THE DECADE THAT SHAPED TELEVISION NEWS by Sig Mickelson

THE DECADE THAT SHAPED TELEVISION NEWS

CBS in the 1950s
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A gee-whiz celebration of the 1950s communications revolution that in the end manages to inspire awe for the time when public affairs mattered and people cared. Mickelson (From Whistle Stop to Sound Bite, 1989, etc.), the first president of CBS News, at first forces an unnecessary technical study of the progress and setbacks of “coaxial cables and microwave relays”—ingredients in the painful birth of the medium, and painful reading. In the personal account that follows, though, the author places the “birth of TV” at the 1948 political conventions and continues on through the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates, by which time television was as formidable a political force as either candidate. The long, arduous decade in between brought red-baiting, threats of government interference, and the 1959 “quiz scandals” all seemingly quaint in the era of Jerry Springer and deregulation. But Mickelson makes it all fresh, spinning it into a seamless narrative driven by a cast that even Network couldn’t replicate, including the brash and ingenious neophyte Don Hewitt, who went on to create 60 Minutes. Cavalier star personality Edward R. Murrow, whose driving ambition was to redress wrongs and excoriate the rest of television programming for its “decadence, escapism, and insulation,” was alienated from the network for refusing to temper his progressive standpoint. (He and producer Fred Friendly presented the case that brought Senator Joseph McCarthy down.) Mickelson, who unjustifiably downplays his own role in the formation of broadcast news, offers up priceless anecdotes of a history he and his colleagues helped to shape, faltering only when he tries to articulate the magic of it all. As a bonus, he throws in the story of the fantastic, symbiotic relationship that turned Sunday afternoons into must-see-TV and the lackluster game of football into the close second as national pastime. No paean to CBS, this brings some sense to the creation of a monster and restores some noble prestige to a medium that has all but lost it.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-275-95567-2
Page count: 252pp
Publisher: Praeger
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998




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