Sarah Palin’s Alaska as Popular as Mad Men

Sarah Palin's reality show as as popular as the critically acclaimed drama everyone's talking about. And that's just half the story.

Dave Weigel‘s widely linked post arguing that Sarah Palin’s popularity may have peaked and that she’s risking overexposure contains a factoid that jumped out at me:

Ratings for “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” which tumbled after 5 million people watched the premiere, have remained stable at around 3 million. That’s about as good as “Mad Men.” No one’s proposing a John Hamm candidacy, though.

The closing bit of snark is amusing but silly.  Palin’s fame is entirely driven by her status as a national political figure and presumptive presidential aspirant; Hamm’s is almost entirely driven by “Mad Men” and spin-off appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.”

But the underlying statistic is shocking, if perhaps it shouldn’t be.  Palin’s show is a bizarre infomercial being packaged as a “reality show” on TLC.   “Mad Men” is one of the most critically acclaimed shows of its era.

Elites consider the former to be a curiosity, watched either by brain dead rednecks or people like themselves waiting for a train wreck.  They view “Mad Men” as must see TV that everyone they know is watching and talking about.  That they have essentially the same audience is a testament to the reality of the elite world-view.

Here are the ratings for last night’s television shows, which one presumes are depressed by holiday travel and re-runs:

8 p.m.

NBC: “The Sing-Off” finale (8.8 million viewers, 5.2/8 households)
CBS: “How I Met Your Mother” rerun (6.6 million, 4.1/7)/”Rules of Engagement” rerun (6.3 million, 3.9/6)
FOX: “Million Dollar Money Drop” premiere (5.4 million, 3.2/5)
ABC: “Skating With the Stars” (4.8 million, 3.1/5)
The CW: “90210” rerun (1.1 million, 0.7/1)

9 p.m.

CBS: “Two and a Half Men” rerun (9.2 million, 5.8/9)/“Mike & Molly” rerun (7.4 million, 4.7/7)
NBC: “The Sing-Off” finale (8.2 million, 4.8/7)
ABC: “Castle” rerun (5.6 million, 3.6/5)
FOX: “Million Dollar Money Drop” premiere (5.3 million, 3.3/5)
The CW: “Gossip Girl” rerun (768,000, 0.5/1)

10 p.m.

CBS: “Hawaii Five-0” rerun (7.5 million, 4.8/8)
ABC: “Castle” rerun (7.15 million, 4.5/8)
NBC: “Perfect Couples” preview (3.8 million, 2.4/4)/”The Office” rerun (2.2 million, 1.8/3)

Far, far more people watch shows that I quite literally did not know were on television than watch “Mad Men.”  Something called “The Sing-Off,” which I presume is some sort of singing competition, has nearly three times the viewers.   Reruns of “Two and a Half Men” has more than three times the viewership.   Literally every show on CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX has more viewers than “Mad Men.”

UPDATE:  Judging from some of the commenters and the initial reaction of DougJ, I obviously didn’t make it clear that I consider myself among the “elites” who think “Mad Men” more popular and Palin’s show more fringe than is in fact that case.  They’re both very niche shows, whose audiences likely overlap only among certain segments of the pundit class.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Alex Knapp says:

    I honestly don’t see the attraction of Mad Men, myself. I watched the first couple of episodes. Then I realized I was rooting for someone to secretly be a serial killer who was going to kill everyone on the show for being a bunch of self-centered entitled jerks.

    Of the shows listed above in the relevant timeslots, I definitely did “How I Met Your Mother” and am a HUGE fan of Castle. So there’s that.

    The Palin reality show is mostly a train wreck. However, I find that I really like Sarah’s dad.

  2. john personna says:

    The bits I’ve watched have been more for the Alaska part.

  3. mantis says:

    I’ve never seen either show, and am not interested in changing that. I don’t even know which of those guys in the photo is Hamm, if either is.

    Now that I look at that list, I’ve never seen any of those Monday night shows. Not once. Isn’t it great that it’s now easy to watch whatever you want, whenever you want, and skip all the crap?

  4. MarkedMan says:

    mantis, I couldn’t agree more. I haven’t owned a television since 1988, but I used to tell people that I had nothing against TV in general, I just hated commercials and never wanted to start a show halfway through. I predicted that someday I would watch everything on my computer (I had run a VCR through it since the early 90’s). Today it is true and I’m loving it. Rather than a cable bill I spend 10 bucks a month or so on iTunes and I’m happy as a clam. Watched all six seasons of Lost. Watch obscure shows (“Dead Like Me”, “Defying Gravity”) that died after a season or two and in former times would have been completely unavailable. Just spent two weeks in a hotel and, as usual, never even turned on the TV, but I watched a few movies and a couple TV shows on my iPad.

