Friday, November 03, 2006

"Wall Street Journal" Botches Story On "Studio 60"

It took two people to write a story for the Wall Street Journal on "Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip." They both got numerous facts wrong. Basically, the article wonders if a show that has very few (but very rich) viewers can survive. They say "no" (and indeed "Studio 60" will be cancelled) but they're asking the wrong questions and getting their facts messed up in the process.
1. They say viewers for "Studio 60" in its most recent week were about 4 million -- Wrong! As their own chart included with the article shows, "Studio 60" scored about 7 million viewers the last time it aired.
2. They say the last week "Heroes" aired before "Studio 60" it drew about eight million viewers -- Wrong! The last week they were paired, "Heroes" reached about 14 million viewers. They might have confused total viewers scores with the scores for the coveted 18-49 demo, but even then their figures are closer but still off.
3. They say "Friday Night Lights" did worse in the time slot, dropping 10% from the average of "Studio 60" -- technically correct, but very misleading and ultimately wrong. Yes, the "average" for "Studio 60" was higher than the one-week showing of "FNL." But "Studio 60" opened to tons of hype (as opposed to the under-the-radar "FNL") and has the biggest new hit of the season "Heroes" airing right before it. It's ratings have dropped every week since it debuted, even as the numbers for "Heroes" get better. The fact is that the one-time airing of "FNL" did BETTER than the previous week's episode of "Studio 60," even AFTER adjusting for the higher lead-in from the growing hit "Heroes." In other words, "FNL" did a better job of holding onto the audience of "Heroes" than "Studio 60." To suggest otherwise is either ignorant or an example of a reporter trying to stack the deck in favor of the storyline they prefer.
4. They claim overall revenue for a show depends on overall audience -- Wrong! Way wrong. Advertisers mainly care about the 18-49 demos and they definitely pay more for wealthier, more educated viewers. This is so much the rule now that some of the networks ignore the overall viewership totals and talk strictly about the 18-49 demo they reach. That's the demo that advertisers want and so a show that skews older like, say, "Walker Texas Rangers" on Saturday nights might have drawn a big audience, but a smaller hit with better demos would make more money. Eyeballs matter, but advertisers pay a premium for 18-49 viewers and the richer they are, the more they pay. The WSJ might have brought up "St. Elsewhere," a "loss leader" of sorts for NBC that stayed on the air strictly because of the excellent wealthy viewers it attracted. Thinking that TV boils down to a strict count of eyeballs is, sadly, not the way this business has run for many, many years. The WSJ of all places should know better.
5. They say the fact that some people tape the show on their DVR and watch it later is lost info that doesn't count for advertisers -- Wrong! In fact, Nielsen has just begun including ratings for the people that watch it live, the ratings for live plus tape-delayed during the next 24 hours and live plus taped delay during the next week. Of course, how many people watching it on tape actually watch the commercials too is a point of debate but given the dramatic change that this addition to the rating system amounts to (and it's only been active for a few weeks), the WSJ should at least have acknowledged that those viewers are being counted and that advertisers will ultimately take that into account. Their sentence on this aspect was technically accurate, but again showed a lack of knowledge.
6. They say most successful TV dramas deal with doctors and cops, people dealing with life and death -- Wrong! True, cops and docs always provide easy drama. But there have been one or two successul dramas that don't revolve those professions, shows like "Lost," (that's life and death, too, so I'll give them a tie on that one), "Ugly Betty" (the second-biggest hit of the season after the life-and-death-ish "Heroes"), "Gilmore Girls," "7th Heaven" (the longest running drama on TV), "The Love Boat," "Fantasy Island," "The Waltons," "Little House On The Prairie," "Providence," "Northern Exposure," "thirtysomething," "Moonlighting" (and don't pretend the cases mattered), "The Dukes of Hazzard," and I could go on but let's get to the kicker and say they're also forgetting every primetime soap (maybe they don't consider those hour long dramas -- but the networks do) and that includes everything from "Dallas" and "Falcon Crest" to "The OC" and "Desperate Housewives."
7. They say that "Studio 60" is loved by critics and hardcore fans -- Wrong, to a degree. Yes, it got good opening reviews, albeit not without caveats. But many critics started weighing in with more negative commments after two or three episodes and even more said it compared unfavorably to the also lame "30 Rock." And as of yet, this show has no hardcore fans. It has dropped in viewership every single week. It has dropped in its second half hour every single week. That is the very definition of a show that does NOT have hardcore fans. In contrast, "Friday Night Lights" has maintained its audience with rock solid numbers from week two. A show like "Freaks & Geeks' or "Once & Again" or whatever can only claim to have hardcore fans if it is holding steady in its numbers (however low they may be). That's what networks look for when they look for signs of life. The show has to at least please the people who have taken the time to watch it. "Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip" hasn't done that and so to claim that a core group of fans love it is to ignore the facts. You can't have a cult hit if there's no cult yet.

That's a lot of claims to take issue with in one article, especially an article for the WSJ, which you would expect to be more business savvy than most.

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