Television's Impact on American Culture

By William Y. Elliott | Go to book overview

Smith's philosophy is not ascendent. The talk is chiefly of closed-circuit, classroom TV. The educators have organized the production of program on a fragmentary basis, with colleges making independent program contributions. There is, to be sure, an Educational Television and Radio Center at Ann Arbor, Michigan, but this acts solely as a distributor of programs. It is a pity. It should be an imaginatively creative center for production itself.

Many early supporters of educational TV who held high hopes for it are disappointed that the cause has suffered its Second Defeat (the First, of course, was educational radio). But the time has come to look at the ETV story candidly.


APPENDIX G *
Britain's Experience with "Mixed" Programs: NEXT STEP FOR TELEVISION

With the opening of its northern transmissions commercial television has completed the first stage of its expansion; with the pollsters' finding that, out of every ten viewers with a choice, six will usually be watching commercial television and only four the BBC, the experiment has, for better or worse, settled down. This seems to be a good moment to comment on where television appears to be going; as already, in any one evening, up to a third of the adult population will take some look at the screen, it is by far the most important new social influence of our time.

The Economist's view of commercial television has always been sufficiently moderate for it to be accused of being hypocritical. On the one hand we were for long disturbed by the deadening effect of the former BBC monopoly and even more by the fact that the otherwise far-seeing people in charge of that monopoly did not appreciate what damage they were doing to the spirit of intelligent controversy in public life. On the other hand, we always wanted television to continue its tradition of an "educational mission by stealth"; the hope was that a competitive system, retaining the services of some sort of public corporation censor or mentor, could still be used to prod the captive mass audience away from uninterrupted enjoyment of all the things it bovinely wanted towards occasional and unexpected enjoyment of some of the things it ought to want. As regards advertising, it seemed clear both that advertisers wanted to spend money on this medium and that most viewers would prefer to use that money rather than pay higher licence fees; the case for advertising finance therefore seemed to be made out, though with the warning that this finance alone might not suffice to carry the balanced programmes on which a public corporation ought to insist.

____________________
*
Reprinted with the permission of the Editor, from The Economist, May 12, 1956.

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