Family Guy this week decided to tackle one of the sacred cows of the television industry, the one that dictates what the networks keep on the air and choose to cancel: the Nielsen ratings system.
"Ratings Guy" posits that Nielsen families are basically ruining TV by forcing networks to pander to the lowest-common denominator that they believe owns these boxes, creating extremely low-brow programming. Well, that’s at least what would happen if Peter Griffin got his hands on a Nielsen box or a hundred, giving him enough power to affect the content of television.
While the accusation may be somewhat flawed as a generality, it led to some great references to the TV business as a whole and the various programs out there.
It was funny to see all the references to other shows. Mad Men would be better if it involved lightsabers and Ace Frehley playing the Star Wars theme on a guitar. Don’t know if Breaking Bad would be improved on roller skates, though.
Of course there was a shout-out to the Kardashians doing something on TV. Some of the humor was purely referential, as if to try and generate laughs simply by mentioning these cable shows that are popular among some of the audience, though actually getting Jon Hamm was a great touch.
The episode should be notable for its many cameos, including producers like JJ Abrams and Mark Burnett, which is appropriate as this was an episode all about who’s putting what on TV. But the most notable cameo was probably the People’s Champ, the Masked Scheduler himself, Preston Beckman, former head of scheduling for Fox.
He actually helped serve as some of the inspiration for the episode and had a cameo (at least in his name) as a fire chief at the beginning of the episode. And at least we got to see his virtual likeness fight fire with his fists, which is probably something that he can do in real life, because he’s the Masked Scheduler. Unfortunately, the first couple minutes at the fire station have literally nothing to do with the rest of the episode at all. There is zero connection whatsoever.
While the effects of the Nielsen boxes were exaggerated, there is a good point: the people that do have the boxes have a tremendous say in what is being watched. First, who knows how they’re being selected; is it a truly random and statistically-valid sample? How do we know that the numbers are accurate? Do I doubt that someone has 100 boxes like Peter Griffin? Yes. But it’s such a non-transparent process for something that measure the impact of what is often aired on public airwaves and at worst has an impact on what millions of people watch.
Yet the show painted such broad strokes, as it does tend to do, that it didn’t really have a whole lot to say, other than that they think idiots determine what’s ‘popular’ and what isn’t. Yeah, that’s an original viewpoint. It’s ironic that this show, hardly the most intelligent one on TV, is determined to be more popular than a show like Bob’s Burgers, thanks to the Nielsen ratings. Stones, glass houses, and whatnot, though it was low ratings that caused the show to die twice.
But it’s also the same ratings that’s caused the show to keep going, through its cable revival and high ratings since then. And as with every criticism of Nielsen, there’s no real solution for what to do that’s better, really. So it winds up all feeling like empty words.
It may have been topical, but it felt punchless. I was moderately amused, but felt like there was so much more that could have been said. It’s a waste of the platform for only a few reference-based yuks. While the season is just getting started, it goes on break for a few weeks while the baseball playoffs kick up on Fox. We’ll see you then!