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CBS to Jericho Fans: It's Not Personal, It's Just Business

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March 24th, 2008

Marlon Brando as Vito CorleoneSome of you have lambasted me for wanting to throw a pie in Les Moonves' face whenever I get the chance.  It's not really like that.  I'm toughest on CBS because up until this year really, they were in a leadership position and slowly that's slipping away, and CBS is able to attract fewer and fewer 18-49 year olds.  CBS says they don't care about 18-34 and 18-49 demographics, but it's not really true.  Besides, its base of 25-54 year olds is also eroding and CBS does care about it.

But when CBS gets something right, I'll give them credit.  Cancelling Jericho was the right thing to do.  It wasn't personal.  It just didn't make good business sense.  Cancelling it after last year was the right thing to do, too.  But they did give the fans a shot. 

The comments that the various Jericho posts on our site have generated lead me to believe that Jericho fans mirror the rest of the world.  The show has some very, very passionate fans - some of them are extremely reasonable and well-reasoned in their thinking, others at the other end of the spectrum and are neither reasonable or well-reasoned in their thinking.  And due mostly to the love of the show and disappointment about it being cancelled, a lot of fans are caught in between the two spectrums.

But in the spirit of one of Bill Gorman's favorite shows, Mythbusters, I'm going to attempt some mythbusting as far as Jericho.

1. Nielsen's measurement system is: antiquated and/or entirely flawed, they still use paper journals and I know for a fact way, way more people watch Jericho than Nielsen counts. They should just use set-top box data!

Verdict: MYTH

I can't say Nielsen's measurment isn't somewhat antiquated.  I can say that almost all of their data at this point comes from "People Meters" and not the paper journals.  I do know that during sweeps, when apparently the advertisers want more data they go get more people and do utilize paper journals. But I think they are just doing this to make the advertisers happy.  If there was some huge variance when the paper journals during sweeps were turned in that point out some flaw in the overall panel, we'd know about it by now.

What are the chances that Nielsen's system is horribly, horribly flawed when measuring Jericho, but gets it right with Two and a Half Men, 60 Minutes, Survivor and all the CSIs?  The chances aren't absolutely zero, just so close to absolutely zero you wouldn't notice the difference. 

It's true I'd love to see iTunes and online viewing included, but advertisers don't care about the iTunes stuff because there are no ads in the iTunes version.  Someday CBS and the other nets will cut some deal where they'll give the stuff away on iTunes for free with ads. But they'll have to figure out a way to block fast-fowarding.  I'd love to see the online viewing counted too: but unlike Nielsen who, love them or hate them does have good metrics available to measure both engagement (length of time viewed) and demographic data, there are no such good, standardized measurements for web viewing yet. 

As for set-top box data - I do love it as a collection mechanism, but the problem is that a huge chunk of the country doesn't have a set-top box.  The FCC estimates that of the 65 million or so cable homes, some 40 million of them don't have a digital set-top box.  40 million out of 65 million is a fairly big chunk to miss out on.  That doesn't mean that the set-top box data isn't very useful, just that by itself it isn't very useful.

The problem with this myth is that while it's almost certainly at least a teeny, tiny bit true, there is no better measurement in place.  Period.  Like it or not, for now, we all have to live with it.  Someday Google will probably encourage us to get a microchip implanted in our brain (incenting us with free stuff, no doubt) to track all of our TV viewing in real-time, wherever we are.  Whatever our eyes are watching on TV will automatically be sent back to Google.  They'll also be able to measure where we got more interested and where we got bored.  We'll get instant results and they'll be completely accurate.  It's perfect measurement with built in accurate demographics.  People might freak out about the Big Brother aspects but, free stuff is a powerful incentive!  In any case, this is quite a few years away.

2. I've never met anyone who was an actual Nielsen family, it can't be accurate!

Verdict: MYTH

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sample_size and, do the math.  The USA television audience is made up of 280+ million people aged two and up that any company (Nielsen or anyone else) could have a sample that fairly well measured the whole ball of wax that was so small the odds of you ever meeting one of them were slim.    If you can't do the math, or don't want to do the math to feel comfortable with that, ok fine, suit yourself.

