Viewers don't listen to critics, but they should
Now that we are three weeks into the fall season, the broadcast networks have had a chance to launch all of their new scripted shows. While there have been a few shows with positive reviews (though, as we'll explore in another article at the end of the month, nothing with quite the level of acclaim as a few shows in past seasons), the news from the ratings front has been dismal.
As the Los Angeles Times' Scott Collins reported earlier this week, "For the first time in at least five years, not a single new show has cracked the top 10 either among total viewers or the advertising-friendly demographic of adults aged 18 to 49." And that trend has continued with the most recent weekly ratings issued by Nielsen. Just one new show -- CBS' Hawaii Five-0, ranked #16 -- managed to land in the top 20 highest-rated shows for the week ending October 3, 2010. A pair of new shows (Fox's Lone Star and ABC's My Generation) were each canceled after two weeks of miniscule ratings, and a third -- NBC's Outlaw -- has just halted production and appears to be on its last legs.
In other words, fall's crop of new shows doesn't include a hit, and already has numerous failures. That said, there have been some new shows with some critical success, and not every new program is a ratings failure. But is there actually a connection between how well a show is reviewed and how many viewers tune in to watch?
There is no correlation between reviews and ratings ...
At first glance, the answer to our question is a flat-out no: reviews do not seem to have any impact on viewership. Below, we have charted the number of viewers (in millions) for each new program compared to each show's Metascore, which indicates the critical consensus for the show on a scale of 0 (terrible reviews) to 100 (great reviews). Green dots are shows that received generally positive reviews, yellow is for mixed reviews, and red is for generally negative reviews. (Note that we have excluded shows on The CW from this report, since that network's ratings are far below those of the other four broadcast networks.)
If there were a strong connection between review quality and viewership, we would expect the dots to line up diagonally from lower left (low ratings, bad reviews) to upper right (high ratings, great reviews). Instead, as you can see, there does not appear to be any linear pattern, although you could probably play a rousing game of connect the dots. (The correlation coefficient for the data displayed below -- which indicates how strongly viewership corresponds to Metascores -- is virtually zero, indicating no discernible correlation.)
However, while there is no direct correlation between ratings and Metascores, all but three of the 10 most-viewed premieres had generally positive reviews:
|1||Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)||13.83||65||6||Outlaw (NBC)||11.51||36|
|2||Blue Bloods (CBS)||12.81||70||7||The Event (NBC)||11.19||68|
|3||$#*! My Dad Says (CBS)||12.48||27||8||No Ordinary Family (ABC)||10.54||65|
|4||Mike & Molly (CBS)||12.24||60||9||Law & Order: L.A. (NBC)||10.52||64|
|5||The Defenders (CBS)||12.09||65||10||Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC)||9.75||64|
... even when we remove network advantages ...
You may have noticed one pattern when looking at the most-viewed shows above, however: they are all on CBS. That's not a coincidence: CBS is currently the highest-rated network, and thus if more people are already tuned into CBS than to other networks, it makes sense that their new programs would also be higher rated than those of other networks. So what happens when we take this built-in advantage out of consideration?
Below, we can see the same viewership vs. Metascore comparison that we had above, but this time the viewership is displayed as the percentage increase (or decrease) compared to the average viewership for all programs on each show's network. While there is a bit more of a correlation detectable this time, it is weak at best. (The correlation coefficient for the data displayed below is 0.295, which indicates a slight positive correlation.)Again, even though there is only a very slight correlation between Metascores and premiere viewership (vs. network averages) for all of the season's new programs, we can see below that every one of the shows that outperformed their network's average viewership had good reviews. (We are excluding NBC's Outlaw, which, since it aired a week early, was the only new program in a sea of reruns, and thus doesn't make for a good comparison.) Of course, if we go back to the chart above, we can see that the opposite is not true: there were several positively-reviewed new shows that recorded below-average ratings. Thus, good reviews seemed to be a requirement for -- but not a guarantee of -- better-than-average viewership totals.
|Show||vs. Net||Metascore||Show||vs. Net||Metascore|
|1||The Event (NBC)||+37%||68||6||Undercovers (NBC)||+5%||64|
|2||Law & Order: L.A. (NBC)||+29%||64||7||Blue Bloods (CBS)||+2%||70|
|3||Raising Hope (Fox)||+15%||76||8||Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC)||+2%||64|
|4||Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)||+11%||65||9||$#*! My Dad Says (CBS)||0%||27|
|5||No Ordinary Family (ABC)||+10%||65||10||Mike & Molly (CBS)||-2%||60|
... but viewers seem to agree with critics after all
So, we've learned that viewers are tuning into the premiere episodes of new shows with little if any consideration for how critics evaluated the programs. But common sense dictates that those viewers won't stick around for subsequent episodes if they didn't like what they saw in the premiere. If a lot of viewers dislike the show, the drop in ratings from week one to week two can be substantial; if, on the other hand, viewers generally like what they see, then the second-week decline will be much smaller.
Below, we've charted the percentage declines in viewership (from week 1 to week 2) for each of the fall season's new shows, and compared those declines to each show's Metascore. For the first time, we can see a fairly strong correlation between the two measures. Generally speaking, the higher a show's Metascore, the less of a decline in total viewers for the show's second episode; similarly, the lower the Metascore, the more viewers that program lost from its premiere total. (This overall trend is indicated by the dotted line, and note that the correlation coefficient this time is over 0.6.)
In other words, the better a show's reviews were, the more viewers seemed to like the show and stick around for a second episode. (In fact, the critics' favorite new series of the season -- Raising Hope -- is the only show not to experience a decline in total viewers in its second week.) Thus, it turns out that viewers and critics do agree on the merits of each new fall show. While that won't help save a well-reviewed show like Lone Star that had few people tuning in to start with, it does suggest that viewers might want to pay closer attention to reviews before deciding what to watch in the first place.
|1||Raising Hope (Fox)||0%||76||6||Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)||↓11%||65|
|2||The Whole Truth (ABC)||↓5%||56||7||Better With You (ABC)||↓11%||65|
|3||Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC)||↓6%||64||8||Blue Bloods (CBS)||↓12%||70|
|4||Lone Star (Fox)||↓7%||73||9||The Defenders (CBS)||↓14%||65|
|5||Mike & Molly (CBS)||↓8%||60||10||No Ordinary Family (ABC)||↓15%||65|
While that concludes our look at the fall television ratings, we aren't through with our examination of the fall TV season. At the conclusion of the month -- after some additional new cable series have debuted -- we'll be back with a look at the best and worst new shows of the season, and a comparison of each network's performance.
What do you think?
How much consideration do you give to professional reviews before deciding whether or not to watch a new program. Did any critics steer you in the right direction this season? Let us know in the discussion section below.