Q: Are We Not Sets? A: We Are Dee-Vee-Arr! - Pt. 1

The latest insipid issue of Entertainment Weekly (really, why do I subscribe again?) featured a two-page spread in its television section, miles apart from the insipidity to which I am referring elsewhere in the issue, of the TV ratings for the entire 07-08 season. I do not care about ratings in the least, and am weirdly proud that many of the shows which I do favor tend to up in the bottom third of the list each week. Sure, it might mean lower ad revenue, and therefore, a short life span for my favorite shows. But at least it will keep the things I love from turning into friggin' ER, having to steal a respirator from its own set to keep itself stumbling through year after ridiculously extended year, all on rubbery legs that should have been sheared off when Julianna Margulies and George Clooney left the show. (If not then, then at least when Anthony Edwards bowed out.)

I scanned the chart fleetingly, mainly to see where How I Met Your Mother ended up (64rd, one notch below the far less comically epic Big Bang Theory, and sadly tied with that obnoxious MacFarlane show) -- and then I would have been done with the list, but I decided to read the little bubbles on the side of the chart which pointed out the kind of facts that I find generally irrelevant. And for the show Gossip Girl, which I have never seen, I read this: "Though you may have heard that DVR viewers pump up The CW soap's ratings, the net's One Tree Hill BLAH BLAH BLAH infinity..." The closing of the fact isn't important here... remember, all ratings are estimates. They're like popularity polls for presidents. A thousand people do not a country make. And if those thousand people are in a single designated area or a single select type of person, they are even less so, because the cross-section is not broad enough to account for all of America.

For the record, I have been part of a Nielsen household three times in my life, and I lied like a motherfucker every single time. If there was something on I wanted to watch, but I was unable to actually see it or even record it (those lost VCR days, baby...), I still marked it down like I was home. Some shows I did watch, but was embarrassed to put it on record that I did, I left off. And, man, was I an ass about it. Somewhere, deep, deep, deep in the Nielsen records in a warehouse locked away forever, is a log where I wrote down the names of every single hardcore flick that appeared between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. each and every night on pay-per-view. And then I took some oil and smeared it on a couple of pages, and then I purposefully stuck about four pages together in the log to make it appear like I couldn't stop working my stick even while filling out a ratings guide. As I did this, I could just imagine the face of the underpaid Nielsen drone who started to knock this info into a computer, and then slowly realized that this log had been filled out by some major perv. I also then imagined that same automaton finishing work on the remainder of the book while clad in a haz-mat suit, tearing the pages apart with robotic pincers in a containment bubble, just so they could finish their damn ratings poll. (And this was only the second time I did a Nielsen book. They actually came back for more, which makes me wonder if they even looked at the second log...)

The chief thing the EW ratings chart did was stress to me how secure we are now in the age of the DVR. For the record, Jen and I are now severe DVR-aholics. We still have two VCRs, but I haven't recorded a single thing for about 18 months. At first, though, I was entirely skeptical about this development in home video. My pal Mattman was the first person I knew to purchase a TiVo, and he spent ages trying to convince me it was the wave of the future, and the way in which I needed to swerve. Of course, then I moved away from Alaska at just about the time I was seriously considering TiVo myself. Once it came time to get cable here in OrCo, after our initial traditional cable box bit the dust, thanks to the evolving ways of the cable industry, we found ourselves accidental tourists in the DVR age (I believe our combined reaction to the offer was "We can get that? Cool."), and we haven't looked back.

The case of Gossip Girl also pointed out to me the extent of our DVR use, and exactly how it has changed the way we view things. Once upon a VCR-heavy time, I would watch most of my favorite shows live, and only record things if I really wanted to keep them (Buffy episodes, pre-DVD release or obscure films) or if we were going to be out. Or if one of us would be out, and wanted to catch up with the show later. This was the case, too, with the DVR originally, but only because we were still mired in our VCR-dependent haze. Two weeks after we had a DVR, a new trend was becoming more and more apparent. We hardly ever watched shows anymore at the times at which they aired. The first reason was because series recording options made it even easier to record those things we love without ever having to think about them except for that first entry. The second reason was, given the opportunity to never have to deal with advertisements by zipping past them like the friggin' Flash, even being home in time for a show meant starting it a few minutes late to exercise that ad-blasting option. Add to this the means by which one could freeze programs at any point, or review or fast forward directly on the broadcast meant that listed start and end times only meant something for the literal recording of the show, not for the enjoyment of said program. Everything we once accepted about television has been upended.

And so should the ratings system. The networks are lame ducks anyway. Cable, the internet, satellite radio and a myriad of other entertainment options have seen fit, if not end the reign of the current Big 4 (and an upstart underclassman), to at least give them a swirly as a warning of the future atomic wedgie to come. Their once dependable and often giant audiences are gradually becoming more and more splintered, and the methods once used to determine their audience need to change with the times. The side column in the aforementioned EW ratings chart is possibly one way to start this, but its a small start. If Jen and I were affected so swiftly by the use of the DVR on our viewing habits -- in which a monstrous proportion of our regular viewing is no longer completed live anymore -- if our method was changed so dramatically in such a short turn, I cannot imagine that others -- a great many others -- also haven't been affected in a similar manner. And with cable companies increasingly making the DVR device the standard for their company, in much the same way that advertising is going to have to change to get around the fact of ever easier fast-forwarding, the ratings system will have no choice but to shift their chief focus on who is watching what. Because pretty soon, it seems that the audience actually watching shows at the time at which they are scheduled to begin is going to slowly dwindle down to a scant few. In my household, they are all but extinct.

So, what exactly am I recording on my DVR? [To be continued...]


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