Archive for the 'Ratings FAIL' Category


Behind Us Forever: Treehouse of Horror XXVII


“No! No, let me explain! Every Friday evening after work Mr. Burns undergoes a series of medical treatments designed to cheat death for another week.” – Mr. Smithers 

I’ve been staying with friends in Arlington, VA this week and doing the D.C. tourist thing in Our Nation’s Capital while a constant loop of “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington” plays inside my head (with a side order of “Amendment to Be“). That left watching another lifeless Zombie Simpsons Halloween special pretty low on my priority list. But watch it I did, and it was, well, lifeless.

At the risk of repeating myself, the attention span of Zombie Simpsons has grown so short that they can’t even write coherent 6-7 minute segments. Like several previous Halloween episodes, this one was atomized even further, starting with an opening sketch with fan service ghosts, then going into a long couch gag that was a parody of Planet of the Apes called “Planet of the Couches” (<- creative!). After that they did their three main segments before ending with a 600th episode montage that made me pine for the days when they refused to celebrate meaningless milestones.

The first segment was a Hunger Games/Mad Max 4 mashup where Burns somehow had taken all the water. Here’s a typically brainless scene:

Lisa: Oh, God, me and my big mouth.
Marge: Ooh, I just donated the winter clothes.
Ralph: I’m a god in this reality.
Lisa: Sure, why not?

After that was an exposition heavy segment where Lisa’s imaginary best friend kills a bunch of people. Remember that line from “Hell Toupee” where Lisa exclaims, “Of course, the transplant! Somehow Snake’s hair must be controlling…” and then Marge cuts her off because everyone’s already figured that out? This segment was an extended exercise in ignoring that. Observe:

Imaginary Best Friend: Hey, Lisa, let’s gossip about boys. Isn’t Milhouse so cute? Oh, of course, he suffocated.
Lisa: My Mom was so right when she said I didn’t need you anymore.
Imaginary Best Friend: Oh, I see, so nosy old Marge was the reason you moved on from me.
Lisa: Oh, no, she’ll kill Mom! What do I do?

Finally there was a Kingsman thing where Moe is secretly running a spy agency out of the bar. Homer is some kind of villain, a lot of it is a weird action sequence that kills a lot of time by killing a lot of people, and then it ends for no apparent reason. As usual, about half the dialogue is them explaining what we’re seeing, but I think I’ve quoted this thing enough.

Anyway, the ratings are long since in and they remain bad even when they’re good. On Sunday, Zombie Simpsons managed to pull 7.44 million viewers, by far their highest since last January when they had playoff football as a lead-in. Unfortunately, since the post-game show had 15.38 million viewers, they once again managed to lose more than 50% of their NFL lead-in.


Behind Us Forever: The Town


“Hey, ma, I’m on TV!” – Drunk #1
“Hey, where’s that weather chick?” – Drunk #2
“Ooh, this is some wicked party!” – Drunk #3
“Hey, have you seen Sully?” – Drunk #4

Zombie Simpsons has settled into its rut well enough that they have a “travel” episode pretty much every season. This year, they went to Boston, though in a break from tradition they also had the family move there for six minutes of screen time. Other than that weirdness, it was a very typical travel episode: a few real things and people got renamed, everything was pretty nice, and Homer screamed around the locals a lot.

In what I choose to take as a tacit admission of their massive overuse of exposition, right at the beginning they have Homer say, “Do you have to describe everything?” as Marge is placing pot pies on the dinner table one by one. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop them from spending the rest of the episode telling us what we’re seeing. This includes when Homer is chasing the Flanders kids around like a bull, several reminders that they’re in Boston on a “hate-cation”, and a truly hacktacular scene where Lisa declares, “They’ve got every recognized species of nerd!” and then process to list them as she walks in front of each one. There was also a montage near the end where they drew lots of real Boston places and had Bart tell us what they were.

Eventually, Homer tears a baseball cap in half and the family moves back to Springfield. Really, that’s what happens. If you haven’t seen it, I don’t recommend it.

Anyway, the ratings are in and they are the typical catastrophe we’ve come to expect from non-NFL lead-in episodes. Last night’s ode to Boston was witnessed by a mere 3.39 million viewers. It took them a long time to finally fall through the 4 million viewer mark, now they do so routinely.


