I’ve been watching more TV this season than in seasons past. At least I think so. It could be that I’ve been paying more attention to TV than I have in the past. I’ve been kind of forcing myself to sit down and rest at the end of the day which I’ve never really done before. I’ve gotten older and working late into the night isn’t so good for me anymore. Of course my “Working late into the night” is really only until 10 PM but I do start my day at 8 AM so by ten it’s pretty late. I’m not working that whole time but often I’ll start working on some of my own art at around seven or eight and keep going until ten. Now I stop at 9 PM and turn on the TV. Sometime I do sit and draw in front of the TV but that’s a change from my usual standing and drawing. And it’s mellower.

I often had the TV on at night but I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to it. It was there for noise as I worked. But now that I’ve been sitting down for two hours before bed I have to find things to watch. That’s a change from my past habit of however many years. I’m actually finding things to watch rather than stumbling on them. As a consequence I’ve watched a bunch of new shows this year. Not all of them good and some only okay but at least I found some to hold my interest for a little while.

I recently stumbled onto a a website called “TV by the Numbers”. It’s all about tracking how well TV shows are doing in the ratings and predicting which shows will be renewed and which shows will be cancelled. I’m not even sure how I came upon in except that since I’ve been paying more attention to TV I must have wanted to see how a new show was doing. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to a couple of TV based radio shows on Howard Stern’s channel lately. They talk TV ratings there. Either way I’ve never delved much into the world of TV ratings before. It’s an interesting world of absolute numbers, the bottom line, and hoodoo.

The hoodoo part is that no one knows why people watch one TV show and not another. It’s all guesswork. If anyone had any idea then more shows would be watched. And the often mentioned 18-49 year old demographic really does rule the advertising roost. And it turns out not because they are in any way special but because they are the hardest audience to reach. Advertisers know they can find older audiences easier so they’re not at a premium. A show that does well with 18-49 is better of than a show with more total viewers but less viewers in that age range. I’ve always known this but somehow seeing it in numbers made it more real for me.

It also reminds me of reading sales figure for comic books. That’s an industry I’m real familiar with and have been reading the numbers on for decades. Comic book sales numbers come back quickly these days and you can tell right away if a book is going to succeed. That’s mostly because the first issue of any comic usually sells the most copies. Rarely do sales go up over time on a comic book series. It happens but not often. If the numbers are no good on issue number one then don’t expect the comic to be around very long.

These days it turns out that TV is just about the same. The premiere episode of a series often has the biggest rating. It’s only down from there. If that initial rating is high enough and there are a lot of 18-49 year olds then things look good even with a drop off but if not – watch out. Some series almost start out as cancelled. One such show is the recent “Bent”. It is a half hour comedy of which they made six episodes. I saw it and it was pretty good and it got some good reviews but it was broadcast over three weeks with two back-to-back episodes each week. That is not a sign of a show the network had any confidence in. The TV ratings site had predicted it to be cancelled right after the premiere. It may have even been before the premiere.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was looking at the episode list of “Seinfeld”. I haven’t watched that show in half a decade and was thinking about giving the series a viewing again. I remembered that the first season was only six episodes long but had forgotten that the second season was only twelve episodes long. The ratings weren’t great that’s for sure. “Seinfeld” wouldn’t have stood a chance of success today. I’ve heard that before but, once again, looking at the numbers made it more real for me.

The thing about having paid attention to TV this year versus the reality of the quick cancellation of shows is that often shows get better as the year goes on but that doesn’t matter because rarely does an audience build as the year goes on. I’ve watched a few shows, Whitney, New Girl, and even Big Bang Theory (a few years ago) that I didn’t like right away but they got better and grew on me.

One show from this year, “Are You There Chelsea” had a horrible premiere episode. I only watched any more of them because I wanted something to watch and only had the attention span for a half hour comedy. Then the unexpected happened and the show got better. Not great but better. TV shows really do take time to develop. But the show’s rating didn’t go up so it looks like it’ll be cancelled. It’s probably too crass for a general audience but it became crass and funny after a while. At least to me.

I find it strange now, since I’ve been paying attention this year, when I watch a TV show that’s predicted to be cancelled. I mean a sure thing prediction. I can’t even explain why. I still like the show but it’s also tinged with the sadness of lost potential. That’s a new thing for me and my TV watching. Or maybe that’s called my TV paying attention. I’ve never looked the TV ratings meta-game before. It sure is a weird game.