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How To Save Your Favorite Shows Like ‘Chuck’ & ‘Dollhouse’
Tom Cheredar   |  

Season finales have all aired and the campaigns to save NBC’s Chuck and Fox’s Dollhouse were short lived as I’ve heard both will survive to see at least one more September. But what I want to point out before the news becomes stale is the underlying problem with how the networks currently judge a program’s worth.

Right now, the primary concern of television network executives are ratings via a standard broadcast during prime time hours. Those “ratings” primarily come from places like Nielsen, which means they select a group of individuals across the nation that will represent a good sample of the population and give them a box that records their viewing habits. That’s how they get their demographics by age and gender, two of the most useful pieces of information used to reel in advertisers.

I don’t know about most of you, but I’m 25 years old and I’ve never once met anyone who had one of these Nielsen boxes. The closest I’ve come to even understanding how the whole process even works is due to an episode of Roseanne where the family got a Nielsen box and proceeded keep it tuned to PBS to mess with the statistics. Most of the episode was then filmed in the garage where they had a small older television with an antenna hooked up.

And I still didn’t really understand how you’d get accurate results from a test like that. I mean, if you have a family of four, how do you know who’s watching what and when? It’s sort of ridiculous that this practice is still relied upon so heavily when determining the fate of a television show…like Chuck…or Dollhouse.

If we want to get better content, we need to be giving the TV folks better information. That means turning off the television and in some cases, cutting off your cable service. How could that possibly help? Well first of all, unless you’ve got a Nielsen box, you’re really not doing anything at all. You’re actually hurting your favorite program since you’re not part of the statistics. No number of postcards or picket signs are ever going to replace that.

Fortunately, we’ve got some better options due to high speed Internet and a willingness by the major networks to stream content online. The best of these options is Hulu, a website that offers commercial-supported streaming video of TV shows and movies from NBC, FOX, and a handful of affiliated networks and studios. As of a few weeks ago, ABC also has a controlling stake in the “business” of the site, which means Lost, Heroes, Chuck, and Dollhouse (as well as any other good Sci-Fi) will all be housed under one umbrella. By signing up for Hulu and filling out the profile section with your REAL age and gender, you’ve basically put yourself on the map. Advertisers can look at REAL data and buy time. And more ad dollars equates to saving your popular show if you are truly as dedicated a watcher as the Internet suggests.

If you absolutely MUST watch your favorite Geek programing in prime time, then make sure you have a Tivo or some sort of DVR unit issued by your cable provider and record the shows (even if you don’t intend to rewatch them later). I heard from Whedonesque that the Tivo/DVR saving on Dollhouse was what greenlit another 13 episodes.

Do this or we’ll all be sitting around here about this time next year bitching and moaning about how we need just one more season.


  1. Sucks.

    I was a fan of Terminator on Fox, but I would watch the episodes online during my lunch break at work. Being that I am a typical geek I wonder how many other people did what I did.

    Maybe we can get another season of “Howie Do It” as a consolation prize though. YEA! (sarcasm)

    Comment by Houston — May 21, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

  2. Why would I want to save dollhouse? Really why? I hope it dies. And all the four fans who watch it only do so because they feel loyal to Josh. Its the worste show on TV by far!

    Comment by nate9111 — May 21, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

  3. Speaking as a journalism professor, the Nielsen system is now far more sophisticated than it was portrayed in Roseanne. The typical Nielsen family today receives an entire computer system that is connected to every single media device in the house: Every TV, every cable box, satellite dish, DVD player, VCR, Blue Ray player; you name it. The only thing that doesn’t get connected is your personal computer, so what you watch on Hulu isn’t credited.

    The system relies on the TV viewer to self-report by using a remote control to tell the system who is watching what whenever the TV is turned on in that room. It records just age and gender, and allows for the viewer to manually enter guests who do not live at the residence into the system when visitors are watching at your home. About every 45 minutes or so, the transmitter box that records who is watching begins to flash at you as a reminder to press the remote to indicate you are still watching the show. That’s a safety feature so you can’t turn on PBS at 8 a.m. and send false data that indicates you are watching PBS all day while you are at work. If you don’t keep reminding the box you are in the room, it stops recording your data.

    I understand there’s a ton of other safeguards built in. And, of course, like any system, it has its flaws. Shows you record on DVR and view later don’t get full credit for viewing, for example, and after a few days, they are treated as if you are viewing a DVD; that is, the show receives no credit at all. But, when you think of it, there needs to be something like that built in, or the ratings would be continually in flux.

    Oh yeah, and Tom, you misspelled “Roseanne.”

    Comment by The Grammar-Nazi — May 21, 2009 @ 3:07 pm

  4. @TheGrammar-Nazi: Damnit

    Comment by TechGOnzo — May 21, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

  5. i always suspected that the DVR/Tivo numbers would actually be more hurtful to a show. cuz as we all know anybody who watches a show the next day or week is gonna just fast forward all those lame commercials while watching and advertisers i’d suspect probably wouldn’t like that.

    although personally i’ve gotten so used to doing it that now i never watch anything at it’s regular time, i record everything i want to see just so i can ff the ads when i watch it. i’m about 2 days behind the rest of the world in my TV viewing, but oh well, do i really want to keep seeing 20 feminine hygiene ads when i’m trying to enjoy LOST?

    Comment by Dax — May 22, 2009 @ 10:22 am

  6. It’s interesting that I would read this now after I just finished a survey for Nelson. I got a phone call one night from a nelson rep. and was asked if I’d like to partake in a TV viewing survey I said sure. I was sent 30 bucks a TV viewing diary for a week and just had to fill it out and send it back. No box. Actually pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

    Comment by Juice — May 24, 2009 @ 1:19 am

  7. In my oppinnion a lot of geeks like us out there are getting ticked off because of the only good tv shows get axed ( firefly ) But we are also getting a lot of tv shows coming out now which re-make or continue on in some way the show’s or movies we saw years ago ( battlestar galactica, terminater ). And they just can’t seem to get their acts together, the continuity of the scripts from show to show gets worse with each episode. Almost as if the screenwriters have no clue where the stories are heading. Continualy changing heroes into villains and vice versa with huge plot wholes everywhere. Geeks like us deserve and have viewed shows in the past with a great deal more detail and thought put into ours shows growth. I think more and more geeks are just buying the DVD when it comes out. Perhaps that is where the studios should be looking for how a show stands up to the general public.

    Comment by Ttandc — May 24, 2009 @ 2:31 am

  8. In the radio business, we have wondered the same thing for years. The best thing that anyone in the media can do – hope that the decision-makers factor in the unreliability of these types of surveys. There is another factor, at least in radio, that affects the purity of the samples. Home phone lines are necessary in order for the family to participate. How many 20 -25 year olds do you know with a home phone line? See the problem here? Chuck fans are not likely to have home phone lines, (especially now that you can get high speed DSL service without one).

    Comment by TedKelly — April 6, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

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