I ran across an article on Deadline.com that featured quotes by ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee on, essentially, the rise of intelligent television programming. In particular, this quote struck me:
“Storytelling itself has changed because our viewers have changed,” ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee said this morning at his opening presentation for the Banff World Media Festival in Canada. ”Smart is the new mainstream….If the message of 20 years ago was famously never over-estimate the intelligence of the public, I think the message of today should be never under-estimate the intelligence of the public.”
I’m not disputing that there is some excellent programming on television currently, and I’m thrilled that someone in the entertainment community wants intelligent, intricate storytelling that challenges the audience (and doesn’t talk down to them). I don’t know how the mindless drivel of reality shows factors into that, but perhaps the machinations of the desperate to be famous for more than 15 minutes types that seem to appear on The Bachelorette (and the like) are meant to be Machiavellian character references, and I’ve just missed it. Possible.
But more than the presence of reality television, I have to say that while the change in intelligent programming as the norm may appear to be a new shift forward, to me it seems more like a much needed shift back to the truly ground-breaking television of the 1970s.
- All in the Family: 1968–1979
- Maude (spin-off of All in the Family): 1972–1978
- Good Times: 1974–1979
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show: 1970–1977
- The Jeffersons (spin-off of All in the Family): 1975–1985
- M*A*S*H: 1972–1983
- One Day at a Time: 1975–1984
- Sanford and Son: 1972–1977
These are just some of the shows that dealt with social issues head-on: race, homosexuality, abortion, rape, war, divorce, drugs, crime, inter-racial marriage, birth control, women’s rights, class warfare, equality in the workplace and sex and the single girl. These were comedies, but I’m hard pressed to find a show on today (comedy or drama) that takes on these issues more directly, or as well, despite the fact that they existed in a less liberal, more volatile time for the viewing public. They dared the audience to keep up and stay with them despite the discomfort they brought. They did it brilliantly, honestly, and in ways I don’t believe most programming executives would be comfortable with today– simply too much risk involved for network television.
I applaud the creation of programming that requires engaged viewing by an intelligent audience. That can only be elevating. I marvel at some of the profoundly good material being presented right now. But the revolution already occurred—we’re just getting back to it.