Contemporary television shows love to boast of top ratings. Whether it be most popular, most watched, best new drama, or any one of numerous categories, every show likes to say it’s the top of something, as Glee does here with a surprisingly descriptive list of accolades.. The show may not be lying when it says it’s the top, but the real issue lies in how that status was determined.
A quick Google search for “top tv shows” starts with three links that are all lists of the “most popular” or “best” television series. Each site is also a seemingly respectable entity: tv.com, tvguide.com, and avclub.com (entertainment website). However, that is as far as the similarities go. The top ten shows on each site are considerably different, raising questions as to how each site determined these rankings. The number one ranked show on tvguide.com in terms of popularity is Breaking Bad, while tv.com ranks the popularity of that show at thirteen. Conversely, NCIS is ranked second in popularity on tv.com and is all the wya down at rank fourteen at tvguide. Avclub takes a different approach: it ranked Breaking Bad number one on its site, but failed to include either True Blood or NCIS in the top twenty-five television shows.
The sites also seem to differ in which television shows warrant a place on the ratings list. American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and other such talent shows have numerous spots in the top 98 on tvguide.com, but are nowhere to be found on tv.com. The widely lauded popularity of such shows makes it impossible to ignore them on a top television shows list – unless there was a different criteria for deciding what constitutes a “tv show”. This difference in determinations leaves a serious doubt in the mind of an analytical viewer as to the true accuracy of the claims in television shows. True Blood may claim to be the “most popular television show now airing”, but from where do they acquire that information?
The sites also do not list how they determined “most popular”. On tv.com, it shows that each show has a number of member ratings, on a scale of one through ten. Is the “most popular” then determined by the highest average rating? Or is it the most votes above a certain threshold? This is disregarding the multitudes of criteria that categorize television shows. There are statistics for every demographic: age groups, gender, race, religious preference, socio-economic status, etc. Perhaps the show is only the most watched show in the 18 to 25 year old bracket. They could construe the statistics favorably so that while it is only the “most popular” within a small or obscure demographic, it is portrayed as the most popular show on television. Glee does a wonderful job in portraying the the demographics they are most successful in: teens, 18-49, and 18-34. Despite this, the site gives the reader no way to figure out who rated it such. Therefore the accuracy of those statistics is brought into question, unlike the statistics about Emmy award nominations, which are well known and well cited. The inclusion of the Emmy award nominations after the claims of overt success within age demographics overshadows the lack of citation for the latter.
So even among the best of shows, ratings manipulation is important to conveying the most positive image possible. Among lesser known shows, it is easily imaginable that accolades would be searched out, counting on the viewer to take each claim at face value. However, it is important that the claims of media and television shows be taken with a healthy amount of skepticism until researched more carefully.