Question of the week: are people stupid?

Mike and Molly

Ratings are a bit of a blunt tool but normally they can be quite useful. I find that in a large majority of cases, the shows I do like other people like, too, and they go on to survive for a few seasons, while the shows I spot as turkeys from the outset generally last a season at most thanks to other people agreeing with me.

But there are exceptions, usually on US network CBS, but also elsewhere. I thought Rubicon got really good towards the end, but it has just been cancelled (although I don’t blame AMC or the audience since you had to have a hell of a lot of viewing stamina to reach the end, after a really slow start by the show) and there are shows that mysteriously do well, such as Rules of Engagement , for reasons I can’t fathom.

Case in point: Mike and Molly and Community. Now, Mike and Molly is a heinously bad show, a cornucopia of fat-jokes, bad acting and general nastiness from the producers of Two and a Half Men. Ugh. Community is, of course, a brilliantly funny comedy, filled with pop culture references, sight gags, interesting characters, entertaining situations and actual hilarity. Yet what are the two shows’ ratings? On Monday, Mike and Molly got 12.3 million viewers, a growth of 9% on the previous week; on Thursday, Community gets about 4.8 million viewers.

Now obviously, days of the week get different ratings, they’re in different time slots, with different lead-in shows, Community is on NBC, the virtual home of low ratings, while Mike and Molly is on number one network CBS. But all the same, this isn’t an isolated problem. We all know low-rated but good shows and high-rated but rubbish shows from both sides of the Atlantic (and elsewhere). So I have to ask:

Are people stupid? Is the ratio of stupid people to non-stupid people in this world 12.3:4.8 or 2.6:1? And is there any way to fix this, given that low ratings will lead to death for the smarter shows, while high ratings will ensure dumb shows survive?

As always, leave a comment with your answer or a link to your answer on your own blog

  • Mark Carroll

    Perhaps this is related: I tend to like films that one actually has to pay attention to to figure out what on Earth is going on or did go on. I find that these do a lot better in Europe than in the US where they’re lucky to even get limited release. Instead, over here, I find that typically I can pretty much watch a mainstream film and get much of what it has to offer (often slow-moving cliches) just by it being one of three I’m watching without audio in the seat-back monitors of a row ahead of me in an airplane; indeed, for a lot of popular television shows here I am doing things online, playing computer games, whatever, while watching them because they just don’t need attention in the way that, say, Sherlock might. In short, I do find American shows and movies more “easygoing on the brain” than I am used to from Europe. Even in things like Arrested Development, which I do think is unusually good among American sitcoms, one thing I like is simply that every joke isn’t painfully clearly choreographed so that we know when to laugh, you actually have to have managed to notice what’s going on to get some of them.
    Of course, one may invent generously charitable explanations, like that Americans work so hard they just too tired for anything more challenging. (-:
    I’ve yet to see Community (it’s on the list, but I thought I’d finish Dead Like Me first). Still, I notice that (right now) Mike & Molly gets 6.9 on IMDb, and Community gets 8.9. One thing I do find interesting is how shows’ popularity or longevity can be very poorly correlated with actual review ratings. I wonder why.

  • I think the honest truth is most people seek television that allows them to sit back and engage it in a passive fashion. After a day working they just want something that’ll fill time and possible give them a few chuckles/something to talk about the following day. It’s important that they don’t ever leave their comfort zone, engage brain power and can get by with low grade motional stimulation. It’s popcorn television for the massess.
    I actively seek out television that’s going to challenge me as a viewer and I’ll admit I still watch some shows that are the equivelent of popcorn television (Chuck for example), but I’d like to think they’re still more challenging than the average viewer’s tastes.
    So, does this make me a TV snob? I certainly sound like one. 🙂

    • Well of course people are stupid, Rob.
      Oh, you mean are people stupid in light of the shows that do well and don’t? I’m not quite sure … I would like to be convinced that I’m right and everyone else is wrong but as I get older I have my doubts.

  • Since the late sixties, I’ve sworn by a TV quote by Paul Lynde: “People make me sick; I’m glad I’m not one of them.”
    It is always frustrating when a show I like, and which shows some intelligence, is snubbed by the general public. ‘Pushing Daisies’ comes to mind.
    Of course, if one of those shows is cancelled, but was one that I wasn’t watching, it has nothing to do with the concept of stupidity in people……

  • Don’t say snob: say connoisseur. 😉
    I think part of the problem I have isn’t that Mike and Molly is sit back and relax TV – there’s plenty of good stuff that allows that. It’s that Mike and Molly is so bad and so nasty.

  • Bassy Galore

    Stupid (read: immature, crude and downright mean ‘humor’) sells here…unfortunately. A lot of our comedy movies are that way too.
    I don’t get it either, but the number of people I run across on a daily basis that are immature, crude and downright mean is astonishingly high, so I’m not terribly surprised that these horrible shows survive.

  • nel

    ah, i see you’re struggling with the eternal question, which is not “what is the answer to life the universe and everything?” but “Why does David Spade still get work and how can we make it stop?”