What the hell were people watching last week?
Earlier today, I read that NCIS just aired its 200th episode, which didn’t really come as a surprise, because I always knew NCIS to be one of those shows that flew below the my radar, but still managed to be one of the most popular shows on TV. Wondering if there are any other shows that fit that description, I decided to take a gander at last week’s Nielsen ratings to see what America at-large (as opposed to the America that posts on messages boards and runs the internet) was watching these days.
Now, being only one person, (albeit one who works reporting TV news) I understand that there are many popular shows that I don’t have the bandwidth to watch. I also understand that every show isn’t Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, or Breaking Bad, but I still feel entitled to ask the question: Why are some shows as popular as they are?
Before we go much further, here are the network ratings from last week:
A list of the twenty most popular programs in the country contains three American Idols and two special events (Pro Bowl and Pro Bowl pregame, which is downright baffling, but whatever, it’s football and football gets high ratings), meaning that among the fifteen most popular, non-Idol shows last week were:
What I think I know about Undercover Boss: This show has big important execs go undercover at their own companies to perform front-line tasks for some reason. I’m pretty sure I got the premise on this one from both the name of the show, and the fact that it’s constantly promoted while I watch football.
What Undercover Boss is actually about (from Wikipedia): Each episode depicts a person who has a high management position at a major business, deciding to become undercover as a entry-level employee to discover the faults in the company.
My reaction: Ok. So the endgame is to find faults in the company. This strikes me as a feel-good show, which always prove a LOT more durable than I would guess, as was the case with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. It’s a gimmick that I view as similar to Wipeout! in that you watch it once, go “huh,” then forget about it entirely.
Why it is popular: My theory here (this article consists largely of bullshit theories and generalizations about TV audiences at large; caveat emptor) is that “middle America,” you know, the guys with the ties and the short-sleeved shirts and the coveralls, enjoy watching the upper crust eat shit at jobs supposedly “beneath” them. This is perhaps the only show on television where low-level employees aren’t just treated like human beings, but actually appreciated for the work they do. There are probably a lot of people interested in seeing that week-after-week, regardless of the context.
What I think I know about The Mentalist: Simon Baker is a “mentalist” which means he uses his mind to solve crimes.
What The Mentalist is actually about (from Wikipedia): It follows the fictional story of Patrick Jane who, as a paid consultant, uses unorthodox methods to aid a fictional unit of the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in homicide investigations.
My reaction: Ok. So it’s one of those procedurals that you can just sort of drop in and out of without really investing yourself. I know the star of the show is Simon Baker, who I believe is British and who I know is handsome.
Why it is popular: As with so many procedurals, the plot, while not incidental, is fairly rote, and the only point of differentiation between this and a show like CSI or NCIS or Cold Case or Without a Trace is that it has Simon Baker, who is very handsome and probably British. It’s popular because these shows are universally popular on CBS. Also, the fact that he works for the “California Bureau of Investigation” suggests that the audience for The Mentalist might be extremely patient and forgiving.