Whither the Boob Tube?

Speaking before the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961, FCC Chairman Newton Minow famously called television a “vast wasteland.” As a commercial medium, television was only in its 20th year at that point and it consisted of three national networks that didn’t even broadcast 24 hours a day. Today of course there are hundreds of channels delivering content over the airwaves, along cable lines, via satellite and across the internet. Minow wouldn’t recognize today’s landscape, but would he still consider it a wasteland?

The interesting thing is that over the years, and especially in the last 20, the fragmentation of the TV audience has led to both an increase and a decrease in quality. Instead of having to appeal to a mass audience in a gigantic middle of the road, programmers carve out niches that can pander to the lowest common denominator or cater to those of us looking for something closer to high art. Between those two extremes, there are seemingly endless permutations. With DVDs and internet streaming, TV series no longer need to be stretched out to a magic number of 100 episodes so they can be packaged and resold as reruns to make a profit. With older episodes of many shows available on demand, a series can spin complex, connected storylines without having to worry about alienating new viewers. As a result, a good series can take on the richness and depth and nuance of a great novel.

If Minow turned on his television set today, he’d find on one hand absolute bottom of the barrel reality shows like Duck Dynasty, Keeping up with the Kardashians or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. On the other, he’d find sublime entertainments like Breaking Bad or True Detective. There’s something for every taste and a surprising amount of it is very good. Some still call it the Boob Tube, but TV no longer cultivates an audience of boobs nor are its sets made up of vacuum tubes. Once a distant bastard cousin of movies, television today is where the most interesting things are happening.

With that in mind, let this be the beginning of an expanded focus on television from Awards Daily. I’m Craig Kennedy and for the time being I’ll be your cruise director. Going forward, the shape and content of the coverage will be a work in progress. Does the world really need another show recap? I don’t know, but there’s more to watch than ever before and a lot of it deserves a bigger audience than it’s getting. At the very least, I hope to be of service in picking the gems out of the muck. For example, have you checked out Broad City on Comedy Central yet? You should. Are you jazzed for the upcoming 2nd season of Hannibal on NBC? I recommend it.

Drop me a line (craig@awardsdaily.com) and let me know what you’re interested in talking about when it comes to the small screen. I can’t watch and write about everything, but over time new voices will be added to the mix. I look forward to this turning into a vibrant community of lovers of good television. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go binge watch the 2nd season of House of Cards on Netflix.


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