As we were talking logistics for today's cover spread on the TV preseason (running on Page 4 and several pages thereafter), Morgan Gendel, who was putting it all together, was asking, "What is this for? What is it we're trying to prove with this? What are we trying to do?"
He is one of those young, high-minded reporters who is all drenched in good intentions.
On the contrary, were we of a cynical bent, we might have explained, "Son, what we are trying to do is fill up the space."
In our salad seasons, when we were assigned to find the artistic merit in whatever was playing on the stage or on the screen, we were always on the lookout for meaning. We would look out very, very, very hard for some sort of insight into the Human Condition. We would always capitalize the term Human Condition .
But how does television in the 1980s interface with the Human Condition?
We advised Morgan that we weren't quite sure what we were trying to prove here. But we'd think about it.
Considerable anguish has been spent on the allegation that television is rotten. Television executives take umbrage with that proposition. They say, "Hey, sure, a lot of television is rotten--but what about 'Playhouse 90'? That was chopped liver?"
This amounts to the old pessimist-optimist wrangle over whether the glass of water is half empty or is half full.
A lot of people think that television is rotten because a lot of people are negative. We think negative people should be knocked down, punched, beaten and kicked.
We prefer the happier view of things. The optimistic view. That is that most people may say that most television is rotten . . . but we say that a little bit of television is not rotten.
We were noticing that several houses in our neighborhood were newly painted pink. We supposed that some big store had a sale on pink paint.
Then we noticed a complex of condos going up near the County Museum all dressed up in pink and muted green. Like in "Miami Vice." I recognized the colors from the T-shirts.
That is, television can create and stimulate fads and fashions. "Miami Vice" brought television a new beat, for example. It may have encouraged bad shaving habits, but it also has stimulated new interest in pinks and muted grays and greens.
Just mull over what "Charlie's Angels" did for hair styles.
We're not big on pink. We prefer our pink in after-dinner mints. But pink isn't the whole point. The whole point is that television can impact on us, as the saying goes today, as well as influence the color of our sidings.
Television takes bad raps. It's bad for kids. Makes them dumb. Dulls us as a people. Etc.
We cite as an example of a wrong rap the case of Cal Worthington:
Late night, between movie segments, we would watch Mr. Worthington's commercial's for his acres and acres of lowly overheaded cars. Commercial after commercial, night after night. He offered to stand on his head to sell us a car; he would eat a bug to sell us a car.
We would get vague ill feelings. A hint of nausea.
We figured, obviously, that Mr. Worthington makes us sick.
But we were silly. We finally figured it out. This queasiness wasn't the fault of Mr. Worthington or television.
Some time earlier, we had spent a few days in the hospital with a minor malady. A painkiller put us in a stupor and we would half-watch television at all hours. And because Mr. Worthington is on television at all hours . . . well, in our stupored subconscious, we equated Mr. Worthington with our hospital experience.
Mr. Worthington doesn't make me so sick anymore.
We walked around the newsroom and looked over Morgan and our several reporters hot on the phones. Lots of energy was being expended. Like one of those boiler-room operations where they sell Time-Life Books.
We read over the reports very carefully, on the lookout for meaning, high intentions, insights into the Human Condition.
Casts and crews are hard at work. That's for sure. Television is a busy business. Trying to amuse or inform or come up with news ideas and new color coordinates and please 250 million people at the same time carries with it incredible pressures.
We could come to no easy assessment on what this assignment proves. But if we were of a cynical bent, we might say what the television people are really trying to do is fill up the time.