DOWN THE TUBE by William F. Baker


An Inside Account of the Failure of American Television
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Two television veterans address the decay of a medium but cannot come up with clear, substantive solutions to its problems. Baker, who has been a top-level executive in both public and commercial TV, and Dessart, an academic and former vice president at CBS, attempt to tie the decline of the quality of American television to the cycles of government regulation and deregulation that occur in our oscillating political environment. The deregulation of the 1980s, they write, led to rampant commercialism and the rise of saturation-style advertising that has lent itself to such excesses as cartoons designed after already existing toys and, much earlier on, the rise of sales of toy guns and Barbie dolls thanks to Mattel’s early investment in the new medium. They point to the BBC’s lack of commercials as a counterpoint. They also discuss the slow but steady ruin of children’s television that sprang from deregulation and lost funds. (This destruction of children’s television is linked to what German sociologists call Kinderfeinlichkeit--or hostility toward children.) If all this sounds like a bit much for one volume, it is. This is all notwithstanding a seemingly needless digression on world television’s past, present, and future that does nothing but break the continuity between chapters on children’s television and the “underfunded afterthought” of public television--areas that are intrinsically related. Indeed, there’s too much background material in this volume. As a result, the vapidity of much of what is offered today on television is given short shrift--only the E channel’s Talk Soup is offered as an example of the trash television of the 1990s. Unfortunately, though they make a few salient points, Baker and Dessart fail at their ultimate goal: The problems of television remain poorly identified, and the solutions offered seem unrealistic.

Pub Date: April 29th, 1998
ISBN: 0-465-00722-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1998