TV Living Up To Reputation As A Vast Wasteland

First Posted: 8/14/2009

I was reminded the other day of a speech given many years ago regarding the quality of television, although I must apologize for using the words quality and television in the same sentence here.
My memory was aroused while interviewing Mount Airy Commissioner Dean Brown about a project in which Dean is transcribing old records at City Hall to preserve the interesting local history contained in them.
When asking Dean about his motivations for tackling such an ambitious, and difficult, task, one of the things he said was that it offered a wholesome way to his spend free time as opposed to other possibilities such as watching TV. Televisions not any good, Dean explained.
While Deans comment was short and to the point, I would like to expand on his analysis about the state of TV nowadays by adding the words pitiful, atrocious, horrible, intelligence-insulting and outright garbage. There are plenty more terms I could use, but space and time do not permit their listing today.
And the really sad thing is, television appears to be only getting worse as time passes.
Even if a person has cable or satellite service, as opposed to the handful of stations one can pick up around here strictly with an antenna, it means theres just more outlets for garbage to be fed into our homes.
For example, I subscribe to the expanded basic package offered by the local cable television system, which includes about 70 channels. I suppose if a guy awoke from a coma after being there since the 1950s, when only about three networks existed nationwide, he would think 70 channels was really great.
But when you look at whats there, its definitely one of those quantity vs. quality situations, and the once-comatose guy probably would want to return to that state after examining the commercial-laced fare available these days.
Among those 70 channels are about four shopping networks (which I have no use for and thoroughly despise for getting people addicted), two Spanish-speaking networks (which I cant understand, despite two semesters of that language), several channels that appeal strictly to women and others geared toward children.
Then there are two or three religious stations (which I probably should watch, but dont, although I do like to hear the Rev. Charles Stanley from Atlanta and recorded sermons by the late Bishop Fulton Sheen, which those networks broadcast).
In addition, there are several so-called news channels, which stress entertainment and sensationalism more than the news, and really have a field day when events such as the Michael Jackson death occur. C-SPAN offers the only news programming on TV thats decent, in my view.
Even a so-called movie channel in the cable package is dominated by commercials and tends to show the same John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies 8,000 times per month.
So when you look at whats left, not much is there the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, Animal Planet, public television, and thats about it, in my opinion. I dont want to say that TV is ALL bad, but people really have to be diligent to find the small percentage of quality programming that is available, especially if they have children.
At least the cable company should allow each subscriber the choice of tailoring a package for themselves, and if only 25 channels result, at least it would be ones consumers actually want and not the cheap filler crammed down our throats.
Problems with TV were evident even in 1961, capturing the attention of the man who chaired the Federal Communications Commission at that time, Newton Minow. He uttered these words in a speech: When television is good, nothing not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers is better, Minow said. But when television is bad, nothing is worse.
He added that if someone watched the tube for an entire day, I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. The then-FCC chairman also took a shot at the endless commercials many screaming, cajoling and offending.
Above all, what a person who watched TV for 24 hours would experience is boredom, Minow alleged. True, youll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.
Consider that Minows comments came in 1961, before the days of the dreaded infomercials that plague viewers today, and when there were many fine dramatic, Western and variety shows on the air.
I would suspect that the cheapness of television executives plays a role in the deplorable state of the medium today. Its almost as if theyre admitting that theres no way to compete with alternative entertainment forms such as DVDs (or transcribing old city records and watching paint dry), and simply fill time slots with whatever slop they can serve up inexpensively.
That explains why the quality programs of the past (which required paying professional actors, writers and directors) generally have been replaced by amateurish reality shows, in which groups of back-stabbers go to some island or live in a house together.
If there were no football games and other sports telecasts that provide a tiny degree of salvation, I probably would cancel my cable subscription altogether and say good riddance!
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected] or 719-1924.

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