Popularity does not always equal success in prime-time television. That’s the lesson one can learn from a look at the Top 50 shows of the 2012-13 TV season.
It has been a few weeks since the TV season officially wrapped up, allowing time for Nielsen to collect Live + 7 data through May 26. Live + 7 is the rating that includes both live TV viewing and DVR playback within the following seven days.
Fans of CBS’s Vegas are likely to be miffed if they examine this list carefully. Vegas ranked as the No. 23 show in all of prime time across broadcast and cable with 12 million viewers, but it still got canceled and plenty of shows with millions of fewer viewers got renewed.
Similarly, ABC’s Body of Proof (No. 33) and CBS’s Golden Boy (No. 41) also made the Top 50, but they, too, were canceled. Why would a network cancel a popular show?
It’s simple: Overall popularity is often less important business-wise than demographic popularity. The TV business is driven by the desires of advertisers, and advertisers crave younger viewers on the assumption that they are less brand-loyal and more willing to try something new.
There are many different demographics measured, but a key consideration is the 18-49 age demo. On that score, Body of Proof and Vegas were tied at No. 72 in the 18-49 demo in live-plus-same-day ratings (Live + 7 ratings were not available) and Golden Boy was No. 97, according to Nielsen.
Another thing to remember: Not all shows are created equal. CBS’s The Good Wife fared even worse than Vegas, ranking No. 84 in 18-49, but it was renewed. Why? Probably because The Good Wife generates more social-media buzz and is a critical darling.
CBS may see Good Wife as a bit of a loss leader, one of the network’s few prestige projects that it’s happy to have to balance against the network’s more popular but less acclaimed programming.