Notes from jms

B5JMS Poster b5jms-owner at
Sat Nov 11 06:42:22 EST 1995

Subject: Notes from jms
*  1: 	: straczynski at


From: straczynski at
Lines: 166

     Several items:

     1) For those in the LA area, I'm going to be at LosCon at the Burbank
Airport Hilton on Thanksgiving Sunday, I think it's around 1:00 for a 2
hour B5 presentation.  Don't know yet if any cast will attend, but there
should be some interesting stuff.

     2) Normally I don't flog the merchandise, but I gotta tell you, today
I saw the pennultimate version of the B5 screensaver from Sound Sources,
and it's *gorgeous*.  There are 150 still images, each with .wav sounds,
including music in many places, PLUS technical files, PLU
video/sound/music sections where you can see a Vorlon ship dock, see the
Cortez come out of the gate, see the Streib attack, see Starfuries dropping
and jumping...I was just knocked out by it.  They've done a *great* job
on it.  (These are the same folks who did the recent Terminator screen
saver.)  Apparently it'll be out in time for Christmas, but it's going to
be a *limited edition*, so you may have to act quickly when it hits the
stands if you want one.  (I'm definitely going to be using it.)

     3) If you've been abused by Ford A. Thaxton, I suggest you drop a
line to postmaster at and let them know about it; do it soonish, btw.
  (I *think* that's the correct address for the AOL administration folks;
if not, somebody can correct it.)  Given that this abuse has been going on
now for nearly a year, and shows no sign of relenting, and some have asked
privately and publicly what can be done, I see no reason why this should
not be pointed out here.

     4) There's a B5 magazine out now, which (although I still don't have
a finished copy in hand yet) (he said pointedly) (or a copy of the issue
of Foundation that printed my article, hello, editor Edward James, can
you hear me?)...anyway, it's a pretty nifty little magazine.  When I met
with the editor working on it, I specifically noted that they should not
turn the magazine into a puff piece...let there be some rough edges, and
hard questions.  (So I kind of dropped my face into my hands when I read
some of the stuff about how Claudia spends her off-time...and a few other
choice items...but still, it's best to have it absolutely straight.)

     5) To the questions about ratings that have arisen of late...the key
to any discussion of ratings is real simple: Is the show getting the
ratings it needs to stay on the air?  If it is, then it does; if it
doesn''s gone.  Where Time Trax and Pointman and Space Rangers are
gone...we're still here.  Because the numbers crunch.  It sure as hell
ain't because of my sterling personality and good looks.  Studios and
networks aren't in the charity business; they're here to make successful

     The problem with B5 is the unusual situation that we're in, in terms
of stations, times, and number-crunching.  So I thought I'd take a moment
to explain some of this.  There are three elements to the ratings: the
ratings numbers (where you are in the rankings overall), of which one
component is the hourly rating; the shares; and the demographics.  The
latter two are the more important figures.  The share is the actual
percentage of people watching television who are watching your show; so
a 10 share means 10% of everyone watching TV at that moment is watching
your program.  The demographics tells the studio/network what kind of
people are watching...WHO, as opposed to how many.

     For are two hypothetical shows.  One gets a high
rating, the other a medium or low rating?  Which is more profitable for
the studio/network?  It can very easily be the *lower rated* show, IF
that program delivers the choice demographics that advertisers want to
reach.  Which is why many lower-rated Fox shows are more profitable to
that network than many CBS shows, which skew toward an older audience
with less disposable income.  (Ick, TeeVee numbers talk....)  The relative
costs of the show are also a factor.

     The final thing to factor in is that B5 is in the positino of being
on a number of stations that are primarily either Fox or UPN stations.
Meaning we get bumped a lot, or we get the 3 a.m. slot.  This is primarily
true in the smaller markets; in the big markets, the show generally gets a
better berth.  You live or die by the ratings in the big markets, because
those are the areas the advertisers want.

     (And if you've stayed with me this far, you're far more patient than
I would be...this stuff gives me a headache on the best of days.)

     Now that we've established the language, we proceed....

     The demographics for B5 are among the best around in syndication,
which is why we have generally attracted leading national sponsors to the
show.  So virtually all of the commercial spots are now sold out for the
third season, at a rate that PTEN is *very* happy about.  (Some of the Big
Guns from WB/PTEN have come out to the stage over the last week, simply
to congratulate us on how the show is doing.)

