A funny thing happened in the late 1970s: TV began its descent to the scrap heap of media history. Sure it’s still around and in some ways more popular than ever. But instead of being the industry it used to be, where the best people go to do their best work, television is now a last resort or forbidden outpost for the self-reliant, talented, creative people who used to populate it.
Some people say TV did it to itself with inane and unoriginal programming, ever-worsening news standards, and deserting the very communities they served by selling out to absentee corporate landlords who took the money and used it to buy even more TV stations at the expense of valuable and important local programs.
But what really did it was the invention of small, affordable cameras and computer-based editing. In a dramatic and rapid period from the late 1980s through the 1990s, digital democratization turned every bored or artistic teenager into a video producer. Their videos produced YouTube. YouTube- well, you know the rest.
Now TV news operations and program producers imitate those same bored teenagers, simultaneously courting and stealing from them. Without teenagers, there are no future TV viewers. Statistics show fewer and fewer young people watch TV or even know what it is. I believe that’s a good thing because, first of all, they’re doing something else which is likely much more constructive. But second and perhaps most important, it’s shaking the television industry right to its dried- up roots. The result of this shakeup though has been sadly misguided: Layoffs, cutbacks, repetition, yet more imitation, and a total reliance on political campaign advertising money to keep running what’s left.
Instead of fighting back and reclaiming the creative high ground, the TV biz acts as if suicide is the only option. I’d hate to see the business I dedicated more than 30 years of my life to destroy itself. But then again, it’s not the business that I loved and gave up everything to succeed in anymore.