Show Abandonment: When Viewers Drop Popular TV Programs

What happens when fans stop talking about a show that used to be their favorite? Take American Idol, for example. Last week's finale was way down from last year's finale. It was the first time a finale did not reach the 20-million mark.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's not just about buzz, of course, but about a show's audience which can disappear out of the blue. It looks like this is what happened to "American Idol," once the most watched show on TV. It lost eight million viewers between last year's finale and this year's.

Neda Ulaby explores a phenomenon that she's calling show abandonment.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: I've abandoned many shows over the last few years. For example, I can't bring myself to care about missing the last few seasons of "Project Runway" or "The Office."

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ULABY: I felt almost guilty about skipping the final episode last week until I talked to Linda Holmes, NPR's pop culture blogger.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: A lot of people have dropped that show somewhere along the line. "The Office" is a show that ran for nine years.

ULABY: At its peak, more than eight million people watched "The Office." Millions of us peeled away when that magic started to fade. You know how it feels.

HOLMES: The minute you walk in the door and you're like eh-ugh, ugh-ugh, then the show is starting to get away from you.

ULABY: This is what happens when you live in a golden age of television. Who's got time for loyalty? And technology has transformed our relationship with shows, says Linda Holmes.

HOLMES: People don't remember. There was a time when you had to wait for summer reruns to catch an episode that you missed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL ME MAYBE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) I threw a wish in a well. Don't ask me I'll never tell...

ULABY: Now if you gave up on "Glee," you can still find the songs online. Abandoning a show comes in stages, says Holmes. First, with a DVR denial.

HOLMES: It starts taking longer and longer before you get around to watching the episode.

ULABY: Soon they start piling up.

HOLMES: Eventually there comes the moment when you start just deleting them off the DVR.

ULABY: Then, acceptance. You delete your subscription or season pass. But Holmes says some of us are calibrated differently.

HOLMES: There is a kind of person called a bitter ender.

ULABY: Who will watch a show no matter what.

HOLMES: All the way to the end. People who were that way about "Heroes" or something like that where almost everybody else quit. "ER" is another one. There are "ER" bitter enders, where they say I watched through the whole thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "ER")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) Mooring triage...

ULABY: But for those of us who've performed triage with "True Blood," "Supernatural," or "America's Next Top Model," it's been more bittersweet.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News

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GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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