With the return of television’s hottest heartthrobs like McDreamy, McSteamy, and Michael Scott in a fat suit, TV is officially back from its eight-month hiatus. During the next few weeks, network execs are undoubtedly waiting to see if audiences will also come back…especially after enduring a long summer of repeats, Japanese game show knock-offs, and Deal or No Deal.
While some may have enjoyed a continuous helping of Howie Mandel as a placeholder for quality programming, I am slightly skeptical that viewers will come running back with open arms to their favorite old shows. After all, to put it in economic terms, TV is a normal good with plenty of substitutes. When the writers strike halted production earlier this year, viewers naturally altered their behavior. Instead of installing themselves on the couch for 30 Rock every Thursday, people may have gone to the gym, read a magazine, or, God forbid, even had conversations with their families during dinner. Plus, some Americans are probably still ticked off about the strike itself; instead of watching our 401ks plummet, it would have been nice to have a quality show on TV to distract us.
So now, even if viewership returns to their normal levels, is this necessarily a positive development? For everyone who does NOT work at a television network, the answer may be no.
To illustrate this point, I have included a graph which shows how substitutes to television (like reading, exercise, and family time) may have crept into our daily routines… and how such activities may be preferable to Project Runway marathons:
- Lower TV consumption = High literacy, healthy kids, more time with family = Not so bad?
- Higher TV consumption = Low literacy, rampant obesity, excessive Paris Hilton exposure, remake of Knight Rider = Armageddon?
Then again, if 30 Rock gets canceled and I never find out what happened to Liz Lemon’s baby quest, someone’s gonna pay… and it might be the woman on the neighboring elliptical at the gym. I’ve got a lot of aggression.