Monday, November 05, 2012
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Our week as a Nielsen family

Luanne Rife

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From the RoundTable blog

One evening about a month or so ago, an unusual thing happened in our household. Our phone rang, and there was an honest-to-goodness person on the other end. Outside of mom, who thinks she's interrupting if she calls my cellphone, ordinarily only computers dial our landline: This is CVS pharmacy calling to say your prescription is ready. ... This is Dr. So-and-So reminding you of your appointment. ... This is Roanoke schools calling to. ...

Puzzled that a genuine woman, and a rather pleasant-sounding one at that, was on the other end, I agreed that yes, I did have a few moments to chat. She was from Nielsen and wanted to know how many TVs we have (four too many) and whether we would agree to keep a viewing diary for just a week.

As she went on describing how we'd need to track which shows we watched in 15-minute intervals, I glanced over to see my husband settle into The Chair, grab the remote and engage in his ritual of jumping from one baseball game to the next and back and squeezing in some other program during commercials. Oh, this ought to be fun to watch him write down everything he views. So I signed him up.

We were scheduled to begin Oct. 25. A few days before, four TV Viewing Diary booklets arrived by mail. Two of them we returned with the notation "No TV viewed." For one of the sets, that's probably true. For the other, in the teenager's room, I may be fudging a bit. At least once, I spotted a blue glow seeping under her door in the middle of the night. Since she was sound asleep, technically, the TV was not viewed.

For a third set, the diary notes that every morning, promptly at 6, it is turned on to WDBJ so we can learn that, once again, no calamity has occurred overnight in Roanoke, and for Leo to tell us, once again, the morning will be chilly but, by afternoon, things should warm up. It stays on for 15 minutes or until the dog and cat demand breakfast, whichever arrives first.

The fourth TV diary, then, could serve as the reference guide of our family's viewing habits for the week of Oct.25-31. That is what Nielsen wanted, but I'm not so sure that's what we recorded.

Our notations include programs one would expect: We watched a few football games, the World Series, several sitcoms and cop shows, and on a Saturday evening when Male and Female Head of Household were away, Teen and Guest watched three movies in a row: "Betrayed at 17," "Accused at 17" and "Stalked at 17" -- obviously, not a good night to be 17.

But even a Lifetime original movie marathon cannot eclipse the totality of viewing we devoted to one other type of programming that went undocumented: campaign commercials.

Nielsen, it seems, is interested in 15-minute increments of programming. Though some commercial breaks came precariously close, the format did not allow for entries noting that on every single channel at precisely the same time, we could watch little but candidates' truths, half-truths and outright lies. If only there had been a way to repackage it all as "Extreme Makeover: Candidate Edition." But then Nielsen would have wondered why we were stuck on one show for an entire week.

By our last evening, had we not agreed to watch TV that particular week, I think even Male Head of Household would have surrendered his remote. We considered calling "Ricky the Exterminator" to free us from the vermin.

Having survived, I am able to provide a perspective on our nation's future gleaned from watching an assortment of ads, from those produced with all the wholesomeness of "The Andy Griffith Show" to those with the raw, dirty power of "Extreme Fight Night." Three things will happen regardless of Tuesday's results:

One, the middle class will pay more taxes. I know this because all candidates said their opponent would raise taxes. But that's OK because, two, we will be drowning in jobs. All promise jobs for everyone! Plenty enough jobs to take two or three of them, and enough jobs left over that we might need to import workers to fill them.

And three is best of all. Come Wednesday, we will begin to live in an America governed by representatives who leave tantrums to toddlers in tiaras. I can hardly wait for the new season to start.

Rife is a member of The Roanoke Times editorial board.

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