It's Already 1962, and TV Still Sucks
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January 4, 1962, Vol. VII, No. 11
After Paar, What?
By Richard Sharp
In the beginning some of us saw great possibilities for television. Think what miracles of communication might be accomplished, we argued, with millions of separate audiences as relaxed and receptive as in a private conversation. Big men would come along, would rise from obscurity, to seize the hearts and minds of those audiences and raise the level of America's sensitivity and understanding to a golden high that the theatre and the movies and the concert stage could only dream of.
Not so, said the intellectuals. Since it was a commercial medium, they averred, it would soon be cluttered with pollyanna drama, screaming, offensive sales pitches, and audience-participation shows which would grow progressively more insane than their radio progenitors.
It seems now that the intellectuals were right and we were wrong.
I look, almost in vain, for remnants or glimmerings of that promise we saw. I look for programmers or performers or critics who understand that television is not the movies, not the theatre, not Carnegie Hall, not vaudeville, not "The March of Time." And I try, as I was challenged to do at the very start, to formulate more exactly what television is -- or, if you like, what it could be.
Let's grant, first, that under the present economic setup very little is apt to happen. Nobody -- not even Newton H. Minow or Jack Gould -- is going to convince the sponsors and the agencies that having 50 million apathetic viewers "exposed" to a brain-rattling, soul-shattering "message" while they're in the kitchen getting another can of beer between halves of "Life with Father" or "Gunsmoke" is the best way to sell zirconylchloride in a Roll-Top bottle. So let's suppose that one of the suggested alternatives -- pay television, network control of programming, the "magazine concept" -- becomes a reality. What do the "creative" people of television-land have ready to rush into the breach?
...A full-fledged criticism if Jack Paar's program is neither possible or necessary here. It is enough to say that his personality is objectionable, his morality foolish, his choice of guests parochial, his wit childish, his manner petulant, his style grotesque. But everybody watches him (though in some circles it is worth your reputation to admit it), and I would like to suggest that our motives for doing so are not merely infantile-voyeuristic but also a recognition that there are a few little flowers of truth poking up through Paar's debris. If he were a wise and funny man, with wise and funny guests, if he were as fearless as he says he is, and if he understood the potentialities of that hot little eye in the living room, he could roll us on the floor, or into the streets with banners, or out to the supermarkets to by blindly whatever he was peddling...
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