Stephen Colbert opened last night’s Emmy Awards with a jaunty show tune bearing the chorus “the world’s a little better on TV.” The message? Tune into your television to escape problems in the real world, such as global warming, Middle East turmoil, and Donald Trump. The Washington Post carried the sentiment of Colbert’s chanty a step further, singing television’s praises and declaring that Americans are “up to our eyeballs in great television.”
But viewers don’t seem to agree. In fact, general TV audience has declined steadily among all ages below 65-year-olds in the past six years. In the first quarter of 2011, Americans spent an average of 42 hours watching TV per week, according to Nielsen data. By the first quarter of 2017, that number had dropped to 34. The viewership of those aged between 12 and 24 years old has changed by the highest percentage since 2011, a 41 percent decline.
Even the Emmy-nominated shows, those the Post critiques as “great television,” have a desperately small following. A Katz Media Group study found that ABC’s Modern Family is the most watched Emmy-nominated show, at 56 percent of respondents. Every other show falls below the 40 percent line, and seven fall below 10 percent. Over 50 percent of respondents said they had never heard of six of those: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Silicon Valley, The Crown, Atlanta, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Master of None.
So perhaps television isn’t the narcotic Colbert and the Post think it is. In fact, many Americans didn’t hear Colbert’s message last night, for the Emmys aren’t immune from the dropping interest in TV. This year’s awards viewership tied last year’s record low of 11.4 million viewers.