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You'll Pay For This, Nielsenman!

I never wanted to become network television's nemesis. I blame the Nielsen ratings, the people who provide them, and whomever decided the 1999-2000 ratings should come out immediately after the networks had debuted their fall lineup. They drove me to it, inculcated within my unbalanced brain the fervid desire to dish out sweet, cold revenge.

It goes without saying all of them are fools. Fools, I say! The Nielsens should have been measured and tallied after the networks announced their forthcoming shows, thus permitting me to coordinate boycotts in protest of boneheaded scheduling decisions.

I'm dreaming -- nay, hallucinating wildly, as is the wont of all nemeses. The networks don't give a hoot what I think, which is why I need to invent a death ray as leverage. Don't think the networks are the only targets of my wrath; I'm after their viewers too. Judging by the numbers, the average viewer loves Judging Amy and Providence; I can't sit through five minutes of either without running to get the scissors, then debating whether they'd be put to better use on the heroines' hairdos or plunged into my own eyeballs. A well-aimed death ray would prevent me from having such a debate. After I get the death ray up and running, the only debate I'll have is deciding who gets fried first.

Unfortunately, I don't even have a working prototype, which reduces my effectiveness as the network nemesis. And until I can scrape together the legions of smartly-uniformed lackeys and a mad scientist or two, I'm still stuck in Phase I of nemesishood, which seems to be the phase in which I accumulate the necessary data to justify my raging hatred. Fortunately, the networks have made that easy for me by cancelling every show I liked.

I loved Now and Again. It had a novel premise, fantastic chemistry between the lead actors and great writing. Glenn Gordon Caron had put together a great television show, something poised to fill the X-File's spooky-government-meets-unrequited-love-story shoes.

Unfortunately, instead of seeing the chance to nurture a cult audience, then break out in another season or two, CBS decided to refocus their schedule on the senile.

I loved Action. Jay Mohr's vaguely reptilian persona dovetailed nicely with the banal and demoralizing business of producing entertainment. I also liked Harsh Realm because it created a great yarn and gave viewers the chance to start thinking about how we create our own worlds. Both of these Fox shows pushed the envelope.

Of course, "pushing the envelope" might as well be synonymous with "please, cancel me." How else can one explain why soggy, self-absorbed yuppie drama Once and Again got renewed while poignant and realistic Freaks and Geeks got the shaft before, during, and after cancellation? Or how can you justify living in a world where the wretched Daddio is permitted to draw breath while the one half-hour comedy to give its viewers credit for having half a brain, SportsNight, got taken out back and shot?

I could get tiresome and start reciting all the great shows that got off to shaky ratings starts and then became the pillar around which networks built first-place schedules. That's a waste of time: neither network executives nor Average Viewers comprehend arguments that appeal to delayed gratification or the principle of rewarding a show for its persistent excellence.

So I'm just going to take my scissors and my remote control and go retreat to my secret volcano lair (you get one when you become a nemesis). I'm going to go work on my death ray, with the greater goal of using it to scare up the necessary billions I'll need to start my own television network. Lord knows until I do that, the forces of Nielsen and the average viewer will be working against me, foiling me in my attempt to watch novel network television shows. Curse you all!


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