I’m Lea Wait, and, in some respects, I’m invisible.
I’ve lived in four states, but have never been called for jury duty.
I certainly have opinions … but no Gallup or CNN Opinion or Quinnipiac or Pew Research folks have ever called to ask me what they are.
But now all that’s changed. A few days after Christmas I got THE CALL. Or, anyway, ONE of the calls. I’d always wondered where those TV ratings people got their information. Now I know. The Nielsen’s wanted ME!
Of course, I agreed. They told me a packet of information, including one “response booklet” for each television in my house, would be arriving Thursday. Thursday arrived. No booklet. The next Thursday. No booklet. I’d almost forgotten I’d said our house could be surveyed when, about ten days ago, two booklets did arrive. (On a Wednesday.) Finally! My chance to let television networks know what I thought of their programming! My voice would be heard! My husband wasn’t as thrilled as I was, but he’s a patient man. He agreed to record information for the television in our living room. I’d cover the bedroom TV.
Of course, those Nielson people wanted to know about us. We were sent a booklet for each of our television sets. At the front of each booklet was a form to fill out. Our ages, sex, education level, address, location of our television sets. Then, for each day, there were pages listing every hour (in fifteen minute segments). We were to mark the channel and network and name of each show we watched, and indicate which of us had watched each program, or whether both of us had. If we had guests, there was space to add their ages and sex, too. There was space to add whether or not the TV was on during the viewing. (I never figured out that one.) And if for any reason you just left the TV on when no one was watching, there was a space for that, too. We’re not equipped to record programs, but, if your were, there was a way to note that.
The day after we received the booklets the Nielsen people called to clarify a few points (for example, any watching over 5 minutes counted) and to ask if we had any questions. I didn’t. Onward! The responsibility of a nation’s viewing was in my hands!
Now, just to be clear: my TV viewing is not 24/7. I tune in CNN for 30-60 minutes morning, noon and night, to keep up with the world outside of Edgecomb, Maine. Some days I check in with local news, too, usually to hear weather reports. My husband is addicted to the Celtics, and any-team-fielded by Notre Dame (his alma mater) and also watches football and golf and tennis when it’s on. As for non-sports, non-CNN viewing, there’s not that much. I have my “guilty pleasures” watching: Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal; Castle and the Mentalist; NCIS; Nashville, Bones. The Good Wife. (We’ll watch Downton Abby on Netflix.) I was prepared to cast “votes” for all my favorites.
But the week we were assigned was Super Bowl week. (We were able to write in our neighbors that night.) Most of the programs I usually watched were in hiatus. I ended up reading even more than usual. One night I watched an old movie on TCM. Some days the television in the bedroom never went on. I’d never paid attention before. But now, when the world was watching my viewing habits, I felt guilty. Why couldn’t I add to the ratings for my usual shows? Should I watch PBS every night, just to show I supported their programming? (I considered that. Briefly. Then I went back to reading.)
So, last week, we completed and sent in our two booklets with many blank pages, or straight lines showing sports had been on for 8 hours straight on Sunday. However it looked, we’d been honest. And, having made our contribution to mass culture, we have now sunk back into anonymity. But at least I can say: we did it once. We were asked, and we met the call.