Sunday the New York Times published several special sections looking ahead to the arts and leisure aspects of life for the months ahead. From movies to the theatre, and TV, too. Which made me think about something. We know that in the years when I was a kid (probably for you, too) the three main networks aired new shows or brought back fresh episodes of continuing series after Labor Day. That model in many ways is not the norm as there is a frenetic push by streaming services to broaden their audience and steer viewers at home away from the main networks. The data shows that streaming services are making great inroads into audience share. And while there are truly wonderfully written, acted, and produced shows on such services there is one larger problem we may not have considered. One commonality as a nation when I was a kid was that ‘we’ sat down and watched Mash or Roots or (pick one) and were able to have a conversation about it on the bus the next day, at the office lunches, or over a beer after work. That connection is long gone as television has altered how we view programming. I believe that has impacted our nation negatively as it is one less thing to be cemented together about, and that does concern me.
I write this as television has made a positive impact on the real America we live in by being a mirror on society. From Archie Bunker showcasing how bigotry actually looks and sounds to “Hawkeye” Pierce bringing the humanity and angst of men and women near the war front into our homes in a way we could relate to and learn from at the same time. Soap gave America its first gay character but Will and Grace allowed for a sweeping acceptance in the nation. None of these are small things in the social development of this land.
As it turned out television was clearly one of the most influential forces in changing Americans’ own definitions and perspectives of what society can look like, and should look like while also better defining the wide use of the word family. Television sets were in the homes of liberals and conservatives alike, and slowly over time, the family sitcoms that Americans watched for decades actually helped in their own way to remake and refashion the traditional American family into the ones we see in our communities. That is no small feat.
So when we lose the television experience as a commonality in the nation to mold and reshape views and outlooks I contend we have lost a proven tool to link us as people and lift us to a better place to live.