Corey, I think you make a solid argument for seeking populace over passion.
But I think the main thing that makes TV a 20 million viewer form of entertainment is the nature of the video medium. You can watch video while you're eating, exercising, drawing, and hell even while you're driving. It's a more passive medium that requires less mental interaction. It has both audio and visual, and only interacting with one of those two aspects still means you're interacting with it.
Comics require more attention. You can't take your eyes off a comic and still say you're reading it. You can turn away from the TV and hear the audio and still continue to "watch" a show. Comics necessitate higher mental interaction, connecting the words with the images manually. I think that's what makes comics special. But that also makes them better suited for a more passionate audience, people willing to spend the time to create strong connections with the material.
Frankly, if you ask me, that's what I'd rather have anyway. I mean, do you want a comics equivalent of The View? A comics equivalent of the nightly news? A comics equivalent of a bad primetime sitcom? Those are lowest common denominator TV shows designed to appeal to the kind of big numbers that TV can pull. But even the lowest common denominator comics tend to have a fantastic degree of weirdness and conceptual philosophy going on behind the scenes.
I think the comics medium is okay... but it's the unusual culture of comic book storytelling that's really exciting to me. It attracts creators who like to tell bizarre, fun, and thought provoking stories. I'd rather have that month after month than something designed for 4 million readers.
BLAH BLAH BLAH, right? I deleted that comment because I realized comics are already doing those kinds of TV numbers... only they're doing them online as webcomics.
Probably not 20 million for a single webcomic, mind you. But there are millions of casual webcomics readers who visit their favorite sites everyday. DUH! Why didn't I think about that first?
Also, the webcomics thing negates the "weirdness" part of my argument because webcomics are pretty fucking weird. So maybe it's money that changes everything and not the size of the audience? Whatever. I dunno.
I guess my whole argument in the scrapped reply is pretty dumb, actually. But I put so much thought into it that I just don't have the heart to delete it!!! So that's why I'm sharing it.