Damages’ Audience Much Larger Than Ratings Would Indicate


Like fellow basic-cable darling Mad Men, FX’s critically acclaimed and award-winning series Damages has struggled to attract a large audience—or has it? On Damages nothing is ever as it seems, so why wouldn’t the show’s ratings be similarly deceptive?

During the first six weeks of Damages‘ second season, airing now, the Nielsen ratings for first-run episodes in their original time slot, Wednesday nights at 10 p.m., have been shockingly low. After debuting to 1.7 million viewers, down from 3.7 million for the show’s first-season premiere, the audience for original airings has since hovered around the one million mark, with the number of viewers for two episodes dropping below one million. Ouch!

Yet anecdotally, it would seem like more people would be watching. Not a day seems to go by without reading or hearing about someone discovering Damages for the first time and being so impressed that they watched the entire first season over the weekend and are now watching the second season. So, where are these viewers?

Probably watching Damages in repeats or via DVR.

While the season-to-date average for first-run airings of the show is 1.1 million viewers, according to FX that number jumps up to 3.1 million when you factor in viewers of the four repeats of each episode the channel airs throughout the week. And when you add the number of people watching new episodes via DVR, the audience for the show’s original airings increases by 55% to 1.7 million. FX claims that most of their shows experience a 20%-25% increase in viewership via DVR, so Damages‘ numbers are “extraordinary.”

Similarly, if you look at the per cent of the show’s audience that comes from people watching DVR’ed episodes, 35% of Damages‘ total viewership, and compare that to the number of viewers of broadcast shows watching episodes via DVR, only The CW’s 90210 has had a larger DVR audience, percentage-wise since January.*

For a show that lacks the youth and sex appeal of 90210 or Grey’s Anatomy, for instance, Damages has a significant number of viewers from the coveted 18-49 demographic: 497,000 for the show’s first-run airing, which increases by 67% to 828,000 when you factor in people watching via DVR. The show’s popularity among this beloved-by-advertisers age demographic is promising.

So what does this mean for fans of the show concerned it might be cancelled? Fortunately, FX’s president, John Landgraf, seems to have a progressive view of measuring a show’s audience as he explained at the winter TV Critics Association press tour last month:

“Arguably, the traditional method of reporting ratings the day after a program premieres is outdated and, at best, paints an incomplete picture of true audience deliveries. … The most accurate and objective barometer of the true reach of a program on basic cable is the total cumulative delivery of all viewership in all of its runs within a given week.”

He later mentioned that FX had already picked up the show for a third season (in the fall of 2007) and said he was “confident” the show would remain on their schedule beyond that.

Still, what if he changed his mind based on Nielsen’s dismal first-run numbers? Rest assured; the show is safe for now. An FX spokesperson told us last week that the third season is already locked in, it’s not contingent on ratings for this season, and the channel won’t back out of producing it.

Since we’re pessimists, and fans of the show, we urge you to keep watching, if only in preparation for a redoubled effort next year. If you’ve yet to check it out, here’s a relatively quick, 19-minute recap of Damages‘ first season.


*Based on Nielsen data reported on tvbythenumbers.com