50th Anniversay of Newton Minow’s “Vast Wasteland” speech

I had planned on doing this post on Monday, but unfortunately, was busy and did not get the opportunity.

There has always been a running joke in my family when someone would complain about the quality of a particular television program, someone would respond with “vast wasteland”.

For those unfamiliar with the origin of the phrase, it dates back to the May 9th, 1961 speech by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow. In his speech, Minow condemned the quality of television, stating in part:

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.

If Minow was not correct in 1961, is there any doubt that if he gave the same speech today he would be correct? Is there anything that is worth watching on television, especially on broadcast television, today?

Cross-posted at Virginia Virtucon.

1 Comment

  1. Nell Minow says:

    Thank you, Mr. Watson! On the anniversary of the speech last Monday my dad appeared at the National Press Club with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to talk about the half-century since he gave the speech and what they think about telecommunications today. You can see it on C-SPAN: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/TheFutureofTele

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