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Against aesthetic popularism

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Some media types have chosen not to watch Succession — which is fine, time is finite and there’s lots of great art out there — or think other people they know talk about it too much. Rather than just saying this, though, there’s now an emerging argument that shows must merit coverage commensurate to the number of people who watch them live on broadcast TV, so it’s highly suspicious that there’s more written about Succession than FBI or Ghosts:

This is really silly. The first thing to note here is that in 2023 all TV shows are a niche interest. The top rated shows average only about 7 million viewers. The closest thing there is to a general interest viewing experience in America is NFL football. It’s true that Succession’s viewership is a relatively small fraction of the population, but this is true of all TV shows, so it’s neither here nor there.

As for why more is written about Succession than The Bing Bang Menace or NCIS: Cedar Rapids, this is very easy to explain on both the supply and demand side:

–TV critics have a lot to say about Succession because it is an extremely well-written and acted show, and it’s a show that leaves people a lot to talk about. (That isn’t to say that you have to like it — it leaves even some smart people who recognize its formal mastery cold, and those arguments are also part of the discourse of a well-regarded show.) Much less is written about Chicago Transit Authority or Blue Bloods Matter because they’re junk of no aesthetic interest or ambition.

–There’s more of an audience for criticism of “prestige TV” than for criticism of lowest-common-denominator network crap because the typical audience for the latter doesn’t read art criticism.

Now, if you want to argue that I’m wrong and ACTUALLY Blue Bloods is on a par with The Wire go ahead, but AFICT nobody making these arguments actually watches these bland legacy network shows or thinks they’re any good — it’s just pure fake populism, and it’s bullshit. If you don’t want to watch a show your peers really like that’s fine, stop pretending to be a 70-year-old grandpa or willfully pretending not to understand the obvious.

…I should have also remembered to mention that the “2 million viewers” statistic about the Succession finale being used by the fake-populists was totally (and obviously) bogus. Looking at same-night broadcast ratings rather than total all-platform viewings stacks the deck against shows with viewers that aren’t on Medicare:

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