For the past two weeks, after I've reported on the Friday overnight ratings, I've gotten a similar question from folks on Twitter and in the real world: How long can FOX keep "Dollhouse" airing on Friday nights with those ratings?
My answer has been the same for a while now: FOX wasn't going to do anything cruel and untoward to "Dollhouse" before the premiere DVR figures came in. "Dollhouse" is a show that was at least partially saved by the strength of its non-live (as opposed to not-alive, which would mean zombies, I guess) viewership and I figured FOX would want a day or two of positive press coming off of an inevitable DVR boost.
Well, those DVR numbers for premiere week were revealed on Monday (Oct 12) and... GUESS WHAT!
[Basic overview of the DVR results, specifically the key 18-49 demographic and specifically "Dollhouse" after the break...]
"Dollhouse" and "Smallville," both stuck treading water on Friday nights, lead the way, each posting a 50 percent increase in the 18-49 demographic courtesy of DVR additions.
The Hollywood Reporter calls the bump for "Dollhouse" "enormous" and "stunning" and "huge." Me, I call it "expected" and "statistically logical." Overall, DVR playback for premiere week was up 36 percent over last year and 64 percent over 2007. If you make the guess -- Yes, this is all based on a sociological fallacy -- that DVR usage is higher among younger viewers and that DVR usage is highest among tech-savvy viewers, how can a 50 percent increase for a show known to be favorite by young viewers and likely to be favored by tech-savvy viewers be considered anything other than exactly what any person with common sense would expect? [Note: The Reporter story was tweaked after it was posted to somewhat tone down the excited rhetoric. Nothing wrong with that.]
And what the blazes does a 50 percent increase actually mean when your ratings starting point is a 1.0? Yes, "Dollhouse" and "Smallville" both posted 50 percent increases and went all the way up to a 1.5 demo rating. That keeps "Dollhouse" below the live 18-49 demo figures for several CW shows, including "America's Next Top Model" and "The Vampire Diaries" and, if you're recall, The CW was very enthusiastic about how those shows also gained post-DVR introduction. If you start low, you get a bigger percentage increase, because among the shows also getting that exact same 0.5 ratings increase are things like "Numb3rs" (stuck in the same Friday wasteland as "Dollhouse" and "Smallville"), "The Good Wife" and "NCIS: Los Angeles," shows perceived as being older skewing and all posting smaller percent gains.
"Dollhouse" and "Smallville" now have 1.5 ratings in the 18-49 demo. That number is identical to the 18-49 ratings gain for "Grey's Anatomy," which went from a 6.7 rating to an 8.2 rating.
Percentage statistics become silly when you consider that shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Mentalist" both got post-DVR overall audience bumps larger than the audience that "Dollhouse" got in the first place. Shows like that get penalized in stories that concentrate on percentages because they started with vastly larger statistical bases. That's why CBS and ABC get to spend less time crowing about their DVR percentage increases than FOX and The CW. That's just how it goes.
In addition to the aforementioned demographic considerations, shows getting big bumps are often the shows facing the toughest time period conflicts. The combination of youth, tech-savvy audiences and a killer time slot would explain why FOX's "Fringe" got a 39 percent DVR bump in the 18-49 demo.
Young viewership helped "90210" improve by 40 percent and "Melrose Place" go up by nearly 38 percent. But you know what helped even more? Dreadful initial ratings. Also rising were "Law & Order" by 33 percent (really?!?), "Heroes" by 32 percent (still?!?), "Bones" by 29 percent (on top of a solid base), "The Mentalist" by 28 percent (on top of an excellent base) and "Numb3rs" (somewhat mitigating a slow start to the season). Other shows with 25 percent-plus growth included "Castle," "Glee" and "The Office."
Overnight ratings don't reflect a full ratings picture, but we all know that by now, don't we? They give a partial picture and then we just assume that everything that isn't "The Jay Leno Show" or "Brothers" will experience a bump several weeks later when Nielsen figures out how to factor in DVR figures.
"Dollhouse" fans will latch onto the 50 percent figure, which sounds good -- or "stunning" or "enormous" or "huge" -- but what does it actually mean? Well, very little. It moves "Dollhouse" up against itself, but it doesn't move "Dollhouse" up against the overall network competition. It's still toward the bottom, though it at least moves up ahead of "Brothers," which makes everybody feel good. And even raising the demo rating to a 1.5 only brings the premiere in line with what early season episodes of "Dollhouse" were doing last season in live data. In addition, as fans know, the premiere of "Dollhouse" was the season's most-watched episode overall by a fair amount.
Maybe "Dollhouse" gets an even larger DVR bump for Week Two. After all, that was the week the FOX drama was beaten by Syfy's "Stargate Universe" premiere, an episode we can presume had at least moderate audience overlap.
So for now? 50 percent. WOOT!