My Life as a Nielsen Family

My Life as a Nielsen Family

Notes from different corners of the world.
July 18 1997 3:30 AM

My Life as a Nielsen Family


       "Now that you have completed your diary, just moisten the gummed edge below, fold it over your address on the cover and seal it. Please drop your diary into the mail right away. We will pay the postage."

       It ended so quickly, my week of watching TV as if it mattered. I miss it already. I'm tempted to continue on my own, keeping a pad of graph paper by the TV and maybe another by the refrigerator, charting my relationship to my beloved appliances. Some highlights from my week:

       Fran's latest beau turns out to be her cousin ... all but Maxwell get head lice ... Ellen comes clean with her hard-to-please grandmother ... Roseanne and Jackie attend a high-society party ... Herman rescues a boy caught in a fence ... the kids try to play Cupid to a couple of aging rhinos ... a priest's vestment catches fire during a wedding (comedy) ... While chatting with a tyrant, Diane Sawyer twinkles seductively ... Tiffany dates a biker dude ... Shawn falls in with a yuppie crowd ... Gwen can't bring herself to sell her racehorse ... Eddie spends half the rent on a sofa ...

       Just as historians of today delve into 16th-century church records or ancient Roman account books, archaeologists of tomorrow will someday discover a warehouse piled with Nielsen diaries. I already feel anticipatory embarrassment, maybe a thousand years in advance. I knew I should have listed more stuff on PBS.


       In Giving Up the Gun: Japan's Reversion to the Sword 1543-1879, Noel Perrin describes the rare case of a nation voluntarily rejecting an advanced technology. It's something to consider. Oh, I'd miss a few things--old movies, Knick games, watching the news with the sound off to see if I can tell just by body language who's simply lying--but it does seem that the aggregate effect of TV is lamentable.

       It's not that TV is so awful. Flip around the dial and much of what you'll see is as good as much of what you'd have seen at the theater in 1935 New York or 1835 London. There's nothing wrong with light entertainment. But TV is relentlessly available. It's the take-out pizza phenomenon: it's only so-so, but it's so darn convenient that you don't bother to go out for really good pizza. There is something wrong with light entertainment at the expense of everything else.

       I won my first Emmy award for writing in 1985, for an episode of Late Night with David Letterman to which I'd contributed not a single word. If you were on the writing staff when the show was shot, you were included in the award. None of the members of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences who nominated Show #491 were required to have seen it. They simply checked off their hypothetical favorites from a list of shows submitted by their producers. I received an award for a show I didn't write from people who hadn't seen it. It was meaningless praise in its purest form. It was television.