1. mccoye
  2. Supergirl General Discussion
  3. Friday, 03 November 2017
When there's a show you love, with a character you love, some things become almost personal. Like a friend or family member, you want to see them do well, make good decisions, and ultimately succeed. The show has always been political in some fashion, from season one's feminist equality issues surrounding the character becoming an equal to her cousin, season two's Cadmus roundup of aliens, and the latter half being over-run by election politics, continuing into season three. These are all valid and complicated issues, and it's important to take the time to understand the truth behind many of the points being made, and determine if these points fit the narrative and elevate the show, or detract from the experience and ultimately hurt the fan base and the likely-hood of being able to enjoy the show in the years to come.

A bit of a disclaimer, I have a background in physical science, so in the deconstruction of these political views, I default mainly to facts, that will be referenced, and not personal viewpoints. This is a stark contrast to the world of political commentary we find ourselves in, so some points you might agree with, some you might not, but in the spirit of the trademark, “truth, justice and the American way” requires truth, not spin. In the future I'll examine more closely the social politics of the show, but for the purposes of this review, I'll stick mostly to the numbers.

Summary, Thesis and Variables
The reason we get to enjoy our superheroes right now in major media is very simple, the market has determined they are profitable. Netflix runs original marvel shows because it increases their viewership and market share. The CW runs similar shows because the viewership drives advertising dollars. The difference is with advertising dollars driving the show, it becomes a singular unit which relies on ratings, rather than being a part of an overall paid service. Because of this, a show can be replaced relatively easily if A) rating drop or are consistently poor, or B) a better opportunity for higher revenue is found. There are exceptions to this and every rule. Many people point to the politics of networks, allowing some poor rating shows to continue and removing some higher rating shows that conflict with these views, but even these are complicated. Many people point to “Last Man Standing” being canceled while having a large following, but in reality the shows contract was up for renewal, and owned by fox, which would have increased the licensing fees for the show, as well as the contracts for the stars. So just making up numbers, if you make ten dollars, but have to spend eight to make it, you profit two dollars. If that two dollars is on a show that has a message you don't want to promote, and you can make four dollars on a different show that costs you two, you might consider replacing it. I only point out this basic reality, because interjecting politics into the show is a calculated risk, knowing you might alienate as much as half of your target audience in a divided nation, and the network might then be willing to accept lower returns on an individual show, reducing the effects of ratings on the shows viability. It is also a very real possibility that by targeting a specific section of viewers, it would increase advertising revenue (in proportion to viewership) for products and services targeted specifically at that subsection of society, further reducing the effects of ratings. That being said, I feel it's a sufficient summary of the variables that I've identified for the following arguments.

Ratings Analysis Season One
Supergirl opened with a huge audience, which was to be expected. CBS doing a Super(man) based show. There was obviously a bit of trepidation surrounding the promotional material being very “girl power” esq, but I think everyone was curious, and it opened to an audience of just under thirteen million people (3.15 million 18-49y demographic). It's fair to say series/season premier week will have higher rating, since people are generally at home that week and deciding what they will watch that year. So you would expect ratings to fall in following episodes, that data point will always be a bit of an outlier. The next thirteen episodes stayed virtually static at eight million viewers, 1.7 million 18-49y, which is why the subsequent drop in viewership is almost perplexing. You would assume that after 14 episodes in a 17 episode season, you could coast through the final arc to the break. This wasn't the case though. The show saw the final 3 episodes plummet roughly 30% to just under six million viewers and 1.3 million 18-49y.

This is where I hypothesize the politics of the show began to wear a bit thin for many people. To understand the demographic for the target audience, you need to look at the history of the trademark (superman), which peaked in popularity during the original movies, and the death of story line in the 90s. The majority of those fans would be in the 18-49y grouping, which was already a very small subsection of the viewing population, and primarily male. While it is applaudable for the show to focus heavily on social politics surrounding sex and gender roles, it's clear that this focus drove away more traditional comic book fans, than it attracted in feminist fans. This isn't to say feminist driven shows have no place in the market, “Sex in the City” for example. Just that less people were being attracted to that narrative in a superhero show than were being disenfranchised by it.

I do plan to do a more in depth piece on each of these social issues in the future, but for the sake of brevity I will focus strictly on the inverse relationship between politics and popularity.

