Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Does anybody watch TV anymore?

We sure live in a different TV world. For all the hype about the return of TWIN PEAKS on Showtime, only 500,000 people watched the premier that Sunday night. Showtime did say however that it resulted in the single biggest day of sign-ups so in that regard the series debut was a success. And we all know that different platforms have different criteria for success. Ratings mean way more to CBS than Showtime.

But still! Only 500,000 people? In the entire country – population: 324,118,787? And by the way, TWIN PEAKS’ numbers were up 178% from Showtime’s GUERRILLA mini-series. I mean, now we’re getting down to where you could put an entire national viewing audience in a fairgrounds. On the first year of CHEERS we bemoaned that no one in the world was watching us and we had 19,000,000 viewers.

This is all the result of niche programming and unlimited new options, but it still seems shocking to me. Those are the kinds of numbers local Top 40 stations used to get. Except radio’s overhead was a disc jockey and transmitter. Even the records were free. God knows what it cost to produce that two-hour TWIN PEAKS opener.

And for all that hype and ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY cover stories, etc. I’m sure more people watched some YouTube video of a cat slipping on ice. I bet the cat also whipped the major broadcast networks. Tabby probably had 19,000,000. And how much does it cost for an ice cube?

The great thing about having a show on television used to be that it had an impact. On MASH we would always have first night parties for our season premiers. Year six was the introduction of David Ogden Stiers as Charles Winchester. I was sitting with him on the couch and just before the show came on I said, “Your entire life is about to change in the next hour.” He scoffed. It’s just a TV show.

Three days later he came up to me on the set and said, “Ohmygod! You were right. I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t go ANYWHERE without being recognized. My life has completely changed.” (And happily, for the better.)  That was TV's reach.

You knew you were in the big leagues. The work you did was going to be seen on the big stage. And I’ll be honest, all too often we took it for granted. 19,000,000 viewers is hardly “nobody’s watching.”

500,000 viewers – and remember when TWIN PEAKS originally debuted on ABC it drew 34,000,000 – that IS nobody watching. Not for “television.” Watch out for that cat.


Peter said...

Cats rule. They're my favourite animal. Much nicer than human beings.

Constance Reader said...

People signed up and will probably binge watch when the series is complete. That's what we will do, for both Twin Peaks and American Gods. I think this is the biggest impact Netflix streaming has had on television viewing, the advent of binge-watching.

Frederick Herman "Freddy" Jones said...


I read your post with great interest.

When I did a YouTube search for "cat slipping on ice" I could not find one with that exact title.

I found:
"Cat VS Ice"
"Cat on slippery ice"
"Funny: Cat Falls In Ice"

Can you please provide the link for the video you described? It sounds funny.

Also, in response to your other interesting question:,"And how much does it cost for an ice cube?" ... There was no quick, per cube, answer, but I did find this site which pertains to a bag: https://www.howmuchisit.org/bag-of-ice-cost/

According to the experts of that site: "On average, a bag of ice will cost anywhere from as little as $1 for a 10-pound bag to as much as $6 for a 20-pound bag. The cost of ice will depend on the amount in the bag and the store selling it. A block of ice, which usually weighs around 50 pounds, can cost $20 to $35. Sam’s Club, for instance, sells their 20-pound bag for $3 a bag."

I guess it's a matter of counting the number of cubes in a bag and then doing some dividing or something. I'm not good with the math.

Thanks in advance for that cat link.

Rashad Khan said...

TP's premiere on Showtime drew half-a-million viewers, but I'm willing to bet twice that many (and maybe more) downloaded episodes of "Friends" on Netflix. That, Mr. Levine, is the power of situation comedy.

VincentS said...

But, as you say, that means niche programming has resulted in more TV shows and, therefore, more opportunities for actors, writers, directors, etc. I just read that KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD had a "disastrous" opening because it "only" made $15,000,000. Maybe there will be niche movies someday, too.

The Moderate said...

Hi Ken - Saw you this weekend on the CNN series "The 80s."

