Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fans of ABC Family's "Switched at Birth" stick with it for all-ASL episode

From Brian Stelter at The New York Times:

On Monday night, ABC Family did something that no commercial television outlet in the United States had ever done: it broadcast an entire episode of a show in sign language, with closed captioning turned on by default.

Advocates for the deaf and hard-of-hearing cheered the move, and they wondered: would viewers tune in specifically for the almost-silent episode of the series, “Switched at Birth,” one of ABC Family’s most popular? Or would viewers turn it off, potentially perturbed by the lack of audio? There was a normal musical score, and a scene at the beginning of the episode with audible dialogue, but the rest of the dialogue was in sign language.

Broadly speaking, neither outcome came true. The show’s overnight Nielsen ratings were down, but only slightly. Most fans of the show stayed with it — 1.6 million, according to the overnight ratings. The series this season has averaged 1.7 million viewers.

In the show’s target demographic, women 12 to 34, 748,000 viewers tuned in, down just a little bit from the season average of 777,000. About a quarter of those viewers usually record the show and watch it later, so the final ratings won’t come in for a while.

“Switched at Birth” features several deaf or hard-of-hearing characters, so every episode incorporates sign language in some way. But Monday’s episode went further.

“The concept of the episode is ‘this is what life is like for a deaf person,’” Lizzy Weiss, the creator, said in an interview.

While the episode was being televised on Monday night, Ms. Weiss quipped on Twitter, “Are commercials always this loud or are our ears readjusted after watching” the all-sign language episode?