New Analysis of History Channel Viewer Data Finds Pseudohistory Viewers Follow Fake History Across the Dial
Sorry, but I have nothing for you today. It’s a slow week. It’s also unseasonably hot, and I just don’t have the energy to forage for something to write about today. I will note briefly that last week’s episode of Forbidden History drew just 370,000 live plus same day viewers for the Science Channel, which sounds awful until you realize that on the same night, HBO’s heavily publicized Mark Ruffalo vehicle I know This Much Is True had 314,000 viewers and the same network’s Run had 211,000 viewers. The even more heavily hyped Penny Dreadful: City of Angels on Showtime had only 369,000 viewers. (The numbers rise when factoring in streaming views and DVR replays later in the week.) Yes, more people watch Forbidden History live than high-profile premium cable dramas. And yet the HBO shows get acres of press coverage, and almost literally no one but me discussed the propaganda passing as “history.”
I rarely have any idea what a Netflix series is going to be before I watch it, and that’s doubly true for the international series, which rarely arrive with marketing. Not long ago, I watched a show called White Lines, a British-Spanish co-production set on the resort island of Ibiza. I knew nothing about the show other than its Spanish origin and that it was a mystery of some kind. I kind of wish I hadn’t watched it. The series tells the story of a mentally fragile woman who travels to Ibiza to unravel the mystery of her beloved brother’s disappearance 22 years earlier after his body turns up in the present day. The investigation borders on the preposterous, and by the time I got the scene where our unbalanced heroine is having mind-blowing sex with a murderer in the rain on top of the muddy grave they just dug for the men he murdered, I wondered what I was watching. That was before the nauseating incest subplot came to an utterly bonkers conclusion.
Pop culture is suffused with attempts to escape from reality. I’ve lost count of how many TV shows and movies play around with questions of parallel worlds, virtual simulations, supernatural false realities, and artificial intelligence—not to mention the so-called “nonfiction” cable shows hunting for parallel worlds, interdimensional portals, and star gates to heaven. Just as the Victorians kept searching in vain for proof of an afterlife to justify their moral rigidity, our current culture seems to want nothing more than proof that this world is a fiction to justify amoral indifference and egoism. Seriously, if one more TV show goes down the road of parallel universes or false realities, I think I will stop watching altogether.
Due to the lack of new material to write about this week, I don’t have much to share today. I should talk about former Sen. Harry Reid claiming to now believe aliens exist, but, really, who is surprised by that? He was impressed by the commonplace “mysteries” of Skinwalker Ranch. Instead, I wanted to briefly take note of the ratings for this week’s History Channel pseudohistory shows. Now that Curse of Oak Island has gone back down into whatever muddy hole it crawled out of, Lost Gold of World War II and Secret of Skinwalker Ranch have to stand on their own. As almost anyone could predict, without Oak Island’s 3.6 million weekly viewers to bolster it, Skinwalker fell back down to Earth, attracting 1.6 million live plus same day viewers, the same as Lost Gold. Previously, when airing after Oak Island, Skinwalker had more than 2 million viewers. This week’s numbers are closer in line to the historic average for pseudohistory and paranormal programming airing on the network’s weekday primetime schedule, and about even with ten-year average for Ancient Aliens. When you take the anomaly of Oak Island out of the equation, the ceiling for these kinds of shows remains stubbornly around 1.5 million viewers no matter the specific subject matter, the day of the week, or the stars of the show.
When Netflix schedules its releases for a given week, it’s never entirely clear how much thought they put into how their new releases will play against one another. But I often find it interesting how contrasting the big-ticket prestige series against the smaller ones released alongside them tend to highlight themes and ideas that might otherwise pass beneath the sheen of TV glamour. Such thoughts crossed my mind when I found myself comparing and contrasting the superficially very different Hollywood and Summertime after both premiered last week. Fair warning: My review contains some mild spoilers.
Last week I receive a request from someone who is consulting on a documentary to take a meeting with a producer who works with Netflix about adapting one of my books into a documentary or potential documentary series. Normally, I don’t let this sort of thing get very far because it is always a huge waste of time, but since I have been stuck in quarantine, I figured it would serve as a bit of a distraction. So, we set up the meeting, and before the appointed day, I suggested that the producer should probably be aware that my work is not pro-alien. Regular readers of this blog can guess the rest. There was no meeting at the appointed hour. It wasn’t unexpected, but even so, it is disconcerting.
Ancient Aliens is not on tonight, so I am taking the day off. However, before I sign off for the day, I wanted to provide a quick overview of the week in pseudo-historical and paranormal TV. Rob Riggle: Global Investigator actually rose in the ratings for its alien-themed episode, reaching 355,000 live plus same day viewers, its highest viewer haul since moving to Thursdays. What made that more amazing is that the show rose in the ratings while airing out of prime time, in its late-night exile slot. Its total, however, was still only half of what Discovery usually pulls on Thursdays, and it still failed to outdraw the similar Forbidden History, the obscure UK import airing on the little-watched Science Channel. Its latest episode had 400,000 viewers. Curse of Oak Island was up to 3.6 million viewers this week, while Secret of Skinwalker Ranch stubbornly remained at 2.1 million. Last Saturday, Ancient Aliens clocked 1 million viewers, while The UnXplained sank to 852,000. Overall, where we should have expected to see some ratings spikes as more people are trapped indoors watching TV, instead, everything is basically the way it always is, suggesting that these shows have a relatively inelastic audience.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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