Television

The Cringe Flame Burns Briefly: A Summer Ratings Lesson

The cast of Jon & Kate Plus 8

Jon & Kate Plus 8: What does it all mean? Maybe not as much as you think. Discovery Health Channel hide caption

itoggle caption Discovery Health Channel

It took exactly one highly rated episode of Jon & Kate Plus Eight for the conclusion to be reached that they were the new king and queen of TLC, and possibly monarchs of all TV. When the news broke that almost 10 million people watched the season premiere, we were off to the races.

Could TLC use its new hit show to reinvent itself? Did it mean we were all mad? Why are we unable to stop ourselves from watching? Why couldn't we turn away?

And then a funny thing happened: We turned away.

The end of the phenomenon, the "spectacular" failure of another show that 40 million people once watched, and more, after the jump...

After that opener, in fact, the show's ratings dropped like a rock, and then dropped again. And again.

In its fourth outing of the season, Jon & Kate was watched by just under 3 million people. That's fewer people than watched any of the top 20 cable shows the previous week, including The Closer, Burn Notice, and a bunch of old episodes of NCIS.

Yes, tabloid coverage will get you a blast of attention. People will tune in out of curiosity to see what the big deal is. Yes, there is cringe TV.

But the answer to "Why can't we look away?" is that we can, and we do, all the time, over and over. In fact, when you make something like this, and cringe is how it becomes successful, the one thing you can count on is the part where everybody looks away. It might take a season, or it might take three weeks. But it'll happen.

Remember Joe Millionaire? Do you remember how big that show was? Do you remember how many people watched the season finale?

It was 40 million. It was forty million. That's 10 million more people than watched this year's American Idol finale.

Forty million people.

And do you remember what happened in the second season? Joe Millionaire was categorized by the Associated Press as "the season's most spectacular flameout." It tanked immediately. It made the Edsel look like the space shuttle.

The Jon & Kate version of this familiar advance/retreat cycle is just another reminder that one night, or even one season, of television ratings does not necessarily signify a cultural shift. If something gets enough headlines, then yes, it will get a certain number of rubberneckers — especially in the summer, when there's so little on.

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