One day, when I came home from work, a kind, plump older woman stood outside my door talking to my roommate.
“Hi!” she said when I got close. “I’m from the Nielsen ratings, and your home was chosen to represent your age demographic in your state if you’d like to participate.”
I told her I wasn’t interested. She mentioned that I’d get over a hundred dollars, so I signed up.
For the uninitiated, the Nielsen ratings are how most American shows figure out who in the hell is watching them. They’re the breath of life and the death sentence for everything you’ve ever watched, and they’re supposed to be deadly accurate.
Uh, not so much.
You see, there’s a small box that sits on your television and logs what you’re watching. You press a button to log in every time you want to watch TV. If you don’t, the system goes nuts. You also have the option of creating a temporary “account” for a visitor–say your 83 year old grandma stops in and wants to watch Spike TV for a few hours, you just select her age and gender and she’s logged in for a while.
Since becoming part of the system, I’ve had a lot of visitors. Well, not really. But according to the box, I must have an oddly high number of fourty three to seventy eight year old people stopping by my house on a regular basis. I’ve even named some of them.
It doesn’t stop there. I log my room mate in and watch as many children shows and documentaries on serial killers as I can find in the hopes that someday they’ll stop by the house with riot gear when he’s sitting down in front of the tube with a snack. When logged into my own account, I’ve been watching the worst shows I can find, just to see how long my very important rating (I’m one of two in my age group in my state) can keep a crappy show on the air (yeah, that’s right, I’m responsible for The Bachelor).
You know how sometimes when you look at the ratings, you can’t believe how that crappy show is doing so much better than the new Andy Richter sitcom or HBO Drama? That’s me. I’m ruining television, America. Frankly because I can.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not sabotaging the Nielsens because I dislike television. I love television. Before the box was installed, I watched about two or three hours a day. Ever since I’ve known that somebody was watching me, though, something kicked on that makes me want to expose the oddly flawed Nielsen system.
So, the next time you’re sitting down and you can’t find anything on, know that I’m out there, confusing things, changing the way that television is made.
I’ve got to go now, The Simpsons are on and I’m trying to get them canceled.