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Forty-nine years ago today my father, Newton Minow, in his first speech as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in the Kennedy administration, gave a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters that has been widely quoted and anthologized as one of the most memorable and influential speeches of the 20th century. It has even been featured on game shows like “Jeopardy” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and board games like “Trivial Pursuit” and on the SAT. And it led to his being “honored” by the creators of “Gilligan’s Island” — they named the sinking ship after him: the S.S. Minnow. minnow.jpg
This is the part of the speech most often quoted:

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.
Is there one person in this room who claims that broadcasting can’t do better?

The speech is well worth reading or listening to again. Dad says that the two words everyone remembers are “vast wasteland,” but the two words he wishes everyone would remember are “public interest.”
Here is a 2003 interview with Dad about the speech. He is often asked whether he thinks television is still a vast wasteland. He says that parts of it have become a toxic waste dump. But he still loves television and never missed an episode of “The Sopranos.” His favorite show is CBS Sunday Morning.
Dad’s most recent book was published in 2008: Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future. He has been involved in planning every Presidential debate between party nominees and independent candidates in American history, starting with Kennedy-Nixon in 1960 and currently serves as vice-chairman of the non-profit Commission on Presidential Debates, which most recently assisted the UK in holding its first-ever televised debates between the party leaders.
I’m very, very proud of him. And he’s the world’s best dad, too!

Cartoons!

When I was a kid, the cartoon theme songs were light pop jingles and we could all sing along.

But then some of them got more electric, more rock power ballad-style, even some hip-hop.

Listen to the sweet original theme of “Sesame Street”

And here’s the bouncier update:

And here it is, sung by an R&B superstar.

Compare the opening song for the 1950’s Mickey Mouse Club with the more energetic 90’s version or the two versions of the PBS kids’ show, “Zoom.”

Here’s to tonight’s host of Saturday Night Live! Ms. White has been on television since the very beginning, in 1939, when television was just an experiment and no homes had sets. She co-produced and starred in one of the first sit-coms when television began broadcasting, “Life With Elizabeth.” She appeared in an early talk show and in commercials and other series and game shows. And she found romance on television in her real life, marrying Password host Allen Ludden.

My favorite of her roles was Sue Ann Nivens, the “Happy Homemaker” on the fictional Minneapolis television station where Mary Richards produced the news on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Her ribald and often acid humor contrasted delightfully with her dimpled smile and musical voice. She put them to good use as a murderer on “Boston Legal.” Many people remember fondly her addled but always sweet and optimistic Rose on “The Golden Girls.” And she all but stole “The Proposal” from Sandra Bullock. Her faux “behind the scenes” video, where she pretended to be a demanding diva, was far better than the movie it was promoting.

A group dedicated to making her the host of “Saturday Night Live” got half a million supporters. It wasn’t the producer of the show they had to persuade. It was White herself, who had turned down previous invitations to host. She graciously accepted this time, and it is a great way to end the season. If only she could join the cast as a regular!

Sitcoms!

(Notice the product placement!)

And I like “Frasier’s” closing music (sung by Kelsey Grammer) better than the intro.