Garbage on TV? I admit it, but if a viewer is selective, he can enjoy outstanding concerts, drama from the days of Euripedes and Aeschylus to Shakespeare to the present day, amusing series that are cleverly written and acted, good children’s educational shows and highlights of the news.
I’ve always believed that the “Today” show and the evening news encouraged both my son and daughter, now adults, to be news-oriented. This training began before they could read, and it has kept them interested in current affairs. During political campaigns conflicts with print journalism sometimes can be resolved by our having heard the candidate say what he said when he said it! Phil Donohue’s guests present both sides of controversial subjects, thereby slipping little bits of education to viewers. Leonard Bernstein’s 60th anniversary celebration closed with a concerto conducted by Bernstein but with soloists Rostakovich on the cello, Menuhin on the violin and Previn at the piano — what a treat! “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H,” “Barney Miller,” “Soap,” and others have brought laughter in the midst of excellent anti-war and anti-bigotry messages. Sesame Street, the Muppets, the Electric Company and Captain Kangaroo have had such good influences on children that a Dallas first grade teacher said recently that pupils who had missed exposure to TV “required so much special attention and explanations that it was almost as if they were retarded.” For adults of all political and economic persuasions I recommend Friday night’s “Washington Week in Review,” and “Wall Street Week,” both on Public Television.
Don’t misunderstand. TV does not fill my life. I read five or six books a week, play golf and bridge, write many letters, visit often with friends, read daily and Sunday newspapers, sew, and occasionally, clean house and cook. Television, however, is part of my life and I vigorously defend it!
Television has almost as many critics as viewers, and I am considerably more of the former than the latter.
As one who spent more than a quarter-century in the business, I just can’t pass off television as an innocuous entertainment medium.
I am convinced that it has an enormous impact on the lives of the American people, that nothing in our history has exerted the influence that television has on the entire thought processes of our people.
A goodly portion of our population is now of the “television generation,” and it’s not difficult to see that the values and standards depicted on the small screen are rapidly becoming the values and standards we live by.
Television could be the greatest cultural and intellectual communications medium yet devised by man. It isn’t.
Instead, it is a gold mine for industry and advertising people whose sole interest is high ratings and high profits. So they resort to trashy thrills, voyeurism and titillation as chief ingredients in entertainment programs, and generally yellow journalism in their news and public affairs programs.
I do not hold with much of the standard criticism of either entertainment or serious television offerings.
To me, television’s adverse influence doesn’t come primarily from the blatant violence, sex and the inanities which draw the fire of most of its critics. It is more subtle.
Programs designed to appeal to young people — and most of them do these days — convey to impressionable minds that “jerkism”, as depicted by Fonzie, Barbarino and their ilk, is the acceptable and commendable way of life; that a girl lacking huge bosoms and a willingness to display most or all of them is a loser.
The most damaging aspect of sex on television is not the well-endowed, braless babe bouncing down the boulevard, but the persistent inference that happiness comes only from promiscuity and that love is a one-night stand.
Too, in the midst of the women’s movement, TV females are liberated only to the extent that they show as much skin as possible and try to emulate male sex habits.
Violence per se, as in old Western and gangster movies, probably isn’t as bad as the critics seem to think. What distresses me about television violence is that it portrays means to an end — you solve a problem by shooting it. The private eyes and cops on the tube seldom use their brains to solve a murder, they just blast the hell out of a suspect, then go to the nearest bar for a drink.
If all of this isn’t bad enough, there’s television news, which I consider in a class with the atom bomb — too potent a weapon to be entrusted to irresponsible people.
Not all television news is bad, and some of it is exceptional, especially live coverage of important events.
Surveys show a majority of Americans depend largely on television for their news, but what the surveys don’t show is the vastly greater impact television news has on its viewers as compared to other news media.
Despite popular opinion, television news is not influenced to any great extent by advertisers. It is influenced by ratings. If the networks and the stations can get the ratings, they can get advertising, and the advertisers buy the ratings, not the progams.
Therefore, most news executives, either on their own or under pressure from upstairs, go for popularity, not quality. There are plenty of honest, capable newsmen in the industry, but more often than not they are compromised by the ratings race.
This is why news programs are packaged and marketed like deodorants; why the so-called “anchormen” are not selected because they are the best newsmen, but because of their looks, voices and ability to attract an audience; why many of the “reporters” get and hold their jobs because they are “personali- ties”, not newsmen; and why television news stories are selected not necessarily for their news value but for their impact on the viewers.
This system opens the door to all sorts of journalistic abuses, and there are many of them. It gives far too many unqualified people the opportunity to distort the news in too many ways, and results in excesses evident only to those on the “inside.”
Television news can be faulted in dozens of other ways, but rather than go into them, let’s look at one example.
ABC, which has pandered trivia to gain a top spot in the industry, was embarrassed by its low news ratings. The people who run the network didn’t spend some of their obscene profits to get the best minds in the news business to devise a better formula for presenting news on television.
Instead, they lured free agent Barbara Walters away from NBC. When that didn’t help, they fired their manager and turned the entire news operation over to Roone Arledge, the bell cow in the stampede by television to pervert sports, and whose chief claim to fame is that he foisted Howard Cosell on the American public.
former TV news director,
NBC affiliate in Fort Worth, Texas