Is Sorkins' Golden Boy Status Losing its' Luster?

So far, Aaron Sorkin is having a tough time dragging the peacock network back onto their lofty pedestal.

The official word from Variety is that "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" is slipping even further south in the ratings game:

3.5/9 in 18-49, 9.1 million viewers overall
Down 17% from last week's 18-49 score and 30% from its premiere.
So for those of you not involved in the TV business, I'll endeavor to explain those numbers:

It sucks.

But let's explain how this whole ratings thing works in the first place:

The ratings are the EKG for the life of a TV show. They were started by Arthur C. Nielsen back in 1923. Back then they measured radio broadcasts, but when the TV business was started in 1950, they switched over and have remained the official indicator for the television industry ever since.

To get the numbers, Nielsen uses a sample of more than 5000 households, which means a little over 13,000 people were approached by the company and agreed to participate. Installers (they call em "Field Reps") come out and connect special equipment to the TV, VCR, DVR, Cable Box, Satellite Dish, etc. that automatically keeps track of when the TV is turned on and what channel its tuned to. People who have volunteered to be a "Nielsen family" have a little box located near the TV that they use to signal when Mom, Dad or Jr is watching TV. When they sit down, they press a button on the box to let the measuring equipment connected to their TV know who is watching at that time. All the data is then collected by the box and phoned back to Nielsen's main office in the middle of the night, which is quickly collected and sent out to the networks. (this is known as "the overnights.")

However, one can see that there is a lot of room for error in the measurement of the ratings. The viewing habits of 5,000 carefully selected homes has to represent the viewing habits of over 100 million televisions across the country. Nielsen claims that their sampling algorithms are accurate plus or minus 4%, but its hard not to consider the idea that the numbers for a particular show may be way off.

Regardless of that, the overnight ratings for Studio 60 are pretty grim.

Looking at the numbers, 3.5 represents the percentage of the total television-watching audience that was watching the show. At last count, there are a little over 100 million television-watching homes in the United States. So that means that 3.5% of 100 million, or 3.5 million homes watched the program. The second number refers to the share, or percentage of televisions that were on at that time. In this case, 9.1 million viewers overall. The "18-49" is the demographic - something considered very important to networks as this is the prime consumer demographic and the ones most television programs are produced for: this is the age group that buys all the crap that the advertisers hock. So all of this means that 3.5% of the prime demographic of television watchers were watching Studio 60 on Monday night. In other words, its sitting comfortably at the very bottom of the list.

But wait. How could this be? Isn't Sorkin the messiah of modern American television? Doesn't everything he touch turn to gold? No, not really. Sorkin has had his share of failures, most notably with "Sports Night" which was a behind-the-scenes look at another television program, ESPN's SportsCenter. The show was critically acclaimed, but just because the critics love something doesn't mean its going to be popular and the show got canned.

The West Wing was an easy show to get behind and enjoy, especially considering the state of affairs and popularity of our real-life west wing. It's far easier to bury our heads in a TV show and secretly wish Bartlett was a real person and running the country.

But when it comes to Studio 60,
it seems that most people not involved or even really interested in the television business are just not that interested in the goings on of a fictional late night live sketch comedy show, despite the fact that the storyline for the show is all about how its improving in the ratings.

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