America’s Medical Media
February 18, 2010
Ask any pop culture pundit: American television is in a state of unprecedented flux. Whether it’s the on-demand immediacy of streaming or the instant reception of each new episode on social media, the old modes of TV production and viewing are under siege.
But in this sea change, some time-tested elements persevere. Chiefly, narrative structures and settings with undeniable appeal. Consider the police procedurals that emerge each year. Give or take a psychic or sidekick, an underlying formula prevails: After a few red herrings, the bad guy comes clean under deft interrogation, and resolution is never more than an hour away.
Regarding TV material, there’s only one workplace that can hold a candle to police work – that of the medical profession. At Bay Alarm Medical, as committed as we are to medical alert systems, we work to ensure that our customers have access to help in the moments they need it most, so we naturally understand America’s interest in medical TV shows. We all expect doctors to deliver results in high-pressure situations, so we’re automatically drawn to the reality behind their scrubs and stethoscopes.
In this project, we wanted to explore examples of the time-honored genre of medical TV. How do people really respond to each of these well-loved medical series? Which have the most loyal audiences in our media-hungry culture?
Here’s our take: There’s no better view of a particular show’s broad impact than social and search metrics. Critics can ponder quality, and ratings can measure the number of viewers at the time a show first aired. But we wanted the most current and democratic view of the impression these shows have made on viewers nationwide. Check out our results as we survey America’s Medical Media.
The Facebook Diagnosis
For estimating crowd-sourced devotion, Facebook fandom reigns supreme. We looked at the fan pages for some of the most iconic medical shows ever made to see which got the most support. Below is a tally of Facebook page likes as of February 2016. (Note: Some numbers are subject to change as time goes on and tastes evolve.) Also, in certain cases, the absence of official pages endorsed by the makers of these shows meant we had to combine numbers from pages created by die-hard fans.
When it comes to fans declaring their love on social, House takes the top spot. You can chalk it up to Hugh Laurie’s irresistible performance in the title role, but the scope of the fandom speaks to the broad cultural reach of a show that ran on network TV (Fox) in the early 2000s, when network play still meant something. Notice that Grey’s Anatomy and Scrubs, No. 2 and 3 respectively, share that distinction.
The Gender Breakdown
Likes are nice, but they don’t speak to all the folks on Facebook who gravitate toward a given show’s page over time. For a more complete view of the crowds these shows reach via Facebook, we turned to Facebook’s Audience Insights tool. It estimates demographic data about user behaviors, generating metrics about a page’s total “audience,” or those who see the page each month.
Our first point of interest: We used this info to gauge whether the audiences for these shows were mostly women or men. As you view these results keep in mind that 54% of all Facebook users identify as a woman, so the stats are slightly skewed. Still, it’s hard to ignore the trend at work, especially in cases such as Grey’s Anatomy and General Hospital, where women outnumber men more than nine to one.
Only four of these 13 shows boast a majority-male audience, so what might explain their distinction in a genre that women typically favor? In some cases, these series’ bids to appeal to men is fairly obvious: Scrubs’ plots are firmly rooted in juvenile bromance, and M*A*S*H’s military setting ensures a cast ripe with loudmouthed manliness.
Inside the Industry
If most of our data reflect the general public’s take on these medical TV shows, we also wanted to see what real professionals in the medical community think of these series. Audience Insights allowed us to see an estimated range of each show’s monthly audience among those who work in the health care profession, be they doctors, nurses, technicians, etc. Here are their favorite shows that feature their own field:
Let’s hope these medical professionals aren’t picking up bedside manner tips from Dr. House himself, no matter how much they enjoy watching his on-screen antics. It’s interesting to note the relative popularity of General Hospital among them – maybe some of these folks are home to catch daytime TV after working the night shift.
Reviews Get Real
Anyone who’s seen a favorite show go downhill over time knows that sustained quality in television is difficult to pull off. Be it gimmicky plot twists meant to drive ratings or the departure of a key character, TV tragedy befalls all but the best of series. We combined and totaled user ratings from IMDB for each of our medical shows to get a democratic view of how they have been received by viewers over time.
It’s a sad (if predictable truth): Decline over time is the rule, not the exception. While some shows fall off more dramatically than others (see Scrubs’ final season), even the most iconic series, like M*A*S*H, seem to drift toward mediocrity in their waning years.
One notable exception: Nurse Jackie, which enjoyed significant and consistent improvement across its seven seasons. Royal Pains and General Hospital have also enjoyed impressive upswings in the eyes of users, though they remain in production, so the jury is still out. House, which garnered the best rating overall with an average score of 8.8 out of 10, saw a small decline in ratings in later seasons, but users rewarded a return to form in the show’s final episodes with notably high marks.
Searching for Shows
One final indication of the relative popularity of medical media: How many people are Googling these series over time? While each of our charts thus far has provided a view of the present, let’s take a walk back through the recent past, using U.S. data from Google Trends. That platform allows us to see the relative volume of searches for each TV show from February 2004 to February 2016. Google assigns each term a number on the scale from 1 to 100. Here’s how these shows fared on average over roughly more than 12 years:
Let’s be clear, the zeros you find listed for the bottom three shows don’t mean absolutely no one’s searching for them. Rather, that metric refers to search volume relative to searches for House, a scale on which their searches don’t register. Don’t worry, we isolated searches for House to the T.V. show so that we didn’t incorporate data pertaining to searches of the general term “House.” Ditto for General Hospital and ER – no searches for real medical institutions were accounted for in this list.
If our survey of America’s medical media has taught us anything, it’s that each of these shows retains an audience of devoted fans. That’s not only a testament to the quality of these shows but the everlasting interest in the world of medicine and the people who practice it. Maybe each of us wonders what it might be like to bear responsibility for another person’s well-being. Perhaps our fascination with medical media stems from the fact that each of us will need a doctor’s help at some point in the course of our lives. Whatever the reason we watch these medical shows, there’s no sign we’ll lose interest anytime soon.
A Note for Journalists:
If you’re interested in covering this project, please feel free to use any of the images visible in this post. We simply ask that you attribute Bay Alarm Medical for this content, and link to this page so your readers can learn more about our research. For further questions or inquiries, please contact [email protected]. Thanks for your interest in our work!