Another week, another reminder that most people are fiercely predictable. Show them a naked woman and, by heavens, they are interested! The NBC drama Blindspot (tonight, 10 p.m. on NBC and 9 p.m., on CTV) is the first novice network series of this TV season to receive a full-season episode order and be renewed for a second season. It's the first hit show in the network racket.
Created by Canadian Martin Gero (he also created the MuchMusic/CTV series The L.A. Complex), Blindspot had a killer pilot. A comely woman (Jaimie Alexander), with no memories of her past, is found naked in Times Square, emerging from a duffel bag with her body fully covered in intricate tattoos. The FBI realizes her tattoos – and, therefore, her body – act as a road map to revealing a vast conspiracy of no-goodniks and nefarious actions. It has since settled into being a mash-up of police procedural and The Blacklist. And it clicks with viewers.
Predicting mass appeal hits is a chastening endeavour. It's not a critic's job to do that, but when hits arrive, it's opportune to analyze and speculate on the reasons. Let's take this opportunity to talk about Blindspot and other recent successes.
Blindspot is the No. 1 new show for viewers in the 18-49 age group. It is also one of those shows that exhibit huge ratings increases when time-shifted viewing is measured. That is, it's appointment viewing on Mondays but 70 per cent of its audience comes from viewers who watch it later.
It's not that the entire audience is made up of adolescent males eager to see a naked woman. Blindspot's success isn't anchored entirely in the male gaze. There's no real nudity in the show but there's a subtle form of it – the many and intricate tattoos on the character's body are examined closely in episode after episode. There is a complex but common dynamism at work. Men feel pandered to, and are used to seeing the female nude being used to arouse their interest. Women internalize their interest in the female nudes, comparing themselves to the figure exposed to them.
There are other factors, too. The Jane Doe character has been violated, her body trampled by those tattoos, a twist that draws female viewers in sympathy. And as it quickly became clear, Jane Doe is an intimidating figure, capable of great strength and able to unleash deadly violence upon those who threaten her. And then there's the mystery element – who is Jane Doe and who tattooed her? But it's no mystery why the show got off to such a strong start.
In some ways, the premise of Blindspot is an inspired manoeuvre to overcome the limitations of network TV. Viewers see plenty of nudity and sex on cable. They see little of it on networks, which puts the genre at a disadvantage. Covering a naked woman in tattoos and using that as a device for gazing continually at her body is, some might say, cleverness itself.
Move on to the late-night arena, which has seen many shifts in the past few months, and there are a few surprises. CBS is very happy. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is in steady second place to NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. It's doing better than expected, especially in the 18-49 age group and in the younger, hard-to-catch 18-34 age group it is doing significantly better than David Letterman's show performed. This surprises me. I find Colbert's show unwatchable.
We are still talking small numbers for all the late-night shows. Fallon is pulling in 1.3 million viewers in the United States regularly while Colbert is getting 1.05 million. Jimmy Kimmel Live! remains in third place on ABC at about 765,000 viewers. (Mind you, Kimmel beat Colbert for second place behind Fallon for one recent week, thanks to huge numbers for an appearance by Hillary Clinton.) Of course, online activity associated with all three boosts the viewer numbers and all three are big money-makers for their networks.
Over on cable, at Comedy Central, the Trevor Noah version of The Daily Show is bringing in about 610,000 U.S. viewers. That's a 38-per-cent drop from Jon Stewart's era but less of a decline than many expected.
Meanwhile Larry Wilmore, who is doing formidably good, acerbic comedy on The Nightly Show, is struggling to come anywhere near the numbers that The Colbert Report was getting in the same timeslot. That, I cannot fathom. It's still a mystery.