Network programmers pay too much attention to ratings, readers say

Down with ratings! Up with quality!

So say thoughtful television viewers who responded to Media Monitor's recent request for comments on the viewer ratings system that determines programming decisions.


A Feb. 18 column asked: Do you pay attention to ratings? Do you watch shows because they are highly rated? Do you feel well-rated shows are still canceled? And do you become irritated when two or three quality shows air at the same time in the ratings war?

The major networks, already losing viewers to cable channels and increased VCR use, would find little solace -- but maybe some good ideas -- in the response of local correspondents.


Here are some representative viewpoints (and thanks to all who wrote):

* "I just don't think ratings are the whole story," writes D. Joyce Reynolds of Baltimore. "Yes, some good shows get good ratings, but that's not necessarily the rule. A lot of lousy shows have good ratings and some very good shows have low ratings. Virtually no relationship can be drawn between ratings and quality."

She notes scheduling often is more important to good ratings, and adds, "I'm old enough to remember that many of the shows that are now considered classics were not ratings winners."

* "I do pay attention to ratings of shows I like, hoping that good ratings will help them continue, although ratings should not be the determining factor -- quality and values should be," asserts Betty King of Glen Arm.

Regarding CBS' "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill," a show currently in ratings peril that was frequently mentioned by letter writers, she adds, "I could have murdered the programmers who switched Rosie's time to Thursday nights opposite "Cheers," where it would be expected to die."

Her solution? "I have five TVs and three VCRs, so I can usually record or watch what I prefer."

* "I am not influenced by ratings of any kind! I appraise a show on certain criteria that involve my likes and dislikes, values, how the characters are drawn, how they develop, how well the plot moves and how it holds up, etc.," writes Lydia H. Neily of Baltimore.

She adds, "I like to think there are enough people out there with good sense and judgment to sustain a program on its merit."


* When I look at the ratings, I am absolutely astounded at the shows which have high ratings, because for the most part, I wouldn't waste my time to look at them," contends Ruth H.

Taylor of Towson.

* "I am convinced that many shows are canceled for low ratings even when they have a good-sized audience, especially when the networks work their games of moving the show around to different nights and times trying to knock a competitor's show off," writes Patsy Ingram of Baltimore.

* Veronica Delaney of Bel Air offers a neat suggestion for the early weeks of a season, aimed at reaching all viewers, rather than the selected polling samples of the Nielsen and Arbitron ratings services:

"Have a phone number at the end of the first few weeks of shows that you can call to register your own opinion!"

Finally, in response to several readers' requests, here are the addresses of the major networks to write with comments and/or complaints:


Capitol Cities/ABC, 1330 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10019.

CBS-TV, 7800 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. 90036.

Fox Broadcasting, 10201 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. 90035.

National Broadcasting Company, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10112.


On The Weekend Watch:


CASE OF THE PURLOINED PLEDGES -- Entering the second weekend of the spring membership drive, a double dose of Hercule Poirot on the series "Mystery!" targets your pocketbook tonight (at 9 o'clock). The vain detective (David Suchet) tackles "The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor" and "The Million Dollar Bond Mystery."

BATTERS UP! -- Do the Baltimore Orioles have a pennant shot this year? You can check out the spring talent, anyway, as Channel 2 airs its first exhibition game of the season, at 7 p.m. Friday, with the Birds meeting the Texas Rangers in St. Petersburg, Fla. Brooks Robinson and Scott Garceau are scheduled to call the game.

NICE ON ICE -- What, you didn't see enough sit spins, double salkows and triple axels during CBS' broadcast of the Winter Olympic Games? Then check out "The Ice Capades" on the same network (Channel 11) at 8 p.m. Saturday. A two-hour special highlights the professional ice show to which post-Olympians often ascend. The show recently played the Baltimore Arena.

SHE'S BACK -- We mean "Anne of Green Gables -- The Sequel," which is airing in its entirety beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday on Maryland Public Television. Be ready for frequent pledge breaks, however. In the series, Anne Shirley (Megan Follows) grows up to become a schoolteacher and aspiring writer, just like creator Lucy Maud Montgomery.

THE MOVIE MARQUEE -- Some memorable films from the big screen turn up in the coming days. For example, the big "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," with Howard Keel and Jane Powell, can be seen at 8 tonight on the TNT cable network. (Coincidentally, the stage musical is currently playing at TowsonTowne Dinner Theatre through April 5.) Baltimore-rooted actor Michael Tucker ("L.A. Law") is in Woody Allen's sweet "Radio Days" at 8 p.m. Friday on Channel 54. And from the James Bond archives, at 6 p.m. Sunday on cable's TBS, comes "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969). It marks the only appearance of George Lazenby as Bond, the only time Bond gets married, and the only appearance in the series of "The Avengers'" incomparable Diana Rigg.

LAUGH IT UP -- Two veteran joke-getters offer specials this weekend. In NBC's "Bob Hope and Other Young Comedians" on Saturday (at 10 p.m., Channel 2), Hope welcomes rising younger comics, plus guests Phyllis Diller, Milton Berle and Betty White.


And in the "Mark Russell Songbook" on Sunday (at 10 p.m., Maryland Public Television) the political pundit presents a collection of his best parodic lyrics.