That’s one of the takeaways from this Harris Interactive Poll of Americans’ favourite all-time TV series. (Harris is a reputable market research firm and though this is only a poll, it’s a more scientific survey than your average online poll.) The incredible rise in popularity of NCIS is the big news in this poll: because the show has become the most-watched scripted show on broadcast networks and is in syndication everywhere, it seems to have become almost the first show people think of when they think of scripted TV.
But the news that Two and a Half Men is the most popular show among Democrats – NCIS dominates among Republicans, not unexpectedly – is a real thinker. I guess it sort of makes sense: it is the most popular comedy in the world, and there are probably more Republicans who dislike it for being dirty than Democrats who dislike it for being lowbrow. (Not to stereotype: dislikers of lowbrow TV are probably evenly divided between political affiliations and parties.) Also note that NCIS is the most popular show with every income group except those making $75-100k, which still picks M*A*S*H. No idea what that means. But it does mean that every income group picks a show that is “military but not too military” in its orientation.
I saw people on TV By the Numbers getting really furious about the list, since it one again demonstrates that the masses have not ascended to a higher plane of consciousness and still like to see mysteries solved every week and hear laughter on the soundtrack. Me, I’m actually kind of pleasantly surprised in one way: although most of the “all-time favourites” are simply whatever happens to be on currently (that’s to be expected), a black-and-white-show, I Love Lucy, managed to place #10 this time when it didn’t make the list the last time the poll was taken. The idea that an old show, even the most popular old show of all time, has gone up in the public consciousness is a nice jolt to my own stereotype of a world where old stuff is increasingly less known.
Again, syndication probably still has a lot to do with what places on the list: daily syndication drums a show into our collective consciousness in a way that weekly broadcasts don’t. This probably explains why The Simpsons dropped off the list: the show isn’t as heavily syndicated as it used to be. Also, having some big event probably helps: look at how Star Trek has jumped from # 13 to # 7, likely because the 2009 poll was conducted before the movie came out. 24‘s huge drop from 5 to nowhere derives from the fact that it had no syndication life and nothing to keep it alive after it went off the air, though Lost, as so often, is an exception to all the rules: it’s a heavily serialized show that isn’t syndicatable, but people still remember it even though it’s gone. Another reminder that Lost‘s success is amazing but it’s hard to replicate – it made its own rules.
And M*A*S*H may have dropped from #2 to #3, but its continued popularity is quite astonishing: it’s one of the few shows that never leaves syndication, never loses its popularity, sells great in every format. The fact that it’s technically a period piece and therefore doesn’t belong to its era quite as much as other shows (I said quite as much; there’s still all that ’70s hair to deal with) may help it. Maybe more shows should take the cue from M*A*S*H and Happy Days and realize that a period setting can do wonders for longevity.