Even I would not have guessed that swapping out To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science’s show Unidentified for William Shatner’s The UnXplained would produce such dramatic results—for Ancient Aliens. The UnXplained has run even with or outpaced Unidentified, and in its latest outing it brought in 1.127 million viewers in live plus same day viewing, according to Nielsen figures. But the effect on Ancient Aliens, one of the History Channel’s tentpole series, has been devastating. Yet again this week, Ancient Aliens viewership came in well below one million viewers, racking up the show’s consistently lowest ratings for new episodes since it returned to the History Channel from H2 several years ago. (It previously hit a similar low during a special one-off showing on a Monday, when viewers weren’t aware it would be on.) This past week, just 865,000 people watched in live plus same day viewing.
By comparison, 1.2 million people watched last week’s new episode of Expedition Unknown on the Discovery Channel, while nearly half the audience tuned out for the alien-themed Contact, Discovery’s rip-off of Unidentified, which aired immediately after. Contact had just 758,000 viewers.
It’s hard to say what exactly has caused nearly a third of Ancient Aliens’ audience to drift away. It certainly isn’t that they are doing other things since they have tuned in for William Shatner. It might be that Ancient Aliens is just on too damn much and audience fatigue sets in. It might be that William Shatner’s show just seems fresher, so if you are going to pick one to watch, you’ll pick the newer one. Or it might be that the boring sameness of this season’s Ancient Aliens episodes, which have been much more repetitive than usual, is finally driving some viewers away.
The real explanation might be simpler. Current tastes in paranormal programming have been swinging away from aliens and toward demons and ghosts for the past year, as evidenced from the massive slate of new ghost-hunting and demon-tracking shows in production, including A&E’s revival of the original Ghost Hunters. We might have finally hit a tipping point where the viewership for fringe programs has decisively shifted from aliens to the paranormal—at least until that trend burns out, too.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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