Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It's November Sweeps Month-Here Comes The Trans Themed Programming

This is a guest post from the ever fabulous Monica of TransGriot

The Nielsen Company conducts the national samples that determine the fate of television and cable programs, who gets the advertising dollars, and the jobs of television executives and the actors and producers of that programming through their Nielsen Ratings that are composed of a cross-section of representative homes in the top 56 TV markets throughout the United States.

Nielsen uses two types of meters to capture how TV is used: set meters capture set-tuning only and report what channel is being tuned, while People Meters go a step further and gather information about who is watching in addition to what channel is being tuned.

Paper diaries are used in the remaining television markets to collect viewing information from Nielsen’s sample homes during what are called 'sweeps' rating periods.   Every year Nielsen processes approximately 2 million paper diaries from households across the country for the months of November, February, May and July.  During those sweeps periods seven-day diaries (or eight-day diaries in homes with DVRs) are mailed to homes to keep a tally of what is watched on each television set and by whom.

Over the course of a sweeps period, diaries are mailed to a new panel of homes each week and at the end of the month, all of the viewing data from the individual weeks is aggregated as the television and cable execs, actors, writers and producers of those shows nervously await the results.

If you've noticed, during sweeps month the networks and cable provides also roll out programming designed to get as many viewers tuning into their programming as possible.  

That means the most provocative and drama filled episodes of scripted shows get rolled out and documentary news shows like ABC's 20/20 or What Would You Do try to tackle controversial or other topics designed to get maximum viewereship and attention during that sweeps period.

Over the last few years, that means trans themed programming and with the November sweeps period getting started October 25 and running through November 21, we're about to see another mixed bag of good, bad and ugly trans related programming all in the name of boosting those TV and cable rating at our community's expense.
Whether it's tonight's ABC 20/20 special with Barbara Walters in which she revisits the trans kids she interviewed a few years ago in the 'My Secret Self' show to Iyanla Vanzandt's Fix My Life show on OWN that was aired October 27 involving a young trans man and his minister father who is resisting the transition, the undeniable fact is that people are fascinated by and hungry for information about trans people.
 
 
Unfortunately it's also a lesson the talk shows learned back in the late 80's -90's.  I have video scattered throughout my TransGriot archives of various talk shows from the late 80's to early 90's that respectfully discussed the topic of transsexuality.   Believe it or not even Jerry Springer did so until he decided to go tabloid in 1994 and ride outrageousness to ratings success.    


Maury Povich then joined in with his 'Man or Woman' shows that conveniently were broadcast during sweeps month to compete with the 'trans gone wild' stuff that Jerry was putting out there to the world.


Far too often the transpeople featured in the Springer and Povich transploitation shows were predominately transwomen and transmen of color who got a free trip to New York or Chicago and $500 to get their faces on national TV. 

However, they didn't consider as one of my homegirls unfortunately found out to her horror that it might have deleterious effects on their lives long after the camera stopped rolling and they spent that $500 check they received.

They also didn't consider that in their youthful rush to get their 15 minutes of fame, they made themselves and the whole trans community look stereotypically bad on national television.

So word to my trans younglings, especially trans younglings of color.  Just say no to transploitation.

But the messages I'm most desirous to get out there is that we transpeople are part of the diverse mosaic of human life, we deserve human rights coverage, to love and be loved for ourselves and the opportunity to live our lives to the best of our abilities.

Now that another sweeps period is upon us, let's hope that the messages from the shows that feature our images are the ones we want to send out to the world and are positive ones.