Something Happened: A Political and Cultural Overview of the Seventies

By Edward D. Berkowitz | Go to book overview

10
Television and the reassurance of the familiar

During the sevcnties, since not everyone went to the movies, a selective audience created a niche for quality pictures offering incisive vignettes of the era. Television, by way of contrast, was unavoidable: 97.1 percent of American households contained a TV set in 1975. Because television was ubiquitous, it served as America's principal medium for the dispersal of both entertainment and news. It therefore contributed to the ways in which Americans experienced the seventies. They learned about Watergate, the energy crisis, and the end of the Vietnam War and escaped from the sobering legacies of those events primarily through television. TV images of gays, people with disabilities, women in the work place, and African Americans reinforced their impressions of the rights revolution.

The fact that so many people watched the same shows heightened television's role as a source of common images and sounds. The three television networks, enjoying the largest audience they would ever have, dominated the airwaves. As commercial entities that needed to satisfy a large audience, the networks sought to offer popular and inoffensive programs to the public. ABC, CBS, and NBC, according to the industry credo of the postwar era, aimed for the least objectionable programming to fill the prime-time hours.1 Between 1948 and 1970, they saturated the airwaves with variety shows, westerns, and situation comedies that featured suburban households confronting the problems of a prosperous society. By the end of the sixties, however, the networks realized that they could make even more money in prosperous postwar America by catering to the younger members of the household. The variety shows, with their emphasis on

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