Credit where it’s due, President Trump did not explicitly argue that the low ratings of Sunday night’s Emmys broadcast were a function of how much America loves him. He just said one thing and then said another thing and let the readers knit them together as they saw fit.
Some quick fact-checking: The number of viewers on the Emmys broadcast was not the lowest ever, a title held by the 2016 show. (As CNN’s Frank Palotta notes, this year’s numbers were also probably negatively affected by the hurricane in Florida.)
Also, Trump is not sad about how the Emmys did. He’s been frustrated with the awards show since “The Apprentice” was passed over for an award more than a decade ago. Trump was very sensitive about how well “The Apprentice” did in the ratings, to the extent that he had faked Time magazine covers praising the show installed in many of his various properties.
His tweet isn’t even really about the Emmys. It’s about The Elites™, in particular the Hollywood Elites™ who try to interfere with his elections and who were desperate to come to his inauguration but he wouldn’t let them. The Celebrities™ who endorsed Hillary Clinton in droves and lost. It’s the DEPLORABLES who are the smart ones, Trump argues, because (we quickly figure out) they rejected the Emmys and the elites that put the show on.
Trump made a similar argument more directly last week, suggesting that ESPN was losing subscribers because one of its reporters said something mean about him on Twitter. But ESPN’s decline — like the Emmys’ — began long before the era of Donald Trump.
Why are fewer people watching the Emmys? I’ll leave a definitive answer to that question to entertainment reporters but will take a moment to do a little old-man-yells-at-cloud-ing. The problem (he said, adjusting the garters on his socks) is that the Emmys are now an awards show for anything-which-is-not-a-movie. Once upon a time, it was ABC vs. NBC vs. CBS, and most Americans were probably familiar with most of what was up for the major awards. Now it is ABC vs. NBC vs. CBS. vs. HBO vs. AMC vs. Hulu vs. Netflix vs. everything else. If you don’t have a subscription to one of those last four services, you’re not seeing the shows. And if you’re not seeing the shows, why would you care who wins? There’s a reason I don’t watch Diamondbacks-Marlins games: I couldn’t care less about the outcome. (Note my intentional use of baseball for that analogy, in keeping with the “I am an old man” framework of this paragraph.)
Recode made a graphic showing the winners of the major categories in the past eight years. Only 22 of the 64 winners are from the networks, and 14 of those are for “Modern Family” or “The Big Bang Theory,” the latter of which is categorically the worst television show in history.
Why the spike in 2013? I have another theory: Twitter. That was probably the peak of the Twitter second-screen phenomenon, in which people would watch the show and then go on Twitter to complain about it. If you disagree with this theory, the proper place to object is on Twitter itself; I’m at @pbump.
Anyway. The decline in Emmys viewership that really began in 2007 or so was not a function of DEPLORABLES tuning out because of Donald Trump. (Nor, of course, were this year’s low ratings a function of the focus on the president during the program. If you aren’t watching the show, thus driving down its ratings, then you didn’t see what the show was saying about Trump.) It was a function, in part, of larger trends rippling through the entertainment industry.
But Trump and many of his defenders have mastered the art of linking bad news for the president’s perceived opponents to that opposition. It’s a parlor game meant to reinforce the idea that Trump is secretly much more popular than polling would indicate, so much so that his quiet supporters can quietly switch off their televisions and send tremors through Hollywood. They’re too smart for the Elites’™ self-congratulations.
When really the issue is: How many people actually saw “The Handmaid’s Tale”?