Depressing TV, Real Life, and Plummeting Ratings

I’m developing a theory about certain television shows and their eventual ratings drops. Obviously this won’t apply to all shows (they all have their own reasons for eventually going south), but in particular, I think I’ve now seen the same thing happen on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Stargate SG-1”.

Which is to say, at some point they each stopped being the escape-from-real-life that we were used to them being.

For Buffy it happened in the, I believe, next-to-last season, when Buffy’s problems came to all-too-closely resemble our own day-to-day fears: finding a job, repairing the house, and so on. I like TV that makes us think, and I don’t need my TV to be shiny-happy (witness Galactica), but I watched Buffy to get away from those everyday fears. I didn’t watch it to be shoved face-to-face with them. And as I recall, that’s when the ratings dropped off.

Now something similar is happening with Stargate. I read recently that the ratings have dropped off this season, and I remember thinking, “well of course they have.” Don’t get me wrong, I think the writing is still gorgeous, the directing and acting are top-notch, and the stories are amazing. However, the show has become depressing in an all-too-real-world kind of way. The big bad guys are overwhelmingly powerful, provoking a feeling of helplessness that hits a little too close to home these days. In short, while the writing is still sharp and the storylines are still fascinating, the show now reminds us just a little too strongly of the things we tune into it to get away from.

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4 comments on “Depressing TV, Real Life, and Plummeting Ratings
  1. Scott M says:

    Yes– the same thing happens with movie rentals. You pick up 2 or 3 movies, and the one you watch is the light and fluffy one. The serious drama that looks so good at the store is very good– when you finally watch it. You have to be ready to deal with it when you watch it, while escapism is good no matter how good or bad your day was.

  2. Agreed–you really do have to be in the right mood for a serious drama.

    I also see a difference, though, between something that simply has a serious storyline, and something that has a serious storyline that perhaps hits a little too close to home for the viewer. A serious show (like Galactica) can still be escapism because it still takes you away from your own troubles. But if it reminds you of those troubles, then the show itself is in trouble. I think both Buffy and Stargate SG-1 ran into trouble because they started delving too far into those troubles. Buffy went into the perennial everyday fears of job loss, paying the rent, etc., while SG-1 is perhaps hitting too close to home in terms of current world politics and such.

    Matters of degree, I guess.

  3. Quixotic says:

    Too true. Although I loved the last season of Buffy, it really was much harder to watch than the previous ones. It meant very different things to me than the others.

    Scott M – also very true – I always watch either the light films first, or the most blockbustery ones. Then wish I hadn’t!

  4. I’ve definitely had times when I’ve seen the first few moments of a TV show episode or movie on TV and said to myself, “I really want to watch that episode, but dear god I can’t handle being depressed that much right now. Some other time.” And, well, sometimes I never get back to it if it isn’t a show I tend to record.

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