Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Stop Wasting My Time

I remember how excited our family was in 1954 when we bought our first television. I was very young, but the anticipation tingled throughout the household like an electric current. It was a magical event.

Others over a certain age may also have experienced the exhilaration when television first appeared. There were few channels available then and reception was transmitted through an antennae installed on the roof. Pictures were not always clear as reception was limited by geographical obstacles and distance from the transmitting station. That didn't matter to those of us being allowed entry into the realm of entertainment and expanded knowledge.

Television seemed fairly exotic. We eagerly watched primitive programming, some of which featured soon-to-be famous celebrities like Walter Cronkite and great actors just beginning their life-long trade. Programs were often performed live and stars like Sid Caesar appeared right in our living rooms and transformed our daily lives. We were thrilled and everything was new and fresh.

That was then. This is now.

Network television today is weak and unimaginative. The "Big 3" networks have lost the insight and dominance they originally possessed. Networks that once took a chance with innovative programming appear to be clueless as to why they no longer pull in the ratings. Once giants of the medium, networks now merely cast shadows. Viewers who watched with allegiance and witnessed their decline wonder what happened to allow this slide.

Recent so-called awards shows including the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild confirmed that now the most original programming comes from cable channels like HBO and Showtime. These channels are attracting big-name acting talent, highly successful directors and producers and the results are evident.

A lot has happened in America since the first black and white sets made an appearance in our living rooms. One president was assassinated and another resigned in disgrace. We participated in wars around the world with varying degrees of success. The economy has risen and fallen repeatedly and precipitously. Technology has become a major factor in everyday life. But the television networks, which once had the power and know-how to reshape entertainment, have dropped the ball.

Newton Minow, who served as the head of the Federal Communications Commission under President Kennedy, was a very wise man. Over 50 years ago, Minow made a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in which he made some very wise observations including: "When television is good, nothing -- not the theatre, not the magazines or newspapers -- nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse."

That well-known Minow speech was made in 1961 and was prophetic on many fronts. Unfortunately most of television either wasn't paying attention or allowed his words to dim through the years since.

Television has always had the ability to inform and entertain the audience. However, pursuit of the almighty dollar and ever increasing ratings have shaped output by the networks until there is neither substance nor enlightenment. Too bad, Big 3. Thank goodness there is someone willing to step up to the challenge and provide something new and different.

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