In the most recent episode of Family Guy titled “Ratings Guy”, the Griffin family is chosen to be a Nielsen family – they are given a Nielsen box which will monitor their viewership, and it will be used to generalize program ratings and determine what shows to put on TV. Soon Peter discovers the power he holds as a Nielsen family when the local news-anchor is willing to do silly things to get Peter to watch Channel 5 news. He then steals hundreds of Nielsen boxes to hold the power to affect national broadcasting television. He obsesses over how his ratings can affect the industry- commentary that reflects upon the TV medium itself. This episode makes fun of how the networks are slaves to mass ratings, and they care about making profitable shows over quality television. Peter convinces Mad Men to include a lightsaber battle scene, and to somehow put Breaking Bad on roller skates, all because the network wants higher ratings. In the Spiegel article, it says how “NBC continually tried to channel the movements of the audience. Not merely content to fit its programming into the viewer’s rhythms of reception, the network aggressively sought to change those rhythms by making the activity of television viewing into a new daily habit (82). This is interesting because Spiegel makes it sound like the networks are controlling the viewer habits, but in this episode, Peter (representative of audience) is pulling the strings on the programming content and making fools out of the networks. At the same time, when the TV shows have become too ridiculous (in fact, a character references Mashall McLuhan and calls it a “vast wasteland”), the whole town, who is dependent on its regular programs, is in an uproar, so in that sense television does control them, and the television greatly affects daily life. This just brings up the question- who truly controls what is shown on TV?
Brian then blames the networks because they “pander to the lowest common denominator” and for profit, instead of having standards. He suggest to Peter to use the Nielsen boxes to put a positive influence on ratings by watching quality programming such as PBS. This reminds me of how Minows wanted to use broadcasting for the public interest through educational and quality programming.
However, when Peter gets the chance to fix television at the studio, he ends up perpetuating the same “wasteland” type programs- such as reality shows, office comedies, Law & Order clones and talent shows. It makes one wonder what kind of influence would be able to actually change what is on TV? Or if the everyday American, given a chance, would change the programs we have already been accustomed to watching as a culture.