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Watching TV is a tough job, but someone's got to do it

July 21, 2008 |  1:29 pm

If your job entails staring at a computer all day -- writing code or filling out spreadsheets or maybe even writing blog postings -- you might envy Sarah Martin. Her job is to watch TV all day. She counts all the products featured in network television shows for Nielsen Product Placement Service. Martin and other coders are featured in a story in today’s paper about how firms count all the product placements in TV shows and movies.

Sarah Martin watches TV for NielsenBut Martin said the job isn’t always fun. Watching her favorite shows at work spoils them, she says, and she can’t watch TV anymore at home without counting the product placements. Another Nielsen coder, Lauren Goerig, watched so much TV at work she had to start wearing glasses.

It got me to thinking: the usual picture of the office drone is someone slumped in front of their computer, florescent lights a-twitchin’ above their heads. But how many office drones get paid to spend their days just watching TV?

A lot, it turns out, especially in Hollywood. Late-night shows often have staffers whose job it is to watch the news and find things for hosts to ridicule. Video editors have to watch clips again and again when they're doing their splicing and cutting. Staffers at online video sites sometimes have to watch clips that are flagged as inappropriate and figure out whether they should be taken down. The list goes on and on. Care to add more? You can do so below.

But the "dream job" of watching TV all day can turn nightmarish after awhile. Stephen Chao, the former head of Fox TV and USA Cable (not at the same time, of course) told me one of the reasons he left USA was that he just couldn't stand watching any more television for work. He often found himself watching four channels at the same time.

There is perhaps one upside to being paid to watch TV for work: You don't get in trouble when you're watching TV at work. Frank Nicotero hosts Yahoo's "Prime Time in No Time," an online TV show during which he recaps what happened the previous evening during popular programs. He's watched hundreds of shows so he can recap them later. He doesn't love watching some of the shows, particularly those targeted at tweens, but says his job comes in handy sometimes.

"I get paid to watch TV," he said, "which is always a good line to tell my girlfriend when she comes in and I’m watching TV."   

-- Alana Semuels

Semuels, a Times staff writer, covers marketing and the L.A. tech scene.

Photo: Sarah Martin, a coder at Nielsen's product placement facility in Shelton, Conn., watches TV and counts all the brands mentioned. Credit: Robert Caplin / For The Times

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