Screw Nielsen

Brandy and I spend a lot of time watching television, and one of the shows we started watching this summer was Arrested Development with Jason Bateman and David Cross. The first time watching it we both thought there were funny parts, but didn’t think it was anything special, so we stopped watching it for a while. We picked it back up again after a few weeks and had developed a new found appreciation for the show.

I had really wanted to like it since I think Jason Bateman is pretty darn funny; I thought he was the only saving grace in The Sweetest Thing. I hadn’t paid too much attention to David Cross other than his Men in Black II appearance, but I thought his look and delivery in both the movie and the show was hilarious. One of the things I found really interesting about the show is that Ron Howard and Henry Winkler (Riche and The Fonz from Happy Days) are teamed up again. Howard Ever since Water Boy Winkler seems intent on playing a sniveling weakling (though I must say he does it very well).

Anyway I should have realized that the show was in danger of cancellation, but I didn’t until I read this post by Steven Smith where he gave a plug and a little bit of history. It made me think about a lot of shows that lasted solely through the rave reviews of the critics and the few dedicated viewers who spread the word eventually; shows like Seinfeld (one of my favorites), 24 and Alias. And for every show that’s made it there are at least 5 that have been really good but didn’t get the Nielsen ratings to keep it afloat.

For those not in the know about Neilson check out this article by Marshall Brain and for those who do, read on. Nielsen has been around for years and has proven a very effective way of capturing shows that viewers love, though I would say not so great at showing proving what they hate. Some of the shows that come to mind that slipped under the ratings radar are shows like Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn and Family Guy, both of which could be argued had a pretty loyal following but failed to make it in the ratings war. Fans have proven their loyalty to Family Guy with their DVD purchases in the past year or so, which has prompted FOX to re-instate the show in the 2005 season. Tough Crowd has just recently gone off the air and has not had the benefit of being dropped to DVD yet, but being a political commentary show I would think it unlikely that it will do that well, since it doesn’t benefit from a nut-job host like Michael Moore like The Awful Truth. These shows suffered the fate of a poor Nielsen rating, which goes a good way to show that the system is flawed. I can almost understand Tough Crowd being cancelled since it was lined up against Leno, Letterman and Kimmel, but when you start bringing shows back so-called ‘failed’ shows due to overwhelming fan support you have to question the answers.

Another reason that the traditional Nielsen system is becoming outdated is due to the advent of Tivo and other DVRs. These devices change the way that television is watched, and Nielsen doesn’t even capture the metrics of people who don’t want to be a slave to airtime. Because of this, Nielsen is reacting by announcing that they will address this market in the middle of next year. As Tivo users, we should be thankful for their admission and quick reaction!

Wrapping up, it just doesn’t seem okay the Nielsen dictates what stays and what goes, when it’s pretty obvious that the company only has sort-of a clue about what’s entertaining. Other than notifying them that I am out here and upset by the consequences of their actions, I’m not quite sure what actions to take. I wish I had a long list of action items for myself and others, but sadly I don’t. If only there was some way to still be able to watch the shows I thought were funny without them getting cancelled because I didn’t watch them when and how the advertisers WANTED me to watch them. Fight the power, loose the shows…