The Wonky Ratings Stuff: Government-subsidized television in the UK is a mysterious beast, especially to those of us over in the United States that expect solid ratings are all a show needs to ensure a return. It’s certainly a huge factor in the UK, but production costs also play heavily into if and how a series is ordered. If I’m not mistaken, because many of the television shows are government backed, a recession can even affect the television schedule (it’s why the last few episodes with David Tennant were movie specials, instead of a regular season). The reason why it’s taken so long for “Torchwood” to return to the air, for instance, was never its ratings. The matter is one of financing, which is why the UK eventually had to partner with Starz to get the show made. There’s also something called the Audience Appreciation Index in the United Kingdom, which is fantastic. Shows with smaller audiences can still be renewed if those shows score well with the people who do watch, which means a show like “Firefly” or “Arrested Development” would never be cancelled in the UK.
That is to say, when I heard that Doctor Who would indeed return next year for another 14 episodes (which includes the usual Christmas episode), I also saw a suggestion that ratings in the Matt Smith era haven’t exactly been spectacular. In doing some research on those ratings, I bit more off than I could chew in trying to understand UK television. It’s strange to me, for instance, that the UK would air two of its most popular shows, “Doctor Who” and “Britain’s Got Talent” not only against each other, but on Saturdays, which is a night that the networks don’t even bother with here in the States. Better weather can also have a demonstrable effect on ratings, too, because there’s a smaller pool of viewers in the UK and they experience similar weather. Also, no shit, if it’s a sunny Saturday, who is going to stay in to watch the telly? Soccer competition can also wreak havoc on ratings.
Still, from what I gather, ratings during the Matt Smith era range from a low of 5 million to a high of around 7 million, which is down from the nine and ten million that the David Tennant era provided. But, again, these are live ratings, and do not account for the large number of time-shifted viewers. Ratings like that would get a show renewed in the United States, and since we have five times the population, 7 million is obviously a huge number for the UK (the equivalent of 35 million in the States, which not even “American Idol” approaches anymore).
I still don’t understand why people in the UK watch television on Saturday. But then again, I also don’t understand how Graham Norton can extract far better interviews from his guests than any American talk show host (why doesn’t someone here adopt his interview format?). I also don’t understand why a show like “Never Mind the Buzzcocks” (which I love) can attract much of the top talent in the UK as guests, while the ratings juggernaut “Dancing with the Stars” can only attract C-level stars in America. To be honest, I prefer the way things work in the UK.
Speaking of Buzzcocks, fans of Tennant (shirtless or not) really must watch the episode of that show he hosted. Even when he’s not the Doctor, he is outstanding (as is Catherine Tate).
The News: This is the exciting part: Matt Smith will return next year for another season of “Doctor Who.” It will be another regular season order, and there’s no word yet on whether it will be split into two half seasons. Bravo.
But, and I’ll do my best here to dance around any spoilers for the American audience a week behind the UK Spring finale, it may — and in fact probably is — the last season for both Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill). In recent interviews with both, they spoke of their time on “Doctor Who” in the past tense and it appears that Arthur Darvill would have a scheduling conflict, anyway, as he’s committed to a play in London during the time in which the next season of “Who” would be filming. They’ve both been on for two years now, which is as long as any other companion since the show returned in 2005. It’s certainly not official, but it’s probably time for them to move on. Karen Gillan, I have a spare bedroom if you need it.
I don’t know who it will be, but my theory on Amy Pond’s replacement as companion is a younger version of River Song, to account for the long and romantic affair between the Doctor and progressively younger River.
One other item of note: After the success of Neil Gaimman’s episode of “Doctor Who,” there are rumors — according to Combom — that Terry Pratchett might take a swing at an episode, although he has denied meeting with Moffat to discuss the prospect.
Finally, “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood” news is typically left in the capable hands of Steven Lloyd Wilson, but Steven is headed this week to Russia for the next two months as part of his Ph.D program. We hope he’ll be able to continue contributing throughout the summer, but that will depend on the reliability of his Internet while he’s there. In either case, he should be back in the August, if not sooner.
(Source: Dark Horizons)