Whither the Golden Age Of Television?

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This week I was going to devote my review to the new Fox series “Vanishing,”until I discovered that I was the one vanishing. My last television review comes just in time to avoid attacking the FOX network, yet again, for its obsessive fixation on brainless hotties who work for federal crime units.It’s almost uncanny how many full-lipped, flaxen-haired sweet things (and that’s the guys I’m talking about) get jobs investigating disappearances and homicides. Am I the only person left on the planet who enjoyed looking at Telly Savalas’s shiny pate and wishes a few more chubby baldies were on the case?

People still watch television; they’re just wading through more junk to find the gems. For all the commentary about the shrinking of the TV audience, it remains huge and a lucrative source of revenue for several of America’s largest corporations. The entertainment industry — largely thanks to television — remains this country’s no. 2 product for export, behind military equipment. More reporters than ever cover the business of

television, and more critics than ever bemoan its sorry state. But that’s only because their jobs require them to watch “Two and a Half Men.”

As I prepare to leave the peculiar task of reviewing television to another about-to-turn-hopelessly-pale individual, I wonder whether television deserves a parting shot or a farewell hug. I’ve always enjoyed — maybe a little too much — the act of plopping down in front of the set and letting a good show wash over me like warm water.In the old days, it was “I Dream of Jeannie” and “My Favorite Martian.”To have evolved into a lover of “The Sopranos” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” suggests just how far television has come, and yet how it’s still possible to get by on an hour a week. Okay, 90 minutes.

Has this been a Golden Age? Only our grandchildren will know the answer to that. I suspect they will be watching “The Sopranos” the way we read Hemingway and see Shakespeare in the Park. I doubt seriously whether they will watch old episodes of “Vanished” or even HBO’s “Entourage,” shows that seem dated and repetitive within minutes of airing. Like any medium, the challenge to television writers and producers is to create something honest that reaches beyond a specific moment in time to disclose essential truths about the human condition. Larry David does that with “Curb” just as Jackie Gleason did it with “The Honeymooners.”

I wish I could have convinced even one network executive to see the silliness of programming television to suit the tastes of the audience. If we’ve learned anything over the last half-century, it’s that the best shows come from those who write for themselves and from their hearts. I’m thinking of “Seinfeld,” or “thirtysomething,” or “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” or “South Park” — shows not designed to please advertisers or focus groups or shareholders, but to satisfy the desire of their creators to make something memorable and worthwhile. But because of the billions of dollars at stake in the business of television, men like CBS chief Leslie Moonves and NBC head Jeff Zucker don’t dare trust their personal passions. It’s too bad they’ve lost touch with their own sense of pleasure and excitement at the creation of art, not commerce.

Still, I believe in that 32-inch cathoderay tube in my apartment and its ability to make me shiver. I’ll now be able to spare myself the torment of watching the unforgivable crap like “Vanished” that the networks put on the air to lull us into submission. It won’t work.What will keep television vibrant and alive is its audience; we’re all a lot smarter than the executives give us credit for, and in the end the shows that succeed are the ones that make us think and feel.So I’m going to keep watching and keep waiting, because I’m sure the best is yet to come.

Mr. Blum has just been named editor in chief of the Village Voice.

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