The Yawn and the Relentless: Viewers Choose Day Time Soaps Over The Impeachment Trial

         In the 1960s, many of the Senators heard the anti-war slogan of “what if they held a war and nobody came?” This week, they finally learned the answer . . . at least in holding an impeachment.  Senators have expressed surprise at the empty seats in the Senate gallery.  Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he was “really surprised . . .  because this is kind of historic.”  It is but the members are increasingly making history alone. Not only are spectators sparse, but the television audience has been declining to the point that, by the second day, the networks quickly switched over to shows in greater demand like The Young and The Restless.  Nielson rating showed that the soaps were twice as popular as the trial.

         The decision to switch back to the soaps was perhaps the most telling moment of the hearings. It was the judgment not of television executives but the public.  While political junkies may find this quite riveting, hoi polloi in the hinterlands are clearly surfing elsewhere.  The numbers speaks volumes.  The TV ratings for the first days of the trial showed around 11 million viewers total.  That is almost half of the viewers for the key hearings in the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing.  It is less than a third of the coverage of the midterm elections.  It is roughly one-seventh of the 2016 election night coverage.  Moreover there was almost a 30 percent drop to 8.9 million on the second day as people drifted back to regular programming.  That is roughly the same number that tuned into Chicago Fire on NBC and a million less than the average audience of Jeopardy! 

         That leads to this Jeopardy question: “It was the most discussed and least watched historic event in modern times” The answer is the Trump impeachment. The more poignant question is why. While many insist that they are not out for ratings, the moves of both sides belie that notion. The House dragged out the clock to guarantee that the White House would have to open its case on Saturday, correctly described by Trump as the “Death Valley of TV.” The White House responded by effectively giving up one of its three days to give us a couple hours of argument to push the main argument to Monday and a bigger television audience.  Trump is right about the Saturday slot, but there remains the question as to whether viewers would actually prefer to watch reruns of “Death Valley Days” than a day in the Death Valley of impeachment.

         The most obvious answer is that the audience senses that this is really not a real trial but two separate informercials for the 2020 election.  If this were a real trial, the two teams would actually be advancing arguments that could sway senators on the other side of the aisle. Instead, they are both doubling down on the rhetoric and narratives used for over a year. The House managers are calling Trump a “Dictator” and Republican Senators cringing sycophants involved in a “cover up.”  The White House is insisting that everything the President did was “perfect” and trying Hunter Biden for corruption.  There is no drama because, unlike the OJ Simpson trial, there is no question as to the outcome.

         The second reason is that this is a drama where the audience only hears the lines they came to hear.  It comes down to what Alfred Hitchcock’s observation that “television is exactly like a gun. Your enjoyment of it is determined by which end of it you’re on.” Like the Democratic and Republican senators who made clear how they would vote before the start, the country remains split down the middle on both Trump and the trial.  Few Republicans had much interest in listening to the House for three days, and few Democrats have an interest in listening to the White House.  Thus, it is not surprisingly that Fox ratings went up with the start of the defense case in the Senate. This is age of echo-journalism where people remain in silos of news and commentary. The trial is no different.  For both those groups, they would prefer watching Days of Our Lives to Days of Their Lies.

         Of course, there was a time when impeachment actually involved real trials.  The trial of Andrew Johnson had dozens of witnesses.  While the rage and partisanship was if anything greater in 1868, the trial itself was more substantive and deliberative.  The Clinton trial abandoned that model at the insistence of Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) who opposed any witnesses and even wanted a summary vote without a trial.  Only three depositions were allowed and then live testimony was blocked.

         For viewers, the result is the equivalent to watching professional wrestling with the same fake matches but without the thrill of an occasional pile driver.  If the two teams are going to pretend to have a match, Schiff could at least pretend to hit Sekulow with a chair. The game – and ratings – changer may be the chance of witnesses which increased with the leaking of the material from the book of John Bolton.  While a Bolton appearance might “jump the shark” like Happy Days, it would add precisely what is missing in his ratings flop: drama.

