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Is this a nonsense formula for the perfect TV episode?

Stardate November, 2014. These are the continuing adventures of the website The Aperiodical. Its mission: to explore the pages of strange newspapers, to catalogue nonsense formulas, to boldly disapprove of them in ways no blog has done before.

What a joy it was to open my browser this morning and see this delicious headline waiting for me:

perfect tv formula

(by the way, most of the links in this post contain Downton Abbey spoilers. You have been warned.)

In a way, I’m beginning to like nonsense formula stories. You could say that

me + nonsense formula x q = happiness x 2

So, what’s going on this time? Who commissioned it, who sold their soul, and most important of all, does the formula make the least jot of sense?

The article I first saw in the Telegraph is a marvel of economy of words. Over a scant 7 sentences, it begins with ‘Bournemouth University claims to have found “the perfect TV formula”‘ before backtracking to “students at Bournemouth University’s Media School assessed the top 25 most popular television episodes of the last decade”. The “formula” seems to be a pie chart, saying how much of a TV episode (measured in what? Minutes of air time?) should be each of ‘drama’, ‘action’, ‘romance’, ‘comedy’, and ‘shock’. Uncharacteristically for a nonsense formula story, there’s no mention of a corporate interest that might have commissioned the “work”, however the byline reads “by Anita Singh and agencies”, which is refreshingly honest.

So, I went to Google News to see who else had picked up the press release, and found the Daily Mail, which is always good for giving a nonsense formula story the column inches it wants, but doesn’t necessarily deserve. The Mail’s article flat out states that the “study” was “commissioned by BT TV”, which is another refreshing bit of honesty, and completes the picture. All that’s left for this maths news site is to think about whether the formula makes any sense.

Meh, it does, who cares. The Daily Mail article clarifies that they’re counting minutes of air time belonging to each of the categories. There’s no mention of how they did the counting or came up with the “perfect” formula – their methodology is unaccounted for and doubtless shoddy – but a simple list of weightings is a long way from the crimes against maths committed by most nonsense formulas. Let an irreverent science news site upbraid them for not publishing their data. By complete coincidence, the last episode of the current series of Downton Abbey goes out some time in the near future, and the show deemed to most closely match the formula was an episode of Downton Abbey. Fancy that!

The Aperiodical’s proprietary Nonsense Formula Disapprove-o-Matic has refused to even boot up, citing lack of unexplained symbols and unlikelihood of the formula prompting anyone to turn to the person next to them and say, “these boffins, eh? Shouldn’t they be spending their time curing cancer?”.

Poor show, BT TV!

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