AMERICAN BROADCASTING: The best TV in the world? Eight page special report

‘TV in America

is seen as another

consumer not- so-durable to be snacked on like so many

Cheerios and

cheese whiz.’

ack in the 70s, Starsky and Hutch would pull into a familiar cul-de-sac to rendez-vous with their streetwise and sartorially eccentric informer Huggy Bear. ‘Watcha been doin’ Hug?’ Starsky would enquire casually. ‘Hangin’ man.’ came the laconic reply, ‘just hangin’. watchin’ TV.’

‘Just hangin’, watchin’ TV’ remains a substantial facet ofthe American Way Of Life. Here is a country that has never taken TV seriously. Not for them the darkened living-room and portentous silence of 60s British viewing. TV in

America is seen as another consumer not- so-durable to be snacked on like so many Cheerios and cheese whiz. The place is just too damned big to have any truck with that ‘TV as national event’ nonsense. So why is it that the USA has produced the medium’s funniest comedies, its most realistic cop shows, its classiest science- fiction series, its frothiest soaps and its most memorable dramas? When it comes to entertainment for the small screen, nobody does it better.

That’s a view that might raise a few eyebrows in Britain (and even in the USA). One of the fallacies taught to us from an early age is that US TV equals

trash, a commercial-heavy sickly brew of vulgar gameshows, slushy soaps and inept TV

The List goes Atlantic-hopping for a special eight- page report on the joys of American TV. Tom Lappin argues the case for American TV being the best in the world, followed by reports on N YPD Blue, Northern Exposure, Home Improvement and the new US comedy, all backed up with an A-Z of US small-screen classics. We’re right back after this announcement . . .


movies. The multi-channel society, we are told, spawns a lowest-common-denominator industry where, as rock bore Bruce Springsteen sings, there are ‘57 channels with nothing on’.

Sure there are gameshows with contestants simulating on-screen orgasms when they win a Winnebago. Advertising is intrusive and crass (by age eighteen American kids have seen 350,000 commercials, which may explain a lot). Some of the cable and public access channels do show outre’ and minority interest shows that seem geared towards the most obscure or outlandish tastes. Yes. there are stations entirely devoted to old—time religion.

But these extremes, copiously depicted in a new Channel 4 series, The United States Of ' Television, are inevitable symptoms of a I libertarian set-up. The essential charge that US TV is a bland and unadventurous medium fails to stick when you take a look at the highest-rated network shows. Here you’ll find series of the calibre of Homicide: Life On The Street, Roseanne, Northern Exposure, and Seinfeld, hugely contrasting programmes that share a common literacy i and huge audiences. A series like Homicide regularly embarks on lengthy plot digres- i sions to discuss matters as arcane as John I Wilkes Booth, the history of hemp cultiva- tion, and Elvis Presley‘s diet. The camera angles alone are a radical rewrite of TV II?

The List 28 January—l0 February I994 9