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You Are not Part of the Masses; Network Television is not Designed for You

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 29, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 29, 2010 |

If you’re reading this post, you’re part of a very small minority of Americans. Not just because you’re reading it on Pajiba, but because 1) you’re not reading Perez Hilton, and 2) you actually read. You’re different. I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re not part of the mainstream. Don’t even try and convince yourself that you are. Chances are, you don’t know who was eliminated from “Dancing with the Stars,” this week. You probably don’t know the rules to “Deal or No Deal.” You probably don’t know who Bob Harper is. Odds are, socioeconomically, you’re probably in the higher ranges of the American population. Most of you know how to punctuate a sentence, know how many judges are on the Supreme Court (and could probably name most, if not all, of them), and know only enough about Jeff Dunham to avoid him. Dane Cook probably makes your skin crawl.

You’re not like everyone else. Everyone else spends seven hours a week watching procedurals, another 5 hours a week watching reality shows, and they believe that there’s a switch that allows them to turn off their brain, a switch they’ve had in the off position for most of their lives.

Instead, you probably watch shows like “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Dexter,” or “Friday Night Lights,” or the many other shows of their ilk. That is to say, you’re part of the 3 million Americans (or approximately one percent), who take the time occasionally to tune in to something thoughtful.

You’re not like the others.

Network television is for “the others.” Network television is free, licensed by the government, and supported by commercial advertising. In order to for a network channel to continue to exist, it must sell advertising to the largest number of people that it can. Therefore, network programming is designed to appeal to the largest number of people, the very masses that you are not a part of. You are selective; network programming is not designed for selective people.

This is why quality shows like “Lone Star” are cancelled after two episodes. Don’t blame yourselves for not watching it; you’re part of a vicious circle. I, like most of you, knew that it’s cancellation was imminent before it even aired. You’re wise enough to know that good shows are quick to be cancelled on network television, and those very shows are cancelled quickly because the more selective among you — the target audience of those very shows — are less likely to invest in a show they know will likely be cancelled. So, you don’t invest, and then it’s cancelled. It’s cancelled, because you don’t invest. But it’s not really the networks’ fault, either. It’s the system’s fault. Blame capitalism, if you must, but a network has to make money, and in order to make money, it must sell advertising, and in order to sell advertising, there must be viewers, and in order to attract viewers, they must appeal to the masses.

You are not part of the masses. Network television is not designed for you.

“Lone Star” had no business airing on Fox, where it was directly pitted against “Mike and Molly” and “Dancing with the Stars.” “Lone Star” attracted approximately 4 million viewers in its first week, and fell 23 percent during its second week. That’s about double the ratings of “Breaking Bad” and a million plus more than “Mad Men.” Fox could’ve continued to air “Lone Star” and given it a chance to find an audience, but the likelihood was that it probably would’ve found a small, but very committed, viewership. Small, but very committed viewerships do not sell advertising.

Shows with small, but committed viewerships can exist on cable, where the commercial advertising is supplemented by cable premiums, and where advertising rates are higher per viewer because it’s more targeted. Most of the 3 million people who watch “Mad Men” on a weekly basis are smarter, are more affluent, and spend more on more expensive products. Moreover, theoretically, you have to pay to see those shows, so those cable channels theoretically must provide programming that you’d be willing to pay to see. How many network shows would you willingly pay to watch? I can count the number one one hand, and none of them do particularly well in the ratings.

I’m bummed about the cancellation of “Lone Star,” and while it feels good to blame Fox, in a more practical sense, I know it’s not really their fault. Kyle Killen shouldn’t have taken his show to a network; he should’ve taken it to a cable channel, where he could have received a 13-episode commitment, and where he’d have been given a chance to allow his show to find an audience. It was a great pilot, and I’m sure it would’ve found a nice home on AMC or Showtime or even TNT. Still, even if it had found an audience, it wouldn’t have fetched four million viewers, but it wouldn’t need four million viewers to survive. Kyle Killen wanted to to take his niche show to the masses, and the masses wanted to watch Bristol Palin dance.

So, don’t blame Fox. And don’t blame yourselves. You can blame the masses if you’d like, but they can’t hear you; they’re too busy watching overweight people make overweight jokes scored to a blaring laugh track. Ignorance is bliss, y’all. And the blissful rarely have their television shows cancelled.