Graph: The Skyline of Cable Drama


After mapping out the Metacritic histories of Dexter vs. Breaking Bad a few weeks back, I started to wonder how other premium cable shows would look. And so, with an idea firmly in place, I started collecting the data. I cooked up a list of Metacritic scores for every season of every drama that has either aired or is currently airing on HBO, Showtime, AMC, and F/X. Then, I had to cull the data. For instance, some shows only aired for one year. Others were missing Metacritic scores for certain seasons, a result of not enough critic reviews for Metacritic to assign a score. Those type of shows couldn’t be used. By the time it was all over, I had complete season-by-season Metacritic scores for 23 shows. After I graphed them out, I realized that it looks a lot like a skyline. Here’s the result.

As always, click on the image for the full resolution version. The shows are listed alphabetically.


Just to clarify what’s going on there, each season of each series has several bars that, chronologically from left to right, represent their Metacritic scores. For instance, American Horror Story earned a Metacritic score of 62 in the first season, and 64 in the second.

It’s a little disappointing that The Sopranos had incomplete data. It would’ve been fascinating to see how it looked in comparison to, say, The Wire or Mad Men. I also would’ve preferred to include Six Feet Under and Deadwood, but both had incomplete data.

Ideally, I would’ve included the average of all show scores for each progressive season in the graph. But realistically, that data is useless because so many shows are dumped before they reach seasons 3, 4, and 5. And the sample sizes are so small that there’s a ton of variance Of the data sample, only nine shows have scores for season 5; five for season 6; and just two have seasons 7 and 8 (Dexter and Weeds). In the interest of full disclosure, the breakdown went like this, but again- I don’t find this data useful:

Season 1 average of all shows: 73.9 avg. Metacritic score (23 series)
Season 2 average of all shows: 77.9 avg. Metacritic score (23 series)
Season 3 average of all shows: 80.8 avg. Metacritic score (18 series)
Season 4 average of all shows: 79.3 avg. Metacritic score (12 series)
Season 5 average of all shows: 80.0 avg. Metacritic score (9 series)


Filed under Television, TV Shows

11 responses to “Graph: The Skyline of Cable Drama

  1. Great post! Some of these graphs are amusing to me. Like Boardwalk Empire, which as suffered in my opinion since they killed a certain character, and True Blood, who’s last few seasons were so bad that I want to die a little inside. It does make me happy to see Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones continue to increase.

    • I was most happy to see Justified doing so well, of all things. It’s not exactly a critic-bait show, but it would seem that critics are accepting it on its own terms.

  2. Jim

    So do you think that Breaking Bad has gotten better, or that it has caught on with audiences who believe the (much deserved) hype? Because Season One is just about as good as Season 5B or whatever; they’re just different parts of an excellent whole (perhaps the most cohesive example of auteurism ever seen on television).

  3. Jim

    Also, I forgot…



    • Ha… it’s deserved.

      I think it’s a little of both, really, re: your question. I think 5B has been every bit as good as it’s ever been. I’d put season 1 third overall (just my opinion), behind this half season, and season 4. I’d say that it’s only gotten better since season 2. And season 1 is tough for people to gauge, anyway, since it was only 7 episodes thanks to the writer’s strike. Although I find it interesting that many acclaimed shows had the same issue with their own first seasons tracking lower than the rest. It’s possible that reviewers didn’t find out about it until after they got into excellent seasons 2, 3, and 4.

      It’s a critic-based score, with no input from audiences. Per Metacritic:

      The METASCORE is a weighted average of the published critic reviews contained in the chart on that page, and thus does not include any votes or comments from our users. However, you may, of course, see the average user vote by glancing at the USER SCORE to the right of the METASCORE on every summary page.

  4. Hi, Droid:

    It’s nice to see that a major gamble put forth by FX years ago; to put all your money on one new and ground breaking series (The Shield) has paid off so well for itself and others.

    HBO has been able to afford that luxury with mini series dating back to ‘Band of Brothers’. With ‘The Wire’ no so much gaining in popularity, but in cultures. And universities in Maryland, the east and west coasts offering credited classes on the series. While ‘Deadwood’ had and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ has dialogue and period piece feel all swen up.

    Pleased to see ‘Justified’ doing so well. While outside of finding flaws in slang, costumes and two or three year off period piece feel of ‘Mad Men’ needs a bit more to garner attention.

    ‘Breaking Bad’ is an excellent vehicle for criminally under rated Bryan Cranston. With consistently great seasons and the mystique of how Walt is going to survive. While ‘Sons of Anarchy’ has been slowly painting itself into a corner that will end well for no one.

    Never got the hang of ‘Dexter’, ‘The Walking Dead’ or ‘Game of Thrones’.

    • I reaaaally need to check out The Shield. And Rescue Me, too.

      I’ve been thinking a lot about Mad Men and Boardwalk lately. Boardwalk has plenty of action but could frankly use a little more character development, or at least more streamlined character development. In the meantime, Mad Men really needs less soap opera-style action. It’s no wonder that the creators of those two series worked together to create the benchmark for shows like this (The Sopranos) and that separately, they’re each missing what the other provided.

      Of all the shows going right now, after Breaking Bad, my favorites are Game of Thrones, Justified, and Boardwalk Empire, in that order. Justified has leapfrogged Boardwalk for me.

  5. Dexter and Weeds seem to have pretty similar buildings. Hmm Showtime hmm

    • You’re dead-on with that. And if I made all of this more complex, I absolutely would’ve done a comparison of the four networks. Showtime… does not look so good. Nor F/X, for that matter.

  6. Great work here. Interesting to see Season 1 of The Wire ranked the lowest, but oh well. Love that damn show.

    • I think there has to be something inherently flawed with the methodology, because a lot of really great shows with great first seasons show up with very low-rated first seasons. Not to criticize Metacritic. I honestly don’t know but I think it’s a fair question.

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