3. CBS killed this show with a huge hiatus in season one!

Verdict: NO MYTH

This one isn't entirely true either but it also isn't a myth.  The ratings data overwhelmingly supports that the hiatus hurt Jericho's ratings. The show lost almost 2 million viewers between the last episode before the hiatus and the first episode after it.  But I think a year ago, CBS might have cancelled Jericho even if it had 10 million viewers (I do not believe that to be the case anymore). I'm not sure CBS killed the show by doing this, but it certainly hurt it.  There's no question about that, so I don't think this one is a myth

Many people recognize that the pace of Jericho in season one was often plodding with some (certainly not all) meandering storylines.  Only through the encouragement of people commenting here who said that things got better starting around episode 17, did I continue and finish up season one.  It's been fast-paced and very enjoyable since then.  So I appreciate the encouragement.  I think the second half of season one showed a loyal fanbase of around 8 million.  Viewers held pretty steady from the 12th to 22nd episode.  Those same people came back for the season 2 premiere, where with a week's worth of DVR viewing included some 8.14 million watched.  That was actually slightly more than the live plus same day DVR viewing for the season one finale (7.72 million).  It's not quite a fair comparison because one number has seven days of DVR usage and one only has the same night's DVR viewing but it's close enough.

But between the first episode and fourth episode of season two, about 1.5 million viewers went away. Why?  It could be that 10pm is too late for some Jericho fans without DVRs.  It could be they didn't like that the show had morphed into a post apocalyptic version of 24 (personally, I loved that morphing), or maybe, maybe they kept seeing all the ratings analysis and figured CBS was going to cancel the show and didn't want to invest any more time in it. 

4. Jericho is a CASH COW, it's always among the top downloads on iTunes!

Verdict: MYTH

A million people aren't downloading Jericho every week off iTunes.  If they were, CBS (and Apple too, for that matter) would be issuing press releases like clockwork.  I'd be surprised if it had more than 100K downloads a week.  Even if CBS got to keep all of the $1.99 per download (and they don't) $200,000 a week is scraps on the floor for the dog to eat as far as CBS is concerned. CBS would make that in less than two 30 second commercial spots on CSI.

5. The 10pm Tuesday "Death Slot" Killed Jericho!

Verdict: MYTH

While it certainly didn't help any, it didn't kill Jericho. Not enough people watching Jericho killed Jericho.  Looking at the numbers for 3/11 things don't look so good for this argument. l didn't want to use the 3/18 numbers because Dancing with the Stars was on  --although DWTS proves that with the right content, you can get 20 million viewers watching a single TV show at 10pm, even these days.  On a live plus same day DVR viewing basis, 9.52 million people watched a repeat of Law & Order: SVU that night - a repeat!  But only 5.84 million watched a new episode of Jericho.  I've never seen a comment on our site about how screwed over Law & Order: SVU was by the Tuesday 10pm slot.  Peacocks at NBC, please spam me if I got that wrong.

6. The Big Brother Lead-in Killed Jericho!

Verdict: MYTH

As with above,  while it certainly didn't help any, it didn't kill Jericho.  Not enough people watching Jericho killed Jericho.   Remember that 10pm slot mentioned above.  In it Primetime: What Would You Do? on ABC netted 7.52 million viewers.  Know what its lead-in was?  According to Jim, which had only 4.91 million viewers.  So ABC was able to build on its lead-in by over 50% and wound up with more than a million and a half viewers more than Jericho even though Jericho's lead-in of Big Brother had over a million more viewers than According to Jim.

Verdict: MYTH

It needed to be said twice.  Get over it already people - and not just with Jericho but any show.   People have remote controls (all people - every.single.one.of.us) and they know how to use them.  The numbers do not lie.  Lead-in is not completely meaningless.  Just mostly meaningless.  Ask Primetime: What Would You Do?

Still, there may be a lesson to be learned from Big Brother:  having the spouse of the head of a network in your show can't hurt.

Conclusion:

CBS didn't handle Jericho tremendously well, but I'd hardly say it screwed the show over either, though there is no question the hiatus last season hurt Jericho's numbers.  

Life isn't fair, but capitalism mostly is.  There is definitely a correlation between ratings and the money you can make.  As such, CBS has an obligation to find a show for that slot that can do as well in reruns as reruns of Law & Order do.  This has nothing at all to do with the quality of the shows.  Dexter is a quality show that on CBS does about as well as Jericho.  Fortunately for Dexter, if CBS decides to stop airing it, they'll keep making it for Showtime.  HBO's The Wire may now have catapulted to the best show EVER in my book, and I can say that at least 3 times as many people watched last week's Jericho as watched the series finale of The Wire the first night it aired on HBO. my favorite show of all time.  

