On Monday FOX decided the fate of Dollhouse. Like Chuck, it barely missed the cutting block. Fans shouldn’t have to worry and stress whether or not quality shows will be canceled simply because FOX relies too heavily on ratings rather than a more accurate number of viewers.
Before the show even started, Entertainment Weekly had doubts that the show would last one full season, let alone two, even if the show proved fantastic. They based their assessment on FOX prematurely canceling one of Joss Whedon’s other shows, Firefly, despite a huge fan base. Also, FOX slotted Dollhouse for Friday night, the least viewed day for prime-time television. Entertainment Weekly speculated the FOX was setting up Whedon’s new show for failure.
Of course, reality shows such as American Idol are given prime-time slots when most people would be watching TV, regardless of what’s on. FOX has more incentive to keep reality shows than scripted shows, because reality shows generate more money and in the end cost less to make. In addition to being paid for advertisements, FOX makes a slew of money from product placement during reality shows.
This, of course, isn’t the reason that FOX gives for determining whether or not to cancel a show. According to FOX’s press releases, they use Nielson ratings, an audience monitoring system that was developed in the 1920s. After almost a century of advanced technological feats, Nielson ratings seem outdated.
There are three ways that Nielson ratings gather information. One, they ask target audiences to self-record their viewing habits. Two, they connect small devices called Set Meters to select televisions to gather viewing habits. Thirdly, they gather information from DVRs. However, networks like FOX aren’t including the data from the third source due to advertisers’ requests, because viewers can then fast-forward through commercials.
Already, by cutting out the DVR viewership, it becomes apparent how inaccurate FOX’s ratings are compared to the actual fan base. Also, the first two ways of collecting data also don’t depict an accurate number of fans, as they only include data from people either asked for a diary or from people that they send a box to. That means that a lot of people are tuning in that aren’t counting toward the overall numbers.
FOX doesn’t include online viewership from users of hulu.com or downloads from iTunes. On iTunes, there are over 1,500 ratings for the show with an overall rating of four and a half stars. Many people are too busy to commit to watching a show each week and plan on just buying the DVD or blu-ray a few months after the season finale. There’s especially cause for waiting for the Dollhouse release because FOX wouldn’t air the 13th episode that was filmed. It’s supposed to be included on the DVD and blu-rays.
Fans are still outraged in regard to the poor treatment of Firefly by FOX. The show premiered in September 2002 and was cancelled when only 11 out of 14 episodes had aired, even though it went on to win an Emmy in 2003.
FOX canceled Family Guy, an overwhelmingly popular animated TV show, in 2000 and again in 2002. Only the large number of DVD sales and mass viewership of reruns on Adult Swim convinced FOX to pick up the show again.
FOX is clearly detached from what viewers actually want to watch. They are listening too much to advertisers and outdated monitoring systems instead of fans. FOX needs to put its greed aside to some extent so that we can keep quality shows on the air. TV is already oversaturated with reality shows. We need shows like Dollhouse, that are entertaining as well as intelligent; questioning political, moral and ethical problems of today.
Instead, FOX should keep better statistics on shows’ fan bases. Including DVR recordings would be a good start. With TV switching to digital, it should be easier to see what people are watching. Online viewing habits should also be easy to monitor. They should also set up a section of their Web site for people to leave ratings and reviews of shows. They should be able to vote whether or not a show is canceled.