Behind Us Forever: Friends and Family


“I want to go on the yard work simulator!” – Bart Simpson

The official synopsis for this week’s episode of Zombie Simpsons:

Mr. Burns’ search for a clan to play his virtual-reality family leads him to hire the Simpsons, except for Homer, since Burns intends to play the father. With nothing to do, Homer befriends the new next-door neighbor, a woman who eats, drinks, thinks and acts like him.

A more honest synopsis:

Burns goes to a therapist, who then dies for no apparent reason. At the funeral, which the Simpsons attend because reasons, Burns realizes no one loves him. Then he runs over Frink, who was using a virtual reality headset. Burns then has Smithers use Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie as a virtual reality family so that he can pretend someone loves him, which for some reason means all four of them have to live at Burns Manor seemingly forever. Meanwhile, Homer meets a new female neighbor of his and becomes weird friends with her. When Marge gets back from Burns Manor, she freaks out about this in one of the dumbest and angriest Zombie Simpsons scenes in a while. Then it ends.

The most unintentionally entertaining part of the episode was the couch gag. They’ve gotten so used to explaining jokes and filling their scripts with unnecessary exposition that they did it before the episode even began. First, we see the family on the couch with a smart phone in front of them. Each member gets clicked and turned into an icon:


As couch gags go, at least it’s slightly novel. But when it gets to Homer, instead of having the screen flash “memory full” or some other wordless joke like the couch gags have long been, they had Homer explain out loud what was happening:


Homer: I’m too fat!

The phone then gets swapped for a larger tablet and he declares himself, “Still too fat!”. It’s completely unnecessary, we can plainly see that he’s too big to fit, but they felt the need to explain it anyway. I’m not laughing with you, Zombie Simpsons, but for once, I am laughing.

Anyway, the ratings are in, for both this week and last week’s premier. For the season premier – with no football lead-in – Zombie Simpsons managed to attract just 3.36 million viewers. That’s a horrifically bad number, but thanks to the nearly as bad Season 27 premier, isn’t actually a record. Last year’s premier only got 3.26 million viewers. By way of comparison, the previous low was Season 25’s 6.29 million.

On Sunday, Zombie Simpsons managed to display some self awareness with their chalkboard gag:


Unfortunately, they did, in fact, lose half of their NFL lead-in. FOX’s postgame show was watched by 12.49 million Americans, with Zombie Simpsons retaining only 6.00 million. Heh.


Hey, Everybody, Season 24 Is Over

Itchy and Scratchy and Marge13

“Hi, kids! . . . What the . . . is this Saturday?” – Krusty the Klown

I’m still going to do Behind Us Forever for this week’s episodes, but the last two days have not been kind in terms of free time.  In the interim, how about a little ratings schadenfreude?

Sunday’s episodes both scored dismal ratings, with the first one (“The Saga of Carl”) coming in at just 4.01 million viewers, and “Dangers on a Train” bumping up a bit to 4.52 million.  The former is good for #2 on the all time least watched list, with even the higher rated second episode coming in at #10.  Here is the current bottom twenty in terms of viewers:





Episode Title

1 23-21 13-May-12 4.00 Ned ‘N Edna’s Blend
2 24-21 19-May-13 4.01 The Saga of Carl
3 24-20 12-May-13 4.05 Fabulous Faker Boy
4 24-17 14-Apr-13 4.07 What Animated Women Want
5 24-12 10-Feb-13 4.19 Love Is a Many-Splintered Thing
6 23-13 12-Feb-12 4.33 The Daughter Also Rises
7 24-8 16-Dec-12 4.41 To Cur With Love
8 24-19 6-May-13 4.43 Whiskey Business
9 24-18 28-Apr-13 4.48 Pulpit Friction
10 24-22 19-May-13 4.52 Dangers on a Train
11 24-13 17-Feb-13 4.57 Hardly Kirk-Ing
12 24-14 3-Mar-13 4.66 Gorgeous Grampa
13 23-20 6-May-12 4.75 The Spy Who Learned Me
14 23-22 20-May-12 4.79 Lisa Goes Gaga
15 24-15 10-Mar-13 4.85 Black-Eyed Please
16 23-18 15-Apr-12 4.86 Beware My Cheating Bart
17 24-16 17-Mar-13 4.89 Dark Knight Court
18 23-16 11-Mar-12 4.96 How I Wet Your Mother
19 22-18 10-Apr-11 5.00 The Great Simpsina
20 23-19 29-Apr-12 5.00 A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again

Of those twenty, nineteen are from Seasons 23 or 24, with the lone exception being from Season 22.  Every single episode broadcast since February of this year has made the list.  And not a single episode in all of Season 24 was viewed by more than 10 million people, the first time that’s ever happened.  (The only one even close came after an NFL playoff game.)

