I am a Nielsen Family!

Family watching televisionI have two phone numbers. I suppose most of us do, now. I almost never answer the land line, and never expect to have anything but fun when I do answer it. Everyone who knows how to reach me calls my cell phone.

Well, last week the land line started ringing at the same time every evening. I thought, “That’s one persistent telemarketer”. It got to the point where as soon as the phone rang I would pick up the receiver and hang up immediately. That’s rude, I know, but who calls you at 8:00 PM every night? I have no interest in buying whatever they are selling.

So, the calls persisted into this week. Monday evening I finally gave up and answered the phone. “Hello?”

“Hi, I’m so-and-so with Nielsen Marketing. We’ve been trying to reach you –”

Well, I apologized right away. Nielsen Marketing! Hey, these are the guys who make and break television shows. Nielsen Marketing! They get mentioned in every news article about television brand and schedule decision-making.

Nielsen Marketing! I hate these guys.

Do you have any idea of how many great shows died because Nielsen Marketing said too few people were watching them? Star Trek, the original series, Mel Brooks’ When Things Were Rotten,Lance Link: Secret C.H.I.M.P.Simba: The White LionSkippy,Gilligan’s IslandThe Queen of Swords — the list goes on.

This company traumatized not only my childhood but also my adolescence and my adulthood. I almost never watch television any more because it just doesn’t pay to become emotionally invested in quality television entertainment (that’s a bit of an oxymoron anyway). In the age of Jerry Springer, Oprah, Who Wants To Be A MillionaireAmerican Idol, and Pimp My Ride(well, that’s actually a cool show) there is just no point to sitting in front of a television set any more. I almost only watch TV when I have to get my oil changed.

And it’s all thanks to Nielsen Marketing, the people who select those infamous “Nielsen families” who never watch any decent shows. I mean, come on, who cares about Kelly Ripa or some overfed cook who doesn’t know how to prepare a hamburger? I don’t like Nielsen families. I imagine them to be the bluebloods of American viewing audiences: inbred, snobbish, and incapable of making an intelligent choice between Friends and Stargate: Atlantis (“How you doin’?”).

I always wondered where Nielsen got these families. They were supposedly scientifically chosen, randomly selected, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, right. They never came calling on my family. We watched television all day long. Heck, my mother couldn’t sleep unless she left the television set going all night (drove me nuts and out of the house before I was 18). We could easily have filled twice as many diaries as any Nielsen family. At one point, every member of the family had their own personal television set. If I wanted to spend an afternoon watching Gilligan’s IslandThe Beverly Hillbillies, and The Rockford Files, it was no problem. My sister liked Baretta and Starsky and Hutch. Somewhere along the way, I even learned a little about Luke and Laura.

So, here I am, years later, minding my own business, living my own life. I’ve gotten past the “Who are these Nielsen families?” stage. I figured they get into the program and stay on it for life. Nielsen probably has a secret vault somewhere with dossiers stuffed beyond limits with television viewing habit data for their select group of living room rats. Well, they won’t know anything about my favorite programs.

All of these deeply etched facts blazed through my mind as I finally realized I had the third most evil organization in American history (after Microsoft and Google) on the telephone.

“We select families on a weekly basis to participate in our research program,” the voice on the other end of the line said.

Weekly? Did you say weekly basis? There had to be a catch. Maybe he was just prequalifying me to see if I could undergo the secret tests and rituals to earn admission to the inner core, the long-term program. He knew I’d always wanted to be a Nielsen family.

“You know,” I said coolly, “I did this for Arbitron.”


“Arbitron? The radio rating service?”

“Oh, yeah. Several people have told me that.”

So he went on to explain how the program works. But I wasn’t listening. The phone dropped from my hand. Nielsen isn’t influenced by past experience with other media rating services. My hopes were dashed. My dreams were shattered. My revenge would be incomplete — but wait, I had one more card to play.

“You know, I only watch three programs: StargateStargate: Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica.”

“Would you consider yourself to be Hispanic, Mr. Gonzales?”

Yes, on top of everything else, he was calling the wrong number. Mr. Gonzales no longer had my telephone number, it was mine. And maybe he lives around the corner from me still, or maybe not. All I know, however, is that my one chance to teach all those “Nielsen families” a lesson was slipping through my fingers. So, thinking quickly, I said, “Yes, but my name is Martinez”.

Well, to make a long story short, I signed up. I get the diary. I’ll be recording my three shows during a sweeps week. I’ll be important. I’ve made it. I’m somebody now. I’m a Nielsen family.

So hate me. Hate me deeply. You know I’ll hurt you for the rest of your television viewing life.


I should not admit this, but someone stole the diary from me. I was never able to send it in.

Arbitron sent me a diary a couple of weeks ago, and I filled it out and sent it in. But I’m still a little upset over not being able to express my views within the Nielsen system.

Sometimes, life is just so unrighteous.