Surveying the ‘television landscape’

In 1961, 34-year-old Newton Minow gave his very first speech as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. In it he called network television a “vast wasteland.” Minow’s candor earned him national scorn, ridicule and everlasting infamy when Gilligan’s Island producer Sherwood Schwartz named the castaway’s wrecked boat the Minnow in his honor.

I was reminded of Minow’s words today while listening to NPR. On All Things Considered, I heard that Jay Leno, who is leaving his job hosting The Tonight Show, which airs in most markets at 11:30 p.m. on NBC, will in fact stay at NBC and host a new, as yet undefined show at 10 p.m.

Ahh, the machinations, madness and mayhem of network television–where the drama behind the scenes is far superior to that which appears on screen. Apparently, NBC’s move is considering almost revolutionary–another Leno talk show reportedly costs just a third that of a dramatic program. Even NPR reporter Kim Masters got a bit misty-eyed over the news, going so far as to quote long-time network producer Fred Silverman on how this could spark the beginning of the end of the network television we’ve grown to love.
“Fred Silverman finds it a bit sad that a major broadcaster like NBC isn’t even going to try to come up with dramas for a big chunk of prime-time,” she said in today’s report. For him, this is part of a decline that will transform the television landscape.” Masters added that Silverman predicts that moves like this means we’ll go from three to just two major TV networks in five years.
Decline? Sad? Television has a “landscape”? Silverman said all that? Wow. This, from the guy who brought us such cultural splendor as Charlie’s Angels and Starsky and Hutch.
We are talking about NETWORK television, right? Are we as a society (and I use that term rather loosely here) to believe that it would be a bad thing if a “major TV network” went out of business? Oh my God, what would happen if all three networks were to go under? Can you imagine what a nightmare that would be?
We should all be so unfortunate…

2 thoughts on “Surveying the ‘television landscape’

  1. Thank you for putting that into perspective. I remember Fred Silverman’s reign as head of programming for ABC and watching him change the landscape forever himself – lowest common denominator to attract high paying advertisers. Network tv is all about license fees and advertising, and that formula doesn’t work anymore.


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