In terms of average viewership, Season 24 ran away with the title of least viewed ever.  After bumping along in the low seven million range from Season 20 through 22, last season fell down to just 6.13 million viewers on average.  Season 24 sunk even further, averaging just 5.47 million viewers over its twenty-two episodes.

Now, the usual caveat about these ratings: these are just the overnight numbers.  When there are significant changes to them (usually because a sporting event runs long), I make those updates, but these are not the fancy pants final numbers that take into account demographics, DVR viewers, and whatever else advertisers complain about.  Nielsen only makes very limited data available to the public (at least, as far as I can tell), so these are the numbers I use, but don’t try reading anything into these in terms of “Will the show get cancelled?”.

The thousand monkeys at a thousand Blackberries who run FOX will be looking at those more detailed ratings as well as factoring in all kinds of things like whether or not a replacement would provide the same lead-in numbers for the rest of the Sunday lineup, how expensive said replacement would be, and how much Jean and company react when feces are thrown at them during meetings.  (MacFarlane doesn’t even flinch.)  Given the production lead time, we should be hearing something about a renewal beyond the current contract (on which there are 29 episodes left) sometime in calendar 2013, but that’s about all that can be said right now.

[Update 6:45pm EDT: Just saw this: CBS Takes Key Ratings Crown for First Time in 21 Years.  FOX lost the battle for the nuts and gum people to CBS this year and their overall viewers were third at 7.0 million.  No idea what the monkeys will think of losing to the old people network and having Zombie Simpsons dragging down their overall number, but it seemed worth mentioning.]


A Spectacular and Unwatched Catastrophe

Chalkboard - Lisa Goes Gaga

“What the hell was that?” – Krusty the Klown

Give Zombie Simpsons credit, when they embarrass themselves for a pop star, they really embarrass themselves for a pop star.  From start to finish, “Lisa Goes Gaga” relentlessly displayed the pitiful imagination and mediocre craftsmanship behind Zombie Simpsons.  In an episode where they outright tell the audience, right up front in an opening narration, that they’re discarding the usual rules and that weird and strange things are going to happen, just about the only weird and strange things that they managed to conjure were a lot of Lady Gaga outfits. 

Unfortunately for them, dresses made of birds and fire spitting bras will not fill an entire twenty minutes of screen time.  They had to fill in the moments when they weren’t expecting us to laugh because Lady Gaga did something weird with empty and pointless scenes like the school awards, Flanders showing up to converse with Gaga and then disappearing, Marge’s weird behavior at the kitchen table (where she apparently lost the ability to let someone touch her and then quickly regained it), the flash mob, and Homer tossing Lisa around like an hourglass for no reason other than it took up a lot of time. 

On top of all that, what little plot and story that did manage to exist between the Gaga fluffing and the filler didn’t make any sense and crashed into itself several times.  Take, for example, the reaction of the townspeople to Gaga.  When she arrives, they’re head over heels in love with her.  Then, for no reason we see, they cheer that she’s sad as she’s leaving.  Oh, and there were songs, but the less said about those the better.

Somewhere in all that mess, Lisa moped around for a while before she felt better, but we didn’t really know why she felt better until she explicitly exposited it – twice.  The first one:

Lisa: Dad, thank you.  Like always, the fact that I could tune you out without fearing that I’d miss out on something gave me the time to take stock and realize how ungrateful I have been.  Which means, I’ve got a train to catch.

Sure enough, Lisa then catches a train, at which point we get explicit exposition #2:

Lisa: Gaga!
Gaga: Lisa?  Why are you here?
Lisa: To thank you.
Gaga: For what?
Lisa: Look at me!  You did help me, by allowing me to inappropriately focus eight years of rage and rejection on you.  It was like a great sneeze.  And now I can say what’s good about me.

