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October 4, 2015

What baby boomers learned from TV

by Julia Ward, posted Nov 7th 2006 11:01AM
All in the FamilyNewsweek's November 13th issue features a story on what television taught baby boomers. Apparently, it first taught them how to buy a Davy Crockett cap and shotgun. Then, however, things got more complicated. All in the Family. M*A*S*H. Good Times. The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Roots. "What boomers ultimately took from early TV was a collective sense of irony." The article isn't entirely convincing in this argument, but it does level a pointed criticism about television today.

Modern TV, according to Newsweek, has lost its edge. "The most popular shows are still crime procedurals (CSI) or soaps (Grey's Anatomy) - slick and sexy, but not about much. The reality shows American Idol and Dancing with the Stars are so retro, they're practically The Lawrence Welk Show. When The Unit or 24 does dare to focus on something like the war on terror, their take is uncritically gung-ho - no network today would risk satire on the level of M*A*S*H."

Cable is left out of this argument, but what do you think? Did Newsweek miss the entire run of The West Wing or the subtext of Ugly Betty Suarez's class struggle? Is it the big networks' job to present social satire if there's not an appetite for it? Is Newsweek's criticism valid, or is it a case of comparing apples to oranges?

If you begin to acknowledge the true landscape of television today with cable and the internet, than their argument seems naive. If you look just at the networks or what really are the most popular shows on TV, than Newsweek may have a point. Yet, do you begrudge anyone from just being entertained in this wacky, crazy world of ours? Weren't there crap shows on TV in the 60s and 70s? I don't have any answers, but I never mind contemplating the questions.

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Hmm, what about The Simpsons, Family Guy, and American Dad? We can debate whether or not they deal with social/political/religious issues intelligently or not, but the fact remains that they DO deal with them very openly and unabashedly on network TV.

And what about all those Law & Order commercials I see where they keep talking about having plots "ripped from the headlines"?

What about some recently cancelled shows like Will & Grace, featuring a gay main character, or That 70's Show, where the characters regularly (and unrepentently) smoked marijuana?

What about Lost whose cast of characters has, at various points, included a single mother, a heroin addict, a quasi-incestuous pair of siblings, a cop who killed a man in cold blood, an African war lord, and a former member of the Iraqi Republican Guard?

What about House, which has a pill-popping, racist-remark making lead character and plots that routinely involve ethical crises, such as euthenasia, the death penalty, incest, racism, drug use, and homophobia?

And once we get into cable, which makes up the majority of the TV programs, anyway, you've got South Park, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, as well as a bunch of shows I don't watch but here lots of talk about being "edgy."

I do agree, however, that All In The Family would not make it on TV today. Not because it's too controversial, but simply because it's not funny.

November 07 2006 at 4:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Unfortunately, the shows with edgier topics are either on cable or not network hits. LC mentioned Boston Legal and three weeks ago they dealt with Scientology and freedom of religion in a way that was impossible to argue against. It was perfection, and yet irreverant as always with Alan Shore arguing against.

Another thread is about It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia getting a 3rd year, and that show deserves kudos when it comes to this discussion, as did prior one-season wonders from F/X; Lucky & Starved.

They are out there, but in this politically correct world most people are too afraid to admit to watching a show that isn't, so they will watch what everyone else is comfy watching to avoid scrutiny. M*A*S*H and All In The Family would never find network airtime today. And, yes, that is a shame, no matter what decade first introduced you to the tube.

November 07 2006 at 3:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Which TV program taught Baby-Boomers to be completely self-obsessed?

November 07 2006 at 2:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bob Jones

There is no good family show on TV today, and I don't mean corny 7th Heaven or a "perfect family" show - no Roseanne, Wonder Years, or dramas like Picket Fences today ... sex, terrorism and nothing that most people can relate to.

November 07 2006 at 1:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In some ways I think they're right. Television is no longer willing to take a chance on something different. Hell, just look at CBS' schedule -- it's a slightly different take on the same show five days a week. However, those shows are, for the most part, what people are watching, so is CBS (or any network) wrong for not taking chances? I think it's too easy to just say yes. Neither All in the Family nor M*A*S*H were popular shows when they first aired. They took their time grabbing an audience, which is the real problem with networks these days. They pull shows far too quickly, often before they even have a chance to grab an audience pr build steam, simply because the numbers aren't what someone thinks they should be. CSI was not a hit when it first aired. It actually got beat by Will and Grace, and Frasier before it, until people starting tuning in more; and that's only because last place CBS was willing to take a chance keeping the show on the air.

They are correct, I think, that networks would be scared as hell to air a television show like M*A*S*H, which while very funny in its heydey was unabashedly anti-war, a child of its times. Networks would be frightened of offending the small, but extremly vocal, minority who would protest their liberal "bias" if they presented a TV show about Iraq that was factual in its depiction of war. Moreover, it probably wouldn't attract enough viewers to make the brouhaha worth it.

Networks are businesses owned by large corporations looking at the bottom line. There job is to make a profit and sometimes taking a chances does not help the bottom line. That doesn't make it right; just truthful.

November 07 2006 at 1:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Maybe the author isn't watching much TV today. There are plenty of edgy shows today that deal with current topics. Like you mentioned, The West Wing. The Practice and it's spinoff, Boston Legal deal with cases relevant to social issues quite often, as does ER.

I assume the article is talking about Network TV, as cable has quite a bit of edgy programming. Since cable can produce edgier shows than networks, the networks have to go a different route, after all, they are about making money first.

Also, we are inundated with news channels and information from the web. More information than people received in the 70's. Sometimes people just want to escape the real world for a few hours and just be entertained by some action shows or socially irrelevant sitcoms.

November 07 2006 at 1:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chris Wyant

Periodicals like Newsweek are dated one week after their release (usually). It's kind of a "relevant until" date.

November 07 2006 at 12:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

13th November? Don't you miss something?

November 07 2006 at 11:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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