It helps to have a captive audience


I apologize in advance, but I’m not letting go of this one without a fight.
Coastal Point

The Nielsen Co. reported Monday that an estimated 106.5 million people watched the New Orleans Saints defeat Indianapolis during Sunday’s Super Bowl. That figure will go down historically as the most-watched television program in history, eclipsing the 105.97 million people who were estimated to have watched the final episode of M*A*S*H in 1983.

That hurts me. I’m a television junkie, and have been since birth. Granted, I fully recognize how ridiculous the majority of programming is (particularly nowadays, with about 75 million channels looking to fill space), but there are always a few gems to fill my needs. And, as far as sitcoms go, M*A*S*H is in rarified air for me, joining Cheers and I Love Lucy as my Sacred Triad of Laughter.

So, yeah, it bothered me a little bit when I heard that M*A*S*H was surpassed — particularly when you consider that the football team that resides in Indianapolis (as a fan of professional football teams in Baltimore, I am unwilling to refer to them by their mascot) was a participant in the game.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good story. And there were plenty to go around with this year’s Super Bowl. There was Peyton Manning, looking to etch his name in the Mt. Olympus of quarterbacks with a second championship ring. There was the first-year head coach of Indianapolis trying to win it all as a rookie leader. And, then, well, you had the Saints.

The franchise that had won two playoff games in its 40-plus years of playing professional football had knocked off two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in a row just to get to the big game. Their star quarterback had been left in the mental scrap heap of many NFL organizations because of a shredded throwing shoulder. Their somewhat underachieving running back, Reggie Bush, was looking to become only the third man in history to win a national championship in college, a Heisman Trophy and a Super Bowl ring. And, of course, you had a region of the country that had been so ravaged by Hurricane Katrina that they clung loyally to their Saints, and it was just flat-out American to pull for that team to help lift the spirits of that community.

All great stories. Plus, the game was terrific. It was clean and crisp, outside of Manning’s interception in the fourth quarter that blew open the game. It was entertaining, as both quarterbacks showed their Hall of Fame credentials to the nation. And it was good drama, with the Saints coming back from a first-quarter deficit and neither team seeming to give in to the pressure.

But the most watched television program in history? This is where I take exception. For starters, Nielsen ratings are not an exact science. They are compiled through two methods: the set meter that is physically hooked up to random people’s television sets to monitor their viewing habits; and the people meter, wherein a packet is sent to a home, and the resident fills out viewership patterns in the household and sends the information back to Nielsen.

Also, consider that the population in this country was about 234 million people in 1983, compared to more than 300 million today. Those numbers alone will provide a few more viewers.

It’s like all this talk about movies and where they rank in box office numbers. I guess that if a ticket costs about 45,000 times more than it did a few decades ago, the box office receipts will be a bit higher, correct? Do you mean to tell me that Avatar is a more popular movie than Casablanca or Star Wars or Debbie Does Dalla...

But I digress.

It’s always impressive when ratings or movies or anything break new ground, and it should be recognized for that specific achievement. I know this was a popular game, but I also remember when Joe Montana and Dan Marino squared off in the Super Bowl a few decades ago, and I seem to recall there being a lot more buzz and excitement.

Of course, it also helps when a huge chunk of the East Coast was confined to a form of house arrest during last weekend’s blizzard. Think the numbers would have been different if all the Super Bowl parties scheduled would have gone off without a hitch?

But maybe all of this is just sour grapes on my part. After all, I loved M*A*S*H — and I hate that team in Indianapolis.