That is appallingly bad writing.  It basically boils down to this:

Gaga: Why are you here.
Lisa: Let me tell you.
Gaga: Okay, I’ll ask again.
Lisa: Now I’ll tell you.

Fortunately for Lady Gaga, Zombie Simpsons isn’t relevant enough to damage her pop culture standing, but that was weird, dumb, unfunny, and boring, even by their standards. 

Anyway, the numbers are in, and Gaga did them no good.  Just 4.79 million people tuned in for that hacktacular exercise in misbegotten pop culture references and inane self help statements.  That’s good for #4 on the all time least watched list, and leaves Season 23 with an average viewership of just 6.13 million people, by far the lowest ever.  Here’s the last five years of Zombie Simpsons:

Season 19 – 8.26 Million
Season 20 – 7.12 Million
Season 21 – 7.13 Million
Season 22 – 7.10 Million
Season 23 – 6.13 Million

At the time, Season 19 was easily the lowest rated ever, and then Seasons 20-22 were even worse.  But Season 23 is a down a whopping 14% just from Season 22.  This does set the bar low for Season 24 to avoid being the third consecutive least watched season ever, but tripping over low bars has become something of a specialty for Zombie Simpsons. 


A Season Best and an All Time Worst

Chalkboard - Ned 'N Edna's Blend

“Like one out of every nine Americans, I’m left handed.  And, let me tell you, it ain’t all peaches and cream.  Your writing gets smeared, Lord help you if you want to drive a standard transmission.” – Ned Flanders

I have two good things to say about “Ned ‘N Edna’s Blend”.  First, we dodged the “storytelling episode” bullet.  When they were backstage at the beginning talking about why they didn’t do Lenny’s story, I thought for sure we were in for four short, equally dull segments, but it turned out that they went with the less annoying single, long dull story.  Second, this exchange from the Left Gifted Bi-Dexterous and Transhanded community scene was one of the best things they’ve done all season:

Flanders: We’re trying to decide on the theme for our Left Is Right parade.
Left Handed Woman:  Our Scissors, Ourselves!
Left Handed Man:  How ’bout Death to Righties.
Left Handed Woman:  We have to live among them.
Left Handed Man:  To live among them is to die!  Are you even left handed?

They over explained it and kept the scene going a bit too long, but that argument is a genuinely excellent parody.  Plus, “Fete Accompli” and “A Day to Pay Full Price” were well above average sign humor.  I don’t say this often, but, well done, Zombie Simpsons. 

Unfortunately, those brief moments were surrounded on all sides by the usual array of aggravating and careless problems.  Need a character in a scene? Have them walk right up and announce their presence (there’s Homer and Bart through the window, there’s Helen, Luann and Bernice in the wedding shop, there’s Bart and the window again).  Want to cram in a personal conversation or three?  Have characters argue and reconcile in public with a total disregard for where they’re supposed to be (Ned and Edna at the party, Homer and Marge in their kitchen, Ned and Edna again in front of the school).  Feel like explaining your jokes even as you make them?  Have each punchline carefully pre-chewed for ease of audience digestion (Flanders with the chip clips, the recitation of what goes on at the liberal college, pretty much everything Homer says about playing Jesus).  And, let’s not forget that the main story involved a lot of weird, out of character behavior and bizarre plot twists. 

Zombie Simpsons has a habit of ignoring the history and characteristics of people, but asking us to believe that Ned Flanders (widower) and Edna Krabappel (divorcee) are unaware that marriages aren’t perfect was bad even for them.  Flanders and Krabappel having problems with their relationship?  Fine.  Flanders and Krabappel not seeing eye to eye on Rod and Todd?  No problem.  Flanders being unaware that couples argue?  Wha?  And how on Earth did Krabappel pull the kids out of a school without Flanders knowing about it?  All to often these characters and their actions are barely recognizable as human. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are the worst ever.  Last night’s meandering pastiche of marital woe and wonder was ceremoniously endured by just four million people.  (TV by the Numbers has it exactly at a flat 4.00 million.)  That is far and away the lowest number of all time, displacing “The Daughter Also Rises” from earlier this season in the coveted #1 spot.  Eight of the ten least watched episodes are now from Season 23 (numbers are millions of viewers):

