The Science of Television

I just spent the last few days on vacation in Vegas with my daughter. She set the agenda for the trip, so I spent most of my time looking at cute tigers and hanging out in malls. Luckily, one of the things she wanted to do was very interesting.

At the MGM Grand (where we stayed) is a focus group company that feeds consumer information to the big TV networks. My daughter and I sat in on a focus session where we watched a not-yet-released TV pilot episode called Taxi 22 starring John Leguizamo. During the viewing, we had our hands resting on a dial that we were instructed to move between zero and 100, based on how much we were enjoying the show. As you watched the show, you kept moving the dial up and down based on how much you liked it. So if a scene started to bore you or piss you off, you would dial it down, and if something happened you thought was interesting or entertaining, you would dial it up.

After the viewing of the show, you answer several detailed questions about the show, as well as demographic information and general information about the TV shows you like.

John Leguizamo is an extremely good comedic actor that I don’t think gets enough credit. He’s very likable and has perfect comedic timing. The problem is he was trapped in the usual stupid, formulaic, boring, politically correct TV sitcom. Most of the time my dial was at zero, and was at 60 or 70 for just a few minutes out of the 22-minute episode.

I watched my 16 year-old daughter with her dial as well. Most of the time her dial was at 70 or 80, sometimes cranking it as high as 95. Any time something mildly funny happened, even if it had been something she’s seen a thousand times on TV, like a joke regarding an old man grumbling about gay people, or the main character (Leguizamo) full of oneitis for his ex-wife he’s trying to get back, she would crank her dial upwards…while I’d crank mine down. We pretty much canceled each other out.

That’s when I realized why most of TV sucks. People who watch TV actually like this crap. I don’t watch much TV, but even back when I did in my early 20s, I did it because I was tired after a long day’s work and had nothing else better to do. I didn’t watch it because I liked it.

It dawned on me, watching my daughter and a few other people in the room, that most TV watchers aren’t like that. They watch the stupid, unoriginal humor, and like it. It appeals to the lowest common denominator. I know that my low scoring for the show will be instantly wiped out by most of the other people in the room who liked it at least moderately.

Often I’ve thought “Why is TV so bad? People can’t actually like this stuff. The TV industry must know better.” I was wrong. People do like this crap, and the industry knows it, and happily feeds them more.

My daughter is a teenager, so I give her a pass regarding her enjoyment of this stuff. I’m hoping by the time she’s 30 she will have evolved out of it. But many other people in that room, at least that I could see, who enjoyed the show at last somewhat were people in their 30s and beyond.

Granted, I am not a TV-watcher, so my opinion doesn’t really matter to the TV industry anyway. During the questions at the end I made it clear that I watch TV “less than one hour a day” and that I only watch three TV shows (Arrow, Shark Tank, and The Profit). Therefore it does’t really bother me that people who consume that content enjoy it. Fine for them I guess, but the experience was illuminating.

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  • Tony
    Posted at 03:20 pm, 28th March 2015

    I once got a thing in the mail from Nielson that had two of the newest, crispest dollar bills I’ve ever seen and a note that said “Take this 15 question survey online and we’ll send you a TV diary and $30”. Since that comes out to about $1,000 an hour, I of course did the survey. Then when they sent my the TV diary I ended up not sending it in. The only thing I watch on TV is football, and they sent it during the offseason, so I forgot about it.

    Sorry Nielson.

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 02:09 pm, 29th March 2015

    Yeah, the only reason to really need any TV signal in your house is if you love live sports. If you don’t, there’s no reason to have a TV signal coming into your home, since literally everything you could want is available on the web or with a device like Roku.

  • buzz
    Posted at 01:21 am, 30th March 2015

    The Discovery channel and History channel have a lot of good reality shows.
    Deadliest Catch, Axe men, Ice Road Truckers, Railroad Alaska, All the Gold mining shows, Gem Hunters.
    I used to watch Arrow until it just got ridiculous
    I know it is just a comic book on TV but it turned into a soap opera.
    The Big Bang Theory about the most popular sit com on TV after several seasons. It is about science nerds and how they react to a pretty girl.
    The Goldbergs a 1950s family with an over protective mother and the teen age angst of her kids.

    Watch the 100 good sci fi you really need to see it from the beginning though and it has been on two seasons now.

    Lots of hot babes dancing sexy on Dancing with the Stars 🙂

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 09:59 am, 30th March 2015

    I can’t stand 99% of reality shows. Boring and stupid (in my opinion). The other than Shark Tank and The Profit, the only other one that was even mildly interesting to me was that one where Gordon Ramsey yells at the incompetent restaurant owners.

    TV just isn’t for me.

  • buzz
    Posted at 08:45 pm, 19th April 2015

    Try naked and afraid on discovery channel new season just started tonight, see if you like it…..

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