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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Vast Wasteland


When we speak of writing, we often think of the print media, but some of the finest writing has also been found on stage and screen, and on rare occasions, on the small screen. Television, as former FCC Commissioner Newton Minow once said, is a “vast wasteland”:

“When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few.”

Minow said that 50 years ago and it is as true today as it was then. Worse, because the westerns have disappeared and so-called “reality shows” have spawned in their place. Science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon said “Ninety percent of everything is crap” so maybe we can apply that rule to television writing as well. But what of the other 10 percent, what Minow called the very, very few?

During the month of February, I’ll chose my picks for Top TV Dramatic Writing. I won’t include comedies, westerns, SF, or anthologies (although if I did, The Twilight Zone would be a top contender). Instead, I plan to introduce you to 14 of The Top TV Dramas You've Never Seen. I’ll give a synopsis, tell you what made the show stand out as excellent drama, and include links to its Internet Movie Database listing, TV.com listing, fan site, YouTube clips, and Amazon page (if it is available for purchase).  So tune in next time. 

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