TV Then And Now: Better Or Worse?

If, like me, you grew up religiously waiting for the Sunday night evening airing of Disneyland (nee: “The Wonderful World of Disney”) so you could catch up with the latest adventures of Davy Crockett (yes I had the hat) or maybe a one-hour edit of then-recent Disney films such as “Alice in Wonderland,” then you share my disgust that last week ABC grabbed broadcast ratings primacy Sunday with a repeat of “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” “Celebrity Family Feud “and “Match Game.”   

Clearly the networks have ceded Sunday night to the cable channels, where this past weekend you could have watched the “Game of Thrones” finale and premieres for “Ray Donovan” and Shark Week. Even the august “60 Minutes” rated only a 0.8.

Overlooking the threat of nuclear war that had us ducking and covering under our school desks, I look back to the days of national appointment TV like “The Lone Ranger,” “Ed Sullivan,” “The Honeymooners,” “Gunsmoke" and “I Love Lucy” with some affection.



There was something warmly communal that nearly every human you came into contact with the day after an episode had watched it and had an opinion.

Was it great TV? Probably not, but it was shared in a personal way that even social media can't replicate today. It made us all feel like neighbors — in contrast to the world today where we seem to be splintering into hundreds of xenophobic special-interest groups that pretend to care about others, but quietly resent their growing influence or power.

At the same time, what had been television has similarly splintered into hundreds if not thousands of iterations from subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, to hundreds of cable channels to online video produced professionally and by rank amateurs.

We went from a world where "nothing is on" to "everything is on, all the time,” now tasked with managing when and how to watch shows we like before someone else in our circle (who saw it earlier) drops a spoiler into the conversation.

And almost nothing is a "national" communal experience any more, with the exception of breaking news (usually bad) and the Super Bowl. We are instead divided into subgroups of “Game of Thrones,” “Downton Abby” or “Fargo” watchers. Meanwhile the programming, in an attempt to appeal to audiences raised on theatrical movies and early HBO, has gotten violent, misogynistic and, in many ways, stereotypical.

Make no mistake, I am a huge fan of much of the current scripted dramas that offer lots of gore and full-frontal, from “Banshee” to “Vikings," from “Feed the Beast” to “Peaky Blinders” (hell, I even liked “Vinyl”), but nothing feels universal or communal.

I miss that.  

5 comments about "TV Then And Now: Better Or Worse?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 7, 2016 at 7:28 p.m.

    Hey, George, you almost borrowed the title of my new book. "TV Now and Then", which, among many other things, traces the evolution of TV programming from the good old days to what is out there currently. And you are right. Then, many viewers had the distinct feeling that they were watching fare designed for most of "us" not the viewer as an individual. Whether that was true or not is debatable but times certainly have changed.

  2. David Reich from Reich Communications, Inc., July 8, 2016 at 2:54 p.m.

    All true, George.  But back in "the good old days" most of us had 3 o r 4 TV choices...ABC, CBS and NBC and perhaps an indie station.  So we all watched Disney and Ed Sullivan because that's all we had to choose from.  I don't think we can get back to communal watches ng other than, as you say, major news or sports events.

  3. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, July 8, 2016 at 5:09 p.m.

    I think there's never been as much good TV as there is now and, perhaps not surprisingly, there's never been as much worthless TV as now. As long as we have freedom of choice, bring it on.

  4. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, July 8, 2016 at 6:15 p.m.

    Don't forget Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.
    Ed would you sign for me a copy of your new book?

  5. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, July 8, 2016 at 10:47 p.m.

    When you are five or six years old and TV is relatively new and precious in your life, 3 or 4 Network's seemed like a fathomless paradise.

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