Peak TV has given us a riot of diverse ideas, voices, and series, so much TV, in fact, that it’s impossible to keep up. And the Emmys are a great bellwether of this: As brilliant as all the nominees are, probably only Alan has seen them all. But according to one study, it’s not just that it’s hard to keep up. No, if you’ve ever felt like you’re the only one watching your favorite show, that’s because you are.
Variety has a study, conducted with 500 participants by Katz Media Group, 51% of which (that is, 255 of which) had a Netflix subscription. And the numbers, if you take the study at face value, are pretty brutal. Modern Family was the only series a majority had watched, and that was just 56%. Next up was This Is Us, which only 35% had watched, and Black-ish, which 28% watched, and Stranger Things with 21%. Master of None got it particularly rough in the survey, with just 5% saying they watched it and 76% of those surveyed saying they haven’t even heard of it. So we guess they’re not going to want anything from Whole Foods.
That said, we’ve got a few objections here. The most basic is that, well, we’re talking 500 people here, only half of which have Netflix. By contrast, Netflix had more subscribers than cable last summer with nearly 51 million, and that number has only gone up since. And we have no idea who this panel was made up of. Was it a diverse panel of Netflix users with varied interests? 500 broadcast executives? A legion of Helens?
That matters, because Netflix isn’t broadcast TV. For the broadcast nets, we always have to remember they sell us to advertisers, but Netflix? We just cut them a check every month. Master Of None doesn’t need to be viewed by every single Netflix viewer, it just has to please enough of them to keep that sweet subscriber revenue coming. It’s not like Netflix viewers stampede from Black Mirror to Fuller House, although our petitions for a crossover episode appear to have gone unanswered. Netflix is picking shows based on subsets of their audience wanting to watch them. If it turns into a Stranger Things-esque phenomenon, great! But it’s not necessary.
Besides, the Emmys aren’t about raw numbers. There might not be an American alive who hasn’t sat through an episode of The Big Bang Theory or NCIS, if only because they seemingly lurk in every waiting room, but how many people genuinely love these shows? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying these shows; that’s their job, to while away an hour away from your problems.
The best shows, though, speak to us on a deeper level somehow. Completely by accident, a spark leaps across the air gap between any show and a single viewer, and electrifies us. Shows linger in the popular imagination not because millions of people watched them, even if that was the case. It’s because they, almost accidentally, closed that air gap for enough of us to genuinely care. That’s a far trickier thing, and any show that pulls it off deserves respect.