The Vast Wasteland

On May 9, 1961, FCC chairman, Newton Minow gave his “Television and the Public Interest” speech to the convention of the National Association of Broadcasters in which he referred to American commercial television programming as a “vast wasteland.” He also strongly advocated for programming in the public interest (the focus of his speech).

Although he gave this speech during a time when there were only about three networks in the US and it took place all the way back in 1961, I believe the words he spoke were very truthful and his ideas stand true for the most part for television programming to this day.

He says if you sit down to watch a station until it signs off all you will see is “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. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few.” This is why he calls it a vast wasteland. He says there is nothing anyone can positively gain from watching TV.

I feel that his words still stand true to this day because if you take notice to what you actually watch on TV, usually all it is is sex, drugs, violence/crime, or cartoons. But even many cartoons are just for entertainment. I can’t say how many shows I avoid watching just because, sure it might be funny, but I feel like I’m literally losing braincells sitting there watching it. But the reason this is all there is on TV is because if a story isn’t interesting then people won’t watch it, and apparently making shows about these things are the best way to grab your audience’s attention.

Because I too agree that most of what is on TV nowadays is junk, I don’t even really watch TV much anymore. Mostly because I’m busy with other things, but on the rare occasion I do sit down to watch TV I find it difficult to find “good” shows that are on. I also try to go for the shows I gain learn something from or just the sitcoms I enjoy getting a good laugh from. Meaning, I end up watching either super complex shows like the DC comic stuff you’ll find on the CW or the more average shows like cooking/baking competitions, and like previously mentioned, the occasional old sitcom. Every experience is different when I sit down to watch TV.

I know some people who actually blame television for being the reason why the world is so messed up. They believe that people watch the dumb things characters do on the shows they watch and sometimes they go and do it. Like a money see, monkey do type of thing. I don’t know if this theory is true but with the increase of violence, crimes, and hate around the world, I seriously feel that anything could be possible at this point. These are just some things to think about.


2 thoughts on “The Vast Wasteland

  1. Hey Jenna,

    I really liked your post about this topic. I think you are right that there is a lot of drugs, sex, violence, and crime. However, I do feel that there is a phenomenal amount of education shows, viewpoints, and general diversity in television today. I know a few people that watch Ancient Aliens and the science channel that has Morgan Freeman narrating everything. I do believe that from the time Minow made this speech, television has truly evolved for the better. Although, with internet broadcasting and a constant overwhelming talk from the media about the current “public interest” basic entertainment, I think we start to degrade our own broadcasting. We have a lot of educational channels, I mean I remember watching animal planet all the time when I was a kid. We have news channels that have different perspectives on issues, we have evolved and I think we should give ourselves credit. However, we are “degrading” our broadcasting’s because of the media’s talk about only “public interest.” We have great broadcasting today, we only think it’s “bad” because we only see headlines about the basic mainstream television and internet broadcasting’s. In addition, in a modern era with an even more tough society with the need to “fit in,” people will lean towards watching those broadcasting’s talk about, which will general have drugs, sex, and violence. I think Minow today would talk about the media’s involvement with broadcasting and how it is the viewers obligation to not only watching “public interest” but inform themselves about issues and topics that are being discussed around the world and their community. I think today Minow would place more of the responsibility on the people. Great post!

    -Alex A.


  2. With the amount and variety of media there is available, people should be more selective in their viewing and take time to choose things that they will really enjoy. As opposed to viewing something because it just came out, other people are talking about it, or nothing else being available. With all the forms of entertainment out there, if even those are exhausted, simply sitting down and thinking can feel better than filler shows, information that enters our brains and dissipates the moment it hits the surface.


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