House, M.D. is still very much a hit series. Still going strong, with star Hugh Laurie, continuing to pour everything into his compelling portrayal of Dr. Gregory House, the show is now in its seventh year. The series is probably closer to the end of its long run than it is to the beginning, with Laurie's contract up the end of next season.
Having lost its cushy American Idol lead-in a couple of years ago, House is now expected to support Fox's new and promising ventures, providing an anchor on Mondays at 8:00 (ET).
The series producers have refused to fall back on formula and have played with viewers expectations a couple of times over the series' run. And, in a narrative sense, the last two seasons have seen the central character of House also begin to (at least try to) change.
How does all of that affect the show's ratings and ultimately its future both on Fox and in syndication? And, why are ratings so important, anyway?
Television networks, producers and starring actors all track them. It's what the industry lives by: they foretell who will live into syndication and who will die after two episodes. But fans watch the ratings too, and House's ratings have always been a hot topic within the fan community. This year is no different.
The Nielsen Ratings have been around television as long as I can remember. I had a friend when I was a kid, and her family was a "Nielsen" family. They had a little box attached to the television and their viewing habits were duly recorded, and every once in a while we'd hear something about a television series being cancelled due to "poor ratings."
I recently interviewed Robert Seidman, co-founder of TV by the Numbers, a well-respected Internet authority on TV ratings and well-known for its predictions of series to be canceled or renewed. Seidman tried to demystify for me the entire process for me, mathematically challenged as I am.
Although television ratings have always been a bit mysterious, with streaming, Web TV options, Amazon and other download services other "time shifting" so pervasive, the ratings game is even more difficult to understand when you're wondering if your favorite show is going to make it into the next season (or, sometimes, into the next week).
"The primary numbers that are used to broker advertising sales—which is still primarily what, most television is about—come from Nielsen," says Seidman. People still have boxes attached to the televisions. Although we might get more accurate numbers if everyone's viewing habits were recorded and compiled, it would seem a bit big-brotherish. "A lot of people don't want their measurements tracked," according to Seidman. "So while it's nice to wish that there could be a real census for TV viewing, a lot of people don't want to participate in that census."