September 14, 2011
I have good news for my readers. Heck, it's good news for pretty much everyone in the nation if not the world, at least everyone with a television. And really, they're the only ones who count.The good news is, in the foreseeable future I will be the one deciding what you can and cannot watch on television.I know, I know. I'm excited too.Undoubtedly, a few of you are thinking that what you and yours watch on television is a decision made solely by, well, you and yours. That's cute. We all get a big kick out of your sweet-natured naďveté, but the truth of the matter is, there are thousands of people who have a say on what gets on TV and none of them are you. One of them, however, is me. All this is my cheerful way of saying that I – and by association, my family – have been chosen as a Nielsen family. Not just any Nielsen family, but one who will keep their diary during the High Holy of television watching, the opening of the new television season and associated “sweeps.” For those of you who are not familiar with the inner workings of television, the Nielsen ratings are the guide to who is watching what. Network execs use them to decide what shows stay on. Advertisers use them to figure out where to spend their ad dollars. Closer to home, ratings guide what our local television stations can charge local businesses to advertise on certain shows. They can also help map market areas that help draw bigger bucks from national advertisers, so if enough people in, say, St. Marys tell the Nielsen folks they are watching CSI on Lima's CBS station and not Dayton's, Auglaize County becomes part of the Lima market and Your Hometown Stations get a few extra bucks (actually, quite a few) when those bug national ad companies come calling.I know, it's all very complicated, but you don't have worry about any of it. I'm your Nielsen guide now, and you are in very good hands.About now some of you may be remembering a period a few years back when I wrote primarily of my fondness for “Baywatch” and old “Dukes of Hazard” reruns. Some who know me might even point out a particular dark period during which the bulk of my time in front of the tube was spent with “Temptation Island” and “Paradise Hotels”, two Fox reality shows so sordid you could contact an STD just reading the listing in TV Guide. Think “Jersey Shore,” but without the socially redeeming undertones.Given all that, it's fair to question whether I am a fit representative of your viewing habits. Fair, except you are leaving out one very important aspect of my Nielsen participation. I'll be lying.Act shocked if you must, but I suspect I am far from alone on this front. We may go to work and talk with our neighbors about the important debate we watched on C-Span last night, but the truth is, we were curled up with a bowl of Rocky Road and reruns of “Alf.” What we say we do and what we actually do rarely mesh. It's our not-so-secret shame.This is not even the first time I have lied on the Nielsens. My family was selected to fill out the rating log back in the mid-‘90s. At that time, it was my wife who did the dirty work. Once that Nielsen book entered the house, my once-virtuous spouse became the Alger Hiss of TV ratings.I knew we were in trouble when I walked into the living room to see her sitting with the diary and a “TV Guide” and she told me she had filled out the book through Wednesday. It was Sunday at the time.Other clues presented themselves throughout the long week.“You'd be surprised at how much PBS we watch,” she mentioned one night as we sat through a “Dukes of Hazard” rerun. “Right now we're watching a fascinating special on the federal deficit.”The troubling question is, if everybody lies on the Nielsen guide, how do we explain how terrible shows continue to rate so well? My only answer is that someone out there is lying in reverse, that somewhere in Minnesota is a family gathered around the television to watch a “Frontline” special on the movement of democracy in China while Mom marks “Two and a Half Men” in their Nielsen diary.So maybe having my family decide what you get to watch isn't the best news, but it could certainly be worse.