Doing my part to save American television

Pssst. Can you keep a secret? Because I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to divulge this. But I have been asked by the Nielsen people to keep track of my television viewing for a week.

Yes. Those Nielsen people.

They sent along a nifty packet with official TV diaries in which I am to jot down every single show that appears on either of my two televisions over the next week for their research survey. And they sent me a whole dollar for my time.

I'm keeping the buck. So that means I'm now one of the highly paid professional TV watchers whose viewing habits will eventually determine which shows live and which ones die in this great nation of ours.

This is a heady responsibility. All my life I have held the Nielsen watchers responsible for the demise of some of my favorite shows. And for the preponderance of TV garbage that can't be killed with a wooden stake.

The folks at Nielsen have stressed it is most important that I do not change my viewing habits at all during the survey. Total honesty is their main requirement, they said.

Nothing to fear from me in the further dumbing down of America, I thought. I regularly watch several PBS shows such as "News Hour," "Oregon Art Beat," "Antiques Roadshow," "As Time Goes By." I recently saw a wonderful special with James Taylor and Carole King. Hamlet is up today on "Great Performances at the Met."

My television is also frequently tuned to C-Span, BRAVO, A&E, National Geographic, HGTV and Fine Living channels. I've even been known to watch local city council meetings on RVTV.

Old movies are also a favorite. So is Cary Grant. "To Catch a Thief" is recorded and ready for viewing.

I've spent too much time in hospitals with loved ones to enjoy the ER-type shows. And I get enough real-life drama at work to watch much gore and mayhem. So in the evening I wind down by watching shows that don't freak me out such as "Glee," "The Good Wife" and "Castle."

Late night is often a mixed bag of talk shows and reruns of deceased sitcoms.

Weekends are for cooking, and my beloved food channels are often on the tube. New favorites include "Diary of a Foodie." "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" makes me drool. I adore Nigella Lawson. She's wickedly sensual, delightful to listen to, and she loves to eat bad things in bed. God bless Ellie Krieger for making healthy food taste good.

But like every chubby gal keeping a food diary soon discovers, there is some serious junk consumption going on. Like the cookies and ice cream I consume for their comfort and coma-inducing properties when tired and stressed, so too do my eyes seek out mind-numbing TV shows.

I'm not talking about simple guilty-pleasure viewing. I may sneer at those who watch shows such as "Wipeout" and "Wife Swap." But I must admit I like "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance." And I'm not ashamed to say so. OK. I'm a little ashamed. But I like that I love to watch people dance. Good ones. Bad ones. It's fun. So long as they're not Kate Gosselin. (Sorry Kate. It was just too painful.)

Speaking of tragic and embarrassing moments, I'd rather offer the Nielsen people a peek at my undie drawer than confess my strange obsession with all things marathon — and how it has led me down a dangerous path to truly horrific TV viewing.

I'd like to blame my beau, The Englishman, and his abhorrence for all things remotely Oprah-esque. (This would include anything currently showing on Lifetime. Or appearing on the upcoming OWN.) Too much estrogen gets TE's eyes rolling. And his feet beating for the remote.

He prefers shows with a lot of war footage and guns. Or cars, motors and gadgets. His "manly" shows have a similar effect on me.

However, TE has managed to find a few shows on the History and Discovery channels for which I have developed a certain fondness. He loves "Pawn Stars" and "Pickers." I'm OK with them. We've both cooled on "Ice Road Truckers" but still enjoy watching Mike Rowe perform a dirty job from time to time.

Meanwhile, I somehow got hooked on "Deadliest Catch." Two summers ago they ran a weekend-long crustacean-catching marathon. Trapped on my couch, the episodes rolled like waves in the Bering Sea. Before I could stop myself, I'd crawled into the crab pot. The captains and crews crawled into my heart. And I cried my eyes out over this season's passing of the hard-living and soft-hearted Captain Phil Harris.

But that's not all I'm crying about this week. At some point this year, I slipped my moorings completely and started watching "Housewives." First there were the crazy New Jersey women and their table-flipping, weave-pulling antics. Then the New Yorkers self-destructed on an island retreat. Next thing I know, Bethenny is getting married?

I know. I know. I know.

I am so very sorry.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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