  5. PdInFull says:

    I’ve never seen Mad Men, or most of the rest of the shows you listed with last night’s viewership. I have seen Sarah Palin’s Alaska – three of them i think, I may have missed one. So I can’t really compare which is a better offering. However, someone at Discovery Channel obviously pitched what is a well watched program, and I can see why Sarah would have accepted their offer…it gives her a chance to put in her own words what she is for and who she is, only lightly edited and packaged (by Discovery folks, and she may have had contractual input over each program going to air). Contrast that with the mainstream media demonization efforts that started the day she was named as McCain’s running mate. I don’t blame her for opening her life to the cameras in a way that speaks for itself as to who she is…and in watching it, I respect her more for doing it…and her tormentors way way less, as their lies and misquotes and all the other crap they printed is exposed for the smear campaign that it is.

  6. Crusty Dem says:

    Elites consider the former to be a curiosity, watched either by brain dead rednecks or people like themselves waiting for a train wreck. They view “Mad Men” as must see TV that everyone they know is watching and talking about.

    I’m curious as to your definition of elite. How many of this group do you know? Are they completely homogeneous? What is required for entry to this group?

  7. Ugh says:

    “Elites consider the former to be a curiosity, watched either by brain dead rednecks or people like themselves waiting for a train wreck. They view “Mad Men” as must see TV that everyone they know is watching and talking about. That they have essentially the same audience is a testament to the reality of the elite world-view.”

    Do you have, like, a list of “elites” that one can peruse to assist in figuring out what you’re trying to say here? Or a set of defining characteristics? Or at least some additional information that might be helpful? I guess it likely includes Dave Weigel, so that’s one.

    The same for “brain dead rednecks”, if you have the time.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @CrustyDem and @Ugh: I’m mostly referring to the chattering classes that have access to a wide audience. If one reads the blogs, pundits, magazines, and whatnot you’d think EVERYONE was watching “Mad Men” and that the Palin show was a freak show watched only by those for whom NASCAR is too complicated.

  9. Mr Evilwrench says:

    I picked up a couple of episodes of SPA in reruns as I was channel surfing. I simply would not have, otherwise. Now, I like the lady, but you’d really have to be packing some serious SP animosity to find the show anything but some harmless pablum. It’s fun, it’s dumb, there’s not much to it. Jeez.

  10. PD Shaw says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Palin’s show tend to run in blocks of 3, 4 or 5 shows at once? The problem with comparing these programs is the distribution models are different.

    TLC appears to be cycling new and repeated Palin episodes, so nobody feels like they must see a given episode on a given night or week. There will be some other opportunity.

    That’s different than the prime time model of restricting it’s current season shows to make them must see events. It’s also different from the Mad Men model which I imagine assumes a lot of TiVo, computer or VOD viewing from a dedicated viewership.

  11. Brett says:

    They view “Mad Men” as must see TV that everyone they know is watching and talking about.

    Who is this “they” you’re talking about? I see the term “elites” bandied around, but it’s rather vague, don’t you think? If anything, the mere fact that you have a fairly well-trafficked blog and post on this makes you one of those “elites”.

    As for “Mad Men”, while many of us think of it as “must see tv”, very few of us think that “everybody is watching it”.

    Literally every show on CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX has more viewers than “Mad Men.”

    So what? All network television shows have higher ratings on average than cable shows, if only because the networks cancel them if they don’t.

  12. snarky spice says:

    “you’d really have to be packing some serious SP animosity”

    Why do Sarah’s fans find it so hard to fathom that a lot of us ARE packing some serious SP animosity? After all the woman insults and sneers at me every chance she gets. Am I supposed to thank her for her ‘mean girls’ derision?

    Quite apart from the fact that she’s an idiot who wants to run the world, I just plain don’t like her nasty, mean-spirited and ignorant personality. So yeah, if I was somehow forced to watch her ‘I shoot animals for fun’ TV show, I think I’d drink enough to cause liver damage.

    John Hamm, OTOH, is pretty 🙂

  13. ponce says:

    Palin’s ratings for last Sunday was a meager 2.5 million viewers, not enough to get into the top 25 cable shows for the week.

    She was beaten by nine showings of Spongebob…

  14. mantis says:

    I just plain don’t like her nasty, mean-spirited and ignorant personality.

    And her fans love it, because they see themselves.

