Tuesday, February 02, 2010


This piece ran on NPR's Tuesday's Morning Edition --
 Advertisers Push Nielsen To Count Online Viewers

I love NPR, but for the record -- the comments that were played on this segment were taken out of context from an entirely different interview.  It was the one I did last month about Leno moving out of the 10 pm slot.  I was asked to discuss the differences between the viewing habits of the nine and ten o'clock slots.  My reply was that I really didn't know what the viewing habits were.  I then went off on a bit of a tangent about how research that studied viewing habits was the worst thing to happen to writers since the invention of reality TV.  What I said had nothing to do with the Nielsens specifically.  I wasn't talking about research that measured numbers.  I was discussing research that attempted to identify viewing habits -- when, why, how people watch television.  That's the kind of research that executives live and die by.  They will base important creative decisions on "how they think people may respond" to a particular topic, character, serialization, etc.  So writers are subject to ridiculous mandates based on a completely inaccurate and arbitrary science.  How fucking honest and thorough are you when someone calls and interupts your day with, "do you mind taking a few minutes to answer some questions about..."  

That's what I was responding to when I said that "The worst thing to happen to television watching was research about television watching".  It was about statistical research shitting all over the creative process.  I was not commenting on the way the Neilsens measure viewers. 


shelley said...

ahh-even NPR scews up-and I thought they were perfect-reality check-thanks-look forward dear

Denise Shelton said...

The worst thing to happen to journalism is the explosion of electronic media. The pressure to get the story out immediately has pretty much obliterated things like fact checking,honesty and just plain old integrity. Exactly what Do they teach in J school these days?

Cali said...

Whether it was taken out of context or not is moot because it's still right! The Neilson's ARE out of touch with the way viewers watch television of all kinds today. The shows people want to watch the most are recorded by any of several different means or watched at some later date online, and NONE of those are counted! The programs that the Neilson ratings actually do count are programs that people watch when they don't have something they really want to watch waiting for them in the DVR or Tivo. This has caused the cancellation of some really great shows, and even when the fans protest the networks usually don't listen! It's a sad state of affairs that is about to make the networks obsolete.

Anonymous said...

As has been said before, in this day and age, "There's no such thing as bad PR". The fact that you are the only quoted TV producer and the fact that they state that the ratings for SOA climbed 66% between Sesaon One and Season Two will only get more viewers interested in SOA. And isn't that the goal anyway? Besides, your rep for being a 'bad boy' is only solidified, even if you were quoted on NPR. I can't imagine that many NPR listeners are SOA viewers, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we could ask the Neilson people.

njames said...

I too listen to NPR, every week day actually. I hadn't initially hear your interview, but even if I had, I would've known they took you out of context.

I love their US & world news. But when it comes to the entertainment industry, it's always obvious they are out of touch. Unless I've read it elsewhere, I do not listen to their commentary on it.

For example, yesterday they were talking about how the biggest surprise about the Academy Award nominees was Avatar for best picture and director. Um, really? Pretty sure that's the OPPOSITE of "biggest surprise", seeing as how it was considered the only real competition to The Hurt Locker at the Directors Guild Awards. Also, it won the award for best flick and director at the Globes. AND the same 5 directors in contention at the DGAs were nominated for the Oscars. So that makes me ask: What is their definition of "surprise"?

The Mulkster said...

I don't rekon that any clarification of your comments is necessary; especially if you are trying to save face in the eyes in Nielsen. The legions of fans out here will sure as shit keep SONS in the upper tiers of Nielsens' annals. The fact that your words were taken out of context does not surprise me. The fact that they were used to glorify some fucking news outlet's relevance factor is standard fare as well. What does surprise me is that you caught it and attempted to make it right. Proof that you are so goddamn dialed in to your work that the mere notion of your words out of context causes your knees to jerk. You're a decent man Mr. Sutter. Don't sweat the petty things. Let them pontificate all that they wish, day after day, because they will. I have a feeling that, in the end, the Nielsen ratings will still shine gracefully upon you, the network execs will still be full of shit, and the people who matter will sort through all of the bullshit and find the truth on their own.
-Keeping it simple…

chevyjr said...

We the PEOPLE Love the show,. Dieing for it 2 start and there r many,many, more out there that will view this season... U will b amazed
Peace out
Roxy... and thanks 4 being u !

Becky said...

I'm a huge fan of NPR (as well as a huge fan of yours), but I missed the Morning Edition piece. Why not contact them and let them know that your comments were taken out of context and misconstrued? I bet a lot of people who don't follow your blog would like to hear what you really had to say.

John said...

Well Kurt if I may quote Gormon

"The revenue potential of a show is all that matters," says Gorman. "Networks are businesses, and they want to sell commercials. And what allows them to sell at better prices is better ratings."

And you go to the NPR link and see 3 to 4 adds attached to that story.
So like TV they also like money from add's.

But not to knock them I also do think they are fair 95% of the time which is light years above the rest of the news thats just scripted Drama :)

Unknown said...

Nielson Ratings? I HAVE TWO WORDS


Jim said...


Western media and journalism admittedly have a boatload of superficial and fundamental problems, but I'm not sure this is the right occasion to complain about the death of fact-checking, honesty and integrity. Most likely the NPR reporter did not maliciously twist Kurt's words. Most likely it was a sin of miscommunication in which he thought Kurt was making a point he didn't intend to make. An error like this is definitely regrettable and even points to systemic flaws in Establishment Media, but it doesn't suggest actual malice by the reporter in question.

Michael Taylor said...

