Confessions of a 'Nielsen family' prodigal

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I have always considered myself one in a million. A clarification is in order.

This week, I learned I am one of 1.6 million -- Nielsen households, that is.

About a month ago I received a postcard announcing that my household had been chosen to be a "Nielsen Family" for a one-week survey. A few days later, as promised, Fatima in Florida called to see if I was willing to keep a diary from April 25 through today of all the televisions programs I watched and when.

I said sure, especially after she told me "a huge computer picked your name especially."

This was followed up by assurances that nobody would try to sell me anything, that all my personal information would be confidential and this was my opportunity to tell the TV industry about my viewing habits.

Then, things started to get a little heavy-handed, even threatening, you might say. I received my diary well in advance with a letter.

I quote: "When we called long distance a few days ago ... you, or someone in your home, agreed to fill in a Diary of your TV viewing . . . for just one week (bold letters).

Thank you (not bold letters).

You get the idea, all the important stuff was in bold. They sent me a dollar as "a token of our appreciation" for filling in your Diary.

The Nielsens suggested I may wish to use it to brighten the day of a child you know.

Fat chance. I earned it, I'm keeping it.

The letter continued with a few instructions on how easy it is to keep up with the diary. The idea was to enter the programs as I watched them. I am supposed to mail out the diary the day after my week ends which is Friday.

I received a second postcard.

"This card is just a reminder. Please start keeping your TV Diary on Thursday. Even if you view only a few programs, or none at all, we need your Diary."

I started out with the best of intentions. But it is now Wednesday, and I haven't entered anything in my diary since noon last Friday. I am resorting to the different colored ink trick so, hopefully, the Nielsen watchers won't realize I filled in the diary in one anxious hour.

Fortunately, I am a creature of habit and pretty much watch the same thing every day, but it is proving more difficult than I thought to reconstruct my week.

And, there was a slight accident. I left all my Nielsen info on the kitchen table and carelessly overwatered a plant. The diary swelled up like a fat lip and looks like a shipboard copy of "Moby Dick."

A few highlights from my TV week: On Sunday, my one-day boycott of the Catholic Church, I stayed home and watched "Jesus: The Complete Story" on the Discovery Channel. The best program I watched all week -- and nobody is paying me to say this -- has to be "Frontier House" on PBS, a three-part series about three families roughing it in Montana for five months.

I would like to state unequivocally that I never watched "Bachelor" or "Elimi-date."

This is spooky, as I write this Wednesday morning, I just received a telephone call from Gabriella, checking up on me. She wanted to be sure I received the diary, reminded me that my week ends today and I must mail the diary right back. Did I have any questions? Finally, "Thank you very much for your participation in this survey and we wish you to have a wonderful day."

Thanks, Gabriella. I didn't have the heart to tell you I am a big, fat liar. I could return the dollar, but, uh, I already used it to brighten the day of a child you know.

Wednesday's mail yields yet another postcard from Nielsen TV ratings president Susan Whiting who apparently has nothing better to do than send me reminders. I can't wait to see what today brings.

I am not afraid. Based on my experience with the Nielsen family, I expect to hear from The Osbournes.

Sheila Gardner is the night desk editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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