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.