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Wipeout, despite being a failure, is a ratings success

TBS’s reboot of Wipeout is both baffling and frustrating, a complete waste of a fun format and its otherwise talented hosts, Nicole Byer and John Cena. Yet it has also succeeded compared to other cable reality shows, although it has been losing viewers since it premiered, perhaps because it’s terrible.

While the April 1 premiere of Wipeout was a complete disaster creatively—incoherent editing, badly written jokes, hosts reading off a teleprompter—it had a 0.33 rating among people 18 to 49. A total of 1.06 million people watched, according to Showbuzz Daily.

That tied it with the highest-rated show of the night, a basketball game (Nuggets versus Clippers). That also means Wipeout easily beat the premiere of Top Chef Portland, which had a 0.24 rating and 829,000 viewers, although Bravo’s competition airs at 8 p.m. ET, whereas the TBS show airs at 9.

Those ratings made Wipeout “the No. 1 new unscripted offering on cable television, beating fellow freshman TBS series The Go Big Show, which opened to 302,000 viewers in the key demo,” The Wrap‘s Tony Maglio reported.

John Cena and Nicole Byer hosting Wipeout, during the one part of the show where they actually seem to be reacting to what's happening in front of them.
John Cena and Nicole Byer hosting Wipeout, during the one part of the show where they actually seem to be reacting to what’s happening in front of them. (Photo by TBS)

A massive disclaimer is necessary here: I rarely report on overnight ratings any more for three primary reasons:

  • Ratings are essentially in free-fall for all of broadcast television, thanks in part to fragmentation (we all have a lot of choices) and to how we watch (on demand, streaming, and/or recordings on our DVRs).
  • Overnight ratings only include people who watch that night (live or on DVR), and many people now watch on DVR. That makes other ratings—like those who watch within seven days (L+7) or 30 days (L+30)—much more important.
  • Meanwhile, there is not independent, equivalent ratings data for streaming services, and their self-reported ratings are completely unreliable. Netflix, for example, just renewed Floor is Lava, saying that 37 million households watched in its first month of release. That’s an insane amount of people—until you realize that Netflix counts anyone who watched for two minutes as a viewer, which makes that metric meaningless and ludicrous.

The one thing I find overnight ratings useful for is comparison—between shows, and especially week to week.

Wipeout actually had three airings of its premiere. The first episode of Wipeout premiered Tuesday night (well, technically Wednesday morning) at 12:49 a.m. following the UCLA vs. Michigan game. That early-morning preview had 775,000 viewers and a 0.29 rating, according to Nielsen ratings. Meanwhile, a repeat of the premiere on The CW on April 2 at 8 pm. only earned a 0.1 in 18 to 49, with 610,000 viewers.

Since that first week, Wipeout has been slowly losing viewers:

  • On April 8, 892,000 people watched, and it got a 0.3 rating in 18 to 49. That means it lost 168,000 viewers. It still beat Top Chef Portland, which had a 0.25 in 18-49 and 737,000 viewers.
  • On April 15, 861,000 viewers, and it had a 0.27 in 18 to 49. Top Chef Portland had a 0.24 and 748,000 viewers.

Although it’s losing viewers, Wipeout was still the fourth-highest rated cable show of the right last week, behind Floribama Shore and ahead of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Keep in mind these are only people who watched on Thursday night, so they wouldn’t count people who taped it on Thursday and watched on Saturday. It’s quite possible that Top Chef ends up with much higher ratings after DVR viewers are included, or the reverse could be true.

I’m not surprised that a revival of a fun, silly, beloved show had high ratings—whatever that means today—and that alone probably validated TBS’s confounding approach to this shitshow of a reality show. But considering how dreadful that first episode was, I expected the show’s ratings to fall faster than someone bouncing off one of those big red balls.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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