         The size of the viewing audience should not matter, but it does because there is no real effort to try this case to a verdict.  The arguments are tailored for public consumption, not jury deliberation.  Edward R. Morrow once noted that “If we were to do the Second Coming of Christ in color for a full hour, there would be a considerable number of stations which would decline to carry it on the grounds that a Western or a quiz show would be more profitable.”  This is not the Second Coming. It is more like the hundredth retelling the same scripted narrative.  That is why viewers prefer to see how Pamela on The Bold and the Beautiful is going to kill Donna in the cabin while a bear is circling outside. Why? Because they do not know who will win: Pamela, Donna, or the bear. Now that is a drama.

58 thoughts on “The Yawn and the Relentless: Viewers Choose Day Time Soaps Over The Impeachment Trial”

  1. Of Course The Trial Is A Ratings Bust

    Republicans Telegraphed The End

    Mitch McConnell told America right up front that he is coordinating with the White House. Lindsay Graham, and other Republicans made it clear they would rush a quick acquittal with no regard to facts.

    So now comes Johnathan Turley to express his sad dismay that Americans lack an interest in watching Trump’s defense. ..Well no sh*t, Professor Turley..!! Republicans have told us how this would end. They made it clear this case would be dismissed as soon as possible.

    Would anyone bother watching a TV show where the cast appears at the beginning to tell viewers how the episode will end? Of course not!! Who’d waste their time on such a show?? Nobody! Yet Republicans did exactly that at the beginning of this trial.

    Therefore the leaks concerning John Bolton’s book are an exciting development to what had been an otherwise boriing, predictable program.

    1. The length of the impeachment efforts (over 3 years), and the drawn- out “Ukraine” impeachment proceedings (over 4 months) have both contributed to increased boredom and lack of interest.
      It may be that a coy witness suddenly doing a 180 on testifying at the eleventh hour may temporarily spike interest, but only temporarily.

  2. I would rather have a root canal without anesthetic. It’s less painful than being forced to watch idiot Dems acting as if they were smart in their attempts to overturn the 2016 election.

    When Trump wins in 2020, will they finally give up on the 2016 election, and start trying to overturn the 2020 election?

  3. I would rather have a root canal without anesthetic. It’s less painful than being forced to watch idiot Dems acting as if they were smart in their attempts to overturn the 2016 election.

    When Trump wins in 2020, will they finally give up on the 2016 election, and start trying to overturn the 2020 election?

  4. The impeachment trial hearings were getting redundant. So I started watching “Monster Bug Wars”. This video squares off with Katydid vs Praying Mantis.

    As the impeachment trail draws to a close, one thing will be certain. There will be a winner & there will be a loser. Place your bet.

    1. Jerry,
      The polling results usually seem to total about 95% of respondents in one camp or another, which leaves about 5% undecided and/or apathetic.
      If I were a pollster, I would add “don’t give a rat’s behind either way” to the questions. That would give a more accurate picture of the size of a the population that hasn’t followed the issues/candidates, or even former news junkies who have lost interest and tuned out closely following the news.
      It seems likely that the segment in that “who cares?” category is under-represented.

  5. Bolton has never seen a war he didn’t like. He was loathed by the Democrats for years. Now, the Democrats view his as the second coming of Christ. Priceless.

  6. Turley: “the country remains split down the middle on both Trump and the trial”
    __________________________________________________

    “split down the middle” is the main objective of this Kayfabe spectacle.
    If the divide starts to swing one way or the other, there will be adjustments made to the script to bring the division back to as close to 50/50 as possible. This is how the deep state swamp maintains its control.

  7. The yawn does not go to the substance of the accusation, which elsewhere JT has said if true was serious – the preponderance of evidence, even without Bolton is that it is true – but with two factors which are clear:

    Modern 24/7 cable news takes away the previous drama of these proceedings because of saturation. The headlines are spread out over extended periods and those interested have heard it already.No blockbuster revelations at the evening news by 2 or 3 network giants. That there are now networks aimed at the left and right serves to cheapen and deflate the impact as well.

    It has been GOP strategy from day one to avoid getting in the weeds on the facts – see the ignorance displayed here – and paint the impeachment as a partisan charade not worth anyone’s time.. They have been largely successful in that effort, which includes columns like this one by JT. After ignoring that evidence and voting lockstep against the proceedings – there is no doubt that if Obama had tried what Trump did, the righteous indignation, led by Ken Starr, would power a rocket to Mars – they now complain about partisanship. Hellooooo! Well see where this ends, but we know what JT is selling.

