By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
TV wasteland
Placeholder Image

In 1961, a man named Newton Minnow had been appointed to the Federal Communications Commission. In a now-famous speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, Minnow referred to television as a "vast wasteland."

We're talking 1961, when The Andy Griffith Show was in it's second season.

I was a baby, but those of you who were watching television at the time were watching Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, Bonanza and Gunsmoke. I still think that's pretty good stuff.

If Minnow thought 1961 television was a wasteland, what in the world is it today?

The Andy Griffith Show was a sit-com, but there was always a little lesson on the show. My boss and I regularly quote from the show, which shot its last episode 39 years ago.

Now, television's prime time schedule is built around "reality" shows.

The other night, when nothing worth watching was on any of the couple of hundred cable channels that come into my house, I found myself watching one of those wife swapping shows.

The usual premise is that they find an obsessive-compulsive, ultra-conservative suburban housewife and have her change places with a super laid back woman who never left the hippie scene and is a devotee of some agnostic alternative cult.

All right, let's think about this. Who, in their right mind, would participate in such a mess?

The show spends the next hour trying to make nice folks out of trashy people and vice versa.

Then, there's the many versions of wannabe shows. Folks who want to be singers, dancers, comedians and chefs.

We found ourselves watching this show called "Hell's Kitchen." In this show, you get humiliated by a British chef who has the vocabulary of a sailor. About every fifth word is beeped out.

Among the contestants was a woman who worked at Waffle House.

Now, there is nothing wrong with Waffle House. I eat there regularly. I like to sit at the counter and watch the cook manage all those orders.

But Waffle House is not exactly the place you go to get creme brulee (unless you want it scattered, smothered or covered).

The newest of the reality shows is called "Kid Nation," which will premiere this month on CBS. For 40 days, 40 kids live in a old West ghost town without adult supervision. I can't wait.

Now, I'm not saying that television in the 1960s wasn't a bit bizarre at times.

We had a show about a millionaire, his wife, a movie star, a professor and a girl from the Midwest going on a three-hour boat cruise and getting stuck on an island for years. Incidentally, the boat, the S.S. Minnow, was supposedly named for Newton Minnow.

We also had a family go into outer space on a flying saucer with a stowaway and a friendly robot.

But nobody was voted off the island and even when they found the stowaway on the spaceship, they didn't drop him at the next planet (although it appeared to be very tempting).

Television was supposed to be a form of entertainment. It has made us laugh, cry and even pause to think.

We've turned to television to watch a man walk on the moon and someone who is supposedly a man do the moon walk.

Newton Minnow may have been a little ahead of his time when he called TV a wasteland in 1961. But 46 years later, he's right on the money.

Harris Blackwood, a native of Social Circle, is on the editorial board of The Gainesville Times. Send e-mail to