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Early TV

March 15, 2015

My first job out of college (actually, I started there the last semester of my senior year) was pasting up pages for Cervi’s Journal, a small but influential weekly business newspaper owned by the legendary Denver journalist Gene Cervi. I only met Mr. Cervi a couple of times, but they were memorable; he was one of those charismatic people who somehow dominate a room when they enter it. The paper was admirably managed by his daughter Clé when I worked there.

Cervi used his soapbox well, penning both strong editorials and a weekly column, wrapped inside a four-page editorial section modestly dubbed “Four Fine Pages of American Journalism.” Those pages included columns by the ever-quotable Sidney J. Harris and fabulous editorial cartoons by Frank Interlandi, Herblock and Jules Feiffer. For an aspiring young political cartoonist, the paper’s archive of cartoons was a gold mine. I saved every cartoon we published and pored over them at home, drawing and redrawing my own cartoons, borrowing passages from theirs, reworking what they did in my own style, trying to unlock the secrets of the masters.

But it was Cervi’s work that I admired the most. He was an unrepentant scold and Hell-raiser in the best journalistic tradition, fearlessly taking on any businessmen or politicians whose practices fell below his lofty standards. I read as much of his work as I could find, scouring old editions until I’d read almost everything he’d written.

One column in particular stuck with me. Cervi was enchanted early on with the transformative possibilities of television. He understood immediately the potential power of the new medium, with its unprecedented combination of immediacy and intimacy.

He got one thing very wrong, though. Cervi believed that because of its universal appeal and its ability to bring unlimited knowledge into our living rooms, it would inevitably create a better informed and more literate populace and electorate. Oops.

When I was a kid, years before I came to Denver, I didn’t care whether television would be a force for social good or whether it would transform our politics or our culture. I was unconcerned with how it might change our reading habits or the way we spent our leisure time.

I just wanted a tv.