Today’s mail is the usual: Silly threats from the IRS wanting money, ransom notes and … what’s this? It’s addressed to “TV Viewer.” It’s a letter from Nielsen, that snoopy firm that determines who watches what on TV and thus rules the industry. If you get good Nielsen ratings, you’re set for another season of “You Bet Your Folks.” Bad ratings and you’re as dead as the second coming of Murphy Brown.

The letter begins: “We sent a Nielsen Representative to visit you in person, but have been unable to reach you.” No, they haven’t. I stay home all the time for fear of another Comanche attack, and you can’t be too careful about Vikings.

The letter says they are interested in what I watch on TV, but: “We understand that door-to-door contact in your area is not possible…” We have no gate, guards or moat, so what are they talking about? Anyway, they want to send a representative to my house to tell me in person what it means to be a Nielsen rater.

My Momma didn’t raise no idiots, although she did always refer to me as “my slow one.” So this total stranger is supposed to show up at my doorstep, clipboard in hand, come in and ask: “Now where are your TV sets? And your silver, antiques and safe? Exactly when will you not be watching TV, like when you will be going on vacation?”

On the other hand, the letter does go on to say what a community leader I am, how my TV viewing habits are very important, etc. Come to think of it, letting Nielsen tap my TV might help improve the vast wasteland, because it is clear America’s TV viewers need help.

According to Nielsen, there were 119.6 million TV homes for the 2017–18 TV season. The number of people age 2 and older in TV households is estimated to be 304.5 million. CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” finished the 2017-18 TV season as the country’s most watched series with an average of 18.634 million viewers. NBC’s “NFL Sunday Night Football” was the season’s highest-rated series in the key 18-49 demographic. OK, I watch “Sunday Night Football” if my team is playing. But when I read a list of the most-watched TV shows of the week or season, not only did I not watch them, I never even heard of most of them. Always finishing in the most-viewed shows are “America’s Got Talent,” “The Bachelorette” and “Celebrity Family Feud.” Millions of Americans watch “WWE SmackDown!” It’s a wrestling show, for crying out loud.

My TV viewing habits are not so sophisticated and brainy that I only watch the BBC, the National Geographic Channel and test patterns. I love The Three Stooges, Roadrunner cartoons and it’s hard to beat a James Bond movie, although after No. 32, they all seem the same. (Bond is captured by the evil Doctor Drano, escapes with a bunch of girls in bikinis and everything ends in a huge explosion.)

On the week of April 16, CNN had its very lowest primetime weekly ratings overall and in the key age demographic. I watch CNN a lot, but apparently not enough. And I like “60 Minutes,” the only show that rates high, although the demographics show most viewers are over 90.

But many viewers now watch shows on DVDs, iPads, reflections in mirrors and on a cable strung from their neighbor’s house. What if you leave the TV on and run errands? Nielsen thinks you’re watching. The TV is on in a bar or airport terminal and no one is watching.

Turner Network president David Levy said, “We are in a new era of media, and it’s time to retire the Nielsen television metric.” We must suspect Turner’s shows didn’t get very good ratings.

Still, maybe I should sign up because what I watch reflects the viewing habits of millions of untapped Americans. Hereafter, so long, Fox News (an oxymoron if ever there was one). PBS is now the most-watched network on TV, especially Friday’s debate between Shields and Brooks. Football rules! “60 Minutes” is a must see! The 5:30 p.m. network news appeals to a selective audience — the elderly. Sponsors know only AARP members are their viewing audience, so the commercials are for back pain, heart attacks and nursing homes.

But according to my viewing, everyone watches the 5:30 news and, of course, The Three Stooges.

Lynn Ashby is a Houston-based columnist. Contact him at

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