Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Vast Wasteland

In 1961, Newton Minow, who was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission at the time, delivered one of the most famous speeches on the state of television. The speech was entitled “Television and the Public Interest” and it included the famous verdict on the state of television at the time, that it could be “a vast wasteland.”

Here’s the entire section in which that pronouncement occurs:


When television is good, nothing -- not the theater, not the magazines or
newspapers -- nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally
unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder,
western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and
cartoons. And endlessly commercials -- many screaming, cajoling, and offending.
And most of all, boredom. True, you'll 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.

WOW! Can you imagine what Newton Minow would say were he to return to his day-long sit in front of a television. Perhaps he would be astounded at the sheer variety of all the offerings, through cable and satellite. But I seriously doubt that he would find more quality programming than what was available when he decried the state of television broadcasting.

What would he think?

In the 1960s television had shows such as—Playhouse 90 and Studio One. They had hard-hitting news shows such as CBS Reports. They had variety shows such as “The Fred Astaire Show,” and “The Bing Crosby Special.”


What didn’t they have? Well, they didn’t have the umpteenth iteration of the Survivor series. Instead of hard-hitting news shows, now we have Dateline NBC, wherein NBC entraps men who are seeking sex with underage girls (or sometimes boys). I find such shows down-right creepy. Please understand, I don’t condone the behavior of the men caught, but there is something so off-putting at how the show goes about its “catches.” We have truly informative (ahem, not) shows such as Wife Swap, which is not what you might think. And, we have all of these great show offerings on many many many more channels than you could ever watch.

There was a time when I thought of history as linear—that things progressed, and in general improved over time. Well, television show offerings help me to adopt a more realistic approach. History is not linear; it is circular, or even spiral, and the direction is downward.

12 comments:

Beverly said...

I have thought seriously about having my cable disconnected. With all the channels, there is hardly anything worthwhile watching. Right now I watch more sports than anything...Penn State and Tampa Bay Rays, and if the Rays don't win, they're going to be done soon.

But how about Penn State! Wasn't that victory sweet!

Jayne said...

It is pretty sad when you have hundreds of channels to choose from and it still seems as if there is "nothing on." Some channels are really good and offer good programming. Others... not so much.

Ruth said...

I gave up on TV a while ago and other than putting on the local news when I do the dinner dishes, do not watch it. (I did watch Bleak House on Masterpiece theatre last year) We generally watch DVDs. Even my children do not watch TV, but would rather spend time on YouTube. We have cable for my husband (sports) only. I do not watch sports at all because I think the salaries paid to professionals are obscene.

Dog_geek said...

Wow - 1961, eh? I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. I rarely watch TV these days, other than sports and news. The rapid proliferation of nauseating "reality TV" over the past decade has been such a turnoff - we need more reality and less TV, I think.

egretsnest said...

The best thing we did was get TiVO for our TV. While it seems as though it's just another way to watch too much TV, what it has done is allowed us to watch what we want to watch when we want to watch it. We almost never watch live TV anymore. We zip through ads and watch what we care about at a time that is convenient to us. My husband even does football games this way now -- I call it speed football -- he zips through games in record time. :)

There is much good on TV but it's so much nicer to have it on MY schedule.

naturalnotes3 said...

I don't have a television, but for the last few days I've been staying with my son while I get things together to move..and I'm appalled at what's on there. Aside from the general stupidity of most shows, the thing that bothers me are the number of shows that are based on the ridicule of other people, focusing on making them feel inferior and small. This cannot be a good thing to teach our children.

Anvilcloud said...

TG for video recorders. There's enough decent stuff that you can record and watch when you're good and ready.

RuthieJ said...

I am constantly disappointed by what's on TV these days too--no cable at my house, but that probably wouldn't improve things much anyway. Thank goodness for Netflix--at least then I can choose to watch something I'll enjoy.

NCmountainwoman said...

I just hate the "reality" shows! We watch the Newshour, Washington Week, Bill Moyers and little else. Of course, I am a bit ashamed to admit to watching Dexter every Sunday night and I was totally addicted to Damages. Oh, I almost forgot. We subscribe to the Sports Package so we (read that my husband) can see every single football and basketball game.

Otherwise, thank goodness for my iPod.

Climenheise said...

We're waiting until after the election to cut our cable. I want to be able to keep watching Premier League Football (soccer) on Saturdays. Otherwise, what indeed is there to watch? Little that stimulates the mind; much that stimulates ... .

troutbirder said...

Exactly! And then there is cable "News." A new invention which goes beyond a "wasteland" being to television what "The National Inquirer" is to newspapers.

Mary said...

This is why I don't watch. I listen to Oprah, local and nightly news. The latter is always depressing and naughty.

I agree, Donna. What would he think today? Rubbish. Other than a few classic movies and Dancing With the Stars and American Idol when you are brain-dead. :o)