Addressing the National Association of Broadcasters convention on May 9, 1961, Newton Norman Minow, then Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, referred to much of commercial television as a “vast wasteland.”  Minow believed that broadcasters were not doing enough to serve the public interest, and was never quiet in his criticism of the industry.

Understandably, his message was not well received by its intended audience, and the resentment on the part of the industry was no secret. Some claim that the S.S. Minnow, the ship wrecked in the old Gilligian’s Island sitcom, was a sarcastic reply to Minow’s comments.

Unfortunately, those words were never truer than today. Let me state right up front that I enjoy television. And not just the National Geographic channel or PBS. While I do watch a lot documentaries and History channel programming, there are also a few excellent dramas, and a handful of sitcoms that I look forward to every week. And being a news hound, I spend a lot of time watching the different news programming to get the different sides of an issue.

However, there is also an overwhelming amount of what I consider to be absolute garbage. Really, how many “reality” shows do we truly need? I kind of wish those dancing stars would two step right off the stage and land on a survivor wannabe and put a lot of us out of our misery.

It’s bad enough that 75% of what is on the boob tube is beyond stupid, but they can’t even come up with an original thought. They are all too busy copying whatever the next guy is doing. Isn’t one “Housewives of…” show enough?   

Apparently not, because besides brand new dramas about Playboy bunnies and Pan Am stewardesses, the latest junk food for the brain to be announced is The Trailer Park Housewives of Las Vegas, which is described as a reality series that will feature six housewives living in a Las Vegas trailer park.

Just what we need, one more celebration of white trash. Hand me the remote control honey, the new season of The Biggest Loser just started. Now, that’s entertainment!

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19 Comments on Just What We Need

  1. Allan says:

    Much of what we see on tv is not good but from what I have heard this is an excuse for the FCC to start censoring shows on tv and do away with broadcast tv so that all we have left is cable or satelite tv. I do not want the federal government to be in total control of what we can watch on tv or listen to on the radio. I like local tv news and weather and do not want the government to eliminate it. Be careful this might be a way for Uncle Sam to control another aspect of our lives. Leave broadcast tv alone.

  2. Bob says:

    Hey Nick.
    As a Canadian here, I’ll perhaps go out on a limb and try and speak for a few of us (not ALL of us, obviously).
    To start with, I’m not a big TV fan. Period.
    We (as Canadians) will often bitch and complain about the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) since it is funded by our tax dollars. I know! The horror, sez you.

    But, it is the one thing that does tend to unify (to some extent) such a large country as Canada. And, depending on your sensibilities, SOME of the programming is OK.
    They also seem to do a pretty good job of letting Canadians know what the heck is going on outside our borders. This is one aspect of American TV that I find particularly lacking. It was most noticeable during the Olympics in Atlanta. (whenever that was….my memory is dim) Watched some of the American programming on that when visiting my sister who was living in Mass., at the time. What a joke that was!
    If there wasn’t an American involved, you didn’t get to see it. They’d follow their athletes into the change room, rather than actually follow the events. And I guess in the same vein as “reality” TV, I suppose it was because they somehow thought that was what people wanted to see? Personally I wanted to see the events, even if no Americans or Canadians qualified.

    Now, because the CBC is funded the way it is, there’s considerably more accountability when it comes to just what kind of programming they can come up with. It sure as hell ain’t perfect, and sometimes can be a snooze fest, but there’s no “Housewives” or any other “reality” type cr*p.
    There certainly isn’t one answer, except to switch off the set. And something modelled on the CBC certainly isn’t the answer. It only “kinda” works in Canada. Wouldn’t work anywhere else I don’t think.
    We’ve had no cable TV since October of 09 here in Austria, and we don’t seem to miss it. Got the ‘net, and that seems to work for us.
    Oh, and there’s this thing called “reading”? That works too.

  3. Stu says:

    Not sure it’s in the bill of rights but we have the right to depress the “on/off” button. I am thankful for that. We don’t NEED any of it. However, I am thankful to live in a country that still has enough freedom to allow broadcasting such drivel.

  4. Jim Walter says:

    The thing we must remember is, the TV programmers only broadcast what people want to watch.

  5. Janna says:

    We haven’t had TV programming in 10–years and I can honestly say I haven’t missed it. Occasionally I wish I could see an episode of something such as the Food Network but on the whole, nope, we don’t miss TV.

  6. Dick Schell says:

    I miss the days of Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Rawhide, etc. Still watch ’em when I can.

  7. John Porter says:

    Boy, I whole-heartedly agree with the current t.v. program haters ! My solution is to go to internet t.v. I use the Roku system to tap into programming by Netflix and Hulu, which offer many vintage comedies, documantaries, etc. Much cheaper, and lots of good’ol programs…

  8. Dennis M says:

    Whoa Allen! Your paranoia is showing!

