Rob Patterson

Neilsen Family Business

Some calls from businesses you are not currently doing business with are a drag -- in fact most of them are in my case. But when this nice man said the word "Neilsen" at the front end of his unsolicited phone spiel, my Kevlar vest defense against taking calls from boiler rooms -- especially those from Bangalore, and nothing against Indians there, as my local grocer will attest -- dropped. Yes sir, I would be glad to do the TV viewing diary.

I'd like to think I already have my influence on the world from what I write, but frankly, I know better. But the Neilsen survey was one small way of getting my perhaps quixotic TV habits on the record and into the demographic mixmaster. To me, it was like voting in the general election and a lot less risky too. Plus, I asked the fellow, you still get a buck for doing it, right? And when it arrived with the diaries, it was new, crisp, and clean as freshly fallen snow, straight from the US Mint. There's something about a clean dollar ...

Neilsen had called before and demurred from including me when they asked what I do for a living and I said journalist ... and an entertainment journalist to boot. This time, being a full disclosure sort, I volunteered my profession and they still wanted me. Good-o! I soon learned why they might shy away from journalists, and it isn't because of what we do. It's how we live, many of us. But I digress ...

Soon after the diaries arrived -- one for the living room, one for the bedroom, both on cable -- I was delighted to realize that I was being surveyed in the midst of the Tour de France, my new favorite sports event. Yes, France. The country that, in a very roundabout way, gave us Freedom Toast. France -- the very hub of the Axis of Won't Go Along With American Inanity.

And it's an event that is Continental, yes with a capital "C." And a little weird, and maybe even seemingly a wee bit fey with those tight riding shorts, though I will tell you in the most hetero terms possible that those riders are stunning athletes. If I can plug the Tour and Outdoor Life Network, I'm happy.

Plus I live in Austin, Texas, and it was also scoring one for the home team. You can't live in Austin and not be touched by Vive le Lance, our hometown boy. Usually that sort of local loyalty stuff shoves me in the other direction, off to the Misanthrope's Bar & Grill. But since I too actually ride my bike around in Austin, as Armstrong does, my support of the local favorite stems from a commonality, even if my Tour de Town Lake is a baby walk compared with even one stage of the true Tour.

My diaries also allowed me to plug HBO's Six Feet Under, a show everyone should be watching, IMHO. Like the channel's other innovative hit, The Sopranos, it redefines the notion of "family drama." Even if the Fisher family of Los Angeles is, like the Soprano families of New Jersey, to use the same term again, a little weird, they are us -- our American families in all their dysfunctional glory. Though both shows might get bizarre and surreal sometimes, they are still far more "reality TV" than the strange stuff that calls itself so. And both are so brilliantly written and acted that, at least in this household, they have become my families too. And that's when the media becomes quite powerful and compelling.

Otherwise, my viewing habits are somewhat particular to me, I imagine. Being a bachelor guy, I usually eat my dinner at my living room easy chair, food tray on the ottoman, watching reruns of Law & Order, both the original and SVU. Sometimes it's not the most appetizing fare. But again, it approximates reality in a fashion that I find compelling. And not just with the criminal, investigative and judicial elements, but also in how the police squads and district attorney's office become families.

So what Neilsen might read between the lines is that the TV is my connection to a sense of family. But first they have to get the diaries, which have sat here among the piles of information coming into and going out of this journalist's home. I keep thinking, okay, I have to finish filling them out and drop them in the mail. But I have other more pressing deadlines.

There's the "Post It" notes on the cover of the living room diary noting the two mornings that I watched the Tour as I worked at my desk. There's also the page in the diary where they want me to list all my channels, which feels excessive to me but I know should be done. That's a lot more work than a dollar, even a new one, can cover.

It's now two weeks after my last viewing day, and thanks to this column, I'll finish my annotations in the diaries and get them out before the end of the weekend. Yeah, I should have done so right away. But I assume the Neilsen folks must be savvy enough in the human behavior game to know that some of us are a little behind the curve, and surely they anticipate and still use the info from late respondents.

I hope so. Being a Neilsen viewer is, to me, like voting on election day -- participating in a larger polling as a member of the community. I wasn't proactive and concise about filling in all the details as my TV watching transpired. After all, I was watching TV, and relaxing if even also escaping from the tasks and duties of the day. But I pray my vote counts, and it was nice to be asked. Next time, however, can they send a secretary to do the paperwork for me please?

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

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