     On the national numbers, we get hit a little because of the problem
with the smaller markets/Fox and UPN stations noted above.  I'll walk you
through an example.

     Take "Comes the Inquisitor."  Here are some of the individual market
ratings.  (And by way of comparison, anything above a 3 rating and a 6
share is golden for advertisers on this show.)  St. Louis, a 3.5 rating
and an *11* share; Portland OR, a 6.7 rating and a 10 share; Kansas City,
a 7.0 rating and an 11 share; Orlando a 2.5 and a *13* share (you now see
how the ratings/share issue can get confusing; you can be in a small
market, so your rating is small, but the *share*, the percentage of actual
people watching your show, can be extremely high).  For the next couple
of episodes, you find Kansas City with *another* 7 rating/13 share;
Portland OR with an 8.4/13; Minneapolis with a 4.7/8; Baltimore with a
5.0/7...on and on and on.

     Then you factor in the smaller stations, over three periods.  First
you get the Combined Overnight Average, which for Inquisitor was 3.6 and
a 5 share (very good).  The second figure is the Monday-Wednesday average
of the stations playing it during that period, which jumps to a 4.4 and a
7 share (*extremely* good).  The rest of the days, Thurs-Sun, are mainly
in the smaller markets, where we're on weird hours, or get pre-empted a
lot.  Now you finally factor in *those* numbers, and you come out to a
national average figure of 3.4 (no shares are given in national averages,
btw).  Which is fine, and in any event, the main numbers that matter are
the major markets in any event.  But even if the majors were far less than
they are, the national average is still enough to give advertisers what
they want.

     All that matters to these folks is cold, hard math...and the math
supports Babylon 5.  So we stay on the air.  It's really about that
simple.  That's the ultimate response to anyone casting doubts on what
we're getting.  If we weren't getting good numbers, we wouldn't be here.
Period.  (And our ratings are increasing, btw....taking the last batch
in order, the Monday-Wednesday average for B5 went from a 4.1 rating and
a 6 share, to a 4.3 rating and a 6 share, to a 4.4 rating and a 7 share,
to a 4.6 rating and a 7 share.  We're adding viewers in a slow, but very
steady fashion.  Those are the kinds of numbers studios and networks LOVE
to see...a nice, straight, upward incline.

     (Here in LA, this week we again beat DS9 in the local ratings,
with B5 getting a 5.8 rating and a 9 share, and DS9 getting a 5.9 rating
and an 8 share; again, the share being the critical number.)

     This is, overall, more than I have ever wanted to write or even think
about the ratings.  But a lot of folks have asked lately, so I thought I'd
take a moment, since the numbers have started coming in, to go over the
facts and figures, and try -- as best I can -- to explain them.  The
formulae used to compute profitability and ratings and shares and rankings
is somewhere just short of alchemy and a bit further than necromancy; I
barely follow them (mathematics not Zathras' skill)...all I know is that
WB is happy, and if WB is happy, and PTEN is happy, we're happy, because
that means we get to stay on the air and continue telling our story.

     6) I may not have mentioned it here, but Michael York will be guest
starring in "A Late Delivery from Avalon," episode #12.  And Walter Koenig
is slated to be in #14, "Ship of Tears," as well as in "Dust to Dust"
(whose number I've just forgotten...I think it's

     7) If you haven't done so yet, check out the Wallace and Grommitt
tapes and/or laserdisks.  I'm going to keep after you until you do; they
are just terrific.  Best and funnkiest stop motion I've ever seen.

     8) We're nearly finished shooting episode #10, "Severed Dreams,"
which forms the final part of a kind of three-pronged arc right in the
middle of the season, inclusive of episodes 8 and 9, "Messages From
Earth" and "Point of No Return."

     "Messages," for my money, is so far the best we've ever done, though
I'll be more able to lock that down once I've seen the final CGI.  It and
"Dreams" are real CGI blowouts; in the latter, there are literally 100
shots -- CGI, live action, and compositing -- in *four pages* of action.
This is an all time record for us (and that doesn't count the stuff earlier
in the episode).

     I don't usually go this far, but folks, let me give you my personal
guarantee: you're in for one hell of a ride come mid-season, with these
three episodes.


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