I remember when Bart Simpson almost had to repeat the fourth grade. I caught the episode as a rerun, a second chance. Yes, it was cut down from its original form in order to make room for a few more commercials, but the heart of the story was still intact. I never believed that I could be moved by an episode from a television show, much less an animated one, but I was . . . and still am. I remember when the Borg assimilated Captain Picard. Spaceships, alien worlds, transporters and warp speed. I ate it all up, tuning in for the dubious special effects but staying for the stories. I remember when Bill McNeal of WNYX died. I didn’t know much about Phil Hartman or NewsRadio, but everything in that episode felt real. Maybe because it was. I believe in television, the much maligned, ugly little brother of the grand cinematic experience, and the so-called nemesis of the novel.
Television, at least in America, might be said to have hit its stride in the 1950s. The networks broadcasting coast-to-coast for the very first time, America once again witnessed itself becoming connected, constructing the means by which it could draw itself a little closer together, if only for a half hour every evening. This time, it wasn’t the car or the locomotive, the highways or the railways; it was a flurry of electronic signals, bouncing wildly about, ultimately received and interpreted by a little box in the homes of millions. With each passing day, someone’s creation was being broadcast in the hope that someone out there was watching, that a shared experience among disparate individuals strewn across a vast land might be woven and spun together. In this, television was incredibly hopeful. Each broadcast became a message in a bottle, a Hail-Mary pass, a shot across the bow of consciousness and relevance.
Every time I turn on the television, I take a look off the bow of my own experience to see what the commotion is. I’m hoping to be wowed, tickled pink, devastated, somehow strangely affected in any which way to get a glimpse of why someone decided that this little part of their life, their imagination, had to make it to me–through thousands of miles of wire and open air. I bought the TV, a little 13-inch portal to different lives, lands, and galaxies. I believe I didn’t buy it just because it was on sale.
I believe in every new fall season, a time of rebirth. I believe in the networks and their niched cable compatriots. I believe in President Bartlett, affordable housing in the form of spacious New York City apartments, Mr. Belvedere, and the eight-day forecast. I believe that infomercials and QVC can be entertaining. I believe in the quirky dramedy and the remake. I have seen the mighty “Must-See TV”; I believe in the small screen.
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