Thirty years ago, TV was for a vast number of Americans (I'd guess a clear majority) a common experience.
Up through the 1980s, you could ask almost anybody if they'd seen a particular show the night before, and with only three major networks to choose from, odds were that if they had their TVs on, they had.
During the 1965-66 season, the top show was "Bonanza" with a 34.3 rating, or 16 million viewers, followed by "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C" and "The Lucy Show." There were about 53 million TV households at the time, according to most stats I've found.
I found a site with the bottom 15 TV shows from the 1965-66 season: Coming in at No. 82 was "Rawhide" with a rating of 12.7, followed by "The Steve Lawrence Show" with a 12.6. "Ozzie and Harriet" limped in at No. 88 with an 11.4. Dead last, at No. 96, was "CBS Reports" with a 4.8 rating.
The top-rated network show last week, according to the Nielsen Web site, was "NCIS" with a 12.7 rating and a viewership of 22.3 million ("Monday Night Football" was first with a 13.7).
Yes, the top-rated show last week had a rating equal to the 15th-worst show in 1966. "NCIS" last week had 5 million more viewers than "Bonanza" did in 1966 - but still, it speaks to the fractured nature of TV these days, what with so many more channels free over the air and so very, very, very many more channels on cable, plus rentals, plus some small percentage of people who don't get measured by anyone who are certainly watching content they own.
Interestingly, with all of that fracturing of the audience, on-demand may be the vehicle for bringing back that shared experience. Since the late '90s, I've been involved in few conversations that started, "Did you see [insert name of show] last night?"
But recently I've been involved in a lot more conversations started by, "Have you seen [insert name of show]?" - without the "last night." Now people time-shift.
One of my faves, "Dollhouse," just got canceled, but I know plenty of people who caught it on Hulu, days after broadcast (I can't help but wonder if it suffered lower-than-actual ratings because Nielsen counts DVR viewings only within 24 hours of network broadcast).
I had a Thanksgiving conversation in which a dozen adults and a handful of teens all enthusiastically discussed "Modern Family." One person who hadn't seen the show at all asked what night the show was on. Nobody who'd seen it knew.
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Officially, CED combined its November and December print issues. Nonetheless, we decided to go with a bonus December online issue. You'll find submissions from our regular columnists and a contributed article from Corning.
It's an experiment, so tell us what you think. We'll be back with our normal print edition in January.
Don't forget to look for CED at the CES show, set for Jan. 7-10 in Las Vegas.