Star Trek fans endlessly debate questions like this (partly because they don’t realise Star Wars is far better). So, I wanted to take a closer look at the facts.

Step 1 – The Data

We begin with a dataset containing information on Star Trek episodes. The data contains the episode number, synopsis (a large text description), air date, and series. I then augmented the data with viewer numbers per episode*.

(*viewer numbers for TNG are naturally lower due to less households having access to (cable) TV at the time of airing. To normalise figures, I then adjusted TNG viewer numbers based on the adjusted number of TV households in the US at the same time as DS9 – matching adjusted numbers by season/year because the number increases each year).

Step 2 – Tableau Measures

First, I’ll separate the Episode Number in a Season and Episode dimension to use for my charts later:

Apart from comparing viewership between the two shows, I also want to dig into how prominently the main cast features in each episode across the season.

To do this, I count how often the captains, seconds in command, unique characters (like aliens and androids), and the remaining main cast appear in the synopsis – the logic here is the more they are mentioned in the synopsis, the more they feature in some important event in the episode.

The counts are done as follows:

If you know Star Trek, you’ll follow who I put in which category. The reason I want to separate them out is that I want to see whether/which group of characters perhaps serves as a drawcard for the viewers and/or correlates with better viewership.

Step 3 – Charts

The main chart to construct is viewership. This is a basic dual axis line chart to plot both shows and see how their viewer numbers compare. Now, we have air dates, but I’m going to use the season and episode number (I placed episode under season in a hierarchy so they will expand correctly along my axis).

Next, I’ll plot each of the character categories, in their own chart, along the same season + episode X-axis, and add them all to my dashboard:

So, what does this all show us? Well, a few interesting things:

  • TNG viewership grew with its seasons while DS9’s fell over time. It looks like season 3 for both shows was a critical turning point.
  • The Captain, second in command, and other main cast members look to feature more than their DS9 counterparts as seasons progress – this is particularly true for the Captain who is perhaps the core drawcard for many audiences.
  • Unique character appearances seem to be about on par, so it’s difficult to tell if this factors into viewership at all.

Overall, it’s interesting to note that DS9 appears to have less going on with its main characters while TNG focuses on them more. This could reflect an underlying issue of a show being spread too thin on too many characters and confusing audiences rather than having a strong, lead Captain and crew who gain more audience loyalty and investment.

The Data School
Author: The Data School