I've seen every episode of "Sons" thus far, and will continue that streak in Season 3 -- but I've also been listening to NPR on a daily basis for 20 years or more.

Quality is always worth tuning in to, wherever you can find it.

I was glad to hear your comments in that piece the other day, but the context and lack of follow-up by the NPR reporter puzzled me. Reading your explanation clears that up, at least.

Looking forward to Season 3. Hope it's going well.

zzzdog said...

I know it's upsetting to be quoted out of context and I appreciate your clarification, but if it's any comfort to you, what you said made complete sense in the context of the story and didn't sound dismissive of ratings. She talked about your terrific ratings so it was implicit that they matter and she did then shift to talking about the how of viewing - and it was clear you were talking about the hows and whys and more than ratings.

What you said just sounded right; any lay person listening agreed with what you were saying. All that marketing analysis and crunching people into numbers has dehumanized and done damage all over the place. It's the anathema of the best in us.

So just listening, you really sounded fine, though what crappy editing. Also, I find that reporter's whole affect to be just awful - her over enuciations, arch delivery and whistling sibilants make everything she says sound like a caricature of elitist pretension.

I actually used to work for NPR and will always love it, but sometimes it just makes me want to push a cream pie in someone's face.

Anonymous said...

"I can't imagine that many NPR listeners are SOA viewers" posted by Graybeardrider

Hey!!! I resemble that remark! LOL

indianacat said...

Dear Mr. Sutter:

Though I've been out of the business for decades, as a former broadcast journalist (with a stinkin' degree and a couple of awards to show for my service) I apologize sincerely for the way NPR misused your trust.

You gave an interview on a certain subject to them. Likely you felt that the interview on the subject would remain on that subject. It certainly never occurred to you that parts of that interview would be used to either support or discredit a completely different point of view!

Back in my day, such an abuse of trust would've been considered unethical. It wouldn't have been done. I guess things have changed.


I'm sorry it happened to you. Y'see, when I studied the field, we were taught how to gather information. That meant going to a source and getting quotes based on the subject at hand. You might run 'file footage' video of an event or famous place, or use an audio snippet (aka sound bite) to authenticate what the person said about a subject, like a retrospective.

The idea of cutting and pasting an interview about subject 'A' in order to use it for something completely unrelated makes me sick to my stomach.

I heard the NPR segment, and while pleased to hear you on a network that was once considered a gem of in-depth and ethical reporting, I knew that something wasn't right about it.

You're a man of integrity as well as talent. That's rare in the competitive 24/7 media blitz environment we have these days.

It's good that you have a forum that allows you to set the record straight. What hurts is that there has to BE a forum to enable you to set the record straight.

This is just one retired broadcaster's take on the matter. Again, I'm truly sorry this happened, and hope it doesn't sour you on interviews in the future.

Marineposa said...

Who knew I would like a show about bikers! Had they asked me I would have said, not interested! It's impossible to predict life! I lOVE your show and have become a crazy fan.... Go figure, legal assistant and biker! lmao

Webster World said...

I don't listen to critics. those polls either. I just know what I like. Leno 10 for me.

Unknown said...

Yep. If I'd been asked, "What would you think about a show based on cowboys in space?"

I would have said, "You're fucking kidding, right?"

And yet, Firefly is one of my favorite shows of all time.

Phone research creates as much real data as internet polls do.

therealzenobia said...

Thanks for all the solid tips on S3 over at Twitter. Good to know you're firing on all cylinders.

Shield fans: Is that Shane as the local yokel in "Justified"? Pretty funny.

Velcro Soul said...

A response to the twitter, as I do not have an account. I think you should have a fan contest to name the song for the big number in the crossover episode. My choice would be "This Wheel's on Fire", but I would make it a threesome by somehow getting Eddie and Patsy in on the episode! Patsy trying to bed all of the glee boys, and the mc, maybe even Sue - there is so much potential. Maybe E and P could go undercover in Ireland. The possibilities are endless.

Angela said...

About four years ago some community college faculty/colleagues and I took two weeks at the end of spring semester to tour Italy. We happened to discuss our latest rounds of student class evaluations when I went on, and on, and on about this one evaluation that really pissed me off. Jim, a bit tired of my ranting, leaned over the front seat and asked "Angela, how many were in the class?" I replied, "30 or 31." To that he replied, "We're in beautiful Italy and you're bitching about one negative evaluation in a class of 30 students!"

Kurt, your comments about the NPR taking you out of context reminded me of this story and its moral - some people (and things) just don't matter.

Angela - huge SOA fan in NC

SueW said...

I agree that the Nielsens are antiquated in the manner that they count viewers. I get up 5-6 days a week at 4 am- That does not leave many programs that I watch after 9pm (ok- so you are priviledged-I lik SOA well enough to sit up for it.) ON DEMAND is my favorite thing in the entire world for entertainment- I spend Sundays catching up.

Rick said...

Now that TV has gone completely digital it is time to scrap the Neilsons. It should be no problem to determine what people are watching and it can be done anonymously so people can keep their privacy. Too many great shows don't get to run their course because they only have a million viewers so TV execs go safe with the Seinfeld reruns. That sucks!!

Aaliyah said...

Ratings seem to be a necessary evil. TV runs on them, but I don't think they are representive in a accurate way, maybe mathmatically, but that doesn't transfer over well.

It will be interesting to see how they evolve to deal with the demands of viewership on the web in the future.

By the way, I love NPR too! They usually acknowledge when they get it wrong, but I guess everyone induldges here and there for their story.