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In 2007 while working as the TV Critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, I came up with an idea to create something called the TV Power Rankings. I love fantasy baseball and the minutia surrounding it, but have always thought the various “power rankings” for positions and teams were kind of oddly formed, even though they were allegedly supported by reams of baseball statistics. I started creating a way to get a television version done based on ratings, past performance, critical acclaim, ad dollars and even specific demographics.
But then I got a headache and thought the whole notion was pointless. For the most part, critics don’t care about ratings. We care about quality. I don’t care if a show is a hit if said show makes me sad for humanity. Or worried about the cultural taste of the country at large. So I decided to make the TV Power Rankings more about really good (and often great) series and to rank them each week based on how good the episodes were that week. That would add flux. And flux is good for lists. And people love lists, because they love to argue. And so, an idea was born.
Except that nobody at The Chronicle could either do it or had the time (or interest) to do it. Periodically I’d bring up the idea again. Nobody could figure out how to make the chart — and it all stalled in a morass of lethargy and indifference. Then as the 2009 television season was about to begin, I asked Jason Snell, friend and editor of Macworld whether what I envisioned was actually possible. He wrote the code in under 30 minutes, perfectly reflecting what I wanted. So in September of 2009, The Power Rankings! were born (I added the exclamation point because it seemed to be very fantasy baseball-esque — and it made me laugh).
I did 35 weeks of The Power Rankings!, running out of gas as I approached week 33, then having various delays until the final two came out. Then I came to The Hollywood Reporter. And while I couldn’t legally do what I wanted until recently, I always intended for The Power Rankings! to resume. So here we are on the cusp – I’ll put out the first installment on Wednesday. From then on, I hope to get them up every Monday, reflecting the episodes that aired the previous week, ending Sunday.
How does it work? The methodology remains as simple as it ever was, as the idea sprung from (and winks at) fantasy sports power rankings. But unlike fantasy baseball there is no WHIP, no ERA, no VORP. Unlike fantasy football there is no kicking category, fumbles or defense. These rankings are based on creative performance for scripted series from week to week. (Unscripted series can make the list, but there’s a bias here for scripted material, which is inherently more artistic.) A strong episode makes you rise, a tepid one makes you slip. Several bad ones and you’re off the list. It also hurts to have a rerun or two (It should probably go without saying, but a particular show needs to be on the air to make the list — not on hiatus or between seasons). So the writing, acting, directing, humor, pathos or whatever better be excellent each week. I’m also going to incorporate “the viewer’s vote” from suggestions/pleadings/admonishments made in the comments. That is, if enough people believe Big Bang Theory deserves to be on the list or NCIS is having a great year, I will consider the selection as the so-called water cooler chatter or trending topics rise. But if I tune in and the show is awful, it doesn’t make the cut. Beyond that, there’s nothing. It’s not about ratings or demographics or ad sales. It’s about great television. I’m a professional critic. I created the rankings. I’m the Commissioner, so to speak. End of story.
But I did want to offer up a mea culpa of sorts on my Best of 2010 list that appeared in THR and also point out a few things about what you’ll see in the rankings. First, I normally like to make my Year-End lists longer than 10. That’s too restrictive — there are a lot more than 10 great shows on the air. Secondly, I liked to break up drama from comedy if possible. And if there’s space, I’m likely to add a third list. But for that particular issue, there space considerations in The Hollywood Reporter magazine, but I pushed to get a list of 10 upped to 18. Shows I left off — and now regret doing so — were Dexter, Community, Justified especially, with Fringe and The League and a couple of others deserving serious consideration.
I mention all of this here to set the stage for the coming Power Rankings! — there are a lot of worthy shows on television. But they’re not all going to fit. While I frequently included 15 shows when the rankings first started in The Chronicle — the Fabulous 15, as it were — I cut the number in the later weeks to 11 (which I’ll call the Elite 11 when the competition is fierce and probably the Excellent 11 when a few lesser series sneak in). The point is, I could have made my Best of 2010 list as long as 25 or more. If you were to make a list right this moment, it would probably be long. But each week in the rankings, there will only be 11 — so good shows won’t make the cut.
Two quick notes: Yes, that’s an episode title from Deadwood in the headline above. And though I’m hoping to have The Power Rankings! up every week, mostly on time, life does interfere from time to time and there could be some weeks when it doesn’t appear.
Anyway, let’s play ball. Or at least watch some TV.
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