TV – we don’t think twice about it today. Between cable Television and on-line streaming, the choices of what to watch have become endless and often overwhelming. But just as often; 500 channels of nothing – or infinite dreck. Television in 2017 has become a massive machine with a voracious appetite.
In 1976, Cable TV was just getting started – for the most part, it was the promise of a better picture for the acknowledged commercial channels, with the extra added bonus of Public access and subscriber movies. But as time went on, the ability to add more channels made cable only TV more of a reality.
Now, Television as we knew it in 1976 no longer exists. Or it exists, but as a shell of its former self.
The big issue was the cultural value of Television – the dream, as they spoke of it, was the dream often written about in the 1930s when TV was in its experimental stages and the networks promised a feast of cultural riches.
But the dream and the reality were two different things. After World War 2, when restrictions were off over the development of Television, the networks began running programs. At first, it was the promise of cultural riches – the 1948 political conventions were the first to be televised. The NBC Symphony under the legendary Arturo Toscanini was televised. Broadway plays were broadcast and political discussions such as the first Meet The Press were regular features.
But then came the reality – not everyone wanted a diet of culture, and most felt television was best served as a platform for sports and entertainment. And gradually, the culture trickled to a drip and commerce roared in to take its place. And with commerce came the bottom line. Would Westerns and Cop Shows create waves of people buying TV sets? Apparently it did. And soon it became a competition over ratings – he with the biggest numbers won the advertising dollars. And the more sensational TV became, the bigger the audience until it got out of hand. In the early 1960’s FCC chairman Newton Minnow decried TV as a “Vast Wasteland”. And each decade since, it’s become more and more of a problem. And with each decade, more and more hand-wringing over the loss of our cultural center.
So in 1976, the subject was raised again. And in this episode of NPR’s National Town Meeting, a discussion between TV critic Sander Vanocur and Senator John Pastore (D-Rhode Island) over TV violence, over the Family Hour, over the loss of Cultural programming and over the future of television were discussed and argued.
And 1976 Television seems quaint by comparison. All In The Family or Game Of Thrones. We’ve come a long way, or have we?
Here is that one-hour discussion with audience questions from the broadcast of July 28, 1976 over NPR.