Television - everybody hated it, but everybody watched it.

Television: What’s Wrong With It? – 1972 – Past Daily Pop Chronicles

Television – everybody hated it, but everybody watched it.

Comment – “What’s Wrong With Television?” – Panel Discussion – September 3, 1972 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection.

Television – hard to imagine now, with cable, streaming, You-Tube, On-Demand and a staggering number of apps and choices, that it was something simple, yet a dominating factor in American life. In 1972, 50 years ago, Television was just 13 channels, a few more if you included UHF in the mix. That was it. Video cassettes were a rumor, we were just getting used to Satellite TV (not everyone with a dish, but rather broadcast TV that didn’t have to rely on telephone lines). Cable TV was just starting to make inroads to American homes; first starting with remote places where your antenna (the peculiar looking thing which jutted out from the top of your TV set) couldn’t receive a signal, or it could but was iffy at best. Cable would eventually become part of the American home within a year or two. But Television on it’s face was something everybody hated but everybody watched.

That was because there were no choices – what was scheduled to go on at 8 o’clock at night would go on at the prescribed time and if you missed it, you were out of luck.

So America was more or less trapped – no freedom and few choices. And what was available was always up for criticism, as is the substance of this commentary by four prominent figures in America in 1972. Starting off with the writer Jerzy Kosinski, who sets the tone and the sentiment that Television could be a whole lot better, but that it wasn’t – because television depended on viewership to survive – not subscriptions, but advertising – and advertising was based on how many people were tuned in to what on any given day or hour. With survival depending on viewers, the general opinion was that programming had to have mass appeal, not a niche factor, but something that could be enjoyed by 70 or 80 million people at any one time.

And that’s where the lowest common denominator came in in 1972. The general complaint was that there was too much violence, not enough quality TV because the mass didn’t want quality particularly – fast and mindless were the rules of thumb. That’s not to say everything on TV was terrible – it wasn’t. But the gems were few and far between. Television did boast Public Broadcasting which gave America Masterpiece Theatre. But oddly enough, much of PBS’s revenue (aside from generous grants and government funding) also came via the individual viewer who was routinely persuaded to give over money (once or twice a year) in order to insure quality programs. It was a novel concept, one which got its start in Radio and is still being used today (mostly out of nostalgia, since everything on visual medium you now have to pay for – a novel concept that wasn’t heard of until Cable arrived). But the age-old complaint was just as plaintive then as it is now.

In 1972 it was a wistful hope – in 2022 it’s a sigh of dismal resignation.

Have a listen to Comment with Edwin Newman and his panel from September 3, 1972.

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