I know this is outside your time on MASH, but seeing the reference to David Ogden Stiers reminded me of a question I wanted to ask. In the final years of MASH, I'd argue that Charles became the main character, or at least the character that had the most interesting story to tell. Have you had anyone else with that viewpoint (other than David, perhaps?)

normadesmond said...

I watched Twin Peaks back in the day.
Fool me once, shame on you. Twice.....

Tom said...

From Nielsen it looks like the top-rated show in America for the week of May the 15th was NCIS with around 13.2m. Clearly a different world from 19m being failure.

Personally? As a broadcast medium I think it's dead. I'm one of those that subscribed to Showtime for Twin Peaks but I did that by just throwing it onto my Hulu subscription. I'll watch when it's convenient — and without adverts, regardless of network.

I wonder what future there is for NBC, CBS et al. I have no idea which network most of the things I watch on Hulu originated from, so if I were a content producer then why would I want a network between me and the audience? It's just less money and more interference, for zero boost. I think that cuts to the discovery problem you've mentioned before, but I don't see that being on a network is a solution any more.

CRL said...

When Twin Peaks debuted I had access to ABC.

If I had access to Showtime it would have been 500,001.

Paul Gottlieb said...

Ken, I know TV comedy is your specialty, but your are also a savvy observer of the whole entertainment scene. I wonder if you've read this article in Slate about the upcoming TV season, and what you think of it?


tavm said...

Maybe some of those who didn't watch the "Twin Peaks" revival decided to go to the past and view MeTV or AntennaTV...

roadgeek said...

Not us. We cut the cord in April, 2000. We relocated, and decided upon our move not to purchase cable, only Internet. The quality of television has declined. There are two many commercials. The way they speed up the credits is annoying (I enjoy reading the credits sometimes). The little station logo in the corner was really annoying; I know what channel I'm on, and don't need a reminder. The liberal bias became too overt, in both news and entertainment. Oh, did I say too many commercials? There were just constant price hikes by the cable company. So we gave it up.

We read. Putz on the Internet. Talk to each other. Take naps. Cook. Cuddle. Have sex. And none of our activities are geared around the television.

Oh, we have a television. A very nice 47-inch Sony. We own two DVD players as well, for the movies we watch. I can order any movie I want online, and it shows up at my house in just a day or two. Yes, I could download, but I'm a Luddite. Rather watch a DVD. (Or Blu-Ray). If we stumble over a TV series we want to watch, we buy it on disc, watch it, then sell it on eBay. "Sopranos" "Rescue Me..."

And we prefer the older stuff. We're currently watching "The Fugitive", with David Jansen. Great drama. Waiting to be viewed? "Route 66" and "Leave it to Beaver". Just ordered "The Ballad of Cable Hogue". The old movies and television were just better, somehow. Better acted and written, that's for sure.

If someone from any of the networks or any of the cable channels wants to know where their viewers went, they should get in touch. I'd be happy to clarify things for them.

Andrew said...

One of my favorite FRASIER episodes from the later seasons was the one with David Ogden Stiers as a "father" to Niles and Frasier. He was perfect for the role.

Chuck Cavender said...

Compare and contrast: we watched a good deal of the Sundance MASH marathon yesterday, and I told my wife that I would bet to this day, if I mentioned Adam's Ribs in Chicago, more than half would recognize the reference. The more precocious ones would scold me for forgetting the cole slaw. Great writing stays with you, but it's hard to create those common experiences in a severely subdivided audience.

Brian said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: What is one of your favorite lines that you came up with in a script and what is one of David Isaacs' favorites that he originated?

Rich Shealer said...

I watch too much TV.

My favorite show is currently Better Call Saul the Breaking Bad prequel. Ratings are down at 1.6 million last week. It should have more.

It is a show so good that I actually watch live. The complaints that I read is that the story tends to be a little slow to develop. I love the depth they go into setting up the rich characters. You not only love or hate certain ones you can also feel conflicted by them at the same time. When they do pay it off all the set up was worth it. It's only 10 episodes a year.

We just finished the new season of Bloodline, filmed in the Florida Keys. A better than average drama, but I never felt as invested as I do with BCS or Breaking Bad.

