Yesterday, in discussing ABC’s decision to release a spoiler-heavy 10-minute preview of the upcoming third season of “Cougar Town,” television critic Ryan McGee asked showrunner, Bill Lawrence, directly what the idea behind the strategy was. Here’s his response:
It’s not a “new standard” as far as clips go. We have a different burden – getting people back after nine months, convincing folks to try a show with a polarizing title. But: why not put every episode out? You’re not trying to get all those people to watch it on TV, you’re trying to get word of mouth, and buzz to spread to the 25,000 NIELSEN households (that’s it – has anyone met one?) that determine the fate of your show. That is our flawed system: 25,000 households representing entire TV viewing country. You just have to hope that if a Nielsen family watches pilot/clips early, they are still compelled to watch again because they liked it and want to keep show alive. Ruining it for the masses or encouraging them to watch on their computer doesn’t matter until the system changes.
I knew the Nielsen sample was small, but that number is striking: 25,000 households, out of approximately 115 million households in America. I’m not very good at math, but by my calculator’s calculations, that means that .0217 percentage of American households determine not only the amount a network can charge its advertisers, but what shows in effect are canceled or renewed. .0217. That’s astounding. That means that, essentially, a very popular show (say, a show like “Mike & Molly” that receives 10 million household viewers) has to only be seen by the right 2,100 households out of 115 million to be considered a successful show.
It also means that, around 870 Nielsen families watched “Community” each week, which is why it’s on hiatus. But the difference between a low-rated show (the 4 million households that watch “Community”) and a show that would be considered extremely safe on NBC (6 million real households, or 1,300 Nielsen households) is around 430 households.
So, basically what it boils down to is this: The decision of 430 households (out of 115 MILLION households) to not watch “Community” on Thursday nights means that the rest of us are not given the privilege of watching Alison Brie run in low-cut blouses. That’s true even if, of those 430 households, one or two of the members of that household are watching “Community” on Hulu two days after it airs, while Grampa is asleep with “CSI” on the old television set.
And that, folks, is how completely f***ing moronic Nielsen ratings are. The fate of one show can be determined by the television watching habits 430 grandfathers who fell asleep watching a crappy procedural.