Prefacing his 50-year look at top TV ratings, AMC Networks COO Ed Carroll showed off his acting chops by appearing in a taped skit with Mad Men’s Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Roger Sterling (John Slattery).
Carroll was pitching the Cable TV Association, whose members were charging $5 per month for a small suite of services, to Sterling Cooper shop as a client. Draper asked what’s next: People are going to start selling bottled water? The creative genius said he’d keep his rabbit ears, thank you very much. Sterling, though, was intrigued by the 20-channel offering, and the shop was the place for the Cable TV Association. Carroll said his researchers were telling him the number could swell to 25, with such entrants as the opera and playwright channels.
A half century later if TV hasn’t totally succeeded in educating the masses or bringing widespread culture to Americans, the proliferation of original programming has wrought Duck Dynasty and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Carroll joked, before noting that programmers would "take them in a minute."
Carroll speaking at the inaugural NYC TV Week, ran through a brief Nielsen history, starting back in the Draper days in 1964, when Nielsen counted only 53 million homes, and Bonanza holstered the top spot in primetime with some 20 million weekly households. That elite show level was maintained by All in The Family and Seinfeld in the decades that followed, even as the U.S. TV universe expanded. It wasn’t until 2005 when CSI had some 18 million and American Idol had 17 million that numbers began to drop, even with the number of American TV homes reaching 110 million. In the current season with 115 million homes, NCSI leads the way in some 14 million households, while Sunday Night Football and AMC’s The Walking Dead are setting the demo pace with 10 million adults 18 to 49 watching.
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