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What's the most watched new show, Heroes or Shark?

by Bob Sassone, posted Feb 22nd 2007 8:01AM

SharkYou've probably seen all of those CBS promos that say that Shark, the new James Woods legal drama, is the "most watched new show." Then how come the Nielsen numbers say that Heroes, the new drama over on NBC, averages 14.5 million viewers while Shark averages 13.4 million?

It's because CBS is using an odd little bit of ratings math. CBS released a statement to explain why they're saying that Shark is the most watched new show. Combined with the Washington Post's explanation of what CBS is talking about, it gives me the type of headache I used to get when trying to read chemistry textbooks back in high school.

"According to Nielsen, claims of 'most watched' can only be made based on gross impressions, which is number of telecasts multiplied by the program's average audience..."In the case of 'Shark,' it's based on 20 broadcasts multiplied by its average audience of 13.37 million viewers, which equals 267.38 million gross impressions, more than any other new series."

And that's the easy part of the explanation. Read here for more.

After you read it, it's easy to boil it down to 10 words: Heroes is the most watched new show of the year.

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This argument is really weird. NBC doesn't even claim that Heroes is the most watched new show of the 2006-07 series. They say it is the most watched new show in the "key demographics." which happens to be true. They are doing great with the 18-34, 18-49, and the 25-54 demographics. Here's a quote from the NBC press release covering the second week in February.

This week, "Heroes" was the top-ranked freshman series in primetime's key demographic of adults 18-49, ranking #8 overall (tied with "Lost"; out of a total of 101 shows). "Heroes" was also the top-ranked freshman series in adults 25-54, adults 18-34 and other key demographics. Season-to-date, "Heroes" is the #1 new primetime series of the 2006-07 television season among adults 18-49, adults 25-54 and adults 18-34. Among adults 18-34, "Heroes" is the #4-ranked show on television season-to-date, tied with "Desperate Housewives" and trailing only the Tuesday and Wednesday editions of "American Idol" and "Grey's Anatomy."

You might notice that never once do they claim to be the top ranked new show of the season. That's because they aren't. Shark is. Shark has the most viewers just as CBS says they do. Heroes has the most viewers in the key advertising demographics that they've listed. Trust me on this, or just use your own common sense in the matter: if Heroes were the most watched series overall, that little tidbit would have been mentioned also. It wasn't mentioned because NBC knows that Shark has more viewers. In the CBS press release from the same week, CBS tauts Shark as the most watched new series of the year but doesn't have a lot to say about those demographics primarily because Shark just recently, for the first time, broke the top 20 in the 18-49 demo. The networks are "bragging" about different things.

And, honestly both shows have a lot to be proud of and both shows have a claim to fame as the most popular of all the gazillion new shows that started in September of 2006. CBS isn't lying in their ad and Heroes isn't lying in their press release. They are claiming different victories. Its as simple as that.

February 25 2007 at 5:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Frank is right. Have you ever noticed that every radio station claims to be "Number 1 for" whatever its format is? That's because they can so long as they can find a single demo that that's true in, and if you slice the demos enough ways it's always true for one of them.

Redstar - I've never watched Shark, but I don't know if your assessment of it is fair. James Woods is a talented actor, who is playing the type of character he's perfect for. It's PROBABLY a very good show.

That having been said, Heroes is the only show I watch religiously.

February 24 2007 at 10:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

OK putting aside my Heroes-fanboy feelings, Shark scored 15 million viewers THIS week, while Heroes scored 14.7 million viewers for their Monday night episode.

The averages are a great way to check overall viewership for the entirety of a season, but Shark's numbers have been generally improving since Ep. 1 while Heroes have stayed about the same with a few spikes here and there.

Shady math by CBS? Yes.

But Shark is posting better numbers ep-to-ep as the season goes forward.

February 23 2007 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mike m


While I agree that is true, I'm simply basing my findings off of Nielsen's system, which accounts for number of times aired. Overall, Shark has been watched more because it has been on more. Assuming that Shark is watched when it is on, because it has aired more often, it has been watched more often.

Yesterday, I watched shark for the first time in quite some time and was surprised that the episode was better than at any other time I'd watched. While I don't plan to continue watching it, I do have to agree that heroes is a better written show, but again, until the full 22 air, theres not way to properly compare.

February 23 2007 at 9:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Mike m- When you say "So more people have seen Shark than have seen Heroes," you make a basic error in assumptions yourself. In short, your statement would make sense if we assume that nobody watches more than one episode of either show, but the average viewership per episode, of which Heroes is greater, would seem to be a better measure of which show has been seen by more people. Simply put, it is absurd to assume that every viewer for every episode is a seperate viewer

February 23 2007 at 1:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics - Benjamin Disraeli

February 22 2007 at 7:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's real simple. I know some people will watch TV because it's popular and they want to watch what other people are watching, etc.

Me, I go for quality, and Heroes, interesting, engaging, with a fantastic premise and great story execution, is a clear choice over Shark, another in a long line of CBS shows about lawyers, or cops, or doctors.

Heroes is like nothing else, Shark is like everything else.

Neilson ratings mean nothing to me other than to see if good shows will be canceled because of them...

February 22 2007 at 6:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mike m

and Zachary,

No. If a show was viewed by 300 million people, it would have been watched, up to date, by an average of 300 million people. Shark has been watched, according to the stats, by 267 mil or so, so that hypothetical show would have been watched more.

February 22 2007 at 1:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mike m

I have to disagree with all of you. As a more frequent watcher of neither show (I watched Shark 3 times and Heroes 4 times and didn't like either of them), I would have to say the math makes sense. Shark has aired more often. So more people have seen Shark than have seen Heroes. Now, at the end of the season, after the full 22 episodes, then we'll talk. By the way, Heroes was watched by less people last week than Shark according to the Nielson's from last week.

So, there was no lie involved, and people who want to think there was are just blinded by science. It's simple statistics everyone. We're talking easier than Junior level Business Statistics in college.

And this is coming from a person that watches TLC on Thursday nights and Discovery on Mondays.

February 22 2007 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

CBS only "lied" if you're one of these idiots that takes everything at face value.

I mean, seriously, if you don't sit back and scrutinize the claims made in commercials, you are the ridiculously naive. "Most watched" is no different than "4 out of 5 doctors..." or "I lost 45 pounds..."

You can use correlations and statisitics to "prove" just about anything.

As the old saying goes, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

February 22 2007 at 10:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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