Mad Men is not great television.
Just ask TV viewers in markets like, Denver, Miami, Phoenix, Seattle...and LA!
Let's be clear about something — this is not a value judgment over the dramatic quality of the show. Whether or not you feel that it's chock-full of nuanced performances and pretty set pieces, a storytelling oeuvre that captures the subtle grittiness of a simpler yet complicated time or it's a boring piece of tripe, that's irrelevant.
What we're saying is that most of the country falls squarely into Category "B".
Mad Men simply doesn't translate with viewers outside its advertising industry "comfort zone" of New York, Boston, Washington, DC, and Minneapolis — maybe throw in Chicago — otherwise, the show doesn't move the ratings needle. Its peak average household rating in Los Angeles? 1.2.
Magazine covers, Emmy Awards, Banana Republic Mad Men fashion collections are great awareness drivers. But what they don't equal ratings.
Nationally, the most premiere episode of the show delivered an anemic 1.8 household rating, #133 overall. Its 0.8 A18-49 rating would be downright unsurvivable on broadcast.
It's probably the television equivalent of the movie Crash – it won the Academy Award, probably due in large part to its Los Angeles setting and themes. But it was not particularly a blockbuster; in fact, it was the lowest grossing Best Picture winner since 1987's The Last Emperor. But it certainly played in its market.
As a commercial delivery system, Mad Men does not live up to its considerable hype. Don Draper himself would find it hard to defend its ability to sell any of his clients' products with an audience that delivers only a bit over 1% of the households in the country's #2 television market. In fact, considering the time period he comes from, Don Draper wouldn't even acknowledge that a 1.2 household rating could even exist – many shows delivered ratings in the mid-20's.
But we're not living and broadcasting in the 1960's anymore. Now, the top shows on television deliver household ratings that barely scrape 10. The simple landscape of three networks is as anachronistic as the three martini lunch and smoke-filled offices. Thanks to the digital media world, with 1,000 channels per household, DVRs, Netflix, Hulu, digital subchannels, et al, life in the margins is acceptable, as long as you can find your appropriate niche.
Mad Men has found that niche – the advertising industry hotbeds of New York, Boston, Washington, and Minneapolis.
That is, it's delivering those who have already drunk the Kool-Aid. It's just not reaching the multitudes of consumers that would be purchasing it.
Don Seaman joined the TVB in January 2012 as Manager of Marketing Communications, where he is responsible for promoting and raising awareness of the TVB, and of Local Broadcast Television’s value propositions within the traditional and digital media industries. Don can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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