    Seriously, Jim has it right. TV programing, with the exception of PBS, is driven by advertising and advertisers are driven by ratings. If no one watches those shows they die.

    What the current level of drivel on TV really does is show us the depressing lack of intelligence in the general population of this country.

    Manufactured emotion, imagined crises, dysfunctional families, etc. all pander to the lowest common denominator, much as many of our politicians are doing right now.

    Definitely a sad state of affairs and the only reasonable solution is long term – start teaching critical thinking in our schools. And good luck with that!

  9. Jim says:

    Sadly the FOOD CHANNEL has joined the stupidity with their “challenge” shows. Always some drama … always on the clock ….. BLAH!! Our “off” button sure gets a workout these days.

  10. Rob Fox says:

    My wife and I have been living in your wonderful country for nearly four years now and are enjoying the adventure immensely. When friends and family ask me if there is anything that I miss, I diplomatically say that the only thing I miss besides them is the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). It’s hard to explain quite how much I miss free access to the Worlds very best news media operation.

    You have so very much to be proud of in the USA. Ranging from the basis of your democratic system, endless industrial innovation, a work ethic second to none, putting a man on the moon, Michael Phelps winning 6 gold medals ….. I could go on and on. When I see vast crowds at football games or small crowds at the town little league games wearing their proud patriotism as the anthem plays, I get the feeling that “these people could achieve anything they want”.

    So how can these same people (you guys) tolerate such a truly appalling broadcast media. The good news is that the USA does produce some of the finest shows in the (kinda :-) English speaking World. As my dear wife constantly reminds me ….. “it’s entertainment”. But even in the entertainment arena, the commercial pressures constrain artistry and risk taking gives way to formulaic programming. The urge to “give them what they want” mollifies the masses and the advertisers alike. It’s the market at work, you get what you pay for.

    It is the area of “news” that troubles me the most. I just don’t understand why or how you can tolerate such a poor and corrupted apology for a news service. I can barely bring myself to even call it by that name. If anything shows the the corruption of your beautifully crafted democracy, it is the state of TV news (and radio for that matter).

    A democracy can only be sustained by truth and trust. The people have be able to trust their elected representatives and the reports of their deliberations and actions. That is why it is so important to have a strong and independent media, free from political and commercial influence. Their only fear should be of the wrath of the people for a failure to tell the truth.

    You, the people are so very badly served. You are fed a diet of sensationalism and opinion. Faux news dressed up as entertainment. Political shows with no analysis, no push back …. no integrity. Thinly disguised commercials presented as news items. And if it doesn’t have a “celebrity” angle, it doesn’t exist. I could go on and on (my dear wife will confirm) but I feel so strongly about this issue. Your news media does not do you justice on national news and I cannot begin to tell you how poorly international events are portrayed.

    Once upon a time, some years ago, I believe that you had some safeguards built into your regulation of TV and radio such that truth and balance was required in the “public interest”. I also understand that these rules were swept away in the 80’s. As with the repeal of the The Glass-Steagall Act in the banking arena, you are seeing the failures that Adam Smith was so careful to identified and warned of in his outline of a free market system.

    You are the leaders of the free World. Demand a free media. In the interest of the public, the people, of democracy.

  11. Gary Bergt says:

    I am glad this subject came up. I have been enduring this so called TV entertainment drivel for so long and I have also been using my “on-off” button a lot more lately and thinking and questioning just exactly who is entertained by some of this crap. Is it the 20-30 year olds who are entertained by some pretty basic inane TV? (the “Jackass” TV shows and movies for example) Or is it that most of america is so used to having the TV droning on 24/7 in their lives that anything counts as “entertainment” to them? Don’t get me wrong, I do find a few drama shows and a very few sit-coms still to be worth my time, along with some news programs. However, even the TV news programs are slanted toward entertainment as was mentioned before. And I also agree with the previous post that what we end up with is watered down/celebrity slanted programs that are supposed to be “news”. One heck of a mess that this “vast wasteland” has turned into today! – Thanks for this post, Nick.

  12. Naota Chanel says:

    First things first.

    BBC news is nothing but a liberal propaganda cake, topped with some “let’s all hate the Jews” icing. . . . yuck.

    Second – METV and DVD collections of old TV shows has solved my problem. I have everything from the Poirot series w/David Suchet, to complete seasons of Wagon Train, and lots of stuff in between.

  13. Ben says:

    I love my TiVo! I record what I want, when I want, and zap the commercials. All the other programming can go hang! The great thing about American TV is choice. There are executives in New York and Los Angeles getting paid big bucks trying to figure out what we all want, not some political hack beholden to the same interest groups to which the rest of Government kneels. Some of us like white trash, some of us like science, some of us like sex and violence. Change the channel if you don’t like the programming.

