This week Code of the Wild aired an episode in which its fraternal hosts searched for a “lost race of giants” in the rainforests of South America. The episode was the series’ highest-rated, and its viewership spiked by almost 100,000 viewers—nearly 25%--to 533,000 live plus same day viewers, according to Nielsen figures. Part of this might be attributed to viewers discovering the show, but the steady ratings for the Expedition Unknown rerun that precedes each episode suggests that this isn’t really the case. While the total viewership is small, it is symptomatic of a disturbing trend: Episodes of fringe cable shows focusing on extreme claims, particularly with biblical or Eurocentric implications, score significantly more viewers than more mainstream mysteries.
The trend has been pretty obvious in recent months, though of course it is not absolute—only a general trend. Shows like Legends of the Lost, America Unearthed, and even Ancient Aliens tend to do better with episodes that are related to biblical and Eurocentric ideas, while those episodes that try to expand the brand out to more conventional subjects or more technical discussions tend to have lower ratings. Since most of these shows have viewership under a million weekly viewers, it’s not exactly proof of a rush of audience to extreme content, but it reinforces the notion that cable channels need this extreme content to maximize their small and fragmented audience.
Incidentally, last week, The UnXplained on the History channel fell to 856,000 viewers while Ancient Aliens remained under a million viewers, clocking just 841,000 for another stale and repetitive outing. This marks the show’s consistently lowest ratings in all the time I’ve been tracking the show and yet another week where My Lottery Dream Home trounced Ancient Aliens by half a million viewers. Tonight’s episode promises to be yet another repetition of the “trans-dimensional” otherworldly beings idea they’ve been pushing recently, so let’s hope that ratings for the show have taken a permanent downturn and History finally cuts back a bit on the frequency of this undead franchise, if only to save it.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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