Currently popular TV shows indicate that a large percentage of Americans (at least, most TV-viewing Americans) are most entertained by drama.
A recent list of 2009’s top 10 shows, as polled for the National Nielsen ratings, include five crime-drama programs, one medical drama, one night-time soap opera, two NFL football programs (always a great source of drama and excitement) and, in a category all its own, a dance contest. On second thought, the dance show is probably quite dramatic in its own way, too.
Celebrity dance-offs and football telecasts are all competitive, indicating that competition is almost as relevant as drama to the majority of viewers. Soap opera scripts do a good job of mixing up both these attractive elements as well, proving that the most popular topic matters show a considerable degree of consistency.
Statistically, real-life drama and cold, hard facts have appealed to loyal viewers. Five top-rated programs that have run for over fifty years include NBC’s ‘Meet The Press’ which first aired in 1947, the ‘CBS Evening News’ which is now in its 61st season, ‘Today’, which premiered in 1952, ‘ABC World News’, currently in its 56th year, and ‘Face the Nation,’ a Sunday-morning fan favorite since 1954.
For those who prefer their drama in a less factual realm, there are three soap operas that have been going strong for forty years or longer. ABC’s ‘One Life To Live’ came to life in 1968. ‘Days Of Our Lives’ has kept viewers tuning in to NBC since 1965, and the ever-popular ‘General Hospital’ has been around since 1963.
‘Gunsmoke’ still holds the record as the longest-running primetime drama, with a 20-year run (1955 through 1975) and 635 episodes. The longest running primetime comedy (that is to say, animated comedy) is the series less likely than Brett Favre to retire, Matt Groening’s ‘The Simpsons.’ Homer, Marge and the gang will hit their 20-year anniversary in December, 2009.
Despite the perceived popularity and general affection for sitcoms with a human cast, their life expectancy has not exceeded 15 years. Apparently comedies that used a known headliner as the program’s star (and the show’s name) lead to a certain degree of long-lived appeal. Maybe these were the forerunners to today’s rush of reality-TV programming? ‘The Jack Benny Show’ (starring, yes, Jack Benny) ran for 15 years, from 1950 through 1965. ‘The Lucy Show’, featuring Lucille Ball-Arnez, made it through 12 seasons, from 1962 – 1974. Andy Williams, Carol Burnett and Danny Thomas all had very respectable runs with 11 seasons apiece.
Like their predecessor, ‘The Simpsons’, animated comedies ‘King of the Hill’ and ‘South Park’ have surpassed most human competition thus far (these shows have each run for just over 13 years), though modern-era sitcoms ‘Frasier’, ‘Cheers’, ‘Married With Children’ and ‘Mash’ all enjoyed impressive 11 year runs.
While drama and competition are proven to hold the public attention longer than laughs, one thing that remains consistent is the American appetite for televised entertainment.