  14. Robert says:

    Very well said Rob Fox. The only thing I might add is a bit of elaboration on your mention of the elimination in the ’80s of safeguards of truth and balance in the use of our public airwaves. The overwhelming dominance of conservative and right wing talk radio that this enabled, is what led to the corporate sponsored coup on public opinion perpetrated upon us by their bought and paid for cable faux news we see today.
    This is dated and pretty long, but here’s a refresher on this historic turning point and assault on our right to facts and truth in our media.

  15. T & R Martin says:

    The lines of sanity & insanity are blurred. For instance, I recently was watching what I thought was “news” but to me it was “comedy.” Nancy Pelosi was claiming all poor people in the U.S. thought of themselves as “middle class” no matter how poor they were & that we should respect their “aspirations.” She then said some weird thing about “class warfare” followed by “Am I missing something here”?
    What in the world is that nitwit talking about? Is this NEWS??! And what exactly is HER definition of “Poor People.”
    P.S. My aspiration is that she remove herself from her present position—now that would be NEWS I can enjoy watching.

  16. Robert says:

    T&R. It appears you got the FoxNation edited version of Nancy Pelosi’s comments. Maybe this article from ‘The Hill’ will help you understand what she was talking about. She makes perfect sense to me…

    The House minority leader over the weekend slammed Republicans for using the term “class warfare” as a criticism of the administration’s policies, calling it a “defense” for their position.

    Republicans have charged that President Obama’s plan to tax the wealthy in order to pay for his deficit-reduction plan is the administration engaging in class warfare. The GOP has indicated resistance to taxing the wealthy, saying it would unfairly punish job creators.

    “Am I missing something here?” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asked Sunday at the 2011 New Yorker Festival. “That is an illegitimate charge in a country that has life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in its founding documents.”

    Pelosi said she has told Democrats heading into deficit-reduction negotiations on the new congressional supercommittee to keep in mind “the fact that 15 percent of American people live in poverty” as they seek to reach a deal by Thanksgiving.

    She also responded to “one of the candidates for president who shall remain nameless,” quoting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who said this summer while campaigning in Iowa that “corporations are people, too.”

    “I have news for him: Workers are people, too,” Pelosi said.

    “We reward success. I’ve got these pearl earrings,” she joked. “God bless [corporations] for their success, God bless the shareholders who participate in that success. But let’s not forget the workers who contributed to that success. And as long as productivity and wages continue to go like that — productivity up, wages not rising in any relation to productivity — we’re going to have an erosion of the middle class. We’re going to have people slipping down from it. Most people in the country, no matter how poor they are, believe they are in the middle class, and that’s where they want to be, and we have to honor that aspiration.”

    Romney has charged that the president’s policies have hurt the middle “80 to 90 percent” of taxpayers, and pledged his prospective presidential policies would help strengthen it. The prospective White House candidate, who proposes cutting the corporate tax rate, stood firm on his comment regarding corporations, dismissing Obama’s “1960s ‘We don’t like companies’ shtick.”

    Pelosi quoted billionaire Warren Buffett, who has lately become the face of big business support for Democrats. “Actually, there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won. We’re the ones that have gotten our tax rates reduced dramatically,” Buffett said last week on CNN.

  17. Rob Fox says:

    Naota: BBC news is nothing but a liberal propaganda cake, topped with some “let’s all hate the Jews” icing. . . . yuck.

    I’m sorry that your exposure to the BBC has left you with that impression.

    It’s not a description that I would recognise having grown up with it for the last 56 years. It broadcasts around the World in English and 27 other languages. Throughout those years I’ve heard complaints that the BBC is merely another organ of the Zionists or America. Robert Mugabe constantly complains that it is the mouthpiece of imperial power. The Communist Block used to jam BBC transmissions because it was western capitalist propaganda …….. and the list goes on.

    The fact is that every extreme around the World sees the BBC as “the enemy” and I like that. I like that a lot. It tells me that it is meeting it’s objective of trying to report the facts no matter how painful that might be.

    The BBC is under constant attack from every corner simply because those who’s position cannot stand the scrutiny of honest reporting fear the truth.

    Is the BBC perfect? How can it be; it’s managed by humans with all the faults that implies. However, as a Brit (Welsh), I feel great pride in the BBC. It’s probably the greatest cultural export after the English language. I feel that “the people” of the USA would be better served if NPR had similar support and mandate.

    If we close our minds to the search for truth we end up suffocating our very existence. After all, had it not been for the liberal thinking of people like John Locke, Thomas Paine and others, the USA would not have become the model for free people.

  18. bucky says:

    I agree with Dennis M & Rod Fox, American TV has become a vast wasteland of “so called reality Show” and slanted political views. I spend my TV time, watching reruns of the old shows, and British soap operas on a Canadian station we get on cabel…..

  19. T & R Martin says:

    Whenever I have had the privilege of watching the BBC, I am impressed with the scope of the coverage encompassing so much of the world. That is not to say I don’t enjoy our own TV coverage, but it magnifies a lot of the foolish coverage that I do not consider newsworthy.

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