If it’s there, there must be a demand for it, right?
How many times have you heard that, or similar arguments, offered as justification for the purely gratuitous flesh parade that is network and cable television today? “They’re just providing what the market wants!” “If people didn’t watch, it wouldn’t be there!”
It’s there for a reason alright, but that reason isn’t audience demand. In a piece for Variety, Brian Lowry quotes Showtime Entertainment chief David Nevins at the July TV Critics Association tour: “It’s license. Pay cable, you take license. Your licenses are sex, violence and bad behavior.”
The ratings tell the story. What do viewers want? Duck Dynasty, apparently – which attracts upward of 13 million viewers in any given week without recourse to sleazy sex scenes, salty language, or brutal violence. Or how about the Mark Burnett-produced mini-series The Bible , which debuted to the largest cable television audience ever. Game of Thrones (5.4 million), Breaking Bad (6.4 million, on average), and Dexter (2.8 million) may appeal to the TV critics and Hollywood Insiders, but that’s not where the viewers are.
Although Lowry focuses on the salacious content on premium cable networks like Showtime, the trickle-down effect of this glut of sex and profanity is quickly felt on the basic cable tiers and eventually, too, on broadcast television.