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Exploring the vast wasteland

Published June 05. 2010 09:00AM

Do you remember when television was described as a vast wasteland?

It happened during a speech delivered to the National Association of Broadcasters. The criticism was leveled by an attorney named Newton Minow. At the time, he was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Minow felt that TV was not living up to its potential to serve the public interest.

He said: "I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. 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."

Ironcially, that speech was delivered on May 9, 1961, a time when TV shows were pretty darn good.

The networks were offended by Minow's criticism. Here's proof. They soon ridiculed him in a very clever way. The S. S. Minnow of the 1964 -1967 television show "Gilligan's Island" was sarcastically named for him. As you recall, the S. S. Minnow (with two n's) was off-course and a shipwreck. So in the eyes of producers, it became appropriate to loosely name it after Minow (with one n).

Minow is now 84 and I wonder how he feels about TV today. Just for fun, I did what Minow suggested. I watched TV with a critical eye. I found lots of good TV and lots of bad TV.

I particularly enjoy Dancing with the Stars, American Idol and American Pickers. The History Channel has good stuff and the news shows are informative.

For every good show, I also found a bad one, even on the History Channel.

For instance, there is a show about logging called The Ax Men. Three minutes of that reality show was all I needed to turn the channel. There is another called Ice Road Truckers. I found it semi-fascinating (no pun intended). The show isn't too riveting but I was intrigued by the various camera angles. The production crew uses lenses mounted at every possible position on the trucks, even beneath the ice, too. Instead of watching the truckers on their haul, I think I'd prefer to watch a show devoted to how the production crew of Ice Road Truckers sets up their cameras.

The networks have some awful shows. How about that late night Poker Show? I'd rather sit and watch the grass grow. For me, it's akin to watching golf on TV. Have you ever heard anybody say: "I can't watch golf on television because it's too fast moving?"

Then there's that cooking show where a short tempered chef constantly yells at his students as if he's Judge Judy. And how about The Nanny show with the rambunctious tots? To me, spoiled brats aren't entertainment. Spoiled brats are the opposite of entertainment.

What about Orange County Choppers? The show could qualify as a college course, Vulgarity 101. But I like it anyway.

Then there is Stars on Ice. Now theyre copying Dancing with the Stars because they've created a skating show called Thin Ice, where unlikely skating partners are paired and judged. Skating shows are trying to figure out how to jump on the Dancing with the Stars bandwagon.

The next hit, I suppose, will be a show about overweight skaters called Stars on Ice Cream.

Still, I think TV is lots of fun even though the hilarious sitcoms of my youth are history. "Come listen to my story about a man named Jed."

Reality-type shows are the big thing today and some are good. I enjoy Pawn Stars and Antiques Road Show. And I've found that I can still catch my favorite old sitcoms on cable. "A horse is a horse, of course, of course."

So all in all, my opinion is that TV isn't a vast wasteland. It's still entertaining, as long as you know how to use the remote control.

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