It was refreshing to read David Zurawik actually commenting on television again (“Mighty no more: The sad, greedy decline of network television into games and circuses,” Nov. 27). In recent months his column might more accurately have been called “Z on Trump,” as the substance of his columns concentrated on his take on the current political situation. But I digress.
In his latest column, Mr. Zurawik rants about the state of network television programming. I will concede his contention that there is a lot of, shall we charitably call, subpar programming on network television. I worked for a local area network affiliate television station for 21 years, so I have a perspective from both sides of the screen, and I am as disappointed with much of the network fare as is Mr. Zurawik. But while mentioning the programs that he chose to illustrate his point, he fails to mention (with the exception of "This Is Us") what many people consider quality and enjoyable programming on network TV. The Dick Wolf-produced “Chicago” trilogy, “NCIS," and “FBI," are a few current dramas that come to mind, as are comedies such as "Big Bang Theory" and "Young Sheldon.” These are among the most highly watched shows on TV, according to "TV Guide.” There are, of course, others. And with hundreds of TV channels now, the networks do not have a monopoly on crappy programming.
Mr. Zurawik also fails to mention that network TV, as with all TV channels available over-the-air, are hamstrung by long-standing restrictions placed on it by the FCC, which severely limit the use of profanity, nudity, and overt sexual situations. These restrictions do not apply to channels available only on cable and satellite, and which sadly seem to be characteristics in great demand by consumers of all forms of media nowadays, including television.
There are, of course, many quality program choices on non-network TV too, due in no small part to the huge expansion of technology providing for hundreds of viewing options rather than the traditional half dozen channels that were the only choices available to viewers for many decades. Also a factor are the economic models of such channels, which rely on subscription fees rather than commercials (or both) for their funding. This would reduce the “share” of network viewership simply due to mathematics alone. I also concede Mr. Zurawik's contention that the networks (among others) are, in many cases, aiming programming at the lowest-common-denominator of viewers. But many people can’t, or won’t, subscribe to premium cable or streaming services that can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year. And we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that network programming remains the only option available for free, with only a simple antenna required. The only price we must pay for this convenience are frequent commercial interruptions. They are the only way networks can pay for the programming they provide (aside from some re-transmission agreements with the cable and satellite providers). So channels such as Showtime and HBO are simply not an option for many people, either due to economics or interest. And finally, we should not look down our noses at folks who just don’t want to watch shows like "Downton Abbey” or “Game of Thrones.”
I believe Mr. Zurawik’s assessment that the networks “stink” is a bit of a simplification and overstatement. I for one, while a subscriber of satellite TV, refuse to pay exorbitant fees for the so-called “premium” channels. Even the standard programming packages are costly, but they provide more than enough programming of decent quality and variety to suit me. There aren’t enough hours in the day to watch everything, DVRs not withstanding, and I feel Mr. Zurawik’s bashing of the networks is just a bit misguided. I could watch only network programming and would have more than enough to fill the time allotted for TV-watching each day.
And finally, I respectfully suggest that Mr. Zurawik focus his attention on the media, as his column title “Z on TV” suggests, and leave the political commentary to his coworkers, such as Dan Rodricks and the Sun’s editorial board, who have made The Sun’s political stance quite obvious. We know Mr. Zurawik hates President Trump. Time to move on. But I do miss Walter Cronkite.