By James Hibberd
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - TV viewers who vote Republican and identify themselves as conservative are more likely than Democrats to love the biggest hits on TV.
Of the top 10 broadcast shows on TV in the spring, nine were ranked more favorably by viewers who identify themselves as Republican, according to data compiled by media-research company Experian Simmons. These include "NCIS," "The Big Bang Theory," "American Idol," and "Modern Family" -- that one with the gay couple.
Liberals appreciate many of the same shows, mind you. But their devotion typically is not quite as strong as right-wingers, and Dems are more likely to prefer modestly rated titles. Like "Mad Men."
The Emmy favorite has struggled to get a broad audience on AMC. It scores through the roof with Democrats (does anyone in Santa Monica or on Manhattan's Upper West Side not watch it?), but it has one of the weakest scores among Republicans. The same is true for FX's "Damages," Showtime's "Dexter," HBO's "Entourage" and AMC's "Breaking Bad."
And it's not as if Republicans have something against cable shows: The GOP has plenty of love for "White Collar," "Pawn Stars" and "American Chopper."
"The big shows with mass appeal tend to have above-average scores from Democrats and Republicans but with higher concentrations of Republicans," says John Fetto, senior marketing manager at Experian Simmons. "Looking at the Democrats side, I don't mean to make light of it, but they seem to like shows about damaged people. Those are the kind of shows Republicans just stay away from."
That also goes for the soft-rated, critically beloved "30 Rock." Its score is highly polarized in favor of Democrats. The only show on NBC's Thursday night comedy block that Republicans rate highly (slightly better than Democrats, even) is "The Office" ... which happens to be the one bona fide hit in the bunch.
To Hollywood, the data suggest a potentially disquieting idea: The TV industry is populated by liberals, but big-league success may require pleasing conservatives.
Was TV always like this?
There certainly was a period during the mid- to late-1990s when the Clintons were in the White House and Nielsens were topped by NBC's young, progressive urbanites such as those on "Friends," "Mad About You," "Will & Grace" and "Seinfeld," along with liberal-skewing dramas like "The West Wing." But even back then during a progressive primetime heyday, there was plenty of Nielsen love for "Home Improvement," "Touched by an Angel" and "Everybody Loves Raymond."
"Historically, the shows that have done better are populist, mainstream and give us confidence in our public institutions," TV historian Tim Brooks says. "For a while in the 1960s and early 1970s, shows started representing social rebellion, but broadcast quickly reverted to 'Happy Days.'"
What has changed is the explosion on cable that has allowed networks to appeal to more specific viewpoints, from Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" to Fox News' "Glenn Beck." Moreover, if you're a liberal viewer in a major city (which typically correlates with higher education) and you have such titles as "Mad Men" and "Dexter" to watch each week, are you going to also be interested in seeing a paint-by-numbers crime procedural on broadcast or a laugh-track-boosted sitcom? On the scripted side, at least, the explosion of complex dramas on cable may have ceded some of the broadcast ground to what one might label Republican tastes.
Of course, a broadcaster can attempt to program a cable-style complex drama, but then you'll likely watch the show die faster than you can say "Lone Star" (or, for that matter, NBC's longtime struggling "Friday Night Lights," which skews Democrat in Experian data despite being about small-town football in Texas).
So, what have we learned today?
We've learned Republicans like winners. The shows might be considered fluffy, but they're generally programs that make people feel good. If you're a broadcast network executive weighing whether to buy a show, you might ask your uncle who voted twice for George W. Bush if he likes the idea. We've learned Democrats are, depending on your perspective, discriminating viewers who prefer highly original, well-written series or are cynics who enjoy watching jerks.
Finally, we've learned that all this brain-baking data can only tell you so much.
Because it is still possible for a scripted broadcast series to rank higher among Democrats than Republicans on Experian's index.
It's even possible for that same program to top the Nielsen ratings week after week.
Particularly if that show is "Glee."