While you did see ratings spikes following the Superbowl and the crossover with CW's “The Flash”, the downward trend in popularity made the trademark more valuable to CBS as a sales commodity than a permanent fixture in their lineup, and the show was moved to CW. It was also an enticing acquisition for the network, given it's smaller size. Even at the season end low of six million viewers, it would be a top rated show on the network and increase their market share, open up more opportunities for crossovers (which was a huge spike for the show), and ultimately, make more money.

Ratings Analysis Season Two
As would be expected, on a smaller network, you have less marketing and would expect a smaller viewership. I'm not convinced though, that the decrease is justified strictly by that factor. The show opened with a viewership of only 3 million, and 1.09 million 18-49y. While there is no empirical way to justify the claim, I suspect many of the remaining viewers of the show had essentially “stuck around” to see how the season would end in the past year. Simply looking at the data again, you saw the show in season one fall steadily and drastically in the final three weeks, and by over 50% from the premier to the finale (53.73%), then fall another 50% during the off season. I'm not sure you can support an argument that the feminist political agenda of the first season didn't turn away most of the viewer base, given you have well over a 75% drop in ratings. But the show seemed to view this as a sign that either the political narrative was outdated (female equality in a post terror world) or that it just wasn't strong enough to empassion it's base. Enter Cadmus, which I will admit wasn't as far off the comic book story as many think, but definitely was laced with heavy overtones from the presidential elections. To summarize the story surrounding them, they were basically an organization bent on taking over power in America to prevent ALL aliens from entering, and would indiscriminately round up all “good” and “bad” aliens for what was effectively imprisonment or deportation.

Now I'm just unsure how this direction for the show was meant to appeal to comic fans, which I suspect were a large piece of the remaining following. Real world issues have always being present in comics, but real world politics are generally frowned upon. Fantasy is usually a foil to examine issues, not to have them forced upon you. This seems fairly clear when you look at the “comic book demographic” which fell in the first half of the year another 35% from 1.1M to 0.7M then to as low as 0.48M during the alien invasion with the dreadful Cat Grant quotes about the alien invaders, taken directly from the republican presidential candidate (quoting the aliens, who didn't actually say any of the lines to begin with), dropping the overall ratings for the show as low as 1.75M total, almost another full 50% from the season opening. Now remember this number is now compounded, -53% from 1-01 to 1-17, -50% from 1-17 to 2-01, and almost another 50% from 2-01 to the low point at 2-19, giving you a grand total of -86.5% viewership during this three part attempt to interject politics heavily into the show.

Ratings Analysis Season Three, and Moving Forward
Now after all of this, the show seems to have settled into it's resting place, with a following that either agrees with the political direction of the show, or is willing to simply grit their teeth and accept it, with season three maintaining a constant following of around 1.8M viewers and 0.5M 18-49y. Given the ratings for the show are still quite high for the CW, many would argue the show is safe for the near future, I'm not sure that the facts support this assumption. The reason this 18-49 year demographic is so important to trademark shows of this nature can't be understated. This is the group that is likely to go to movies, buy toys and comic books for their children, and ultimately grow the brand into the future. Episode 3-04 tied the all time low for this view base, and as the show becomes more political (which I will get into at some point) this group is likely to decrease further, as divisive politics continue to divide the nation, and turn more and more people away from them. The ghost factor that nobody seems to be considering however is licensing fees for these intellectual properties. Most recently in the DC universe, Wonder Woman has grossed over $412M Man of Steel over $291M the Batman trilogy over $1.2B and Dawn of Justice over $330M. While rumoured Supergirl could be in the Justice League, and eventually undoubtedly will be, you have to ask at what point the political nature of the show will be considered a liability for the IP. Remember Time Warner pulled the plug on Turbine's MMO “Infinite Crisis”, after dumping a lot of time and effort into it, deciding that it was damaging the IP of the DC universe. These laws are complicated and I'm not a lawyer, but if you go to americanbar's website, it will explain the situation. But basically, if the story becomes political to the extent it damages the property of Time Warner, there can be criminal and civil court issues, the license can be revoked, or they can simply decide that a stand alone Supergirl movie free from politics is in the companies best interests, and increase the fees to the character to a point where it can only be rebooted by either a major network or Netflix. It's important to remember that while CW has the show, they don't own the character, and if the target market for the character continue to dwindle, it's not unlikely to assume TW will decide they don't want to hurt their box office draw promoting a political viewpoint to a small audience, if it means they're less likely to buy a Supergirl action figure, comic book, lunch box or movie ticket in the future. We all saw the market power of the “baby boomers”, and it's a fact that in a short period of time (2020-2024 by last political estimates) the millennial crowd will outnumber the baby boomers, meaning that 18-49y demographic will outnumber your CNN/Fox news crowd, not only by market dollars, but by actual population as well. Political analysts rarely agree on issues, but most agree identity politics is very low on this groups priority list, as are conservative values, leading most to classify themselves as independent. This makes it even more confusing why a show would intentionally include partisan politics as main story lines, given the -86.5% viewer base over two years, and virtually identical (-85%) viewership in this increasingly important demographic.

