HBO’s movie adaptation of the book “Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime” focused its narrative upon Sarah Palin’s virtual takeover of the 2008 election. “Game Change” had a lot of things in its corner to make for a great story – a polarizing central character, political intrigue, an everyman story, and a star-studded cast. But like many political campaigns, there’s a flaw that must be overcome.
In this case, it suffered from an irrefutable fatal flaw: it aired on cable.
No, you won’t see any “game changing” audiences for a cable movie. Particularly not a premium pay cable channel movie.
The subject matter already had a content issue – your tune-in decision was probably set in stone politically, depending upon which side of the Palin polarization line you happened to reside upon. Julianne Moore could only do so much with the role. This is a character that current TV audiences know quite well already.
HBO crowed that 2.1 million viewers elected to tune in to the “Game Change” premiere – “the highest TV movie rating in 8 years!” The rating for that “highest” was a 0.7 for A25-54 nationally.
It ranked #135 for Total Viewers for the week. 135th place doesn’t even get you into the game, let alone change it.
In 2010, ABC was glad to have won the night as 24.1 million viewers tuned in to see if Palin’s daughter Bristol would win on “Dancing with the Stars”.
That’s 22 million more people that chose dancing on ABC over politics on HBO.
To put in perspective, “Nova” on PBS averages 2.8 million viewers.
Sure, “Game Change” premiered on a Saturday, which is has traditionally brought in the smallest amount of viewers to television of any night of the week. But it aired four times throughout the weekend, delivering a total of 3.6 million viewers, still not competitive with the modern reality slate (“Survivor: South Pacific” averaged 11.1 million viewers each week this season) – showing that people tend to follow more reality show politics than real life politics anyway.
Are political battles with compelling characters great American theater? You betcha.
Is it great television? On cable, let’s just say that’s open for debate.