  15. wr says:

    Although I tend to bristle at the mentions of “elites,” I have to agree with JJ here. Mad Men has a tiny audience, which just happens to comprise essentially everyone who works in the entertainment biz and the wider media. It gets written about because people who write about TV love the show, and it wins awards because people who vote for these awards are the prime audience.

    Of course, the difference between the Mad Men audience and that for Palin is precisely that Jon Hamm is not running for president. AMC and Lions Gate have a financial model under which those two million viewers bring in enough money to keep the show in production. But for a presidential candidate, two or three million is a pretty pathetic base…

  16. MattR says:

    I don’t understand the point of this post. Are you arguing that the people on network TV are as qualified and likely to be president as Sarah Palin?

    I also don’t get the bashing of “elites”. You point out how the two shows are very different and then you complain that the elites actually treat them differently. Where is the problem there?

  17. PD Shaw says:

    wr, Palin’s show still appears to have a larger audience than any other political show on cable, except for O’Reilly. Maybe it’s worth considering the number of people who view politics as a form of entertainment is quite small.

  18. PD Shaw says:

    . . . quite small and quite weird.

  19. anjin-san says:

    I would not expect Mad Men to have a huge viewership, the quality is too high, and the view it offers into a 60’s era ad agency and the questions the show addresses about the social and cultural issues of the time are not going to have the mass appeal of say, watching some sap get humiliated on a “reality tv” show.

    My take on Mad Men is that Don Draper is a metaphor for America in general, and the idea of the American dream in particular. Despite the show’s many obvious strengths, that is a bit too subtle and esoteric for the bulk of tv viewers.

  20. sam says:

    I’ve never watched either show. Say, where is Smooth? You’d think his palindiss alarm would have gone off some time ago.

  21. Andy K says:

    “I’m mostly referring to the chattering classes that have access to a wide audience.”

    Oh. Wouldn’t that describe bloggers who also happen to be the managing editors at D.C. think tanks?

    “If one reads the blogs, pundits, magazines, and whatnot you’d think EVERYONE was watching “Mad Men” ”

    Hmm…I read a lot of blogs, and of late those elites seem to be chattering on about Palin’s show much more than “Mad Men”. Perhaps you should read more blogs before you build your next straw man.

  22. Barry says:

    James Joyner says:

    “@CrustyDem and @Ugh: I’m mostly referring to the chattering classes that have access to a wide audience. If one reads the blogs, pundits, magazines, and whatnot you’d think EVERYONE was watching “Mad Men” and that the Palin show was a freak show watched only by those for whom NASCAR is too complicated.”

    As opposed to Sarah Palin, who is never mentioned or praised by pundits, chatterers, TV bloviators, and bloggers.

  23. wr says:

    PDS — But Palin’s Alaska is specifically not a political show. It is to O’Reilly what Tiger Beat is to National Review. Its purpose is to let Sarah-lovers love her even more. Thus it’s potential audience should be much bigger than that of, say, Hannity. And she still can’t bring in more than three millions viewers. Combined with the comparatively dismal sales of her new book, it suggests that her day is dimming.

    Not that she won’t continue to be a money-making star — don’t get me wrong. But when Madonna puts out a CD today, she’ll probably sell a few million copies and get serious reviews. Not bad — except that when she released something 20 years ago, it not only sold tens of millions, it dominated the culture, even among those who didn’t care about pop music.

    It’s the difference between being a star and being THE star. Palin was it for a few months, but the glow is fading fast, and I can’t think of a lot of people who have ever been able to be IT a second time…

  24. Jules says:

    “Mad Men has a tiny audience, which just happens to comprise essentially everyone who works in the entertainment biz and the wider media. ”

    I wonder what accounts for those of us Real ‘Mericans who live in the “heartland” and would rather stick a spork in our eye then subject our brains to the natterings of Sarah Palin and her family on a reality show?
    We do exist, people who drive old cars and live in dbl wides in the South who prefer snappy dialog, hot men, vintage clothes and well written drama to pretty much anything Palin, or anyone on a “reality” show has to say.
    (I mean how many times can you watch her kill something or an ice road trucker drive their truck over ice?)
    We’re the people who are still bitter that Firefly and Deadwood were gone before their time. We watch Masterpiece Theater and The League and Sons of Anarchy. We stuck with The Wire and can’t wait for Treme to show back up.
    We like good, well written, well acted TV and if that means we are elites then I am willing to wear that label.