Insult to Injury, Ratings vs Social Analysis
The final argument as to why I suspect this trend in the target demographic to continue to fall involves both the educational levels of this group, as well as the lack of political connection most feel towards institutional politics. It's no secret that these jabs are relatively trite and self serving, but the quality in which they are worked into the show are becoming convoluting and ultimately a distraction to the continuity of the show. The most obvious was during the final arc in season two which saw the rating fall to the current levels, in which Cat Grant promoted democratic talking points from the real world while attacking republican talking points completely out of context. Fans of the show noted on many forums the quotes that the aliens claim they will “make America great again”. This was never said in the show, and contradicted the story you were watching. I don't need to quote all of the contradictions from that story arc, but it was impossible to miss, and felt more like an insult to the intelligence of the viewer, than a legitimate part of the story. Moving on to season three, the president acknowledged global warming as the biggest threat facing the world because she was “smarter than an eighth grader”. Again, this was never part of the show, but simply a cameo political attack from the real world. In the very next episode the same government thought all Mexicans were murderers and rapist and were building a wall to keep them out. Again, a stark contradiction to the world we're watching, in which a female democrat was in office. The idea that evil corporate America was working with the aliens (foreign actors essentially), and manipulating the media which needed to be saved by Mz. Luthor, when we now know the DNC paid Russian officials to create the Steele Dossier which was used to manipulate the media, and the democratic candidate paid the DNC to fix to the primary elections in their favor. The opening credits being altered to identify Supergirl as a “refugee” following the illegal immigration debates. The fear of a father about the abuse, and beating of his homosexual daughter, when the countries identified by the travel bans allow and promote the beating of homosexuals.

And finally, which I am still completely astounded by, on October 30th, the episode featured a “cult” that had perverted the teachings of a peaceful religion, one member risking the lives of innocent people and first responders, willing to commit suicide to ascend, followed by the group planting a bomb at a sporting event to awaken people to their beliefs, later being redeemed and ending with a peaceful prayer in the true spirit of the religion. This is not even a veiled attempt to parallel with modern terrorism, but the very next day, October 31st, a real life individual in the actual, real world city, murders 8 people and injures many more in the name of the real world “misunderstood” religion. To put this in the context of a real person watching this. I watch this, go bed, wake up for work, and find out a real world member of this group targeted a bike path next to a high school on Halloween during rush hour, and ran around with fake guns in a failed “suicide by police” attempt. Then, while recovering in the hospital, wanted ISIS flags hung in his room, and had no remorse, virtually exactly like the individual from the show the night prior, who while in prison, felt justified, and was viewed as a spiritual guide. There is no way to ignore this glaring issue that unfolded, from fantasy to reality, in less than 24 hours. I agree there was no way for the writers to anticipate these events, but it stands as such a clear example for how the politics in the show have become so entrenched that they not only detract from the experience, but boarder on being offensive and insulting to it's viewer base.

This 18-49y viewer pool didn't grow up in the environment of the baby boomers, for the most part, they understand there are good and bad people in every group, but their thinking is based more on pragmatism than idealism, and if the show continues with what is know phase 4 identity politics, you will have to believe the numbers will continue to follow the trend set during phase 1-3. The slips will appear graphically to be much smaller, but that's simply because the sample group has already been reduced by 85+%. Simply meaning, the 10% loss in viewers between 3-03 and 3-04 will looks much smaller, but that's only because it equates to 0.5 million people, opposed to 1-02 and 1-03 which had the same percentage loss (just under at 9%) but equated to 0.8 million. The last point on this subject, was that 3-03 to 3-04 in total viewership actually had a total view count up 3.46%, but still represented a -10.11% viewership in the 18-49y demographic, meaning that even though the ratings went up, the effective ratings looked at for the IP and studio are down significantly. If that trend were to continue, there is little hope for the future of a show many of us have come to love and enjoy.
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