Television is hanging on by a thread and with it, how we connect as a society. When I was growing up the 1980’s, family time was spent sitting down to watch The Cosby Show. Appointment TV was very much apart of our lives. The whole family would gather around the TV to catch the latest episode of “Silver Spoons” or “Perfect Strangers.”
Albeit before my viewing time, over 41 million people tuned in to find out “Who Shot JR” on “Dallas.” It was an international moment. People planned their days around it. Watching this TV show brought people together, made us connect as a society. Today, a show like “The Office” is considered a hit with only 6 million viewers.
In 2010, the idea of a family gathering together to watch a hit TV show is nothing but a memory of days gone by. We have replaced this moment of togetherness by emailing a clip, or highlight, to one another via Hulu or YouTube. We take great pleasure in sharing with one another, but from a distance.
“Tonight on a very special Blossom” was a familiar phrase we would hear before a sitcom with a tough message. This was a sign that we were about to dive into a topic that was going to be heavy. It would be greeted with comedy, but we were going to take it on. Sometimes an actor would even break the fourth wall just to tell us how we could find out more about the topic they just tackled.
This moment, however awkward to be sharing it with your family, opened the doors of communication. Parents could expect questions about drug abuse, teen drinking, or even sex after seeing it portrayed on the magic box. The episode of “Different Strokes” that featured a child molester still makes me uncomfortable, but it gives me pause. Yes it scared me, but it opened my eyes. I would badger my parents with questions, and it made them think too.
Television had the power to take us out of our comfort zone and questions things. With the promise of adventure, it was an experience we would share together as a family. From seeing man walk on the moon, to Johnny Carson’s last night on “The Tonight Show,” there are specific moments in television that are like flipping through the pages of a family album. People think of these moments, remember what they were doing that day, or whom they were with.
Moments, like these, are lost in time. Addressing an organization of British TV producers, Stephen Fry recently said:
“television as the nation’s fireplace, the hearth and the heart of the country, the focus of our communal cultural identity, that television is surely dead. It seems unlikely ever to return. Instead of being the nation’s fireplace, TV is closer to being the nation’s central heating. It’s conveniently on in every room, it’s less discernible, less of a focus, more of an ambient atmosphere.”
Fry also said he is no longer a producer, writer, or an actor, he is a “distributor of content.”
Cable, VCR’s, DVR’s, Social Media all have contributed to the death of TV, and replaced it with narrow casting. I have no idea what the future holds for TV, I don’t think anyone does. Cable is spreading TV too thin these days. Good shows pop up, but are in limited supply. They can only be found on niche channels and are often only appreciated by critics.
We have a responsibility to save TV. We want High Definition pictures plastered on big screens and in 3-D, but somehow settle for lousy quality on a mobile device and tiny screens. We need to make up our minds.
In the mini-series “Merlin,” one of the final scenes saw Queen Mab deteriorate after the people just turned away and forgot her. I don’t think TV will be forgotten, but I fear we will evolve into a society that only connects via an email, text or tweet. The shared experience of TV is becoming a lost art. The more we loose of it, the more we loose of each other.