There’s no denying it; television
isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days when a
can’t-miss program seemed to be on television almost every
week, persuading even the most casual viewer to tune in. Now, those
can only be found a few times a year, those being the
“American Idol” conclusion, a couple series finales and
the unexpected hit show that seems to appear each season. Flavors
of the week such as these serve us briefly, but then fizzle out
quicker than “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” To a
certain extent, TV is losing its greatness, but pound for pound,
it’s still one of the best forms of entertainment we
have.

Mira Levitan

The fact is though, viewers are leaving the major networks. Back
in 1984, the leading network, CBS, had an average Nielsen rating
(the percentage of households watching a program at a given time)
of 18.1. In 1994, CBS again led with a 14.0 rating, but at the end
of 2003, that rating had dropped all the way to 6.2, which equates
to about 9.7 million viewers per program per night.

The substandard content of the big four (NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX)
can immediately be pointed to as a cause for this decline. Sitcoms
with former big-name stars (i.e. “The Michael Richards
Show” and “Whoopi”) aren’t working, as
quality writing takes a backseat to promoting the main character.
Spin-offs of America’s favorites (“Coupling” and
“My Big Fat Greek Sitcom,” for example) prove lightning
doesn’t strike twice, as the original of every show is always
better than any sequel.

Then there’s reality TV; a genre that has simultaneously
dominated TV for the last year and also hurt the reputation of the
previously credible networks. As concepts for these programs got
more and more bizarre (take “Married by America” and
“Are You Hot?”), viewers were turned away, but more of
these shows quickly followed because of initially popping a decent
rating. The first “Survivor” was original, but now TV
has the reputation of only providing viewers with pointless reality
drivel and sitcoms lacking quality.

So with network TV on the downswing and people no longer
considering it the cultural medium it once was, is it still
important in today’s entertainment?

Of course it is. Stars are constantly created, catch phrases
infuse our language (“Is that your final answer?”) and
it’s a perfect way to reach the masses, even if not as many
are watching as they once were. In one evening, from the comfort of
your living room, you can see an extreme makeover, watch a cop
drama and finish it off with a healthy dose of Letterman or Leno.
You grow attached to characters and every so often, a well-made
program comes out that keeps you tuning in week after week.

Cable has proved to be television’s saving grace. With
innovative shows and ideas geared toward a certain audience, they
provide a welcome change from the catch-all programming of the
networks. Whether it’s “South Park” on Comedy
Central, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” on Bravo or
even “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel, cable TV
has the ability to take risks with fresh shows, and sometimes those
risks pay off. HBO, for instance, has found great success, winning
numerous Emmys and constantly finding another hit program every few
seasons.

Great shows may be hard to find, but a night of laughs and
entertainment isn’t so difficult to locate as there’s
always something for everybody. Plus, with syndicated reruns, old
favorites aren’t forgotten, whether it’s
“Bewitched,” “Saved by the Bell,”
“Seinfeld” or any TV Land program. TV is still
important in our society, and if you don’t believe that,
there are only two words that need to be said: Super Bowl.

 

— Doug invites you to his place to watch “Sex and
the City.” RSVP at
“mailto:dwernert@umich.edu”>dwernert@umich.edu.

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