By Stuart Mitchner
Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
Sixty years ago on Sunday, May 9, 1961, newly appointed F.C.C. Chairman Newton Minow labeled television “a vast wasteland” in an address to the National Association of Broadcasters. After suggesting that “when television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better,” he asserted that “when television is bad, nothing is worse.” His litany of negatives included “game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom.”
If you’re wondering what Minow would make of today’s non-stop, everything-you-desire-is-endlessly-available wonder/wasteland, he’s here to tell us, at age 95, and according to news.wttw.com in Chicago, he thinks that the expanding of viewing choices has “contributed to the deep divisions in our country.” As a result, no surprise, the most important issue today is “deciding what is a fact.”
Speaking of Facts
A few weeks ago I referred to Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s Better Call Saul as “a great American film,” as if my opinion had some basis in fact. Writing at Oscar time, when American films are the center of the universe, I was speaking in extremes to make a point. Yes, it’s an outstanding series, it’s American, and it’s a film, but it’s also a five-season 50-episode saga with a sixth and final season yet to come. Sometimes I have to temper my enthusiasm to avoid sounding like a glorified blurb writer or a publicist with delusions of grandeur, not unlike Saul Goodman himself.
Another factor that would have sounded fantastically futuristic when Minow made his wasteland speech is the freedom to binge that allows me (and my wife) to speed through an entire five-season series in under two weeks. By so doing, we’re violating the real-life viewing experience of audiences that may have had to wait a year or longer for a new season. Meanwhile, it’s hard to keep a spillover of excitement from driving a written response, especially if you’re still feeling the wind of the binge at your back. more