By Andrew Rabin
Yesterday, we unveiled November’s Hall of Fame nominees. Like last month, I’m here with some detailed statistical analysis of those nominees.
Last month I introduced you to AIRS. Here’s a refresher. Go ahead, refresh yourself. I’ll be here when you’re done.
Ready? Good. That Moneyball anecdote was even better the second time, right? And those picks look pretty good in retrospect; the three nominees I recommended—The Office (UK), Fawlty Towers, and Freaks and Geeks—were the three who made it. So, way to go, me!
In the month since we last talked, I’ve spent a lot of time with AIRS. I’ve now run the formula for 500 shows. And I’ve come to this conclusion: it’s really difficult to come up with 500 shows.
There are two new features of AIRS I would like to discuss. The first is episode-neutral AIRS. The truth is, episode-neutral AIRS would have been rather helpful with last month’s candidates. It simply takes the three episode-based critera—number of episodes of the series itself, of its spinoffs, and of its remakes—and removes them from the formula. Therefore, the Inspiration category is just based on the theatrical and television films, while the Seasons category is only based on the ratings data. Here are all 19 shows that have been nominated for the Hall of Fame, in order of the average ranking between both Normal AIRS and Neutral Airs. Purple shows are current nominees, blue shows are elected Hall of Famers, and green shows are unelected nominees:
Notice the column all the way to the right. Non-Episode Percentage is simply Neutral AIRS divided by Normal AIRS, multiplied by 100. The higher that number is, the less reliant the show is on a high episode count. Here’s a look at just this month’s nominees:
While these stats are nice (well, I think they’re nice, but I also came up with them. I hope you think they’re nice. Although, would you be reading this if you didn’t think so?), they also provide no context. Yes, Cheers rates better than That ‘70s Show, but did you really need numbers to realize that?
Luckily, with a 500 show database, I can draw direct comparisons. Here is an analysis of each show, in alphabetical order, with the shows directly higher and lower ranked in both Normal and Neutral AIRS:
Not surprisingly, in both sets of AIRS Cheers is most comparable with two other legendary sitcoms, All in the Family and M*A*S*H. All three had large award hauls, successful spinoffs, and high ratings. There’s not much to say here—a top five show in both forms of AIRS is a Hall of Fame lock.
It should be noted that Dallas, with an ongoing spinoff on TNT, can continue to climb in Normal AIRS, but it would take the current show a total of 117 episodes for the original to pass The Cosby Show, so don’t hold your breath. Dallas benefits from its own long run—it’s the fourth longest running primetime drama series of all time—and the long run of its first spinoff, Knots Landing. Taking away those episode counts pushes Dallas down five slots, but it still ranks among legendary shows in the top 20 of both rankings. Another shoo-in.
In truth, Dragon Ball Z needs an asterisk more than anything. It broke new ground with a 1.075 Decade Bonus—the Japanese airing would get a 1.1 for airing entirely in the 1980s and ’90s, while the American airing would get a 1.05 for airing in the ’90s and 2000s. There were 13 feature films released theatrically in Japan, but according to nominator Noel Kirkpatrick, these were either released on video or aired on the Cartoon Network in America; they each got a quarter of a point. Even the episode count is disputed—it aired 291 episodes in Japan, but 278 in its initial American run before being re-syndicated to 291. (Microsoft Word tells me re-syndicated isn’t a word, so you know this is unique.) Based on which numbers are used, Dragon Ball Z’s Normal AIRS can rank as high as 66 and as low as 145, so there is uncertainty.
Another dual top 20 show, Frasier is a rare case where a majority of its points come from Awards, which helps it get a slight bump in Neutral AIRS. There is perhaps no better set of comparisons than Frasier’s Normal AIRS comps of the two other hit NBC sitcoms of its era. Another clear-cut Hall of Famer, but this is a good spot to point out the flaw in one component, the TIME Top 100 list: James Poniewozik generally limited his list to one show per creator with similar themes or characters. Thus, Cheers’s inclusion on the list forced Frasier to be excluded. Had Frasier appeared on the TIME list, it would have ranked 11th and 9th respectively.
Gunsmoke’s 635 episodes are the second most of any show I’ve run (behind only The Red Skelton Show’s 672), and the most of any American primetime drama. That run pushes it to the highest rated show in Normal AIRS. However, Gunsmoke’s fall down to #5 in the Neutral AIRS rankings is one of the factors that convinced me of the importance of having both sets of numbers. There is no question that as a top five show in both rankings Gunsmoke is another Hall of Fame lock, but it is pretty clear that Gunsmoke is only the number one show because of its never-ending reign. Even cutting it to 300 episodes, still more episodes than #2 All in the Family, #3 Cheers, and #4 M*A*S*H, drops Gunsmoke down to fourth place.
M*A*S*H, along with Cheers and Gunsmoke were in the top five in both sets of AIRS. The other two shows in the top fives—All in the Family and ER in both—were not eligible (All in the Family was nominated in September; ER has not reached the five year retirement requirement). The Hall of Fame is getting its standard-defining class in November.
That ‘70s Show is a charming show. It had a long run; it produced some legitimate stars; it had a god-awful spinoff. Heck, you could even make the case that it set the table for more critically successful retro shows like Mad Men. I mean, that would be an absolutely awful case to make. You should be embarrassed for making that case. But it is a case that could be made. (I have not read Cameron’s write up of That ‘70s Show at the time I wrote this, so if that is the case he made, my apologies. Good case, man!) All that said, I think That ‘70s Show fits perfectly with the two shows it gets compared with in Normal AIRS. They ran for a long time, they had their charms, they had their stars, they keep airing in syndication, but nobody is going to consider them the greatest shows of all time. It’s interesting to see the massive build-up of similarly scoring shows when you remove That ‘70s Show’s high episode count. While I’m personally a Full House guy, I can’t justify putting it at an elite level. I can’t call That ‘70s Show a Hall of Famer, but it’s a show worthy of discussion.
The X-Files is in an interesting spot. It only ranks as high as it does because it’s so well considered, with spots on both TV Guide and TIME’s lists. Take that ten points away and the show falls to 66th, between Laverne & Shirley and The Jeffersons. None of the other nominated shows with Ranked Points drops more than three spots when those points are taken away. At the same time, The X-Files made those lists for a reason. It is in many ways a genre-defining show and that deserves some weight. I put this in the uncertain category—I would vote for The X-Files, but it is by no means a lock.
So which of these shows are the best statistical picks? I would definitely vote for Cheers, Dallas, Frasier, Gunsmoke, and M*A*S*H. Dragon Ball Z and The X-Files are shows to be considered; I would vote for the latter but not the former, but this is up to personal taste. Finally, That ‘70s Show is not quite Hall of Fame-worthy.