“If you want to use television to teach somebody, you must first teach them how to use television”*…
One day in the mid-1970s, my mother received an offer she couldn’t refuse. She’d been contacted at random by a now-defunct television rating service (not Nielsen, which still records the nation’s tastes): Would our household like to participate in a socially important project?
Justice and fairness were my mother’s favorite concepts; freebies, her ultimate weakness. That meant yes, we did want to participate. The rating service promised that our viewing habits would help shape the national television landscape. Presuming our superiority was a habit my mother had long indulged, and she believed we could lead the way for the nation—by providing an example of responsible viewership and even saving some underdog programs with our attention. Having married an underdog, and being in the process of mothering several, she decided that covert boosterism of one show or another within our general viewing patterns would provide moral satisfaction and a sound contribution.
But her motives were not entirely noble…
You’ll laugh; you’ll cry… but mostly you’ll laugh: How to be the top-rated television-viewing family in America– “Our Imaginary Brother Only Watches PBS.”
* Umberto Eco
As we game the ratings, we might recall that it was on this date in 1954 that The Miss America Pageant was televised for the first time. The winner, Lee Meriwether, went, immediately after passing on her tiara, to The Today Show (as a “Today Girl”). She subsequently appeared on TV series ranging from Leave It To Beaver and Dr. Kildare to The Fugitive and Barnaby Jones. She also appeared in a number of films, probably most notably as the replacement for Julie Newmar as “Catwoman” in the 1966 Batman movie spun off of the successful TV series of the time.