Big Night for TV

I wanted to write something pithy and relevant about tonight’s Emmy Awards telecast. Instead, I’ll start with this quote from Adam Epstein at Quartz,

Every year, the biggest stars in television gather in a theater in Los Angeles and celebrate how great they all are.

They wear expensive dresses and tuxedos, award each other big golden trophies, pat each other on the backs, and give sappy speeches about “making it.” This garish party is an exercise in narcissism, which is part of the reason TV ratings for it and all award shows are in steady decline.

And yet, the Emmys still matter. TV critic Alan Sepinwall put it best when he pointed out that the Emmys are the prevailing historical record for the medium of television. They are the ultimate measuring sticks—the ones that will still be studied decades from now when all the Twitter threads, think pieces, and water cooler conversations have been lost in the ether. The Emmys are forever.

We’re still a week away from talking about TV in the Media & Society class, but with the Emmy awards and Ken Burn’s first episode of The Vietnam War, a 10-part, 18 hour documentary series, both airing tonight I needed to acknowledge the moment.

TV has been called a lot of things, including the boob-tube and the idiot box. Someone once said, “a poor man has a large TV…a rich man has a large library,” and people who watch a lot of TV are called couch potatoes. TV has taken a lot of well-deserved criticism.

But TV has also been unfairly criticized for failing to deliver what it never intended or promised. Parents have wanted it to be a babysitter and nanny but that was never its strong suite. There have been a few bright spots—Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow spring to mind. But it is much easier to point out the failures.

Political scientists want TV to be a channel for political discourse and a means to an informed electorate. 60 Minutes, Meet the Press, and various other news programs have made significant contributions, but service to advertisers and the networks’ bottom line has blunted their success.

TV has certainly delivered when we demanded mindless entertainment to distract us from real reality. Sitcoms, game shows and reality TV deliver top-notch diversion and binge watching allows us to sustain that diversion for days on end.

So enjoy the Emmys if you like, but even better block out 18 hours to watch the latest Ken Burns masterpiece. I had the pleasure of seeing about an hour’s worth of segments and to hear from Ken Burn when he visited Colorado Spring a few weeks back. It’s going to be a great show. Whether it wins an Emmy or not, I’m convinced that this is what TV does well…and that makes it well worth your time.


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