Chicago is a Simpsons town; NCIS, Duck Dynasty not so much
Viewing patterns are racially segregated as the city is
Two weeks ago, the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Urban Institute proclaimed in a study (another in a very long line) something we’ve known for decades: the Chicago metropolitan area is one of the most racially segregated areas in the country.
And to a degree, the segregation also extends to the TV shows we watch.
Back in December, the New York Times reported on how the country’s television preferences are similar to their political ones. As everyone knows, there is a huge rural/urban divide as played out in last fall’s elections: Hillary Clinton did well in urban areas; Donald Trump reigned supreme in suburbia and rural areas.
The New York Times looked at how urban areas around the country such as Chicago and rural areas such as downstate Illinois and how they watched prime-time television, using the fifty most-liked programs on Facebook in a given zip code. Shows such as Family Guy and Modern Family were more popular in urban areas while Duck Dynasty and Criminal Minds fared best in rural America. After all, it’s no surprise The Daily Show does well in Chicago, where 85 percent of the voters went for Clinton.
But look closer. While there is a distinct agreement on which shows the Chicago area liked the least, there is a sharp divide on what show we liked the most.
Back in the 1990’s, television viewing was quite segregated with the twenty most-watched shows in white households differing greatly from the most-watched show in black households with ABC’s Monday Night Football as the only program to show up on both lists. For example, while programs such as Moesha, The Jamie Foxx Show, and The Wayans Bros. were popular in black homes, shows with white casts such as Friends and Seinfeld barely registered. The reverse was true in white households.
Of note the three popular African-American-casted shows yours truly mentioned aired on The WB and UPN – both of which no longer exist.
In 2013, audiences stampeded for the exits after Nicki Manaj and Mariah Carey became judges on American Idol – except the odd pairing actually drew more African-American viewers. However, it was not enough to offset the exodus of white viewers from the show.
In recent years, African-American viewers have moved to cable in droves, with popular (and controversial) entries such as Flavor Of Love, The Real Housewives Of Atlanta, Basketball Wives, and Love And Hip-Hop. Among blacks, the latter three typically outdraw most programming on the broadcast networks.
Yours truly decided to use the Times’ “cultural bubble tool” to find out what programs are so popular in a given zip code in Chicago. Remember, While Facebook is not reflective of our society in total – and given its young skew, it does provide a glimpse to what our neighbors are watching – or at least “liking” on social media.
Starting with the least liked, or “below average” (because it is easier), there was a common theme regarding four shows regardless of neighborhood or suburb, black or white: A&E’s Duck Dynasty, NBC’s The Voice, and CBS’ NCIS and The Big Bang Theory. Despite the latter two’s popularity around the country, their “below average” status speaks to the longtime weakness of CBS prime-time in this market and its low-rated O&O here, WBBM-TV. The lackluster showing of The Voice has a lot to do with Idol’s unpopularity in Chicago – the Windy City just doesn’t have an affinity for singing contests.
But when it comes to “above average” or more liked shows – there is a sharp difference.
In the zip code where yours truly live (60619), spanning the predominately black Avalon Park, Chatham, and Grand Crossing neighborhoods, the most “liked ” shows were Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club (whose future is in doubt as Oxygen is converting to a real-life crime channel), Fox’s Empire, and VH1’s Love and Hip-Hop – controversial shows with lots of conflict – and violence. In fact, almost all predominantly and/or majority black neighborhoods in the city had the exact same setup – from the poor North Lawndale and Garfield Park neighborhoods on the West Side to the more middle-class Ashburn and Calumet Heights neighborhoods on the South Side.
The trio also dominated in the city’s most gang-plagued and violent neighborhoods such as Austin, Englewood, Chicago Lawn, South Shore, and Auburn Gresham.
In the predominately white 60631 zip code containing the far Northwest Side neighborhoods of Norwood Park and Edison Park, the “above average” shows were The Daily Show, The Simpsons, and Modern Family. In Lakeview where Wrigley Field is located, the same three shows held the top spots. In River North, which includes the Gold Coast, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia occupied one of the three slots alongside Daily Show and Simpsons.
In the mostly Latino Brighton Park, Gage Park, and Archer Heights neighborhoods (one-time Polish and Irish enclaves), The Simpsons finished alongside Empire and Love & Hip-Hop instead of Bad Girls Club. The same was true in the home of Guaranteed Rate Field (60616), the mixed Armour Square and Bridgeport neighborhoods, the latter once predominately white and home to former mayor Richard J. Daley.
The same pattern existed in the suburbs. Just as on the South and West Sides of the city, Empire, Love & Hip-Hop, and Bad Girls Club dominated in the south suburbs spanning Country Club Hills, Hazel Crest, Chicago Heights, Ford Heights, Dolton, Calumet City, and Gary, Ind. – areas with majority and/or predominantly black populations.
Even in Riverdale, The CW program who shares the same name with the predominantly black suburb doesn’t register as Bad Girls Club tops the chart (Riverdale shares the 60827 zip code with the Chicago neighborhood of the same name and suburban Calumet Park.)
In predominantly white suburbs such as Orland Park, Naperville, Downers Grove and Northbrook mirrored those in white portions of the city: Philadelphia, Simpsons, Modern Family, and The Daily Show.
Believe it or not, there were some oddities. In the 60655 zip code, home to the predominately white Mount Greenwood neighborhood, the top three “above average” shows were the same in more African-American parts of the Chicago DMA: Empire, Love & Hip-Hop, and Bad Girls Club and the same was true in nearby Oak Lawn, another predominately white suburb and in Oak Forest, another majority-white city. Farther south in rural-like Peotone, Duck Dynasty was not well-liked – but Scandal and Tosh.0 was.
And in the Western suburbs of Bellwood, Maywood, and Oak Park – the former two are mostly black and the latter more diverse – Empire dominated but so did The Simpsons and Family Guy.
Of note in Joliet’s 60435 zip code, the most “liked” show on Facebook turned out to be FX’s American Horror Story. On the other hand, viewers in far northwest suburban Crystal Lake and Woodstock don’t seem to care for Love & Hip-Hop as it ranked “below average”.
The conclusion you come to after analyzing all this is Chicago – in terms of black and white, the shows we watch – on TV or streaming or otherwise – is different from one another. While Chicago isn’t as racially segregated as it was in the 1980’s (which basically kept Top 40/CHR music stations such as WLS and WBBM-FM from becoming as influential as its less segregated New York and Los Angeles counterparts), the entertainment we consume continues to be.
To see the findings of this research, click here to go to the T Dog Media Slideshare Page. If you want to see what TV show your town, city, or neighborhood is liking on Facebook, click here to the New York Times article and scroll way down.