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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Tuning out
How I learned to stop loving the TV and start loving my wife

Television executives are staring into the bird cage and trying to figure out why the canary is dead. From the top to the bottom of the TV mines, execs are babbling at each other, "Did you feed the bird? Something is wrong with the bird, man. Look. For the love of Seinfeld, the bird isn't breathing, man."

Something is killing the 18-34 male demographic.

Nielsen Media Research--the company that gets paid to know these kinds of things--is reporting a steep decline in young male viewership this fall season. The ratings company is getting kicked in the teeth in what is becoming an almost laughable game of Kill the Messenger. The TV execs and advertising types are trying to find any explanation they can, from blaming the ratings company to blaming the viewers themselves.

Mr. Adgate of Horizon Media said he found some of the report's explanations satisfactory. One is the issue of the younger men who still live with or have moved back in with their parents, a group called dependent young adults.

Mr. Adgate said he also found interesting a suggestion that "some of the new technologies have hit critical mass" among younger men, drawing them to DVD's, video games and the Internet and away from TV.

"The median age for a video game player is 29," he added. "It's not an acne-faced teenager in his bedroom."

Ah. That does make sense. Young males are too unmotivated to get real jobs. They are slackers who play video games and watch porn instead of a cerebral activity like...yes, that's it...watching TV.

Try this: People in the 18-34 age group--men and women alike--don't have time to watch whatever you put on TV. Old people will watch what's on because they aren't going to get off the couch anyway. Kids will watch because they don't have jobs to do or beer to drink. Those demos are going to be fine.

So, why aren't the women leaving the TV viewership in droves: Programming. TV execs program for old people, kids, and, now, young women.

My wife, as much as she might not like to admit it, loves the shows where young people have a shot at becoming stars. Other young women, so bored with their regular lives and beer-swilling boyfriends, love living vicariously through other people who are living manufactured exotic lives on islands or locked in homes with six or seven bemuscled men.

And then there is the exploitation of homosexuality. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, etc. Women love gay men because they aren't a threat. The gay men shown on TV are flamboyant cartoons. Your average white guy can't watch the stuff. If he does, he might be gay, right? That's not the case, obviously. But find me a guy who admits he likes the show, and I'll show you a man who is secure is his sexuality. How many of those guys do you know?

So...American Idol, Queer Eye, Survivor, Big Brother, Real World, yadayadayada.

Young men don't watch the stuff and if they do, they are embarassed about it and aren't about to write it in a ratings diary.

Me...I'll admit I miss the days of Seinfeld, et al. Recently, though, I've seen a lot of good shows not make the grade in the new TV executive world. Sportsnight and Boomtown were both good shows that could appeal to all demos, including young men. Apparently there's just not enough room on the fall schedule for smart programming.

The point is this: I've cut out about 80% of my television viewing. I still watch some news shows and staples. But frankly, I have better things to do. Going to bed with the wife happens to be one of them. Even if it is 8pm.

We young men are the canary in the mine. We're the first to die off. Better find that gas leak or everyone will be gone before you know it.


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