Distributed by Films Media Group, PO Box 2053, Princeton, New Jersey 08543-2053; 800-257-5126
Produced by BJW, Inc. in association with New River Media
VHS, color, 27 min.
High School - Adult
Reviewed by Charles J. Greenberg, Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University
Is the typical homogenized, titillating, and violent mainstream television programming orientation merely a reflection of genuine viewer preference in a consumer-choice society, or a deliberate marketing model from aggressive, bottom-line-beholden corporate media? A timely book, Down the Tube: An Inside Account of the Failure of American Television, adopts the latter thesis, and the authors (William Baker, President and CEO of WNET, and George Dessart, a former television executive and professor of media studies) bravely submit themselves to a skeptical Irwin Stelzer, of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, as well as PBS Think Tank host Ben Wattenberg, in this previously broadcast 30-minute format.
Careful production quality is evident. During the dialogue there are silent brief visual video clips interjected, such as a typical Jerry Springer or Baywatch snippet, even including brief footage of a violent Los Angeles highway media that is described by Professor Dessart as a spontaneous substitute for Saturday morning children's programming. Irwin Stelzer pokes wry holes in the authors' thesis by citing expanding choices of cable channels and directly challenging viewers to exercise parental leadership. The dialogue is respectful and never as bombastic as the video clips.
The Think Tank email address is flashed several times as a way to offer feedback on the issues at hand. Occasional factual statements, such as the percentage of households with televisions or the average number of channels per cable system, were presented as overlays during the presentations and could possible serve as a cue to pause the videotape for classroom discussion.
A civilized polarity emerges with no apparent compromise and an implicit suggestion of "let the viewer beware." The theme of this videotape has broad applicability in our television-dominated culture and could be a trigger for discussion, elaboration, or point-of-view at many different educational levels.
The only minor correction I would suggest in future endeavors of this sort is to find viewpoints in spokespersons other than older white males. I myself know of women executives at major media companies that could also have presented applicable viewpoints.