There was this report in Vulture a few weeks ago, one of those year-end statistical roundups that lists some fun facts about TV as we know it today. These are always fun, in part because there are little tidbits you can file away for the next time you’re out with friends and want to sound interesting (“Did you know there’s a show on Hallmark Channel called Chesapeake Shores that gets as many viewers as Westworld? It’s true!”), but also because sometimes you’ll stumble across something that legitimately surprises you. Like, say, this.
The typical viewer of The Americans lives in a home where the average income is just north of $80,000 per year — a larger amount than all but one basic cable drama. Just edging it out: BBC America’s London Spy, whose audience makes an average of $81,600 annually. Interestingly, among comedies, a much more low-brow FX series — the beloved and long-running It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia— actually has the richest audience on basic cable. Sunny viewers take in a healthy $81,300 each year.
That’s right. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has the wealthiest audience of any cable comedy, and is only narrowly edged out for wealthiest audience of any show by London Spy, a BBC drama that sounds like something you’d invent if you were trying to come up with a fake show that rich people watch. (Other examples: Manchester Haberdashery, CSI: Greenwich, Netflix’s The Crown.) And while this struck me as odd at first, because It’s Always Sunny still feels like a “four college roommates sitting on a ratty futon” kind of show to me, it does make sense. The show is now entering its 12th season. A lot of its viewers may have started on ratty futons, but in the decade since have gotten jobs, and started families, and moved into the suburbs. That or, as I originally thought upon reading this fact, Warren Buffett is secretly a huge fan and his income is throwing all the figures out of whack. Too soon to rule this out.
And that realization led to a second realization. It’s Always Sunny is in a place on television right now that it occupies pretty much by itself: a high-quality, long-running, live-action sitcom that focuses almost purely on being funny.
Let’s pull that apart. With shows like Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock shuffling off to TV afterlife in recent years, what are the remaining high-quality live-action comedies? Veep is great, but is still only on season five. New Girl has aired more episodes than It’s Always Sunny thanks to its 22-episode network seasons, and while I still love it dearly, it’s had its ups and downs. Curb Your Enthusiasm has it beat in total years (debuted it 2000), but Larry David just took a six year break, so we probably need to dock points for consistency. And Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, Broad City, You’re the Worst, Silicon Valley and such are all fine shows, but still too young. It’s Always Sunny even debuted before Modern Family, which is one of those facts that doesn’t sound quite right in your head until you look it up and realize It’s Always Sunny had four full seasons in the books before Phil and Claire had their first fight over a creaky household fixture. It’s been on television since 2005. I mean, look at how young everyone looked in the pilot.