Bill said...

Many of us get our TV through cable and maybe we've caught on that sitcoms and such are pawns in a game of scooping up ad revenue. Maybe this explains why we're stuck with cable packages full of stuff we don't want like QVC. Why bother devoting yourself to a program that may well be cancelled because a Suit wanted to change the time slot in a goofy "strategy" to maximize profits? The viewer isn't in charge, the commerical is. Making programming costs money and networks don't want to spend money, just foist another "reality show" on us to hang ads on. And the ads are past saturation point! [rant]

VP81955 said...

Tom, if you're right we probably can start digging the grave for the multi-camera sitcom (sigh). Beyond one broadcast network (CBS), nearly nobody has genuine enthusiasm for the format, or worse, deem it beneath them.

Jeffrey Graebner said...

I wonder how much of Showtime's programming is watched on-demand now instead of when it initially airs. I did watch Twin Peaks (and I was one of those that signed up for Showtime just for the show), but I didn't find time to watch the episodes until later in the week. In fact, I have only seen the first 3, so far, even though 4 were released.

Even relative to the smaller audiences that shows receive today, I'm sure that David Lynch and the rest of the team behind Twin Peaks knew they were going to get a much smaller audience on Showtime than they would have with a revival on one of the broadcast networks, assuming any of the broadcast networks even wanted it (I think the rights are now owned by CBS, which actually also owns Showtime). The original series aired on ABC before it was owned by Disney and I have some doubts that they would be willing to take it on now, although admittedly their Thursday night shows do have some pretty adult content.

I would guess that Lynch was completely willing to accept the smaller audience in return for being able to include content that never would have been allowed on a broadcast network or, most likely, even a basic cable channel. In addition to the occasional nudity and use of the F-word, this revival is MUCH more gruesome than the original series was. At least in the 3 episodes I saw so far, it also has much less of a straightforward narrative.

MikeN said...

It's been off the air for 25 years, meaning about half the audience has never seen it. From what I've read, they just dive right in with no reintroduction for the audience. So there is no chance I would watch it without watching the original series first. So that is 40+ hours before I could get to this show, that will be available for as long as I have Showtime, unlike other shows in On Demand that have most recent 5 episodes.

MikeN said...

>I wonder what future there is for NBC, CBS et al.

Having access to the broadest audience, because their cost to see your shows is free other than watching some ads, which viewers might skip. Plus they have live sports.
I doubt Amazon and Facebook will be interested in spending on the sports packages.

Anonymous said...

When lots of people watched live TV it provided a common language at the water cooler or even around town. You could engage people who had very little if nothing in common with you, but they too enjoyed a running joke on friends, etc.

It gave us another avenue of relating with fellow Americans which had nothing to do with politics, religion, money, etc. I'm sad to say it's long gone.


Mike Barer said...

I think the real bomb will be the sequel to Top Gun. Look at how the follow up to Wall Street failed. The basic joke was Gekko leaving prison with an out of date cell phone.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

VINCENTS said, "But, as you say, that means niche programming has resulted in more TV shows and, therefore, more opportunities for actors, writers, directors, etc. I just read that KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD had a "disastrous" opening because it "only" made $15,000,000. Maybe there will be niche movies someday, too.

It's disastrous because of the cost of the movie. $175million. If by the 3rd week they aren't near that amount (world-wide), then there is little chance they will break even.
Right now in their 3rd weekend they are at $120 million...

On the otherhand, 'EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING' has only made $22 million in 3 weekends but their budget was only $10 million. So they're a winner!

I imagine A small TV show that costs little to make will survive low ratings, compared to similar ratings for a vehicle with expensive stars and sets.

Mike Schryver said...

I saw a more recent article saying the total numbers for TWIN PEAKS including streaming were 1.75 million, which is a very large audience for Showtime.
The 500,000 was just the people who watched it on a linear schedule like cable TV.
They also had record signups. If you like David Lynch's movies, you'll probably enjoy the show. If not, then no.

Charles H Bryan said...