#1    23-21    4.00    Ned ‘N Edna’s Blend
#2    23-13    4.33    The Daughter Also Rises
#3    23-20    4.75    The Spy Who Learned Me
#4    23-18    4.86    Beware My Cheating Bart
#5    23-16    4.96    How I Wet Your Mother
#6    23-19    5.00    A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again
#6    22-18    5.00    The Great Simpsina
#8    23-10    5.11    Politically Inept, With Homer Simpson
#8    21-11    5.11    Million Dollar Maybe
#10  23-12    5.12    Moe Goes from Rags to Riches

Presumably Lady Gaga will give them a boost next week, but it would take a viewership of 26 million just to haul Season 23’s average viewership (currently 6.20 million) up to the level of Season 22, and that ain’t gonna happen. 


Failing to Make Fun of James Bond, Bravo Zombie Simpsons

Chalkboard - The Spy Who Learned Me

“Well, here we are at the Brad Goodman lecture.” – Homer Simpson
“We know, Dad.” – Lisa Simpson
“I just thought I’d remind everybody.  After all, we did agree to attend this self help seminar.” – Homer Simpson
“What an odd thing to say.” – Bart Simpson

Near the end of “The Spy Who Learned Me”, Homer and Marge are running away from a nameless (and apparently Bolivian) guy who has just pulled a gun on Homer.  This is the dialogue . . .

Marge:  Why is he trying to kill you?  And why did she call you her love?
Homer:  It was all a training exercise to make me smooth for you.  Of course, she fell for me, and of course I wanted no part of her.  Now the only one who can help us is Stradivarius Cain. 
Marge:  The guy from the movie?
Homer:  I’ll explain later!  Strad, come back!  I know you’re in there!

. . . and then Homer bashes himself in the head a few times with a rock.  I like this scene, not because it’s funny or entertaining, but because it crams virtually every problem from the rest of the episode into a single moment. 

To begin with, it’s mostly unnecessary exposition.  Take “Now the only one who can help us is Stradivarius Cain”.  There is absolutely no reason for Homer to say that.  The audience already knows who he wants to see, and while it’s true that Marge doesn’t, she’s about to vanish from the scene without explanation, which is another problem this episode has in spades.  From Nelson robbing kids right from Willie’s hand and Krusty just appearing in that movie to all those women Homer hits on, “The Spy Who Learned” me has a boatload of mysteriously appearing and disappearing people.  And there’s the fact that the scene itself makes no sense: no one else at this fancy party noticed the violence or the gun, Homer and Marge make it to the woods in no time at all, and, despite the fact that the guy compliments Homer on his hiding skills, Homer wasn’t hiding at all.  He was standing up and talking out loud, a very poor way not to be seen.*  When all is said and done, this scene is so dense with problems established earlier in the episode that, in a weird, funhouse mirror kind of way, it’s almost like an actual plot climax. 

There was a B-plot as well, something that started about childhood obesity but then ended with Nelson getting into ludicrous shape with help from a personal trainer.  It had many of the same problems, starting with the fact that Krusty’s mansion is shockingly accessible to anyone who wants to wander into it. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are just awful.  Last night only 4.75 million viewers realized that their imaginary friends say more interesting things than that total waste of Bryan Cranston.  That’s good for #2 on the all time least watched list, and means that (counting a tie between Season 22 and Season 23 at #5), all five of the five least watched episodes ever have come this season (numbers are millions of viewers):

#1  23-13    4.33    The Daughter Also Rises
#2  23-20    4.75    The Spy Who Learned Me
#3  23-18    4.86    Beware My Cheating Bart
#4  23-16    4.96    How I Wet Your Mother
#5  23-19    5.00    A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again
#5  22-18    5.00    The Great Simpsina

The Season 23 average is now a mere 6.31 million viewers.  That’s more than 10% down from Season 22’s 7.10 million, which was already the lowest rated season ever.  As recently as five years ago this show was averaging more than nine million viewers per episode, now it’s barely two thirds of that. 

*Mr. Idle, you’re better than this. 


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