Gory, Raunchy and Bro-Filled TV Series Are a Hit With Women

Programmers know something marketers don’t

Girls, it turns out, just wanna have brains.

It may come as a surprise to many that the highest-rated cable show among women year to date is AMC’s The Walking Dead, far outstripping more conventionally female-targeted programs like The Real Housewives of Atlanta. According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the Feb. 10 mid-season Walking Dead premiere drew a meaty 5.0 rating/11 share among women 18-49, nearly double that of its nearest competition.

Other counterintuitive hits among women include CBS’ guy-friendly The Big Bang Theory (which even bests American Idol on occasion) and Fox’s blood-spattered cop drama The Following. What’s going on here?

For starters, gore isn’t necessarily a turn-off for women, said Horizon Media research director Brad Adgate. “If there’s one genre that’s really popular with men and women, science fiction is it—anything that deals with the occult really,” he said. Adgate points to the success of long-running procedurals like CSI and Law & Order: SVU—shows with an overwhelmingly female audience and pretty liberal with the hemoglobin.

Then, there are the underperformers. Fox’s New Girl boasts a fun, stylish lead in Zooey Deschanel, but it’s barely female-skewing. And it’s a good week for shows like ABC’s Once Upon a Time and CBS’ The Good Wife when the female 18-49 demo comes in above a 1.5.

Katherine Wintsch of marketing consultancy The Mom Complex said there’s a common thread between grimy, female-skewing fantasy drama Game of Thrones and unscripted guilty pleasure Here Comes Honey Boo Boo—neither Brienne of Tarth nor June Shannon have it all together, and viewers can relate.

Women, said Wintsch, watch comedy or reality programs to see people who aren’t perfect (a designation that might not apply to Deschanel). “It’s a relief. With something like Modern Family, you have people who are divorced or gay or just otherwise normal,” Wintsch pointed out.

Considering all that, marketers may want to consider presenting less perfect women in their ad campaigns.

“A lot of times, you’ll be watching Honey Boo Boo and then the commercials will come on and it’s a perfect mom in a cardigan and capri pants washing the floor,” said Wintsch. “TV gets it much more than advertisers do. We lose two or three decades when we go to commercial break.”

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