More Scripted TV Shows Included In Top-10 List

The ratings for prime-time shows are out. If you look at the demographics advertisers pay the most for, young people, there are even more scripted shows edging out reality TV.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Not sure if you heard or not, but American Idol just crowned a new winner.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN IDOL")

RYAN SEACREST: The winner of "American Idol," season 13, is Caleb Johnson.

GREENE: Wow, the drama. You know, not long ago the winner of American Idol was front-page news. But the show recently scored its lowest finale ratings in history when it crowned North Carolina rocker Caleb Johnson as the winner. He is a singer many people have never heard of. And here to explain what this might mean for the future of television, NPR TV critic, Eric Deggans. Hey, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey.

GREENE: All right, Eric, so what's going on here? I mean, people used to watch "American Idol" and care who won.

DEGGANS: Yeah, "American Idol" used to be a phenomenon, but what's interesting is I took a look at a list of the highest-rated TV shows from the TV season that we just finished. And I am seeing resurgence in scripted shows, led by shows like "Scandal" and the final season of CBS's "How I Met Your Mother." So last year, half of the top 10 series watched by younger viewers were unscripted programs like Idol or "Sunday Night Football" or NBC's "The Voice." But this year, we're seeing more scripted shows on that list. And there's one new show that's in the top 10 for both young viewers and all viewers, and that's NBC's "The Blacklist."

GREENE: OK.

DEGGANS: So here's a clip where the lead character, played by James Spader, offers a parable that seems to explain why he left the government to become a criminal and then came back to help find other bad guys.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BLACKLIST")

JAMES SPADER: (As Raymond "Red" Reddington) A farmer comes home one day to find that everything that gives meaning to his life is gone - crops are burned, animals slaughtered. He makes a promise to himself in those dark hours. One day he stops - the farmer who is no longer a farmer is he who slaughters - and he knows in his heart he must pay.

DEGGANS: You've got to love Jay Spader when he cuts loose like that.

GREENE: Yeah, I don't care what voices you heard on "American Idol," you never got a voice like that.

DEGGANS: (Laughing) Exactly.

GREENE: OK, but, I mean, if people are turning towards Spader and scripted moments like this, what happened to these unscripted shows like Idol and "Dancing With The Stars"?

DEGGANS: Well, both "Dancing With The Stars" and Idol have seen some serious dips in viewership in recent years. So ABC cut back "Dancing With The Stars" to one day a week last year. And Fox has said that it will probably cut Idol back to one night a week next year, after its audition episodes. So these shows, I mean, they used to be incredibly cost-effective. You'd get two blockbuster nights of television every week for the cost of one. But their decline makes room for some of these other shows to shine, which is what seemed to happen at the end of this TV season.

GREENE: OK, making room for other shows to shine. I guess I wonder what other shows we're talking about and what all this might say about where we're headed in television.

DEGGANS: Well, among younger viewers - say viewers aged 18 to 49, those viewers that advertisers really care about - we saw shows like ABC's "Scandal" and "Resurrection" and "Modern Family" land in that top 10. These are shows with diverse casts and unusual situations that touch on issues that resonate with younger viewers.

Now, as far as the future of television goes, a long time ago - say, 10 or 15 years ago - the most popular TV shows were those that were often considered the best TV shows, too, like "Seinfeld" or "Frasier" or "60 Minutes." But unscripted shows got popular, and then there was a sense that only the lowest common denominator shows could really rise to that level where everybody was watching them.

We see, in these ratings results, maybe there's a sense that network TV can offer quality shows that also get a big audience. So I'm hopeful that we're going to see the return of the days when some of the best shows on television were also among the most-watched.

GREENE: A day we all hope for. NPR TV critic, Eric Deggans. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me.

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