TV shows that draw a small but avid fan base used to be doomed to early cancellation, with gross viewing numbers supplied by Nielsen failing to reflect any deeper value, Tom Vanderbilt writes. But that's beginning to change, and critically acclaimed hits such as "Girls," "30 Rock" and "Mad Men," which don't pile up large numbers, are able to achieve staying power as programmers evaluate other criteria, including social media conversations and the many new ways viewers access and value their favorites beyond traditional viewing hours.

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