Gossip Girl is the Biggest Least-Watched Most-Talked-About-Show Ever

Last week was another good one for the cast and crew of Gossip Girl. The series returned from a six-week hiatus with a brand-new episode that maintained the level of cheese, sleaze and hilarity we’ve come to expect; Leighton Meester and Blake Lively (Blair and Serena) found themselves on the cover of Rolling Stone! And the show even got a shout-out from the most powerful man in the world.

During a town hall meeting, President Barack Obama asked if one of the questioners was “on Gossip Girl or something” because of the applause they got. And yet, after all that, if more than four million people tune in to watch tonight’s episode, it will be the highest rated outing in the history of the series.

The gap that exists between the number of actual viewers Gossip Girl gets and the media coverage Gossip Girl gets is one of the most perplexing we’ve ever encountered in all of our years of monitoring the attention-viewership divide, a perennial TV phenomenon.

A mere 2.2 million people watched last week’s episode. To put that number in perspective, it’s 100,000 fewer viewers than One Tree Hill got on the same night. When Kings premiered two weeks ago with around six million viewers, it was derided as being the biggest prime-time flop of the year, but its numbers doubled the average audience of Gossip Girl.

Of course, there is a big difference: Kings is expensive to produce and airs on a major network; Gossip Girl is relatively cheap and airs on the CW, which is one step above public access. But the numbers are the numbers, and they aren’t good.

The Rolling Stone article briefly acknowledges this, saying that the show isn’t a hit in “conventional terms” (an understatement), but it is having a “moment.” But can a show really have a “moment” if episodes of Smallville routinely get better ratings?

We guess most, if not all, of the credit for Gossip Girl’s perceived success has to go to series creator Josh Schwartz. We’re major fans of everything Mr. Schwartz has done (with the exception of his unbearable Web series Rockville, CA), so it hurts us to even float this idea out there, but: He’s become a television version of Bernie Madoff.

Mr. Schwartz has somehow convinced the media and his network that the series is a success, despite mountains of evidence stacked against that theory. He’s accumulated so much power from so few viewers that he was even afforded the chance to spin off Gossip Girl into another show. Whether this spin-off was done as a favor to the CW, which probably has other uses for the high profile besides actual ratings for Mr. Schwartz’s show, or to Mr. Schwartz is almost irrelevant. It’s been discussed, and that means Mr. Schwartz has influence.

Mr. Schwartz is allowed to take the inflated cachet of Gossip Girl and use it to fulfill whatever creative whim he feels—this includes having the spin-off crossover with The O.C., his long-canceled first series.

And, honestly, more power to him! He’s proven to be smart, funny and talented. Mr. Schwartz has the flavor of the month attached to his name and he’s going to milk it for all it’s worth.

Now, if he could only find a way to use his power to get Chuck renewed.