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TV or not TV, that is the question

We were a Nielsen family last week. We received little diaries to fill out, marking when and what we watched on TV for a week. If we recorded a show and watched it later, we wrote that down, too.

The first thought that runs through your head when you start filling out the diary is to give the shows you love a boost, even if you went to a movie that night or to a friend’s house. Should I write down what I would have watched? Then I realized, no, it’s my favorite show’s job to keep me from going to the movies when it’s on. Or at least get me to record it. So we were very scrupulous with our diaries.

It turns out that other than the nightly news, we don’t really watch much TV at all. Sue watches a lot of football and I watch stuff I’ve recorded on Sunday night.

There was space at the back of the diary where we could write notes about our viewing habits or comments about television in general. They even said we could use extra sheets of paper if we liked. So I told them this:

Most of what is on television is not just bad – it is toxic. Remember the Miley Cyrus blowup a few months ago on the MTV awards show? The one that did exactly what a publicity stunt is supposed to do – get her tons of free publicity?

Why is it that TV can get away with things print can’t?

Because money. It is all about advertising money. But let me ask you, are you really going to decide what kind of beer to drink because one company’s ads have cute horses and another one’s ads don’t? Do you think there’s a man alive who hasn’t heard of Viagra or Cialis?

But if advertisers want to throw their money away, TV is happy to let them.

It turns out a lot of us barely watch television on TV. We watch Netflix movies on our computers; we watch 3-minute clips of the late-night shows when our friends post the links on Facebook. When we do actually sit in front of the set, we do it alone, watching something we recorded a month ago. Sitting in the living room watching one show that’s “fun for the whole family” is an idea that went out with floppy discs and mix tapes.

Maybe cable TV companies haven’t noticed what the Internet did to the record, book and newspaper businesses the past few years. But they will; after it’s way too late to save themselves.

• Contact Jim Mullen at

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