  25. […] Sometimes I wonder about the serious, principled conservatives at Outside The Beltway (here attacking the joke that if Sarah Palin should run for president, then so should Jon Hamm): Palin’s show is a bizarre infomercial being packaged as a “reality show” on TLC. “Mad Men” is one of the most critically acclaimed shows of its era. Elites consider the former to be a curiosity, watched either by brain dead rednecks or people like themselves waiting for a train wreck. They view “Mad Men” as must see TV that everyone they know is watching and talking about. That they have essentially the same audience is a testament to the reality of the elite world-view.[….]Literally every show on CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX has more viewers than “Mad Men.” […]

  26. PD Shaw says:

    WR– It may be my own myopia; I’ve seen neither SPA or Mad Men, but my own interest in politics makes me feel that I should watch at least a bit of Sarah Palin’s show. I can’t bring myself to do it though.

  27. ponce says:

    When it comes to culture, some votes are worth more than othrers…wrestling has a much bigger audience than either Mad Men or Sarah the Quitter.

    Didn’t help that McMahon lady, did it?

  28. Jay Tea says:

    Quite apart from the fact that she’s an idiot who wants to run the world, I just plain don’t like her nasty, mean-spirited and ignorant personality.

    Now, that’s no way to talk about our First Lady. Just because she thinks that the federal government is better equipped to make decisions about kids and dessert than the parents are, doesn’t mean she’s…

    Well, maybe it does. Sorry.

    I’ve watched every episode of SPA so far, and it’s largely harmless fluff. Pretty, entertaining, but it’s hardly nasty, mean-spirited, or ignorant. The closest it’s come to that is when I found myself wishing for Kate Gosselin to get eaten by a bear and SP’s little dig at Michelle Obama when they were making S’mores on a camping trip — apparently in response to MO saying that “dessert is not a right” — and said “his is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert.”

    Oh, that bitch. That nasty, mean-spirited bitch who dares to think that she knows better for her own kids, and not the duly elected First Lady Of The United States, chosen by the American people to be the all-knowing, all-wise nanny who will make sure all of us eat our vegetables and get plenty of exercise.

    No wonder everyone hates her.

    J.

  29. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***I just plain don’t like her nasty, mean-spirited and ignorant personality.***lol, wtf, were do you get this crap from? Shes not a liberal, hahahaha……………………

    Her show is nice, not as good as my favorite reality shows,American Idol, American Pickers, and Pawn Stars….

  30. anjin-san says:

    > No wonder everyone hates her.

    Well, J has just disqulaified himself from playing in my book. He really is as stupid as he seems to be. Perhaps everyone should consider denying him any oxygen in the room…

  31. Jay Tea says:

    You know, anjin-san, I saw “Shogun” when I was very young. And one scene stuck in my mind — the humiliation your namesake suffered from a Japanese warlord — maybe the Shogun in question — at the very beginning.

    The more of your comments I read, the more I empathize with that Japanese guy with the voluminous bladder.

    J.

  32. steve says:

    She is surprisingly bad with a gun.

    Steve

  33. Jay Tea says:

    Steve, she was surprisingly bad with a borrowed gun that a guy dropped and didn’t re-sight. With another gun, she nailed the caribou. She’s also been shown to be damned good against clay pigeons and bear targets.

    J.

  34. anjin-san says:

    J.

    That that particular scene in Shogun would be your number one takeaway from Shogun surprises me not at all. It is wholly in carachter for you.

    Someone with a bit more intelligence and sophistication would probably discern that the pivotal scene in the story is the one in which Anjin-San attempts suicide. “The rain is fine”…

    You really are a Palin guy. You walk away from a story with as much power and beauty as Shogun has saying “did you see that one dude pee on the other one?”

  35. Jay Tea says:

    What can I say, anjin? I was 12 at the time. I’ve matured a bit since then.

    Pity you can’t say the same. At least my pseudonym is based on my own real name; I don’t have to play a fantasy game about being some ultra-cool fictional character.

    J.

  36. anjin-san says:

    > I’ve matured a bit since then.

    Actually, the comment you made that started this conversation shows that that is not the case.

    > I don’t have to play a fantasy game about being some ultra-cool fictional character.

    If it makes you feel better to think that of me, go for it. My real life is actually very cool, and Anjin-San is just a guy that was in a book I like 🙂

  37. anjin-san says:

    > > I don’t have to play a fantasy game about being some ultra-cool fictional character.

    LOL, I guess we are just going to leave that little hail mary lying neglected on the turf so you can slink off to another thread.

  38. matt says:

    I haven’t watched the show but the clips I’ve seen of her shooting made me cringe (bad posture grip etc like she’s never shot a gun before)…