Rome on HBO is one of Gorman's favorites.  Not highly rated, but very high quality.  I think the truth is, more and more many of us will be looking for, and finding high quality programming in places other than the major broadcast networks.  They have scale and they are obligated by the capitalism to maximize that scale.   American Idol and Dancing with the Stars may not be your cup of tea or mine, but let's face it, the broadcast TV business is about quantity (of viewers, that is) and not quality of shows.

Sometimes there is a good correlation (House, LOST and Law & Order, for example).  I think people get upset because they want the best quality programs (translation: the shows that they love) to be the highest rated programs.  But life's not fair, and it doesn't always work out like that. Maybe not even usually with the broadcast networks.  But let's be real.  CBS' job is to make as much money as it possibly can.   Sticking with a show that has mediocre ratings is missing out on an opportunity to program a show that could get great ratings.  CBS doesn't hate Jericho or its fans, it just has an obligation to its shareholders. 

I'll be very happy if Jericho wound up somewhere, but here's my prediction: that's not going to happen. Not on the SciFi channel and not on the CW.   While I was pitching the show myself to the CW and the SciFi channel weeks ago - I don't see it happening.  It's not just because CBS is airing the series finale version instead of the cliffhanger.  And yeah, yeah, tying up the season still leaves a lot of room for blah, blah, blah, but if Jericho winds up on the CW?  I won't just be a little bit surprised. I'll be a lot surprised.   A.) CBS owns half of the CW, if this was going to get done you get it done before you decide to air the series finale.  You get it set up to where you say "Jericho is leaving CBS but moving to the CW," you don't put out the statement that you're cancelling Jericho.   Plus, the CW just punted on pretty much its highest rated show (Friday Night Smackdown!) and wants to focus on females who are aged 18-34.  That's not the biggest part of the loyal Jericho following as the little bit of data we have for the 18-34 demo was a million or less viewers for the last few shows of last year.  And that includes men, which apparently the CW isn't interested in.  Not a big enough chunk to get the C-Dub excited, and again, if that was going to happen, I think we'd already know.

That leaves only the SciFi channel.  And at this point, I don't see Skeet Ulrich wanting to take a pay cut.  Presuming he survives the finale.   And Lennie James is top-notch, I don't see him wanting to be on the SciFi channel.  I think it's going to be a lot harder to shop this show to a cable network than anyone thinks.  That there are a lot of issues involved that don't have anything to do with anything except money.  

So basically, I'm calling it over, before Carol Barbee says it's over.  If I wind up being wrong, I will happily send her a dozen roses and twelve pounds of her favorite kind of nut, because I will miss both the show, talking about its ratings and its loyal fans. I want to be wrong.  But I think it's over. At least as of tomorrow night at 11pm and whenever we're able to buy/download/stream the unaired cliffhanger.

I wouldn't blame CBS or the producers of Jericho.   I'd blame the capitalism. The bottom line is not enough people watched the show to justify it being on CBS.  

 
  • Ryan

    Here is my comment the nilison ratings are wrong if there is 280 million ppl watching TV i'll grantee more then 20 million are watching American idol. the system is completely flawed when comes to all TV numbers.

    But Jericho is different it's a serial drama so if the 1 person with the box in your area watches American idol and say everyone else watches jericho then boom you guys don't count. Let alone canada doesn't count nor does the rest of the world.

    So i say they need to reinvent the wheel with the amount of information that can pass in and out of cable lines. All houses should get a box and it just tracks the channels your TV watches then. The TV station has system auto generates a report sends it off which says (so many ppl watched these channels at these times) This way everyone has a say if not everyone then 80% and no personal information is being leaked. about who watching what channel since we all know America paranoid of ppl looking over there shoulder anyways.

    Sad enough to say but the Television industry needs to grow up

    So yes it is all flawed… neighborhoods don't watch TV togather if the one person with the box watches American idol doesn't mean everyone else there does the number WAS a way to be accurate because there wasn't AS much on TV and there were in general more viewers. But now there are more channels and a ton more choices. The system doesn't work i don't want some douche with a box speaking for me yet if i lived in America he would..

  • Ryan

    Here is my comment the nilison ratings are wrong if there is 280 million ppl watching TV i’ll grantee more then 20 million are watching American idol. the system is completely flawed when comes to all TV numbers.

