NewsViews: Is TV still a vast wasteland?

June 5, 2011 (CHICAGO)

A half-century ago, President Kennedy's young chairman of the federal Communications Commission, Newton Minow, made perhaps the most famous speech ever about television. He asked the nation's broadcasters--in what's known as the "Vast Wasteland" speech--to spend a day watching their own stations.

"I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence and cartoons," Minow said. "True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it. Is there one person in this room who claims that broadcasting can't do better?"

Minow has bachelor's and law degrees from Northwestern University. As FCC chairman, he pushed into law measures that helped launch public television stations and cleared the way for communications satellites. Now, at the age of 85, he's active as senior counsel with the Chicago law firm of Sidley and Austin.

Our other guest, Bruce Dumont, is founder, president, and chief executive officer of the Chicago Museum of Broadcast Communications. He's a graduate of Columbia College in Chicago. For 31 years he has hosted the "Beyond the Beltway" political commentary program that is seen nationwide. He has been honored by membership in the Silver Circle of the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

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