I watched it on the Showtime app, and, yes, I signed up for it for TWIN PEAKS. Whatever Showtime paid for the series, I'm sure that they're looking at it a bit as a loss leader, in that many of us who signed up will stay after this series is over. I've watched the first four episodes and while they're weird, they're my kind of weird.

Unknown said...

I definitely still watch TV! I have something that's a little off topic, probably a good Friday question.

I came across this article today ( http://mentalfloss.com/article/501071/7-tv-characters-killed-out-spite ). I've always been curious as to the exact reason why Jay Thomas and the character of Eddie Lebec left the world of 'Cheers'. I've heard various things over the years, such as Rhea Perlman didn't want Carla to have to share the spotlight with someone else, to they just didn't get along. This article specifically mentions you and I just wanted to know if this is genuine or not. It also lists other shows and their characters, but I don't know how true those are or not either. You can't always believe everything you read on the internet!

Andy Rose said...

@Rich Shealer: Better Call Saul almost doubles its ratings when you count people watching it within three days of air vs. same day. It's the biggest DVR/online pickup of any show on cable, and made it #4 in the demo last week. (The top two shows were NBA Playoffs games.)

Wally said...

It's been covered

Also, Big Love panel said the actor that was sent to Latin America on teh show was done so cuz of his behavior on set (paraphrasing: Q:"What do you do when new actors don't mesh w/ the cast?" A "We send them to Guatemala.") I don't recall the specifics of the show/panel, but you get the gist.

philip said...


You couldn't be more wrong. 2000 was about the time the quality of television entered its golden age (Post-Sopranos). Most of the quality programming is on Premium channels, so that might be what tripped you up, but Breaking Bad, The Wire, Sopranos, Mad Men are all among the best television shows of all time. I'm sure I'm missing a bunch. I'm really loving Fargo from FX and Better Caul Saul currently, and loved the first few seasons of House of Cards and Orange is the New Black from Netflix. I'm sure I'm missing many

Network TV is perhaps awful, I don't really watch it (only sports really). I also like Brooklyn 99, about the only non Premium show I watch.

Also, Ken, keep in mind people couldn't steal cheers off the internet!

Pamela Jaye said...

My DVR has been broken for 18 months and I am still watching broadcast TV but now I am watching it live. That's something that I have not done since 1987 when I got my first VCR. I had a point before I scrolled through all the comments.
Lately I've been watching reruns Dash that was it reruns!

NBC and CBS are doing something exciting and different this week and this summer apparently. They are doing reruns of prime-time programming period maybe CVS does this regularly I don't know. None of my shows do reruns. But starting on Wednesday night at 10 you can watch reruns of Code Black on CBS or This Is Us on NBC. It would be great if somebody would watch Code Black. It always looks as if it's going to get cancelled. This is us as my second favorite show after Grey's Anatomy and we were discussing this week why there are 27 episodes in the second season of Grey's Anatomy. How it was a midseason replacement in the time slot of Boston Legal. A lot of fans thought that Boston Legal was having bad ratings and going to be cancelled but the truth was from the Entertainment Weekly article that I dug up Boston Legal had 12.5 million viewers and Grey's Anatomy had 17 million. ABC avoided pissing off David E Kelley by not letting him run the rest of his season by giving him 27 episodes in the next season and Grey's Anatomy got the same amount because ABC wanted them to end at the same time as Desperate Housewives and not run all 13 episodes so some of them slopped in to season 2.

Please pardon all the lack of punctuation and the overuse of the word and because text to speech does not like to do commas anymore. And I actually meant speech to text

By the way the Grey's Anatomy discussion was the result of the quiz and my knowledge that there are a whole new generation of viewers who binge watched it on Netflix and then came and joined us to watch the new episodes. And of course we who have been watching it from the beginning. Additionally we now have reruns of ER and we are very happy about that and scrubs started reruns on Comedy Central this week after being dumped off of Netflix apparently. As a medical show junkie I am very happy. Although ER is the only one I don't own. I probably have most of the episodes on VHS but tracking them down might be a problem

Philip said...