    But Jericho is different it’s a serial drama so if the 1 person with the box in your area watches American idol and say everyone else watches jericho then boom you guys don’t count. Let alone canada doesn’t count nor does the rest of the world.

    So i say they need to reinvent the wheel with the amount of information that can pass in and out of cable lines. All houses should get a box and it just tracks the channels your TV watches then. The TV station has system auto generates a report sends it off which says (so many ppl watched these channels at these times) This way everyone has a say if not everyone then 80% and no personal information is being leaked. about who watching what channel since we all know America paranoid of ppl looking over there shoulder anyways.

    Sad enough to say but the Television industry needs to grow up

    So yes it is all flawed… neighborhoods don’t watch TV togather if the one person with the box watches American idol doesn’t mean everyone else there does the number WAS a way to be accurate because there wasn’t AS much on TV and there were in general more viewers. But now there are more channels and a ton more choices. The system doesn’t work i don’t want some douche with a box speaking for me yet if i lived in America he would..

  • Danielle

    It is frustrating to not be counted. I have seen some of my favorite shows get canceled one after another. It just gets tiresome after a while when there is nothing you can really do about it except encourgage your friends and family to watch…even if their votes don't count either.

  • Danielle

    It is frustrating to not be counted. I have seen some of my favorite shows get canceled one after another. It just gets tiresome after a while when there is nothing you can really do about it except encourgage your friends and family to watch…even if their votes don’t count either.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    Nilsson Schmilsson!

    “Coconut” is on my ipod! And I just looked…and so is “Without You”. 37 years later and it still holds up for me ;)

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    Nilsson Schmilsson!

    “Coconut” is on my ipod! And I just looked…and so is “Without You”. 37 years later and it still holds up for me ;)

  • LukeyDukey

    Robert

    This was a pretty good article. Although I don't agree with everything you are saying I do think you are mostly right on the money. I do like that you took the time to offer your thoughts on some of the fan's talking points.

    I am resolved to the notion that there weren't enough viewers to satisfy CBS to keep Jericho around. However, I just have a couple of thoughts that I wanted to throw out there.

    First, I am not convinced that all time slots are equal among the network stations. I just happen to thank there are more layers and more factors involved than just age/gender categories, numbers of viewers, & time slots. The one thing I learned doing research in undergrad and graduate school is that there are far more variables to control than you realize when you start conducting research. Sometimes, often times, there are variables that cannot be controlled in open systems. Thus, just because something is statistically significant doesn't mean it proves what you are researching. It may, but, it may not! So I think comparing shows, time slots, and age/gender categories is far more complicated than just looking at the numbers. It just so happens that these numbers are accepted at face value. It is what it is.

    Secondly, I will say that sampling can be flawed, even when you have a large pool to sample from. This can be done accidentally or intentionally. There is even data that suggests random is often times not as random as one would suggest or like. Additionally, after years of researching Psychological tests experts have concluded that some of the tests are flawed because the sampling is/was flawed. Yet there are some “old school” psychologist who want to hear nothing of the sort. Sampling works, but it isn't as perfect as some want to believe.

    Obviously you know that I am a huge fan of Jericho and I do freely admit that it is highly likely the numbers tell the tale in this case even though I don't want to believe it. Maybe, just maybe, there wasn't enough live viewers watching – I get that. I also realize that this show may only be incredible to those who find it to be incredible. Novel concept right. Well maybe the rest of the world isn't in agreement on the greatness of Jericho. I don't get it, but maybe they don't get Jericho.

  • LukeyDukey

    Robert

    This was a pretty good article. Although I don’t agree with everything you are saying I do think you are mostly right on the money. I do like that you took the time to offer your thoughts on some of the fan’s talking points.

    I am resolved to the notion that there weren’t enough viewers to satisfy CBS to keep Jericho around. However, I just have a couple of thoughts that I wanted to throw out there.

    First, I am not convinced that all time slots are equal among the network stations. I just happen to thank there are more layers and more factors involved than just age/gender categories, numbers of viewers, & time slots. The one thing I learned doing research in undergrad and graduate school is that there are far more variables to control than you realize when you start conducting research. Sometimes, often times, there are variables that cannot be controlled in open systems. Thus, just because something is statistically significant doesn’t mean it proves what you are researching. It may, but, it may not! So I think comparing shows, time slots, and age/gender categories is far more complicated than just looking at the numbers. It just so happens that these numbers are accepted at face value. It is what it is.

