Thank you Nomad. I really enjoyed that, and it provides much food for thought. I would like to offer my original thoughts as to why our TV is so bad.
I think Harlan is overly optimistic about how good American television could be. He makes the common mistake of thinking that commercial TV is part of the entertainment industry. It is not!. It is a primary organ of the advertising industry. All its revenues come from advertising, and it is interested in nothing else.
The target is people who will believe the advertisments, who I will call suckers for short. The job of the programmers is to find programs that are good sucker bait for the advertisements contained therin.
Programs that are valuable to this industry are ones that will attract the right kind of sucker. So there is no use for programs that will attract intelligent, well educated people who are capable of critical thinking. They are not suckers. If they were then the kind of programming that Harlan advocates would be valuable to this industry.
So I could agree with him about the President not being able to start a Vietnam type war if television was doing its job well (the way we would like it to by attracting the non-sucker audience). Of course Bush was able to do exactly that because our TV is aimed .at suckers.
Just look at the popular programs on TV today and the advertising that they contain, and the people who watch them. Are they well matched? I think so. Anything else would mean that a lot of money has been wasted by smart people for a long time – highly unlikely.
Sadly there is no solution for the commercial television model. It will always tend towards populist trash because that is where the money is.
In order to get the kind of programming that Harlan (and I) would like to see on TV, we need a different funding model. American PBS TV occasionally gives us a glimpse of what it could be like, but not enough funds are available through that model to produce high quality drama.
Europe, the UK, Canada and Australia had a working model for a while which I would call National TV, in government funded-networks like the RAI, BBC, ABC and CBC. For decades these networks showed wonderful Arts, music, drama and documentary programs that exposed their audiences to programs on a higher plane than they would perhaps otherwise have sought. So kids and adultswere exposed to the classics in music art, science and literature, rather than simply what they thought they wanted to watch. Standards were raised and people learned tools for critical thinking.
Americans believe in free enterprise and think that national television would be government-controlled and propagandistic. Paradoxically, the experience of the democratic nations who have it show the direct opposite. Being free from the self censorship necessary to keep advertisers happy, the national stations have the most critical current affairs programs and are far more likely to show material that is suitable for mature adults.
Then in the 1980s came the economic rationalists with their mantra of user pays with an agenda of microeconomic reform, de nationalisation, privatisation etc.
The National broadcasters were put under pressure. Your CBC was forced to advertise and has declined in quality ever since. National broadcasters are under pressure everywhere to do likewise.
The argument usually put is that commercial television is free to air, while National TV is taxpayer funded. However, this is disingenuous because all commercial revenues come from advertising and all advertising costs are incorporated in prices. The question worth asking is: Do viewers pay more for National or Commercial broadcasting?
Then it comes down to which model most people would prefer. I personally would prefer quality programs without frequent annoying and totally irrelevant interruptions, even if half or more of the programs were pitched a bit high for my intellectual capacity. With this I would like to see the end of the commercial model so that I am not forced to subsidise lowest common denominator programming.
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