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.


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.  

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    I know that near the end of last season (May ’07) ABC announced there would be 48 more episodes broken up into 16 episode seasons (3 seasons including the current one). Though the writer’s strike may have messed the counting up a little bit (there will only be 13 episodes this year), I haven’t seen anything come along to refute seasons 5 & 6 so I’m guessing there are still ~32-35 episodes planned after this season.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    I know that near the end of last season (May '07) ABC announced there would be 48 more episodes broken up into 16 episode seasons (3 seasons including the current one). Though the writer's strike may have messed the counting up a little bit (there will only be 13 episodes this year), I haven't seen anything come along to refute seasons 5 & 6 so I'm guessing there are still ~32-35 episodes planned after this season.

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