On cable, our fascination with the past plays out
First it was a big year for O.J. Now it's revisiting the JonBenet Ramsey case.
September 21, 2016
The calendar says 2016. But our collective national consciousness appears to be stuck 20 years in the past.
Two of the hottest subjects on cable this year, O.J. Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey, are products of 1996, and they’ve generated strong ratings for a slew of networks.
The most recent example came on Investigation Discovery, which aired a three-part special, “JonBenet: An American Murder Mystery,” last week.
The program became the highest-rated and most-watched program in the network’s history, averaging 2.6 million total viewers, according to Nielsen, during its Tuesday through Thursday run. It also averaged 1.1 million adults 25-54.
Ramsey, a 6-year-old beauty pageant contestant, was murdered in 1996, and the murder remains unsolved to this day. The case received a huge amount of attention at the time and remains occasional tabloid fodder even today.
Other programs about the little girl have also done extremely well. A&E’s “The Killing of JonBenet: The Truth Uncovered,” as well as specials on CBS, NBC and syndication, have also drawn good numbers. Lifetime even has an original movie about her murder in the works.
As for O.J., ESPN’s highly acclaimed “30 for 30” documentary on the former football star, who was acquitted in the murder of his wife and her friend 20 years ago, drew record numbers for the network over the summer, as did FX’s dramatization of his trial, “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”
Revisiting the past
Why, all these years later, do viewers feel the need to relive these sad events?
Probably because they remain unresolved. Many have questioned Simpson’s innocence, even though he was acquitted, and Ramsey’s murderer has never been caught.
Not surprisingly, some shows claimed to have new evidence about the cases, though ultimately not much was revealed. But if you read even some of the coverage of the murders years ago, it stands to reason you’d want to know what happened even now.
There may also be some nostalgia for simpler times connected to the big ratings. Though the subjects are grisly murders, they also revisit a time before the complications of social media, smartphones and two of the most polarizing presidential candidates in recent decades.
In cable ratings for the week ended Sept. 18:
Top five networks in primetime (18-49s): ESPN, TBS, FX, USA, Adult Swim.
Top five networks in primetime (total viewers): ESPN, Fox News Channel, HGTV, TBS, USA.
Top five total-day networks (total viewers): Fox News Channel, ESPN, Nickelodeon, Adult Swim, HGTV.
Top cable news networks in primetime (total viewers): Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, HLN, CNBC, FBN.
Top five cable news programs (total viewers): 1. Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” (Tuesday, 8 p.m.); Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” (Wednesday, 8 p.m.); 3. Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” (Monday, 8 p.m.); 4. Fox News Channel’s “The Kelly File” (Tuesday, 9 p.m.); 5. Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” (Thursday, 8 p.m.)
Top movie (total viewers): HBO’s “The Revenant,” (Sunday, 8 p.m.) 1.67 million.
Top sporting event (total viewers): ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” (Monday, 6.55 p.m.) 12.96 million.
Show on the rise: Investigation Discovery’s “JonBenet: An American Murder Mystery,” Monday, 9 p.m. The series averaged 2.6 million total viewers across three episodes, making it the most-watched series in network history.
Show on the decline: OWN’s “Queen Sugar,” Wednesday, 10 p.m. The new drama slipped 26 percent week-to-week among total viewers, from 2.69 million to 2.00 million.
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