My Uncle Ben once told me, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and now I finally understand what he meant.
With the power of my universal remote control, I will be able to determine not just what television programs I can watch, but which programs all of you can watch.
This week I was contacted by the fine folks of the Nielsen Company and asked if my family would be one of their families. For one full week, everything I watch on television will be logged and used to determine the fabled Nielsen TV ratings.
These ratings, of course, will determine which shows will be canceled, which will be renewed, and which networks will get millions in advertising dollars.
Great power ...
Of course there is an extensive screening process to being randomly selected by Nielsen. You have to have a valid U.S. address. You have to own a television. You absolutely cannot own or operate a broadcasting corporation of any type. The grueling two-minute phone interview seemed like the Spanish Inquisition.
At least agreeing to help the Nielsens is not a nonprofit enterprise. Upon my acceptance, I would be sent five crisp, American dollar bills.
I had always imagined that when the Nielsens select a ratings family, they send a squad of technicians into the home and attach some kind of magical black box to all of the family’s televisions; a box that will automatically record every click of the remote, every second of viewing.
Unfortunately, that technology is apparently saved for families in the nation’s 25 largest markets, and Plattsburgh falls just shy.
The rest of us merely get journals in which we are to write everything that we watch over the course of seven days. Granted, it’s a barbaric form of measurement — if we can operate a television, we can probably operate, say, a cellphone app — but we are still a Nielsen family, and our votes will be counted just like those from the magic black box families.
It is indeed a great responsibility, and I’m already feeling quite a bit of pressure.
Networks haven’t made all their decisions yet on which series will return next fall and which will get the ax, putting poor, hard-working actors in the bread line and leaving dedicated fans heartbroken. I could be the ratings point that makes the difference in either direction.
Theoretically, I’m just supposed to watch whatever I would normally watch and pretend the journal doesn’t exist. But how is that possible?
I’m hooked on “The Good Wife,” but that series has already been renewed. Wouldn’t it be irresponsible of me to watch that, when I could watch something else that’s fate has not been decided? If I want “The Neighbors” to live, this is the week I have to watch it. If I want “Super Fun Night” to go on just a little longer, I have to save it myself.
Could I look myself in the mirror knowing that viewing a three-day “Hart of Dixie” marathon could have saved the show, but I watched baseball instead? Baseball isn’t going to be canceled.
People, both on screen and off, put a tremendous amount of work into almost every show on TV (they’re just winging it on “The View”). The very least they can expect is for me to give it my best, and help as many of them as possible. For this week, shouldn’t I watch TV every minute of every day?
I’m also, to be honest, far too concerned about what other people will think of me if they know what kind of trash I really watch on television. This is supposed to be private, between me and Nielsen, but how do I know they won’t leak the info? How do I know the mailman won’t open the envelope and peak at my journals?
Will I be judged because I watch Judge Judy every day? Will anyone believe that I “forgot to turn off the TV” when that infomercial was on?
Even if it’s just a lone techno geek in the Nielsen home office, I want him to think well of me, so I’m tempted to watch nothing but news and science shows. PBS and documentaries. Fill out a log that someone will point to and say, “What an intelligent and cultured man.”
I suppose I could lie, filling out the journals with what I think I should have watched, but that would be dishonest, and there’s the matter of the $5 to consider.
I will try to use my power wisely, but please don’t call me when “Growing Up Fisher” gets canceled.
Email Steve Ouellette:email@example.com