Just re-read my comment and it sounds meaner than I meant it. Should have used more punctuation!!! Hope no offence was taken.


Dieter Johanson said...

With SHO,HBO etc I would assume most of their numbers come from people watching the series on demand later. I think though a tide is turning on a glut of content as a lot of cable channels like WGN and A&E trying to branch out and become their own version of FX /AMC have failed and I excpect other networks will follow aboard to rerun city. For example I wouldn't be surprised if Sundance Channel and IFC are out of the original content game in 2-3 years apart from Imports.

VincentS said...

@The Bumble Bee Pendant

Yes, I understand cost-to-profit ratios. That is what I meant by niche movies: Movies that are produced at a low cost that only need to be seen by a relatively small number of people in order to make money.

VP81955 said...

To philip: Are "quality programming" and comedy, particularly multi-cams, mutually exclusive to you? You're certainly making it seem that way.

philip said...


Not not at all, only I simply don't really watch them any more. I used to watch and love FRASIER, FRIENDS, SEINFELD, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, but as I've gotten older and my time is limited I tend to just watch Dramas lately.

I merely meant I can't speak to the quality of network television because I don't watch it - and the person to whom I responded said cable started to be terrible in the 2000s. I just couldn't disagree more and pointed out some of my favourites that I think are objectively very good (good acting, writing, production, storytelling, etc)

Stuff like MODERN FAMILY or BIG BANG I've never really seen, though presumably they are good since they wins Emmys ...

WizarDru said...

Well, there's a lot at play, here. Being literally twice as many shows on television as a few years ago, viewers are fragmented. There simply isn't enough time to watch them all. Next, people don't watch in real time. I TiVo everything and often watch days later or watch multiple episodes in a stint. Or I stream it when I get the urge. With services like Netflix, Hulu and others, the shows will come when I call.

Of course, there's also the fact that Showtime is a pay service for subscribers. Showtime's subscriber base is something like 24 million? What Twin Peaks DID do is give them their single biggest weekend of sign-ups for their streaming service ever, breaking some records according to them. Twin Peaks isn't just a show, it's a lure to get customers. Yes, M*A*S*H* had huge numbers...but the audience also got the show for free, with no option to see it at another time, when they had maybe five or six other channels to choose from. It's simply a different world, now.

MIkeN said...

If Showtime gets 100,000 people to sign up because of Twin Peaks, that is 12 million dollars split between them and the cable company, per year.
For me, Showtime is included in the SuperBasic package. I don't get ESPN or TNT, but I get Showtime as part of the bundle(not a temporary or separate $10 package).

Liggie said...

I move they include streaming and downloads with these ratings. Although there are statistical proofs for a Nielsen result, it's still an estimate, while you can actually count how many people accessed a program on a network or provider's app.

One way to encourage real-time viewing: "live Twitter" sessions with the cast and crew. Whenever "Riverdale" aired this winter, the actors would gather in some location , fire up their cell phones, and tweet with the fans about the on-screen action. Madchen Amick regularly participated in that, and I think she's doing the same for the new "Twin Peaks".

DBenson said...

Reading an old Bennett Cerf book -- anybody remember when those were everywhere? -- and he rolls off a few anecdotes about Gertrude Stein (Cerf was her publisher at Random House). He claimed each of her books would sell almost exactly 25,000 copies, with only a few dozen returns. Never less, never demand for a second printing. That's a niche audience.

Sam said...

Nope. I do not watch regular tv anymore. Do not have cable either. I tend to watch re-runs of old shows on antenna tv or me tv or old game shows on buzzr. Used to watch laff, but they changed their schedule. I catch up on John Oliver online. Also enjoy the Santa Clarita Diet which is on netflix. I also watch a lot of tv shows on dvd. Looking forward to Ned and Stacey coming out along with the last season of Rhoda. I used to watch regular tv more, and I keep trying to find something, but I have no interest in crime shows or super heroes and Big Bang repeats itself...Kind of liked Fresh Off the Boat for a while, but it just is not holding my attention. I actually miss settling in for the evening and watching tv.