Much of the ratings system still consists of the completion by viewers of ratings diaries, in which a viewer records his or her viewing habits, generally for a week, in exchange for being advanced a nominal fee. These diaries play an especially important role during the four annual sweeps periods conducted in February, May, July and November in an attempt to measure smaller local market audiences in markets that are not covered by People Meter samples already.
The term "sweep" refers to how the diaries were handled by Nielsen Media when the ratings were first produced: They are mailed to the households and processed by starting on the East Coast and "sweeping" across the nation.
You can tell it's Sweeps month, because the promos for local news border on ridiculous. Thursday night, CBS3 told us that they were going to "let us in on the Thanksgiving sales before the flyers came out". Let me set my TIVO. Last night, the big story was "Things that men in your workplace don't want women to know." OK, so watch it and let me know what it is.
Over on my thinking spot, post-makeup kara is wondering why mainstream media is the way it is. Well, kara, I suppose it is nothing more than a number. They are what their ratings say they are, and if it takes stories on Thanksgiving sales or exposing workplace nonsense, then that's what they will do. Of course, these are on the local level, where the evening news is led by a house fire or car accident and followed by a few network tie-ins where we find out that Doogie is gay.
On the national level, I wonder myself how anchors get crowned with such fanfare. They are all compared to the sainted Walter Cronkite, who, absent of his rich vocal tone, is just another guy with a chair and a viewpoint. Now, he is looked at as some sort of historian, merely because he lived through the space program and VietNam. We're all historians if we live long enough.
Meanwhile, catch one of them if their TelePrompTer dies, or the satellite link goes haywire. Their underpants bunch up and they start stammering like Mel Tillis. You have to be a historian to know who Mel Tillis is. I suspect that they get the job because they look good on camera and are likely not to bitch and complain when the network tells them what to say. Why else would they all start talking extemporaneously once they no longer have the job?
My answer to kara would be for her not to get so worked up over the nightly news, and live with what it is. Americans really are interested in the big Thanksgiving sales and what men don't want women to know. Television blows the lid off sex in the workplace 4 times a year, and we gobble it up like cranberry sauce. As I've said before, we're a fat, bloated country of convenience, and if we wanted to know things, then Newsweek wouldn't have to change its cover for us. Perhaps they know us better than we know ourselves?
The biggest news story of the last year was Katie Couric taking over the CBS Evening News. That was a great example of our in-bred news media having sex with itself. They made a national story out of their own broadcast. Bravo. Why should it matter who is reading? It wouldn't matter if content was the key concern, but it isn't. It's a television show - no more and no less. Just like CSI: Miami or The Tonight Show. The only difference is the type of entertainment.
To make matters worse, it's Sweeps month, and the show has just started. Check your local listings for time and channel.