The vast wasteland

The old indian head test pattern – circa 1955

My friend and colleague, Lynn Gerlach, recently posted a most enjoyable article in her Speakeasy Blog entitled Has Fiction No Place in Our lives? (you can read it here).  She speaks of the wonder and enjoyment those of us who are “of an age” experienced as youngsters watching those great television shows back in the 1950s. Unbeknownst to us, we were, of course, witnessing the birth of an industry. In fact, prior to 1947, U.S. households with television sets could be measured in the thousands. But, by the late 1990’s, 98% of all homes had at least one. Fast forward to the current era and the introduction of cable and satellite and, as she notes, we have programing coming out our ears.

Speaking for myself, though, my viewing habits have evolved along with the industry. I now find that I tend to mostly bypass the network offerings, having graduated to video streaming (via Apple TV), which provides me access to a vast catalog of programs more to my liking, particularly in the form of documentaries (and, of course, major league baseball). As I’m sure you know, these can be found in abundance on YouTube as well as the Smithsonian channel, NatGeo, TED, History, PBS, and MLBTV, for example. By the way, the first baseball game was aired on TV in 1939 (Princeton vs. Columbia).

It was Newton N. Minow, newly appointed by John F. Kennedy in 1961 as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, who marked the end of that golden age of programming with his famous assessment of television as a “vast wasteland.”  And, in many respects, it has only gotten worse. But, with respect to Lynn’s query, it seems to me our old fictional favorites from that era have been replaced with a plethora of offerings of both comedy and drama, ranging from The Big Bang Theory to Bluebloods: It’s still out there—we just have to look a little harder to find it (not counting daytime: that’s still a wasteland). And, in testament to the quality and timelessness of those old classics she mentions, some quick research reveals that The Honeymooners (Jackie Gleason’s “Funny Money”) has been viewed on YouTube 1.3 million times.  Oh, and Princeton won, 8-6. I’m sure you wanted to know.

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