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Discussion Post: How Many of Nielsen's Top 25 Shows Do You Watch?

By / 03.01.12

I’m a television critic, so it is therefore my job to watch as much television as possible. I only watch television shows that I like or that I think are relevant to the two audiences for which I write, Warming Glow and Pajiba. Still, on an average week, I watch between 25 and 30 television shows, not including “The Daily Show.” It’s not as much as you’d think — it breaks down to a little more than three hours a day, which is the amount of television the average American watches.

What I’m often confounded by, however, is this: Despite all of the television that both myself and the average television viewer watches, our programming choices rarely intersect. I’m one of the four million people — according to Nielsen — that watches “Parks and Recreation.” How is that the other 296 million American or so can watch 25 shows a week, and fail so spectacularly to watch quality shows? “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” have about 3 million viewers, “The Walking Dead” is watched by about 8 million people per week, about 10 million watch “How I Met Your Mother.” What are the other 290 million people who watch 25 shows a week watching besides “Jersey Shore”?

Then I see the Nielsen Top 25, and it all starts to make sense. These were the Top 25 shows from the week before last.

1. NCIS

2. American Idol — Wednesday

3. American Idol — Thursday

4. Voice

5. NCIS: Los Angeles

6. Big Bang Theory

7. The Mentalist

8. Person of Interest

9. Two and a Half Men

10. Criminal Minds

11. 60 Minutes

12. Modern Family

13. CSI

14. Unforgettable

15. Mike and Molly

16. Blue Bloods

17. Survivor

18. Undercover Boss

19. Rob

20. 2 Broke Girls

21. Amazing Race

22. CSI: Miami

23. Once Upon a Time

24. The Good Wife

25. Hawaii Five-O

I watch exactly three of those shows. If you take into account only the Top 25 Shows in the 18-49 demo, there’s not that much change.

1. American Idol (Wednesday)

2. VOICE

3. The Big Bang Theory

4. American Idol (Thursday)

5. Modern Family

6. Two and a Half Men

7. NCIS

8. 2 Broke Girls

9. How I Met Your Mother

10. Mike & Molly

11. NCIS: Los Angeles

12. Grey’s Anatomy

13. Rob

14. New Girl

15. Criminal Minds

16. Once Upon a Time

17. Survivor

18. Person of Interest

19. Glee

20. Amazing Race

21. Smash

22. Family Guy

23. The Mentalist

24. Hawaii Five-O

25. CSI

So, four shows among the 18-49 demo. Note, too, this unusual fact: Around 4 million viewers among the 18-49 demo watch a show like “NCIS: Los Angeles,” but 16 million people watch it overall, so around 12 million of those viewers are over the age of 50. That is to say, 75 percent of its audience is over 50. Most of the top 25 reflect a similar breakdown, which suggest that viewership for most network programs is controlled by old people.

It still doesn’t answer what the other 290 million people are watching. It must be cable, right? Here’s that week’s top 25 Cable programs.

1. The Walking Dead

2. Pawn Stars

3. Jersey Shore

4. Gold Rush

5. Whitney Houston: Her Life

6. Whitney Houston: Her Life

7. Pawn Stars

8. Whitney Houston: Her Life

9. Whitney Houston: Her Life

10. Swamp People

11. Radio Rebel

12. WWE

13. NCIS

14. WWE

15. Whitney Houston: Her Life

16. Spongebob Squarepants

17. NCIS

18. Spongebob Squarepants

19. Monsters, Inc.

20. Austin & Alley

21. Victorious

22. The Big Bang Theory

23. Spongebob Squarepants

24. Shake It Up

25. Teen Mom

OK. So, I’ve only seen one of those shows, and I haven’t even heard of many of them. All of this is to say, there is a vast world of television viewers with whom most of us have very little in common, at least where it concerns our television habits.

Today’s Discussion Question: How many of the top rated shows on networks and on cable do you watch?


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