For a Kinder, Gentler Society
The Other Face of Public Television
Censoring the American Dream
  • Roger P. Smith
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The Other Face of Public Television. Censoring the American Dream
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Government and corporate interference have robbed the public of access to point-of-view programming. Through subterfuge, suppression of dissent, and thought control, Washington (with eager assistance from Madison Avenue) has locked out the “creatives” and the educators –the people who fashion any culture’s future.

Drawing less on the public record and commentary, more on what actually happened during meetings and conversations (like hiring–firing sessions), the author demonstrates how the social forces spawned by developing economics and government in the US have straitjacketed this instrument of “freedom” and “democracy”. Larger issues affecting all of society are an important part of the book’s architecture.


About the Author

Roger P. Smith is an author of note and a writer of network nonfiction TV. A pioneer in public service television, production and films, he knows his subject from the inside, having written over 100 nonfiction scripts for television. He is especially qualified to comment on the industry. His degree in Philosophy and Literature from Yale University found him a niche in the CBS executive training program in 1955, where he stayed for many years. He later worked at leading public stations including WGBH (Boston), WTTW (Chicago), and WNET (New York); and he later became an independent producer, a President of the Production House, Inc. (in MA) and Media Consulting & Production (in CA).He has received Television’s most prestigious awards: the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Ohio State, George Foster Peabody and others.

Smith does not point a finger at a list of TV functionaries, but analyzes the interaction of commercial TV, economics, politics, and public attitudes on both commercial and noncommercial television.

About the Book

Government and corporate interference have robbed the public of access to point-of-view programming. Through subterfuge, suppression of dissent, and thought control, Washington (with eager assistance from Madison Avenue) has...

Government and corporate interference have robbed the public of access to point-of-view programming. Through subterfuge, suppression of dissent, and thought control, Washington (with eager assistance from Madison Avenue) has locked out the “creatives” and the educators — the people who fashion any culture’s future.

Drawing less on the public record and commentary, more on what actually happened during meetings and conversations (like hiring–firing sessions), the author demonstrates how the social forces spawned by developing economics and government in the US have straitjacketed this instrument of “freedom” and “democracy”. Larger issues affecting all of society are an important part of the book’s architecture.


Introduction

Shortly after World War II, a new kind of theater burst into American living rooms. Viewers were struck by its novelty. The movement and...

Shortly after World War II, a new kind of theater burst into American living rooms. Viewers were struck by its novelty. The movement and sound, and the awareness that they were witnessing happenings as they actually took place, enthralled them. “The magic of television”, it was called.

 The rapid and wholesale integration of this novel communication/entertainment/ information medium into American culture brings into focus a question that is as yet unanswered: Can the alliance of democratic government and consumerist capitalism foster conditions that enhance a civilized society? The commercial effectiveness of television has been proven beyond a doubt, while formidable clinical, scholarly and hearsay evidence of its cultural impact has yet to receive acceptance.

 The art of television began ad hoc, without much in the way of structure or rules. What television was had to be discovered in the doing. Early clues came in the form of the charm and intimacy of puppeteer Burr Tilstrom’s Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Original drama on an intimate scale came from Studio One, then on a larger scale from Playhouse 90. Experiments in aesthetics came from Camera Three. How things work in science and technology came from Adventure. Children’s curiosity about the outside world was piqued by Let’s Take a Trip, while explorations of the arts and humanities came from Omnibus. Key events in current history the riveting live coverage of the resignation of General Douglas Mac-Arthur and the Army- McCarthy hearings established television’s worthiness as an instrument of citizenship education.

Such high points were the creative achievements of pioneers exploring television’s potential. The makers of these programs were people willing to experiment, willing to dare, willing to risk failure. They were exuberant, mostly young, and full of hope. Today we look at them as examples of a spirit that we think of as peculiarly American. Veterans of television production refer to that time as “the great days”. For makers and viewers alike, in the years just after our victory in World War II, television was a vehicle for a hope for America’s future that was nearly palpable. What these independent minds accomplished was allowable within the structure of American broadcasting as it had been established.

Broadcasting has come a long way since its beginnings in the 1920s and early 1930s. Then, the Payne Fund and the American Association of Colleges and Universities battled vainly against the specter of pitchmen being allowed to transmute the educational potential of broadcasting into a vehicle for what was seen as vulgar commercial gain. American radio was lobbied into commercialism through the resources of major American corporations, including some whose survival is testimony to the effectiveness of the tactic. The widely respected General Electric and AT&T were among them.

By edict of the federal legislature in the Communications Act of 1934, the American broadcasting industry was authorized by the Congress of the United States to be, in effect, a component of a propaganda machine for the makers of consumer products. The propaganda was called advertising. The Communications Act of 1934 invited into everybody’s living room the street-hawkers who had been locked out in earlier centuries. Back then, authority for the character that radio and its successor, television, ultimately developed was negotiated by the federal legislature into the hands of the US Department of Commerce, a clear signal of its future. Television broadcasting began life under radio’s regulations -- its programming was legislatively subsumed by grandfathering. Picture-radio, or television, during the second half of the 20th century was supported by the State as part of the stagecraft of commerce.

It is generally acknowledged among thoughtful people that compromise is an essential element in the story of the development of commercial television in the United States. Long ago, most of us learned to expect some dissembling from commercial TV. The reason for the invention of noncommercial television was to create a medium free of some of the more egregious compromises. Developed in the shadow of England’s BBC, it was thought that our television might be able to husband a standard of thought and sensibility that would outpace England’s. But over time, noncommercial television in America has taken on some of the limitations of commercial television. In the areas of both authorization and management, principles that justified the creation of public television as an independent alternative have been compromised into nonexistence….


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Categories

Pages 244
Year: 2002
LC Classification: HE8700.79.U6 S65
Dewey code: 384.55'4'0973
BISAC: PER010030
Soft Cover
ISBN: 978-1-892941-82-4
Price: USD 22.95
Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-1-892941-83-1
Price: USD 29.95
Ebook
ISBN: 978-1-892941-43-5
Price: USD 29.95
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