Show of hands: How many of us still have, like, television? I don’t mean the physical object, because this isn’t a poll about whether you own a tv (though that was a fun thing to be mad about in 2014!). Owning a 67″ Samsung OLED 4K flatscreen to binge “Ted Lasso,” “I Think You Should Leave,” or “Jury Duty” isn’t the question here. I just want to get a quick sense of how many of us purchase cable television the old-fashioned way, like God and Travis Kelce intended.
Because boy, the state of cable TV is grim…unless you happen to be football. On Nielsen’s list of the 100 most-watched programs of 2023, 96 of them were football.
Let that sink in. This wasn’t a list of top 100 sports games on TV. It wasn’t Nielsen’s ranking of the most-watched live broadcasts, and it didn’t account for anybody who happened to catch the Kansas City Chiefs play the Eagles at the Super Bowl this year through their Hulu accounts. In a year that featured Donald Trump both running for president and being indicted on 91 felony charges, not one single news show managed to crack the top 100. (Sorry bot, you’ll get ’em next year.)
As for scripted shows, even “Yellowstone” didn’t make the cut. Heck, other sports didn’t make the cut, unless you count college football, which apparently many of you did. (The four other slots last year fell to the Oscars, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Joe Biden’s State of the Union, and the lead-out for said Super Bowl, which might make for the most depressing holiday slate of tune-in TV since its invention.)
If you thought Bill Maher was sweating during the writer’s strike, just wait till you get a hold of Jesse Watters, the host of his own self-titled “Primetime” hour, vacated by Tucker Carlson last year. He’s a real “Fox News 10/ MSNBC 4/ IRL -2.” (You have to deduct points for the type of guy whose mere presence at a bar would make you uncomfortable enough to leave it before your friends arrive; he’s not even hitting on or even talking to you, but there’s something about the way he’s been nursing that single
Budweiser bottle of beer in a corner booth by himself for the last half hour that’s giving you bad vibes. He’s laughing way too hard at a flurry of texts that are coming in every five seconds, which you know because despite sitting on the opposite side of a very loud space, his notifications are somehow amplified three decibels above all other sounds. Anyway.)
THE COMMENTS SECTION
Don’t let Watters’ (relative) youthful comeliness trick you into thinking he’s some sort of moderate at Fox. Despite being half a century younger than any other male host and having that jawline, head of hair, and what appears to be a real set of his own teeth, Watters is still the guy out there pushing the “Taylor Swift is a PsyOp,” narrative. His own MOTHER called in during the debut of “Primetime” to chastise him for peddling the big lie. He’s an absolute nightmare; maybe even worse than Carlson because he’s just got so, so many years left to fill the audience’s ears with the most toxic, misogynistic crap spilling from those (again, allegedly) pearly whites of his.
But in the wake of Tucker’s ouster at the network, the ratings at Fox plunged by over a million nightly viewers for his 8 p.m. slot as they rotated in guest hosts, and have only made minimal gains since “Primetime” and Watters took up permanent residence. They were getting beat by MSNBC, y’all, and during a Democrat president’s term — especially this Democrat, specifically this term — well, you’re not going to be impressing Daddy Murdoch anytime soon with 2.2 million, kid.
Being young enough to at least understand that the Internet is not going to go away on its own — damn Al Gore and his series of tubes! — Watters has increasingly been looking to his popular online spiritual counterparts Ben Shapiro and Matt Walsh for cues on culture war outrage. And by “cues” I mean “news.” Well, by “news” I mean “one bisexual comedian’s TikTok about going on a date with a guy who paid for her drinks.”
Seriously. If you haven’t seen Madi “The feminism has left my body” Hart’s reaction video to going viral and ending up the focus of not one but two segments on “Primetime” — on the same day, no less, that Walsh had dedicated the opening of his own podcast to the “smitten lib” — what are you even doing with your life? Planning to catch up on DVR? Walsh, by the way, seems as threatened at Hart’s use of the word “befall” as he is terrified that a pretty, young, non-heterosexual woman might end up accidentally agreeing with him.
Because, sure, we can all not be feminists when it’s easy… like when you’re a small woman on a date with a total stranger intent on getting you both plastered, I guess?… but what about when the free shots of Caron stop flowing? Does Hart really have the “fortitude” to eschew feminism for the trad wife life? (Coming this season to TLC, right after “Milf Manor!”)
I can’t tell you how sad this all is: not just the cursed lifecycle of this story, which saw the comedian outed to her entire extended family on Fox News less than 24 hours after she uploaded the post, but for what it says about the state of cable journalism, and by extension, cable in general.
We’ve seen time and time again as the Internet’s brightest stars tried with varying degrees of success to make the leap into trad famedom: Charli D’Amelio and Bo Burnham on one end of the spectrum, Fred on the other, and Trump impersonators falling somewhere in-between with either a Netflix special or featured cast status on “Saturday Night Live.”
We have to examine the narrative here. Why is the response inevitably “Wow, these kids just don’t translate. They’re not real celebrities; they’re flash-in-the-pan Warholian wannabes. These influencers with millions of followers don’t have what it takes to be a Ryan Seacrest or Lance Bass.” (Sorry, those are about as current as my references get.) Shift perspectives though and this line of thinking becomes absurd: when is it ever true that the new form of media and tech is outdated and irrelevant compared to what came before it?
Look at the numbers: Watters’ show peaked at 2.5 million, almost the exact amount less views than his predecessor per night as a single one of Madi’s non-inflammatory TikToks. Jesse Watters may be the youngest Dorian Grey over at his network, but in the real world, his old ass was hanging out the moment he decided to chase internet clout in exchange for being featured on a Fox News short.
We should have been thinking “Wow, maybe it’s not the TikTok stars that can’t adapt to ‘real’ fame. Maybe it’s the entire trad media landscape of hourlong daily news and reality programming and ‘Young Sheldon’ episodes that no one’s buying except to watch Taylor Swift’s boyfriend score goals… maybe that’s what is dustier than the TiVo.”
Surely we all still have our TiVos displayed somewhere on our legacy media console, having taken up permanent residency despite the fact that it’s been disconnected since Obama’s first term.
It’s actually not a terrible analogy…who knew?
NOTED BY LON HARRIS
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We totally forgot to watch the Awesomeness TV’s “Next Big Influencer,” but luckily reactor Chris James has us covered. James may be our favorite person to suffer through bad reality TV so we don’t have to: from early aughts MTV and VH1 dating shows (“Next,” “Parental Control,” “Room Raiders”) to “Mr. Personality,” Fox’s masked answer to “The Bachelor” hosted by MONICA LEWINSKY to Criss Angel’s “Mindfreak,” and all the way to TLC’s recent trainwreck… squints at prompter “MILF Manor?” Yikes, that can’t be right. Can’t wait to watch James watch.