Just over a month ago, I posted about Bomani Jones' HBO show, Game Theory. And how, despite the fact that it had the network's signature talk show property Last Week Tonight With John Oliver as a lead in, the second episode had ratings so low they couldn't be measured:
Quoting figures from another source saying that Game Theory's premier episode attracted just 150,000 viewers, which meant it lost 80% of John Oliver's. Then the following week - the one where Jones discussed cryptocurrency - didn't make the list of the Top 150 shows in its time slot:
On Sunday, a day most cable channels don’t air original programming, Jones in primetime lost to a 2 am airing of “PAID PROGRAMMING.” It’s unclear what “JUGADA, LA LF SUN” is, yet its 0.02 rating and 66,000 viewers still charted, while Jones didn’t.
It turns out, even a 1:01 pm re-air of cornhole on ESPN2 is more popular than Jones’ new program. The random cornhole showing managed a 0.02 and 55,000 viewers.
And after going through the 150 shows that did register ratings, I discovered:
To expand upon that list, among the shows in the 140s was The Weather Channel's Weekend Recharge and an MLB Network Spring Training Game between the Braves and the Mets. A show that's been invested in as heavily as Game Theory should draw more numbers than that accidentally. Just from people who were lulled to sleep on the couch by John Oliver's soothing British accent or who left the screen on while checking their phone on the toilet. Which means the public is intentionally, definitively, aggressively, specifically turning Jones off.
I mean, to further put those numbers into perspective, back in 2016 - so six fewer years into the decline of basic and premium cable at the hands of the streaming services - HBO poleaxed Bill Simmons' show after one season due to a paltry viewership hovering around 200,000 per episode. Jones is drawing a quarter of that. At best.
But for Game Theory's dictionary definition of a smattering of fans, the news is actually quite good:
Deadline - HBO has handed a second season renewal to the weekly late-night series Game Theory With Bomani Jones. The series, which hails from Adam McKay’s Hyperobject Industries, wrapped its first season last month. …
“Bomani’s perspective on sports comes from a great base of knowledge, unexpected insights, and a sharp sense of humor. He shows us a different side of the conversation, why it’s important and why we should care,” said Nina Rosenstein, EVP of HBO Programming. “He’s only just scratched the surface, and we’re looking forward to seeing what else he has up his sleeve.”
I mean, a cynical man might point out that this statement from HBO doesn't mention the success of Game Theory. Or its ratings at all. There's no suggestion that it's finding its audience. Or growing its following. If the network was flooded with emails from Game Theory's legion of loyal viewers ("Gamies"? "Theorists"? "G&T Drinkers"? Work on it, guys.) demanding the show be brought back for Season 2 so they're not denied Bomani's perspective, knowledge insights and humor in the months to come, they failed to work it into the press release. We just learn that he's only scratched the surface. (Whether that's in terms of content or audience size is for us to guess.) And they're looking forward to seeing what else he's got. (Which puts them in rare company, I guess.) Like they say in This is Spinal Tap when the band keeps getting booked into smaller and smaller venues, they're not losing appeal. Their audience is just getting "more selective."
Look, this wouldn't be the first time a TV show got unwavering support from the suits despite the fact it was a ratings disaster. In the first season of Cheers, it was the lowest rated show on prime time. Seinfeld was close to getting canceled in S1 too, and the conventional wisdom was that Middle America wasn't interested in a show about four quirky Manhattan Jews. Friday Night Lights actually did get canceled, but fans started a campaign where they mailed lightbulbs to NBC in order to pressure them to bring it back.
Like those network executives before them, HBO sees something special in GT the rest of us have missed. Maybe since they're presumable watching, and we're not. Because we can't seem to tear ourselves away from infomercials, Weather Channel programming, JUGADA, LA LF SUN and cornhole.
Anyway, good for Bomani Jones. And his viewers. If I were Bill Simmons or anyone else whose show got axed with much better ratings, I might be resentful. But I'm not. I'm just a guy who's managed to carve out and sustain a career despite having marginal talent. And I can respect anyone else who's done likewise. So congrats. It's good to have someone who believes in you.