---- — We were a Nielsen family last week. We received little diaries to fill out, marking when and what we watched on TV for a week. If we recorded a show and watched it later, we wrote that down, too.
The first thought that runs through your head when you start filling out the diary is to give the shows you love a boost, even if you went to a movie that night or to a friend’s house. Should I write down what I would have watched? Then I realized, no, it’s my favorite show’s job to keep me from going to the movies when it’s on. Or at least get me to record it. So we were very scrupulous with our diaries.
It turns out that other than the nightly news, we don’t really watch much TV at all. I imagine every family watches TV differently: Some people leave it on all day long; others just watch certain shows. We are the others. Sue watches a lot of football; me, I can barely sit through the Super Bowl. Sue watches college football on Saturday, the pros on Sunday and I watch stuff I’ve recorded on Sunday night.
There was space at the back of the diary where we could write notes about our viewing habits or comments about television in general. They even said we could use extra sheets of paper if we liked. So I told them this:
Most of what is on television is not just bad — it is toxic. Remember the Miley Cyrus blowup a few months ago on the MTV awards show? The one that did exactly what a publicity stunt is supposed to do — get her tons of free publicity? Ninety-nine percent of the country didn’t even see the show, but that didn’t stop the professional blatherers (all on TV, of course) from giving her all the free publicity one person could stand. There was not a word about the MTV show that aired right before the “awards” show. It’s called “16 and Pregnant,” a long-running series on MTV which, if you go by the lack of outrage, is just hunky-dory.
Doesn’t anyone find it odd that if we ran a transcript of the dirty jokes and double entendres on last night’s prime-time sitcoms in the newspaper, people would cancel their subscriptions in droves? Why is it that TV can get away with things print can’t? (Not that we’d want to.) Because money.
It is all about advertising money. But let me ask you, when was the last time you bought something because you saw it advertised on TV? Is that why you bought your car? Because you saw it doing figure eights is a desert? Is that why you bought the food in your fridge? Are you really going to decide what kind of beer to drink because one company’s ads have cute horses and another one’s ads don’t? Do you think there’s a man alive out there who hasn’t heard of Viagra or Cialis? Why are they still advertising? But if advertisers want to throw their money away, television is happy to let them.
It turns out a lot of us barely watch television on TV. We watch Netflix movies on our computers; we watch three-minute clips of the late-night shows when our friends post the links on Facebook. When we do actually sit in front of the set, we do it alone, watching something we recorded a month ago. Sitting in the living room watching one show that’s “fun for the whole family” is an idea that went out with floppy discs and mix tapes.
And why is it legal for cable and satellite TV to sell us “packages” that charge us for channels we don’t watch? Maybe cable TV companies haven’t noticed what the Internet did to the record, book and newspaper businesses the past few years. But they will. After it’s way too late to save themselves.
Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.