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The vast wasteland

We all have our vices. For some it’s video games, others it’s a controlled substance, and if you’re like me, you can’t get through the morning without a can of Diet Coke. Nobody’s perfect. While I can safely say that I have several bad habits, probably one of my biggest is watching TV. I don’t watch it all the time, but I do find myself in front of the television a lot. I enjoy having “Good Morning America” on while I eat breakfast and get ready for the day, find it a good distraction when writing papers (or this column), or sometimes I just use it to keep me company. I’m sure many of you are the same—finding refuge in your favorite show after a tough day.

Growing up, my TV viewing wasn’t heavily monitored, but my parents typically pushed us to stay away from some channels and embrace others. Needless to say, my sister and I watched lots of PBS programs, education on the merits of the world around us and getting social development from the likes of Bill Nye (the Science Guy), and the cast of Shining Time Station. Since then, I’ve found myself having developed a preference for shows that entertain but also work to educate, inform and engage me at some level. I realize that many TV programs do little more than entertain, and I’ve discovered that it’s much easier to work on homework or projects while having “The Jersey Shore” or “Extreme Couponing” on.

But it seems like TV has become increasingly saturated by these mindless programs, which often do nothing more than showcase the worst aspects of our society. One would expect that with so many more channels available now that there would be at least some quality things to watch. However, the trend seems to be the opposite, and it appears as though former FCC Chairman Newton Minnow’s predictions of TV becoming nothing more than a “vast wasteland” may indeed be coming true.

Don’t get me wrong: I do enjoy trashy television. It’s mindless and, if anything, makes me feel better about myself. These shows are incredibly addicting, and like a bad car accident, you just can’t not watch what happens as peoples’ lives fall apart while the cameras roll. Although I don’t subscribe to groups who preach that reality television is responsible for the demise of civilized society, their impact may play at least a small part in the process.

Despite all of this negativity there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. The trend that I’ve noticed is that more and more of us are choosing higher quality programming compared to the reality trash pushed by networks. It seems like many mainstream channels from AMC to TBS have developed riveting, high quality, well-written and though provoking programs that seek to engage as well as entertain their audience. Shows like Mad Men that previously were relegated to subscription-only networks like HBO and ShowTime have finally made their way to mainstream media.

PBS has also gotten onboard. While staying with my grandparents over winter break, I recently discovered Downton Abbey, a phenomenal British drama set back in the early 1900s. It’s well written, phenomenally acted and (like many similar programs out there) incredibly addicting. Typically, I kind of shy away from PBS’s dramas, mostly because they’re a bit too scholarly for my taste and are obviously aimed for a much more experienced crowd. The first time we watched it, I immediately believed that it would be a snooze fest as the Masterpiece Theater music began. Needless to say, I was completely blown away and have adjusted my (small) social calendar to accommodate its new episodes. Since then, I’ve been hooked.

I hope that this trend of good, quality programing continues. We should endeavor to support truly quality programs and shy away from those that lower our IQ levels. The idealist in me believes that this is a vitally important moment. We must support those high quality programs with our viewership. Boost their ratings! Show network producers that there is indeed a market for thoughtful entertainment! Hopefully we can work to cancel out the trash out there and help push towards a greater television tomorrow.

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