How we watch TV is changing every day, with cable TV subscribers cutting the cord in droves. But do you ever wonder how we got to this point, where commercial TV broadcasters (in the US) are afforded free access to the airwaves — despite the fact that few of us would ever argue that they’re focused on providing a community service? Ars Technica has a good series of feature articles that explore the history — and future — of television. Looking to the former, does FCC commisioner Newton Minow’s famous 1961 speech still ring true?
I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. 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. You will see a procession of 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. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.
Of course, this was before the advent of “reality” TV. One can only wonder what Minnow would have to say about the current situation with on-demand and internet-connected TVs allowing viewers to take more control over their viewing experience (one would think he would approve), but also what he would say about The Situation (with reality TV). I found Ars Technica’s articles to be an interesting read, so check them out if you’re interested in contextualizing the quickly-evolving medium of television.
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