My parents used to say, “Be careful what you wish for.”
What I wished for more than anything when I was a kid was a television of our own. Sixty years later I now understand what Mom and Dad meant.
Way back in 1961, less than a decade after television made its debut in most American homes, FCC chairman Newton Minow had this to say about television programming:
“When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
- But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper…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.”
HIs “vast wasteland” comment made headlines, and was endlessly repeated and hotly debated at the time. In 1961 there were three networks to choose from. My cable service now offers me some 900 channels, of which I regularly tune to fewer than a dozen. And even the few I watch mostly provide the same mix of idiotic programming Minow described in 1961.
None of which makes the tube any less addicting today than it was when my sister and I finally got what we wanted, an event I chronicle in the next Sleeper Ave, tale.