    Secondly, I will say that sampling can be flawed, even when you have a large pool to sample from. This can be done accidentally or intentionally. There is even data that suggests random is often times not as random as one would suggest or like. Additionally, after years of researching Psychological tests experts have concluded that some of the tests are flawed because the sampling is/was flawed. Yet there are some “old school” psychologist who want to hear nothing of the sort. Sampling works, but it isn’t as perfect as some want to believe.

    Obviously you know that I am a huge fan of Jericho and I do freely admit that it is highly likely the numbers tell the tale in this case even though I don’t want to believe it. Maybe, just maybe, there wasn’t enough live viewers watching – I get that. I also realize that this show may only be incredible to those who find it to be incredible. Novel concept right. Well maybe the rest of the world isn’t in agreement on the greatness of Jericho. I don’t get it, but maybe they don’t get Jericho.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    Lukey — I agree certainly that all time slots aren't equal. And I'm sure Nielsen's sample isn't perfect. But I think the numbers do tell the tale.

    When I think about the fact that pretty much most of my favorite shows (outside of the Wire and House) fall into the fantasy/Science Fiction camp, I am not surprised. Whether it be Star Trek, Stargate, BSG, Supernatural or whatever, not as many people watch those shows as the legal/crime dramas.

    I think for the most part people (all of us) watch TV to be entertained. BUT, some of us are entertained by “having to think”. My guess is most of us are not. One of my favorite quotes ever is something like “If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you, but if you make them really think, they'll hate you.”

    I think Jericho as most sci-fi/fantasy genre may have made people “really think” too much.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    Lukey — I agree certainly that all time slots aren’t equal. And I’m sure Nielsen’s sample isn’t perfect. But I think the numbers do tell the tale.

    When I think about the fact that pretty much most of my favorite shows (outside of the Wire and House) fall into the fantasy/Science Fiction camp, I am not surprised. Whether it be Star Trek, Stargate, BSG, Supernatural or whatever, not as many people watch those shows as the legal/crime dramas.

    I think for the most part people (all of us) watch TV to be entertained. BUT, some of us are entertained by “having to think”. My guess is most of us are not. One of my favorite quotes ever is something like “If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you, but if you make them really think, they’ll hate you.”

    I think Jericho as most sci-fi/fantasy genre may have made people “really think” too much.

  • LukeyDukey

    Nice!

  • LukeyDukey

    Nice!

  • John mathews

    Nielsen sucks why is so hard to undersatnd it?? Most of the rabbid fans of jericho doesn't have a nielsen box… ITS FRUSTRATING!!! NO ONE IN THE FORUM OF MORE OF 3,000 PEOPLE HAS ONE??? IT NOT HAS SENSE!!!

  • John mathews

    Nielsen sucks why is so hard to undersatnd it?? Most of the rabbid fans of jericho doesn’t have a nielsen box… ITS FRUSTRATING!!! NO ONE IN THE FORUM OF MORE OF 3,000 PEOPLE HAS ONE??? IT NOT HAS SENSE!!!

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com cc2259

    You failed to mention the ultimate knife in Jericho's heart: POLITICS! Don't deny it. This hit too close to home.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com cc2259

    You failed to mention the ultimate knife in Jericho’s heart: POLITICS! Don’t deny it. This hit too close to home.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    @cc2259: I'm very apolitical and try to avoid anything to do with politics as much as possible. The “shadow government” = Jennings & Rall theme I've seen some people talk about didn't rub me the wrong way. And I'd throw out that similar political themes appear on 24, which when it finally comes back will be its 7th season.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    @cc2259: I’m very apolitical and try to avoid anything to do with politics as much as possible. The “shadow government” = Jennings & Rall theme I’ve seen some people talk about didn’t rub me the wrong way. And I’d throw out that similar political themes appear on 24, which when it finally comes back will be its 7th season.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com cc2259

    I wouldn't know about 24 – tried to watch in it's first season and was not at all impressed. Jericho is the only network production worth watching. As far as The Wire goes, it was probably my least favorite for HBO. Too ghetto for my taste. It's a shame CBS Paramount won't put Jericho on Showtime. They are sorely lacking in the drama department.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com cc2259

    I wouldn’t know about 24 – tried to watch in it’s first season and was not at all impressed. Jericho is the only network production worth watching. As far as The Wire goes, it was probably my least favorite for HBO. Too ghetto for my taste. It’s a shame CBS Paramount won’t put Jericho on Showtime. They are sorely lacking in the drama department.

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