielsen families and only people with certain demographics. Males age 18 to 34 are the most likely (lol suckers) to be influenced by commercial advertising, and so they rule what's on TV for the most part.
posted by katyggls at 12:28 PM on November 12, 2010

Best answer: Honestly, there's no real way to do this on the group level (letter writing campaigns and the like), let alone on the individual level. Whether a given show is canceled or stays on the air for another season is a complicated sort of voodoo that only producers, showrunners, and network executives really have control over. I work in TV and I still wouldn't have a chance in hell of influencing whether a show I liked stayed on the air. Even if it was a show I had personal connections to!

You can try taking the advice of other commenters. If there's swag or DVD's out there to buy, buy it. Watch online through legit channels online. Get an iTunes season pass. All that stuff.

Blogs and letter writing campaigns won't work either unless the show has a very serious fanbase - but even then, it would have to have a HUGE fanbase, and it would probably only get a stay of execution. Your best shot, really would be to inspire a smaller network to buy the rights, especially if you can demonstrate that there's such a large fanbase for the show that it would come with the kinds of ratings that look OK on cable but wouldn't fly on the networks.
posted by Sara C. at 3:17 PM on November 12, 2010

If you're over the age of 49, you don't matter

From sitting in on meetings between producers and studio executives, I can tell you this is ABSOLUTELY untrue. I mean, it's probably true if you're trying to keep That's So Raven on the air. But by and large, most mainstream network programming is aimed at middle aged people.

(I'd also wonder how much of this has to do with the aging baby boomers.)
posted by Sara C. at 3:24 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your helpful answers, everyone!

A couple notes: I am 33/F and Mr. Getawaysticks is 36/M so we are getting past that critical demographic (*sigh*). The show I am mainly concerned with right now is Terriers which even the lead actor isn't sure whether will be picked up or not. I also asked because of Running Wilde, which Fox just took off the schedule today, so I can kind of do the math there.

(Oh, and I was mildly depressed for a month after they canceled Party Down.)
posted by getawaysticks at 3:53 PM on November 12, 2010

Best answer: Lead actors wouldn't necessarily be privy to that information. Especially if it's a cable show - they have longer timeframes between wrapping for a season and actually shooting a second season, and they often shoot fewer episodes as well (which means if you're a cast member and someone wants you to go shoot a movie for two weeks, it's probably not make or break for the prospects of the TV show).

Also, regardless of who has what kinds of information, it's not something that would generally be made known until the network is ready to do so. Which could mean the show is very likely picked up but it's not entirely official yet. Or it could mean the show's a goner. There is literally no way to have insider information on something like this.

Working on a TV show which has had cancellation dangled over its head several times, there were approximately three sources of reliable information while we were waiting for a pickup. And none of them were people who would have any contact with the fans.
posted by Sara C. at 4:11 PM on November 12, 2010

More general advice: don't ever watch something on FOX until at least the second season. Unless you're a Nielsen family, in which case keep FOX shows in constant rotation, please!
posted by Sara C. at 4:15 PM on November 12, 2010

From sitting in on meetings between producers and studio executives, I can tell you this is ABSOLUTELY untrue.

You really think so? From everything I've seen, overall viewer numbers are much less relevant than the 18-49 numbers.
posted by smackfu at 4:48 PM on November 12, 2010

What I'll say, not so much about official ratings numbers or anything like that, is that on the sorts of shows I've worked on (hourlong dramas, mostly procedurals of one stripe or another), the production team have been very well aware of what their demographic was. The "men 18-34" demographic might be the most sought after in terms of, say, American Idol, or Monday Night Football, but when it comes to the bulk of adult-focused television, yeah, they know who watches the show and are realistic about what that means.

Notice, also, the copious commercials for minivans, metamucil, family vacation packages, cleaning products, etc. on most of these shows. I'm not sure what the advertising looks like for Gossip Girls, but for most of the workhorse hourlong cable dramas, yeah, they're not really worried about what the youth are doing.

This might contribute to the concept of "brilliant but cancelled", actually. Usually they're shows that cater to a market that is neither teen nor middle aged. As the Boomers have aged, and as cable, and now Hulu/Netflix/etc have exploded, I feel like there's a lot of schizophrenia about what, exactly deserves space in prime time.
posted by Sara C. at 5:50 PM on November 12, 2010

Ugh, that should be Gossip Girl. Not plural. Wow, I really like to pretend I know about television, huh?
posted by Sara C. at 5:51 PM on November 12, 2010

« Older Help me understand interest rates   |   Broken LCD: Is it the inverter or the backlight? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.