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
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
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
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.
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 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.