Magazine article U.S. Catholic

How to Get Better TV Reception

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

How to Get Better TV Reception

Article excerpt

"How dare you broadcast the beautiful words of the Mass in English! Didn't you learn anything in the seminary? If Latin was good enough for the apostles, why can't you use the same language?"

This is an excerpt from hundreds of letters I received in the early'60s when I produced "Mass for Shut-ins" on channel 19 in Chicago. Even after warning our television audience for six weeks in advance that we were going to switch to English in obedience to Vatican 11 and the archbishop of Chicago, viewers held me responsible for the change. The postcards and notes of complaint poured in.

I had to explain again and again on the Sunday Mass why the liturgy changed and why it would not change back. I would have opted for a choice of Latin or English, but the abrupt change was made without consulting me. It is a good example of what is wrong whenever people decide to write in and complain about a program they see on TV. I wish viewers would learn to shoot the tiger, not the guide!

In those years I was doing four different TV shows weekly, counting the Mass, and many weeks my mail convinced me that only my mother loved me. Few people ever write to a program and say they are pleased. Most mail says that the viewer didn't like the subject, the guest, the set, or your appearance. Some people wrote to me to say that they didn't like some other show, and they wanted me to hand on their opinion to someone else.

So, critical letters go to the wrong person. They are often vituperative and insulting. They exaggerate the impact of a show and often suggest that the moral fiber of their home and country is in peril. Their letters are not positive or creative but simply a means to tell someone off.

There is a parallel in the 50-word communiques sent by readers to newspapers explaining how the civil war in Bosnia can be solved. The bind over the Balkans makes Israel's West Bank problem look like a simple algebraic question. Ethnicity, history, religion, national pride, and deed of lands are all involved in Bosnia. Yet letter writers persist in offering that 50-word quick fix that has eluded not only politicians and policymakers but even historians.

From the tragic to the absurd, the same flaw besets those who write notes to complain about television. The faults of broadcasting are countless and will never be solved by a hastily scribbled postcard. That doesn't mean that we don't have the privilege and the responsibility of giving it our own shot. We have the right to comment on what we see and to write.

If something is wrong, write

Still, some cautions and then some creative ideas are in order.

* Write a letter and enclose a stamped, self-addressed reply envelope. Don't send a postcard. Be nice enough to type or use a pen rather than pencil your thoughts on a page from your children's lined-paper pad. The appearance of your letter may indicate how your opinion will be valued by the clerk who receives it.

* Write your own letter. Don't copy one that was given to you. Don't just tear it out of a magazine or sign a coupon; write your own. A real letter shows that you care enough to put your thoughts on paper in a gracious manner.

* Don't be scornful and suggest that the program is the product of a depraved or criminal mind. I don't exaggerate. Often, mail to broadcasters suggests that those who disagree with the opinions of the viewer deserve punishment by either human or divine tribunals. Don't hang the author. Express a difference of opinion. Say "Yes, but..."

* Don't criticize something that you haven't seen. Be like Thomas; first "put your fingers in the side" before you run off at the mouth. A few years ago I was surprised when a man named Rev. Donald Wildmon, representing a group of pen pals called the American Family Institute, showed up to debate me on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" on the sinfulness of a silly little art film called "The Last Temptation of Christ. …

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