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Black and White TV

We mention in passing in Freakonomics that blacks and whites in the United States have very different TV viewing habits (see page 182 of the book). Monday Night Football is the only TV show that historically has been among the top ten in viewership for both blacks and whites. Seinfeld, one of the most popular white shows ever, was never in the top 50 for blacks.

So I was intrigued when I happened to catch USA Today’s recap of last week’s prime-time Nielsen ratings in its Wednesday issue.

The top 10 shows for whites last week:

1) CSI
2) Grey’s Anatomy
3) Desperate Houswives
4) Dancing with the Stars
5) CSI: Miami
6) Sunday Night Football
7) Survivor
8) Criminal Minds
9) Ugly Betty
10) CSI:NY

And for Blacks:

1) Grey’s Anatomy
2) Dancing with the Stars
3) CSI: Miami
4) Ugly Betty
5) Sunday Night Football
6) Law and Order: SVU
7) CSI: NY
8) CSI
9) Next Top Model
10) Without a Trace

If this one week of data is a good indicator (and I think it is), there has been a remarkable convergence in television viewing habits. A few years ago almost all the top black shows featured predominately black characters and most were not even on the big four networks. Now, there is almost a perfect match between what blacks and whites are watching and while many of these shows have black characters, none feature a predominately black cast. (As an aside, I thought it was interesting that in the box in USA Today that listed the top shows among black viewers they put a picture of Chandra Wilson from Grey’s Anatomy.)

Does this convergence in TV viewing signal a broader pattern in cultural convergence? Probably not, but it is worth keeping an eye on.

Amidst all the change, however, one thing seems to be as certain as death and taxes: both blacks and whites will watch football if you put in on in primetime.