TV: Wasteland And Wonder

TV comes in for its share of bashing, since channel surfing can be a soul-crushing experience.

“Ice Cold Killers.” “World’s Dumbest Motorheads 3.” Political talk shows that sound like an anarchist cabal. Today, it’s Sen. Ted Cruz, not the Reds, who proudly proclaims he wants to blow up the government.

In 1961, FCC Chairman Newton Minow gave a speech to the NAB, in which he decried commercial television as a “vast wasteland” and pumped for programming in the public interest. And that was before the Kardashians.

"When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better,” he insisted.

Well, theater lovers among us might contest, but point taken. He could not have foreseen Netflix, YouTube or Amazon Prime — or predicted two TV hosts making presidential bids: Ronald Reagan of "Death Valley Days" and Donald Trump of "The Apprentice." But in the ensuing decades, there was genuinely compelling television.



As we approach the holiday weekend, there may be some serious family time, besides sports, around the TV. And because rerun is no longer a dirty world, per on-demand, the past, as Shakespeare neatly put it, is prologue.

So whether it’s early episodes of “M.A.S.H.” or “The Sopranos” or “The Colbert Report,” when TV works, it works. “Breaking Bad” fans were riveted by the show’s dramatic and thematic muscle and its prequel, “Better Call Saul.”

Entertainment Weekly touted “The Wire” as No. 1 in the best 100 TV shows of all time, citing its Shakespearean ethos.

Plus, TV boasts entertaining sitcoms that seem to have an inexhaustible shelf life, such as “Seinfeld.” The smart sass of “Modern Family” is a given. And for nostalgia lovers, there is MeTV. “The Patty Duke Show” and “The Munsters” are remarkably free of family dysfunction -- something you can’t always say about the holidays.

By contrast, Showtime’s “The Affair” focuses primarily on the well-heeled and their propensity for sex in multimillion-dollar digs. But this season also explores the familial damage divorce renders. And it doesn’t pull any punches.

Neither do two PBS dramas: “Indian Summers” and “Home Fires.” The first is a sharp drama about the British Raj in India in 1932; the second is a touching story of how women in a small British village coped during World War II. Frankly, it’s humbling. Food is rationed; soldiers are dying, bombs are dropping — and these women retain their humanity and generosity.

True, there are stupid and often debasing shows on TV. But there is also intelligent, sophisticated fare. So in addition to good food and conversation this weekend, get your fill of worthwhile television.

3 comments about "TV: Wasteland And Wonder".
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  1. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, November 25, 2015 at 12:01 p.m.

    funniest line of the day: "And that was before the Kardashians."

  2. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 26, 2015 at 12:39 a.m.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Fern!

    i respectfully disagree with your Thanksgiving recipe for fulfillment.

    A good Holiday Weekend would be one without any form of commercial, pay or digital television.  Call it a TTF (Total TV Fast).  Though it's not all a disgrace, with the exception of PBS, today's TV/Video seems largely a breach of public trust.  To reduce Chairman Minnow's seminal speech to one word (i.e., Wasteland) or sentence is a disservice verging on gross distortion.  Your readers ought to read the full text to appreciate the principle that should still hold.

    Here's a more enlightening excerpt:

    "'Television and all who participate in it are jointly accountable to the American public for respect for the special needs of children, for community responsibility, for the advancement of education and culture, for the acceptability of the program materials chosen, for decency and decorum in production, and for propriety in advertising. This responsibility cannot be discharged by any given group of programs, but can be discharged only through the highest standards of respect for the American home, applied to every moment of every program presented by television.

    Program materials should enlarge the horizons of the viewer, provide him with wholesome entertainment, afford helpful stimulation, and remind him of the responsibilities which the citizen has towards his society.'"

    Enjoy your 2015 Turkey, but I don't mean the program schedules of most commercial TV stations, channels, networks or pay video services for the next few days.

    Better is possible, but not this Beautiful Holiday Weekend.  Enjoy the company.  And let's all put down the iPhone.


  3. ida tarbell from s-t broadcasting, November 28, 2015 at 4:24 p.m.

    Nick, if you'd played Rance Howard in Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Wayne would have called you 'pilgrim' 72 times.

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