A Tale of Two Ratings Analysts
I got a couple of questions expressing confusion about whether the ratings for the premiere of Bravo's Real Housewives of D.C. were any good or not. With James Hibberd's THR headline of "Real Housewives of DC Opens Solid" and Variety's Stewart Levine headlining his article "Audiences Don't Vote for D.C. Housewives," the confusion is kind of understandable.
The truth is probably somewhere in between the two, but I find Hibberd's analysis more reasonable. The Variety piece compared the 1.6 million viewers for the D.C. premiere to a Housewives record 2.7 million who tuned in for the second season premiere of Real Housewives of Atlanta. By then, NeNe was a reality star.
Hibberd noted that the premiere was only slightly less than the first season premiere of Real Housewives of New Jersey. In viewers, that's true. He didn't note it, but that averaged 1.7 million overall and 1.26 million adults 18-49. So while it was close in viewers, DC had about 25% fewer adults 18-49 (1 million) than the New Jersey premiere and at least in the demo, that's more than slightly less.
Then again, the first episode of New Jersey topped the first episode of Atlanta by 186% in adults 18-49. And D.C. did better than the very first episode of NYC which averaged less than 900,000. All of those franchises grew a lot after their first seasons.
What are the reasonable comparisons?
The question is whether it's fair to compare the brand new offering to the more recent seasons of the older franchises? Unfortunately, there are no easy apples-to-apples comparisons. It's easy to compare Chuck on Mondays at 8pm in 2010 to Chuck on Mondays at 8pm in 2009. Same for Grey's Anatomy on Thursdays at 9pm.
But is it reasonable to compare the first season premiere of Real Housewives of D.C. on a Thursday in early AUGUST to the second season premiere of Real Housewives of New Jersey (2.3 million viewers, 1.6 million adults 18-49) on a Monday in early MAY?
Is it more reasonable to compare Thursday night's results to the results from Real Housewives of New Jersey on Monday night(2.6 million viewers, ~1.8 million adults 18-49)?
If those are the comparisons you want to make, then indeed, the #s for D.C. kind of stunk it up. While it might be reasonable to make such comparisons, that doesn't necessarily make them good comparisons.
Conclusion: The Ratings are "Just OK"
After sifting through more Real Housewives data than I ever imagined, my take is the ratings were OK, but just OK. I wouldn't be excited that they were better than the first season premiere of NYC (that was on Tuesday, March 4, 2008), but I don't think they were horrible either. Though if I was in Bravo PR, I too would've noted how popular the show was with D.C. viewers, that isn't surprising and doesn't mean much.
If I'm Bravo I'd have some anxiety about whether now is a good time for the Washington political scene to resonate broadly. I'm also hoping that D.C. doesn't stink it up like the D.C. version of MTV's Real World did, where it set franchise lows (the New Orleans version airing now is doing much better).
Don't Use Echo Chambers to Gauge Results!
I don't buy Levine's notion in the Variety article that the numbers were disappointing because of all the free promotion that the show got due to the Sahalis. Within the exact same echo chamber that might have you believe that Mad Men and Gossip Girl are two of the most popular television shows of all time, there is no doubt the Sahilis got their 15 minutes worth of free promotion.
But,that's the alternate universe that might lead you to believe that Mad Men and Gossip Girl are two of the most popular television shows of all time! Disclaimer: I'm a big, big fan of Mad Men, but its ratings are far from stellar.
One thing I'm sure of is that universe doesn't correlate very well with the universe of Nielsen ratings.