They comprise less than 2 percent of the population. To them "J.R." means someone named after his father, and "Hill Street Blues" is what happens when your clutch gives out in San Francisco.

These are the people who choose not to own a television set.

Studies show that there is little difference between the way TV nonviewers and light viewers perceive the world, but a great difference between light and heavy viewers.

"I think the quality of TV has gone downhill considerably," says "light viewer" Roger Mudd, who refers to current programming as "the age of the nude soap opera." The NBC News anchorman "sharply limited" the viewing of his four children, now age 19 through 23, and if he had young children today would "get rid of it TV altogether."

Television, claims George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, has a "homogenizing effect."

People with light viewing habits, he says, "have diverse views on a wide variety of subjects . . . heavy viewers tend to agree on most subjects."

"We have basically reached two conclusions about television," says Steven Chaffee, director of Stanford University's Institute for Communication Research and one of seven consultants on last spring's Department of Health and Human Services groundbreaking report on "Television and Behavior":

"One, that there is a general learning effect that takes place that is not particularly intended, and two, that television is a commercial entity that doesn't exist to teach people something."

The report found three behavioral traits of heavy viewers (more than 35 hours of television weekly), summed up by Jerome L. Singer, Yale University psychology professor, also a consultant for the study:

"First, heavy viewing of violent programming leads to aggressive behavior. Secondly, heavy viewing leads to more negative views of the world and causes an increased level of fear . . . And thirdly, heavy viewing affects cognitive activities among children . . . like reading and physical activity."

Although girls tend to watch less TV than boys, both boys and girls generally peak around the third grade in their frequency of TV viewing and exposure to violent programs, according to a University of Illinois three-year study of 676 elementary-school children. Because this is an age that youngsters still "do not distinguish fantasy from reality very well," the effect of televised violence on behavior is likely to be strongest, says psychologist Leonard D. Eron, in this sensitive age group.

Several consultants on the HHS study contend that the increase in teen-age suicide is related to heavy television viewing among youths.

When Genaro Garcia, 13, of Oakley, Calif., committed suicide in January--after his parents took away his TV set--he wrote in his suicide note, "In my heart I will take my TV with me . . . I can't stand another day of school and especially another day without television."

"I think it's not useful for people to learn social interaction from television because it's basically geared toward advertising," says Singer. "That's the real intention of television in this country and all the programming presents a very unrealistic view of reality in order to sell products.

"That's fine, if someone really wants to have their opinions formed by a very select group of programmers in Hollywood."

Gene Mater, senior vice president for policy, CBS Broadcasting Group, says the HHS study "is all old stuff" and cites news and public affairs programs, especially "60 Minutes," as some of the best TV has to offer.

He is concerned, however, that more than 60 percent of the population receives most of their news from the networks.

"I don't think evening network news should serve as the primary source of news," he says, "people should be more open to other news sources such as newspapers and magazines.

"The evening news is basically a headline service . . . if you wrote out what is presented on the evening news you would get a maximum of half the front page of The Washington Post. That's obviously not sufficient."

Michael Gessel, 28, press secretary to Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio), gave up watching television when he was in college and hasn't found a need for it since. Gessel agrees with Mater's view of tube news.

"Television cannot possibly cover a story in the same depth that a newspaper can," he says. "People that get their news from TV think they know what's going on, but in fact they don't."

The latest Nielsen ratings show that on a weekly average adult men and children ages 2 to 11 watch 26 hours of TV, teens ages 12-17 watch 22 hours, women watch 32 hours, and those age 50 and older watch 35 hours a week.

Even rarer than adults who choose not to watch the tube are children who have grown up without a television set in the house.

Ellen Montague, 22, and a student at the University of Michigan, is very anti-TV and blames just about every social trend from video games to "desperate singles bars" as a result of television.

"By not watching TV it's brought me up to be more outgoing and creative. I really notice how different I am from my friends who watch TV when it comes to reading. I read a lot more than they do and my vocabulary is much bigger than theirs."

Ellen's brother, David, 20, also a student at the University of Michigan, shares her abhorrence of TV.

"I used to hate it when I'd go over to a friend's house and we'd sit down for dinner and they'd turn on the TV for the entire meal. It made it so boring--they were just idiots watching the idiot box."

Their parents, Harry, an architect, and Ruth, who works at the World Bank, owned a television set for one month in 1962. People who watch television, claims Harry Montague, tend to be "TV-dumb."

By the time most American children finish high school they have logged about 15,000 hours of TV and about 11,000 hours in the classroom. The average child (age 2 to 11) watches about 3 1/2 hours a day.

Melissa Klein, 11, the daughter of a Washington history professor and research assistant, is happy she's been raised without a television set even though people are apt to ask if her house lacks electricity.

"When I was younger my friends didn't talk about TV as much," she says. "Now people are wearing more shirts with TV characters on them and they talk about it more. That's fine with me if they want to wear a shirt with someone on it they don't even know."

Like most children who've grown up without the tube, Klein says she reads much more than her peers.

Washington lawyer Doug Huron, 36, says when he and his wife stopped watching television four years ago it was devastating to their daughter Amanda, then age 5.

"The first few Saturdays were like watching a drug-addicted child going through withdrawal. On the third Saturday she came into our bedroom with a bunch of books and said 'From now on I'm going to read on Saturday mornings.' "

A 1977 study conducted by the Detroit Free Press showed that children, as well as adults, who are suddenly cut off from television actually suffer symptoms similar to drug withdrawal. Interestingly enough, the newspaper could find only 27 out of 120 households willing to participate in the study by giving up--for $500--a month of television.

Anger over children's television programming prompted Peggy Charren, 54, of Newton, Mass., to form in 1968 the group Action for Children's Television (ACT). She is still president of the organization, now numbering 20,000 members, and is co-author of a new book exploring the hidden messages of television.

Charren's major gripe is the lack of good programs for children on the three commercial networks, a result, she claims, of the fact that because elementary-age children are not major consumers, advertisers don't see a market in children's programming.

"We were doing quite well until the new administration came into office," she says. "When we went to the head of the FCC through two Republican and one Democratic administration there was interest in our concerns. Now we are dealing with a market-oriented administration.

"This new administration says what's good for advertisers is good for programming. That's why," she says," 'Captain Kangaroo' was taken off the air."

Says Neil Postman, professor of media ecology at New York University and author of the book, The Disappearance of Childhood, which deals largely with television and children:

"The most important effect television has had on society is that it creates a situation in which childhood becomes unnecessary.

"The concept of childhood is one of the most humane inventions of the Renaissance. We developed a sensitivity to children. Television has changed all that."

"There's something intrinsically wrong about television that bothers me," says Washington law clerk Ken Woolcott, 24, who doesn't own a set. "It's that vision of the future of little bodies and big heads. I think television is the first step to that."