My Life as a Nielsen Family

My Life as a Nielsen Family

Notes from different corners of the world.
July 17 1997 3:30 AM

My Life as a Nielsen Family

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       A man from Nielsen called this afternoon. I was scared. Had he torn away my veil of anonymity? Mercifully, it was only a follow-up call. Just routine. Once again I was asked if I'd received my diary, was I filling it in, did I have any questions, was I eating well balanced meals and getting plenty of sleep? So far the Nielsens have sent me three postcards and phoned three times. Which reminds me: I should call my mother.

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       I log a rerun of Seinfeld, but with a protest. If your show is set in New York, you can't keep writing episodes where the characters go to the movies in their cars.

       I refuse to log anything on MTV. Not that I watch MTV, but even if I did, I'd deny it. I loathe MTV because, while posing as progressive, MTV is the most reactionary network on the dial. On MTV, you are what you buy--records, clothes, movie tickets. It is the moral universe reduced to the geography of a shopping mall. MTV makes the broadcast networks look enlightened. NBC writers are permitted to join unions. CBS shows are kept distinct from CBS commercials.

       Filling out the diary reveals yourself to yourself. Judging by what I actually watch, not what I thought I watched, the best thing on television is the time-temperature display on NY-1, the 24-hour local news cable channel. To let me know if it's hot out, NY-1 installs thermal sensors somewhere in Manhattan (Central Park?), then relays this data to the studio (by land lines?) where a good-looking blue and white graphic displays the information, and sophisticated electronic equipment patches it into the corner of a TV image, which is then shunted to the cable company (and I pray that this involves launching a satellite into geo-synchronous orbit or at least transmitting via a complex microwave relay system) which then funnels the NY-1 signal to my TV set, a very nice Sony imported from Japan.

       Or, I could stick my hand out the window.

       It is in this grotesque squandering of technology that the temperature on NY-1 is television.

       I tape an episode of Cold Lazarus, Dennis Potter's final television series, on Bravo. Before the show, this disclaimer appears:

       "Bravo is committed to respecting the integrity of an artist's work by labeling programs which have been altered for television. This program is not the version which was originally produced. It has been altered for television by Bravo."

       Remember: the thing that has been altered for television is a television show. This is called Bravo's "Artists Rights Policy," a masterpiece of having it both ways. Presumably at the BRAVO National Bank, they respect the integrity of their depositors by looting their accounts but labeling the transaction on the monthly statement.

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       As I fill in my Nielsen diary, the nation continues to wrangle over a television rating system. Of particular concern is sex on television. My question: Where? What channel? It's not on the shows I watch. And with the exception of pay-per-view, there's not much of it on any show at all. I don't see why not. People like that sort of thing. Can't the FCC do something about this?