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THE VANISHING VISION: The Inside Story of Public Television by James Day

THE VANISHING VISION: The Inside Story of Public Television


Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Publisher: Univ. of California

A plodding history of American public television by someone present at its creation. Day, a past president of National Education Television as well as of stations WNET and KQED, writes with obvious affection and nostalgia for public broadcasting's tenuous early days when programming was often live and fraught with mishaps. But Day's insider angle ultimately ends up distorting his perspective. He writes as if he were afraid to leave anything out, forgetting that many readers may not share his fascination with all the corporate minutiae of 40-plus years of programming, infighting, and scrounging for money. Nevertheless, the portrait of public television that eventually emerges is a cumulatively depressing one: money-burning inefficiencies, a top-heavy bureaucracy, creative decisions made by endless committees, and of course, Barney. Day suggests that the solution to these current/perpetual woes lies in establishing two public networks to allow for a greater variety of programming, to be funded by some kind of direct or indirect tax. More realistically, Day argues that with the endless profusion of cable stations, public broadcasting must distinguish itself through an accelerated Matthew Arnold-like commitment to excellence. While public broadcasting's conception of excellence has tended to be synonymous with elitism (one study found that less than 0.5 percent of programming was about working people), Day does convincingly demonstrate that from Nova to Baseball PBS has slowly moved toward E.B. White's ideal of ""our Lyceum, our Chautauqua, our Minsky's, and our Camelot."" Still, much of this book feels like an interminable PBS pledge drive (which Day helped invent) but without the premium tote bags and coffee mugs as consolation.