Monday, March 12, 2007

Lost is losing viewers

TV ratings are a weird thing. Like political polls, you can pull from them anything you want. The recent ratings for one of my favourite TV shows, Lost, are no exception.

Lost ran for 6 weeks back in the Fall, and then went on hiatus. They are now going to run 16 episodes one right after another, which they began doing four weeks ago. At the same time, ABC moved the show from Wednesday at 9:00 pm to Wednesday at 10:00 pm, Eastern Time.

The good news is that the show is hands down the winner among 18 to 49 year-olds in its time slot, and it's actually the highest rated show of any network in its time slot.

The bad news is that it has lost (pardon the pun) 2 million viewers since it's return on February 7, and a whopping 6.5 million viewers from its season debut back in the Fall. Back then, 18.8 million people watched Lost. Last week that number was 12.34 million (down 440,000 from the week before).

There are a number of theories behind this.

The move to 10:00 pm will always drop viewers. A lot of people will stay up to 10 to watch something, but need to be in bed before 11. There's no way of knowing how many people tape the show for later viewing.

While I didn't mind the shows that ran last fall (though they didn't engross me as they should have), a lot of viewers were peeved that the story line focused on Jack, Sawyer, and Kate. The problem with an ensemble cast with 10+ characters is that even if three of them turn out to be the most popular, you're going to anger a whole bunch of viewers who prefer some of the other characters (my favourites are Desmond, Sayid, Hurley, and Jin, for instance).

The second half of last season was a bit of a mess, until things started moving forward quickly in the last couple of episodes. Lots of fans see the first half of this season as more of the same. More questions are being asked than answered. Fans are starting to get frustrated.

Although certain blogs blame the plot and the slow pace of revelations, I don't think you can discount another major issue. I, personally, disliked the way ABC teased me into watching six episodes and then pulled the plug for three months. In protest, I didn't watch their replacement show. Neither did a lot of people, as the show was pulled and probably won't be renewed. It wouldn't take much for people to shrug and say, "You know what, I'll just spend my evening web surfing or knitting, and watch it all in one lump when the DVD comes out." With popular shows releasing season DVD sets soon after the season has aired (in lieu of reruns), there's no such thing anymore as "must see TV".

A couple of posts on Lost fan sites make it clear that the fans know ratings have dipped, and have even applauded the dip. They think that ABC will start to reveal more information at a quicker pace now. A teaser for this week's episode (first released on, and now available on YouTube) reveals more than the usual teaser.

I have my doubts that the show's pace will change for the better. The show's producers say that Lost will have a definite end, and that the end will likely come in the 2009/2010 season. If that's the case, it seems they already have an arc in mind. If they hold to their artistic vision, they won't release things more quickly just because their ratings are slumping. On the other hand, ABC may force their hand, which could mean a decline in quality and/or story line coherence in an effort to boost ratings.

We'll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile Heroes continues to capture more of my attention, though it is on hiatus until April...

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