stay tuned

Do My TV-Viewing Habits ‘Count’ to Networks? Your Pressing TV Questions, Answered

Photo: Fox, ABC, Starz

Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about your various TV triumphs and woes. Need help? Have a theory? Want a recommendation? Submit a question! You can email, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.

Is there an effective way to support my favorite shows? I rarely watch the traditional way anymore, what with DVR, streaming, iTunes, and a public library with a good DVD collection. So when networks are looking at numbers to decide the fate of a show, what do they take into consideration? Tweets? Emails? Purchases? App views? Hulu? Amount of GIFs on Tumblr? Do we now live in a world where Firefly could have been saved? Does my vote “count”? —Annie

The short answer is no. And the long answer is nooooooooo, your TV vote doesn’t count in any meaningful way unless you’re a Nielsen family, in which case you affect ratings. And ratings are what count. The various fan ephemera does not have a big or clear impact on keep/cancel decisions.

This week is Upfronts Week, which is when the networks (and cable stations, too) unveil their fall lineups to advertisers and try to convince those buyers to buy commercials on their network. In these presentations, yes: Network executives do mention “engagement” and “social buzz” a lot, but that’s still in service of TV ratings. Any network would rather have a popular show with zero tweets than a buzzy show with tens of viewers.

As for online viewing, again, it matters a little bit: Hulu, network sites, other legal streaming means — popularity on those platforms doesn’t hurt a show, certainly. And popularity on subscription services like, say, Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu Plus can matter, but mostly when a network owns and distributes that show: For example, The Mindy Project aired on Fox — but it’s produced and distributed by NBC Universal, so its Netflix potential matters not at all to Fox but quite a bit to Universal. Agent Carter, though, airs on ABC and is produced and distributed by ABC and its Disney cousin Marvel, so the show’s future revenue sources still matter to ABC. All that said, online viewing is unlikely to be the deciding issue in a show’s renewal, but it might factor in when one considers the overall health, popularity, and future viability of a series.

Fan movements don’t save shows. TV production is not an act of benevolence! This has come up in Stay Tuned before, but: Networks are piles of money that just want to be bigger piles of money, and that’s kind of it. Shows don’t stay on the air because of our deep love; they stay on the air because they make money and, in particular, make more money than another show would.

I’m not saying this to make you cynical or because I’m cynical. I’m saying this because I think fan culture has value to fans: Just because something doesn’t move the needle for a network doesn’t make it worthless. It’s just that the worth lies elsewhere. I am very old, so I remember a time when part of online fandom was making and using icon sets, cropping and filtering images to the correct ratios for your AOL profile picture or your LiveJournal photo or your various message-board avatars. Is there value in that? There was for me! Pouring over weirdly tinted American Gothic 140x140 images made me happy. Which tiny Chiclet photo of Jo from Melrose Place will represent me to the world this week? What tortured Millennium GIF seems appropriate for today? Let us never be above silly American Gladiator images. GIF sets and pic spams today make me happy in the same way — briefly, but truly.

Unlike some of your previous letter writers, I like spoilers! The problem is that most people don’t want to give me spoilers, even when I ask for them. They say that they don’t want to ruin it for me, but I don’t like surprises and enjoy trying to figure out how the show is going to get to what I know to be the ending already. They also say I should put the work in if I want to know what happens, but I like to know the end so I can decide if it’s worth watching. A dissatisfying ending is the worst. The other reason they give is that I don’t truly want to know the ending and will blame them later if they tell me. But this is silly because I can take responsibility for information that I am asking for. If you’re going to talk about how great an episode or a show is, then tell me why it’s so great, and don’t make me wait until it’s socially acceptable for me to get out my phone and look up the recap. Is it as rude as I think it is to withhold spoilers from someone who wants them? And if not, WHY??? —Mel

For many of us, the opportunity for surprise and genuine intrigue is one of the things we enjoy about television: I like finding out what happens while it’s happening. We are different! I am told this is the kind of thing that makes the world go ‘round.

But this isn’t about spoilers, Mel, it’s about your friends (or at least the people you’re spending time with) apparently not trusting you to make decisions for yourself. And that’s frustrating and uncool. So don’t make the conversation about spoilers qua spoilers, make it about your spoilers qua your relationship. “You’ll be so mad at me!” says your pal. “I’m telling you I won’t; is there a reason you wouldn’t believe me?” No need to be a drama llama about it, but it’s worth asking. “I don’t want to ruin it for you!” they plead. “What ruins shows for me is a dissatisfying ending. I know this about myself, I vastly prefer knowing the ending going in.” If someone replies to that with, “No, you don’t,” that person is not your person. Or at least not a good TV-chat buddy.

What are some shows with a really great romantic relationship to root for and support? My friends and I were recently lamenting the current lack of shows with a good couple to ship, and I’m hoping you might have some suggestions. —Katie

Are you looking for couples that currently exist on TV as canon? Or couples that aren’t together but should be, even if the show will never go there? I bet you’re looking for both. God knows I am.

The best romantic relationship on TV is probably Bob and Linda Belcher on Bob’s Burgers. They’re tender and devoted and loving, and also deeply respectful of one another’s independence. They know what’s important to the other, and they pretty clearly see themselves as a team. This is what we should all aspire to in terms of romantic partnerships. If you’re looking for something more adult and sexy, Outlander is your jam. Younger is corny and not that great, but if you want rom-com–style love, you’ll find it there. (DVR several episodes to watch all at once.) Orange Is the New Black has lots of interesting couples. The moms on The Fosters have a relationship worth rooting for. Philip and Elizabeth on The Americans have a fascinating if very complicated romantic relationship, as do Virginia and William on Masters of Sex. Mindy and Danny on The Mindy Project (RIP). You’re the Worst. Hindsight. Jane the Virgin. Cucumber and Banana have lots of romance-geared stories.

Suits has plenty of extant couples and couplings, but it also bridges that gap for me between “established couples on a show” and “I chose to believe these two would make a great couple.” For Suits, that’s Harvey and Mike: Oooooh, you guys are sooooo maaaaad at each other. Why don’t you kiss and figure it out? For Stay Tuned purposes, ship generally connotes a couple that is not together and will probably never be, so under that definition, I ship Alex and Meredith on Grey’s Anatomy and did even before recent tragic events. I used to ship Eli and Alicia on The Good Wife, though not for the last two seasons. I ship Nev and Max on Catfish even though they are “real people.” Do I even need to mention Sherlock? Okay, Sherlock.

This question comes up a lot in the Stay Tuned mail bag, so if anyone out there is trying to make a to-do list for his or her original pilot, consider emphasizing sexual and romantic partnerships. The people demand it.


Do My TV-Viewing Habits ‘Count’ to Networks?