I'm not a Nielsen viewer (i.e., one of the families that AC Nielsen uses to sample television viewing), but there's no reason to think that Nielsen viewers wouldn't behave similarly to me when it comes to new shows. And when it comes to new, serialized dramas, the last thing you want to do is to watch a show, fall in love with it, and see it get cancelled after three episodes.
Now, sometimes you can just spot a complete loser show from the start and avoid it. Last year, one of the networks thought it could capitalize on the "Mad Men" 60s-retro nostalgia with "The Playboy Club." Um, yeah. (Maybe something like that would work on cable TV. Regular broadcast TV, though?!?) I was certain it was going to die a quick death, and indeed, it lasted just three episodes.
On the other hand, there have been new serials that critics have adored, but that the general audience has ignored. If you think airing just three episodes is pretty bad, take a look at "Lone Star," which lasted just two! (But the critics loved it!)
Knowing that networks sometimes have itchy trigger fingers when it comes to eating the sunk costs of a destined loser show, viewers like me have developed defense mechanisms . . . like not watching a new show until there's reason to believe it will survive the first season. (Even that is no guarantee, as "FlashForward" started off with an incredibly awesome pilot, steadily lost viewers and logic-comprehending writers or something, and devolved into a mess by the end of the first season, at which time ABC mercifully decided not to renew it.) Even shows that make it past the first season can disappoint, as "V" somehow got to two seasons, only to fail to get renewal, even as it ended on a massive cliffhanger. (Or not -- I guess the show ended with the Vs having won, and humanity on the road to enslavement or being cooked for dinner.)
Anyway, one of the new shows that the critics lavished praise on this season was ABC's "Last Resort," which, I gather, is something like the movie "Crimson Tide" crossed with the TV show "Lost." The premise is that a US Navy sub gets orders to launch its thermonuclear warheads at Pakistan, but the crew refuses to do so and ends up on the run from other US warships, eventually settling on an island run by a dictator. Wow! Nuclear weapons, military drama, island setting, and no doubt political intrigue and hints of conspiracies. Sounds great, sign me up!
Except, let me wait to see how it does before getting invested in it.
And how it's been doing is . . . not good. Actually, "not good" would be a pretty good showing for it, at this point. Its ratings have been disastrously bad. I'm surprised it hasn't been yanked from the schedule yet.
Now, in the pre-DVR days, I would've had to watch the show live and just accept the risk of being disappointed when a show I was invested in got cancelled. Or I could have saved it on videotape, but it wasn't always possible to record one show and watch a different one. (It depended on the cable set-up.) With TiVo or any other DVR, however, I can record "Last Resort" and save it on the DVR's hard drive while I watch other shows, either live or recorded.
So I now have 5 episodes of "Last Resort" saved up. You can see the vicious cycle at work here. If lots of people wait to see how the show does, then the show can't do well, because there aren't that many people actually watching it live for the ratings. And then the show gets cancelled . . . .
I don't know what the solution is, but I guess I am part of the problem. (Except I'm not, because I'm not a Nielsen viewer.)