    1. So true, Book. “Republicans avoid getting in the weeds of the facts”.

      You get a feeling that when Trump’ defense team first assembled, to plan their strategy, one of them wrote a large note on the chalkboard saying, “Keep It General”.

  8. I stopped watching shortly after all of those 53-47 votes against hearing relevant, Repunlican witnesses with 1st hand data and White House documents. I’m interested in hearing the truth not watching a fake trial with a pre-determined verdict.

    1. Richard,
      I thought the vote about witnesses was a few days from now; where did you see the vote results you mentioned?

    2. So you thought the House Impeachment was “fair,” even though not one GOP witness was permitted and even some questions of the Dem witnesses weren’t permitted?

  9. Ratings would be far higher, and the entertainment much more gripping, if Schiff and Cipollone went at it mano a mano with swords, clubs and the US Senators screaming for their soldier. Pelosi can sub for Schiff when Adam faints at the site of a man dressed for battle. Pam Bondi could decapitate Pelosi just for added effect of entertainment.

    Insert parody here

    1. Estovir – I watched all of Pam Bondi and she put a dent Joe Biden’s Presidential aspirations. I saw several of the others, including Dershowitz. Alan, turning to the House managers and telling them they got the Constitution wrong was beautiful.

  10. The basis for this affair is humbug and the general American public knows this. Couple it with the fact the outcome is already decided, there is nothing really sufficiently compelling to capture the interest of most individuals beyond those who make politics their life and those who choose to be perpetually outraged and seek being pissed off as many times as possible during their waking ours (usually to the annoyance of anyone misfortunate enough to encounter them).

    You can only put so much lipstick on a pig and in the end it is still a swine.

    Yesterday I drove over to see a friend, worked on paperwork, talked with a vendor, made dinner, and not much else, but it was far more relevant to me than the entirety of this sordid affair concerning the presidency. If anything it just reinforces my belief that politics on the federal level is simply a joke that is no longer funny or entertaining. The only saving grace is that it afforded some relief to ordinary people of the world from being attacked or have their rights and money stolen from them because pols found in President Trump a surrogate to exact their need for wrath or to defend him and also be distracted from upheaving the average person.

    So I found something a little more relevant in my life that I offer to you. It is just as pointless in the grand scheme of things, but it does offer a laugh.

  11. Why? Because it’s a sham and people know it, even if they oppose Trump. What is more telling to me is that as always, a network’s bottom line still takes priority over a ‘crisis’. This has been such nonsense. The Bolton thing is just making it worse. NEWSFLASH: DNC, we all saw the Kavanaugh hearings. You aren’t fooling anyone anymore, even those on your side.

  12. Ha ha ha. Gainesville’s in front of the tube scratching his nuts watching this stuff and his wife is cheesed because she’s missing out on what’s going on in Genoa City.

  13. Turley makes good points, but there is another factor.

    Watching the Dems turn impeachment into a partisan strategy is fustrating.

    Watching a partisan lynch mob is saddening.

    Watching the process of democracy degraded is intolerable.

    With the active participation of the Dems, we are watching banana republic tactics being introduced.

    And we are watching the corruption of the participants (we may not have liked Bolton, but few thought that he was so corrupt).

    1. sgtsabai

      Your comment is about the dumbest that I have seen in a long time.

      You are gloating because the Dems are going after a president that you despise.

      Try thinking about the consequences to our country; try understanding the degradation of our democracy.

          1. Monumentcolorado,
            Show some respect for YNOT. He appears to have a degree of seniority here as an established, obnoxious troll.

    1. Are you not entertained?
      ___________________________________
      If the swamp wants their dog and pony show to have viewers they better get some witnesses.

    2. No. Chief Justice Killjoy took away any chance of being entertained when he butted in and discouraged pettifogging.
      That may be another reason fewer people are watching.

      1. Anonymous – I think we have to blame that on both CJ Killjoy and Senator Pearl Clutcher (who sent the note). So far, the highlights have been Pam Bondi, ripping out Joe Biden’s throat and Dershowitz turning to the House managers and telling them they read the Constitution wrong. 😉 Some pettifogging and a few fistfights would have made it more watchable.

        1. I would like to see any of them whip Dan Crenshaw

          But i tell you this. Tulsi works out every day and she follows MMA. I would roll with her on the mat anyday!

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