Last Thursday, ratings for Parks and Recreation leaped from the horrifying (3.5 million viewers) to merely the bad (4.4 million viewers), proving what many of the readers here suggested: Airing the season premieres outside of premiere week hurt the NBC sitcom (in fact, all of the NBC Thursday night shows) because many viewers hadn’t even realized the show had returned. The 4.4 million viewers, however, is still not a particularly good number, especially given what was once a prime slot for NBC. Over on The AV Club, Todd VanDerWerff posits a theory for why the ratings for Parks and Rec are so bad:
Did you read that study about how partisanship has increased in the United States? Among other things, the study states that the split between Republicans and Democrats is now worse than whatever animus exists between black and white people and that it grew exponentially between 2008 and 2010—nearly as much as it did between 1960 and 2008! The findings were based on asking people questions like, “Would you be upset if your child married someone of the opposing political party?” and the study concluded that this measure has grown from five percent who would have been upset in 1960 to around 40 percent—50 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of Democrats—in recent years. Obviously, it’s impossible to conclude this is absolutely true from one study, but don’t you feel it in your gut? Don’t you feel that polarization all around you, at your workplace or at school or on your Facebook wall? Politics has become a no-fly zone for many families, something that’s avoided because the divisions between us on these issues are growing intractable.
I’m not sure how much that theory holds water simply because Parks and Rec isn’t a particularly partisan show, although I suspect many who have not watched it have the perception that it is a partisan show. I like to think, however, that the show represents the full spectrum of government: Leslie is the idealist; Ben is the fiscally responsible one; Ron is the libertarian; Chris represents government efficiency; Jerry represents the entrenched bureaucracy; Donna represents bureaucratic laziness; and Tom represents government waste. You might even be able to argue that Ann represents special interests.
Point being: The ratings are bad. How bad? Remember Judd Apatow’s brilliant Freaks and Geeks, the show that was canceled midway through its first season? It’s available on Netflix Instant now (watch it if you have not; you won’t be disappointed), Over on Entertainment Weekly, Judd Apatow and Paul Feig were interviewed about Freaks and Geeks, and Feig noted a certain irony in its ratings.
It felt like at that time in television, people weren’t looking for that tone, sadly. The irony is that we had like 7 million loyal viewers, which today would be a middling hit, but it was just game show mania, so people were not in the mood to watch that kind of thing. We got cancelled for a game show. We got replaced by Twenty One.
Twenty One? Ouch. Reading The AV Club’s theory on P&R’s ratings and the Feig quote in the same morning got me thinking: How would other brilliant shows that were canceled to soon stack up against the ratings of Parks and Recreation? If they were released today, would they stand a better chance of surviving than Parks and Recreation or would they suffer the same overall ratings erosion that the rest of network television has suffered? Either way, it’s interesting to think about.
Here are 10 shows with more viewers than Parks and Recreation.
Parks and Recreation — 4.4 million viewers, 70 episodes aired so far
1. Freaks and Geeks — 7 million viewers (13 episodes aired)
2. Sports Night — 11 million viewers (45 episodes aired)
3. Twin Peaks — 8 million viewers (30 episodes aired)
4. Firefly — 4.8 million viewers (14 episodes aired)
5. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip* — 7 million viewers (22 episodes aired)
6. Pushing Daisies — 6.1 million viewers (22 episodes aired)
7. Undeclared — 7.3 million viewers (13 episodes aired)
8. My So Called Life — 12.1 million viewers (19 episodes aired)
9. Wonderfalls — 5 million viewers (13 episodes)
10. Andy Barker P.I. — 5.4 million viewers (6 episodes)
(*Greatness debatable, but I drink the Sorkin Kool-Aid)