Editorials - Broadcasting & Cable

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Television's Programming Paradox

When another of those bleed-for-me/cry-for-me/vomit-for-me geek shows that pass for reality TV was demonstrating what a sleazy carnival sideshow the TV medium can be, we caught a repeat of Door to Door
on TNT.
That simple tale well-told of courage and character (not to mention patience and persistence) had almost enough redemptive power to save the medium, like Scrooge's ghosts, in a single night. Almost.

Door to Door
was among the made-for-TV movies recognized two weeks ago with Golden Globe nominations for best actor (William H. Macy) and best actress (Helen Mirren). Cable is increasingly doing the creative heavy lifting, and it shows come awards time. Door to Door
could have appeared on any of the broadcast networks, containing nothing to raise the ire of government, affiliates, advertisers or any of the various clean-up-the-airwaves loudmouths. But other programs nominated for Golden Globes could only have been seen on cable. The pay cable networks, in particular, can let the action and dialog go where it needs to go without worrying about being hammered by Joe Lieberman the next morning. NBC Chairman Bob Wright made that point last year when he suggested that de facto restrictions would not allow NBC to air a show like the critically acclaimed Sopranos. He could have said the same about Sex and the City
and Six Feet Under, other Golden Globe nominees from HBO.
We're not certain that even FX's The Shield
would have made it past the broadcasters' self-censorship. Broadcasters feel they must steer clear of brilliantly acted and written fare if it is too much like what real people say and do, yet all of television feels free to pander to the worst in us with endless variations on "reality." Something is wrong with this picture.

The First 100 Years

While South Carolinian Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday has been capturing all the headlines, the birthday of another centenarian from the Carolinas—born a day earlier—has passed relatively unnoticed: Elizabeth Campbell's. Unlike Thurmond, Campbell, also a reform candidate, won her 1948 election—to the Arlington, Va., school board—the first step on a career path that would lead her to found noncommercial WETA-TV Washington in October 1961. In the beginning, the station's offices were in Campbell's home and the studio was housed in an otherwise unused classroom at an area high school. The station went on to become one of the jewels in the PBS crown, including producing PBS's coverage of the Watergate Hearings, Ken Burns's landmark The Civil War
and, in 1992, broadcasting the first over-the-air digital HDTV program. In addition to founding the station, Campbell helped launch music and arts programs for African American children and programs for the handicapped. Her contributions to television, the community and the country are worth honoring.

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