TV is not the Wasteland that it Once Was

Television may still be a wasteland, but no longer a vast one.  Former Federal Communications Chairman Newton Minow, who was appointed to the FCC by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, coined the “vast wasteland” phrase in a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, complaining of the endless junk on commercial TV at the time.  

Newton Minow (Photo courtesy: Newton Minow)

He told the broadcasters at the NAB convention, “When television is good, nothing – not the theater, not the magazine or newspapers – nothing is better. But when it is bad, nothing is worse.”  Then he challenged them to sit down in front of their TV sets a for a day and watch their station’ s programming and added, “I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.”

 At the time, in most cities, there were usually only three or four channels to watch, so that gave the three major networks a lot of power to influence the public.  With the advent of cable, that changed, and now we have hundreds of channels to choose from, and there is some really fine programming available, though, it’s definitely not in the majority.

For instance, I just finished watching  the PBS The War of the World series.  It has given me a truly interesting perspective on the causes of the many wars of the 20th century, the most violent century in history.  For instance, Niall Fergurson, the Scottish historian who wrote and narrated the series, maintains that World War III is not something that could happen. It’s something that has already happened.  More on that in a future post.    

 

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One Response to “TV is not the Wasteland that it Once Was”

  1. Rachael Sarah Williams Says:

    …With the advent of cable, that changed, and now we have hundreds of channels to choose from, and there is some really fine programming available, though, it’s definitely not in the majority.

    Interesting point, Dick. Perhaps in many ways, TV has always been a wasteland of sorts. There was probably plenty of fluff on in the 1950s; the difference was that viewers couldn’t sit and watch the fluff 24 hours a day. Networks went dark for a certain amount of time every day—“Why be on the air if there’s nothing to show?” But now, if you tune in to ESPN 47 at 3:30am, instead of the test pattern and reference tone, you’ll see two guys playing catch.

    Indeed, quality programming gets little attention for many reasons. You and I could both write thousands of pages on why that’s the case. 🙂

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