Saturday, January 16, 2010

In Defense Of Television

Some years back a buddy of mine boasted he never watched television. Yet, he could tell you every joke and expression and the actors on the then popular television show "Laugh In."

Folks, here comes da judge. You lie.

Television is the best and worst form of entertainment and information ever invented by mankind. Ever since communications commentator Marshall McCuen called it "the vast wasteland," intellectually-challenged conservatives have used it to accuse its critics as elitists and snobs.

For every one good thing one can say about television one can find 10 negatives.

But McCuen's "wasteland" no longer exists with the advent of cable and satellites expanding the television menu options into the hundreds -- for a price most can afford by necessity.

Yesterday I posted a column praising CNN for its initial coverage of the Haiti earthquake destruction and by the end of the week it continued to be two steps ahead of its competitors. In the comment section to the post, as so often is the case, the conversation took a particular thread with some of my respected colleagues suggesting to press the off button on the TV clicker.

Excellent advise. We Americans watch too much television. It seduces us from childhood in which parents employ it as a baby sitter to old age in which mobility confines us to our places of shelter. Too many of us are couch potatoes and among the young contributes to obesity and juvenile diabetes.

Television is the chief culprit of the dumbing down of America.

It need not be. Because our public and private schools are deficient in many areas of basic education, television can fill the gap albeit crudely.

Rather than watch reruns of "I Love Lucy," the Public Broadcasting System, the History Channel and the National Geographic Channel among many offer understandable lessons in history, geography, culture and the sciences.

I have a friend who did not receive his high school diploma until age 30 by going to night school. His rudimentary knowledge of history and politics is equal to any college graduate simply by faithfully following the History and NGO channels. The other day we were talking about Sarah Palin, and yes, he did know why Korea was divided into north and south as a result of World War II.

I'm a baseball buff. Ken Burns' PBS series on the creation of baseball into America's national pastime was an educational classic for me because it filled gaps I was totally ignorant.

Television offers something for everyone. Reality, soap opera and most comedy shows are not my bag but for others they are the staples of life as they know it. I wasn't a great fan of "Seinfeld" or "Friends" but watched them if nothing else was on the air at the time.

The best crime show in cinema history was "The Wire" on HBO. The best political drama was "The West Wing" on a commercial network, NBC. The list is endless.

In television news, the cables cater to niche audiences while the three major networks struggle with their half-hour nightly shows which offer too much fluff for such limited time slots. By the way, they call television news "shows" for a reason. Too much gimmickry and need to entertain rather than inform and educate.One thing television news must avoid at all costs -- Boring.

America's attention span is measured in nanoseconds. Television falls prey to channel surfers: Catch their attention now or lose them.

That is the new "wasteland."

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