Yesterday the History networks sent out a press release confirming that America Unearthed has been renewed for a second season, to be filmed this spring, probably for a fall airing. However, more importantly, the press release provided us with our first hard numbers about who is watching America Unearthed and just how many:
AMERICA UNEARTHED premiered in December 2012 and has averaged 824,000 total viewers and 408,000 Adults 25-54, making it the #1 series of all time on H2. And, the recent Friday, January 25 premiere of AMERICA UNEARTHED pulled in 1 million total viewers and 547,000 Adults 25-54, becoming the #1 telecast of all time on the network.
I do wonder whether the roughly 50% of the audience who are not 25-54 are weighted more heavily toward senior citizens or, more disturbingly, teenagers and young adults. Given the age profile of the History networks’ viewers, I would hope for the former, but I can’t be sure.
Another important take away from the numbers is what it tells us about the performance of Ancient Aliens on H2. In its last airings on the History parent network, Ancient Aliens averaged between 1.2 and 1.6 million viewers; if one million is the highest audience total ever for H2, this must mean that Ancient Aliens has well south of a million viewers now. If America Unearthed is the network’s highest rated show with 824,000 viewers, the Ancient Aliens audience must be even smaller than that.
We can rejoice, I suppose, that this audience represents less than one-third of one percent of the American population. (America Unearthed’s average audience works out to 0.26% of the population, using today’s Census estimate.)
I also want to highlight a disturbing bit of boilerplate from the H2 release. In describing America Unearthed, the company’s PR flack writes the following:
AMERICA UNEARTHED proves there is a lot we don't know about our past, and that people have gone to great lengths to cover up these mysteries.
It shocks and saddens me that a major media company would point-blank allege a conspiracy to suppress ancient “mysteries.” If these “mysteries” were being covered up, why is it that nearly all of the sites and artifacts Wolter visited are either in publicly-owned places open to the public, in private museums open to the public, extensively documented in academic and popular literature, or otherwise well-known and easily found?
I was reading today an interesting article over on the A.V. Club website about “the scourge of deliberate mediocrity.” Speaking of Guy Fieri’s infamously bad Times Square restaurant, Scott Tobias writes:
It’s about marketable concepts—creations that might seem like they come from diners, drive-ins, and dives—but without the authenticity and soul. And it’s remarkable how passively we accept that premise, that something so impersonal and calculated could be given a pass. Or worse, not warrant a review at all, because we shouldn’t expect better.
Tobias asked why anyone would bother making a movie, a TV show, a restaurant, that represented anything less than a reach for greatness, knowing well that the answer is that profit comes before greatness, and the profitable always supersedes the good, and often the true.
That seems to be H2’s programming strategy in a nutshell: programs cynically created as exercises in pure marketing, designed for passive consumption, but just bland and/or stupid enough to escape the attention of those who might actively challenge their assertions. I’m fairly certain that for all the faults of America Unearthed Scott Wolter and his crew are making the best television show they know how to make, but I sincerely doubt anyone at Ancient Aliens feels that way. They never reach for greatness; they are content merely to exist as an exercise in marketing and profit-making.
On a completely different topic, the question of the great versus the merely competent resonated with me in thinking about Fox’s new serial-killer drama The Following. I find the show to be competent but nothing more—an exercise in marketing dressed up as a drama, a soulless exploitation of violence without vision or value. And as someone who literally wrote the book on the horror genre, I also am confused by the weird liberties they have taken with the work of Edgar Allan Poe. The show is premised on the idea that the serial killer and his cult are cutting out the eyes of their victims in homage to “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” because of Poe’s pronounced ocular imagery. Not only is eye imagery not one of the most frequent or most essential of Poe’s leitmotifs, in both stories the horror was located in a single eye, not two. Between the two tales, only one eye was cut out, and it wasn’t a human one.
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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