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Martin Mayer's previous success with The Lawyers (1967) and on back through The Schools, Madison Avenue U.S.A., and Wall Street will doubtless help keep About Television from burning out long before it should. With the exception of a competent discussion of cable and pay-TV, this is a surprisingly lackadaisical, facile, hackneyed glance at the tube. When Mayer isn't closing your eyes with avuncular truisms such as ""television will not go away; it is embedded in the culture now, like frozen lasagna"" he's crossing them with unaccountable contradictions. For example, in the preface it suits him to puff up TV as ""a social machine that has affected the daily lives of ordinary people more profoundly than anything since the mass production of automobiles"" but later, when attempting to explain away the educative impact of Sesame Street, he baldly states ""the notion that television can deeply affect people's lives, though still plausible, is very far from being proved."" And when he isn't boring or befuddling you, he's trying to boost (as in rip-off) your intelligence with a bolixed defense of Agnew's ""superb"" attack on the media, hatchetry on FCC reformer Nicholas Johnson whom he calls paranoid and quotes out of context, and the suggestion that CBS should have issued letters of apology over The Selling of the Pentagon flap thereby avoiding ""the whole sordid dispute"" (i.e., the question of press freedom). Mayer throws in the usual stats (90% of all sets get network fare during prime-time, etc.), takes the obligatory swipe at the ratings (""the worst kind of democracy. . . the ratings are soulless and simple-minded -- one man, one vote""), and keeps up a meandering flow of incidental palaver about commercials, the Flip Wilson Show, Monday Night Football (how the videotape replay machine works; how Howard Cosell was a lawyer before getting into sports broadcasting), industry executives, and the evening network news programs (Cronkite's ""strength with the American people rests on the near-universal perception that he is what another culture calls a Mensch""). Like a slow moving golem. . . clobbered by Les Brown's Television (1971).

Pub Date: May 24th, 1972
Publisher: Harper & Row