What do the “most engaging” shows all have in common?

From AdAge today comes this great tidbit about the shifting influence of TV ratings (though I’m very curious to see the metrics by which these are measured).

When it comes to engagement, or a show’s ability to command attention from viewers, “Ted” (3.4 million viewers) trumps “Idol” (average viewership of 50 million across two shows each week). According to Nielsen IAG, the most “engaging” show on TV is ABC’s “Lost,” followed by “The Middle,” also on the Disney network. Tied for third this season, as of April 19, are ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters”; NBC’s “Chuck”; ABC’s “Desperate Housewives”; NBC’s “Heroes”; and CBS’s “Rules of Engagement” and “The Amazing Race.” Rounding out the list are Fox’s “24,” ABC’s “Ted,” NBC’s “Parenthood,” and CBS’s “Survivor” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

What do these shows all have in common?

  1. Only TWO are unscripted (The Amazing Race, Survivor)
  2. At least three have rabid, if small fan followings (Lost, Chuck, Heroes, 24). I’d argue you could add B&S, Desperate Housewives, and Parenthood to this list, if the fans are given a chance to show it (as Chuck fans did when their show was about to be canceled)
  3. Only TWO are ending their first season (Parenthood, Rules of Engagement)

I want to see someone analyze the narrative elements of each of these shows, to see if there’s any overlap. For instance, Survivor and The Amazing Race are fairly similar in that they involve ordinary people in extraordinary situations, with interpersonal relationships stressed as a narrative device to keep the show engaging (think Survivor strategies and the way the producers paint a hero and a villain, and think of the dramatic pairings in Amazing Race). 24, Lost, Chuck, and Heroes all have a big online fanbase (Lost and Heroes in particular, of course), and their narratives have often been described as video-game-like (well, not Chuck, but there’s an argument there, especially in more recent seasons when he’s a legit spy). I think that narrative structure encourages engagement, as it asks the audience questions and then lets them sink in for months, even years before giving what might be considered an answer.

Of course my immediate follow up question is how engagement changes on each of these shows when watched online. While we’re at it, what are the most engaging original web shows or videos?

As a side note, I for one am depressed impressed The Office isn’t on there, with its Dunder Mifflin Infinity, huge fan following, and constant line-referencing in pop culture.

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