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Much of television like a cheap buffet

Date: 3/13/2014

By G. Michael Dobbs

Ever watch the film “Network?” If not, then grab a copy at the library or on Netflix and watch it. I’ll wait.

Back with me? Great film, right? In 1976, director Sidney Lumet gave us a blistering look at what a struggling television does to attract viewers in the near future. And Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay was truly visionary. Seldom have I seen a movie present predictions that have become so true.

I really think it should be required viewing for anyone interested in discussing media.

I thought about this recently when I was channel surfing the other night and found myself drawn rather inexplicably to the conclusion of “The Bachelor.”

Now the idea that someone can be surrounded by lovely, competent love-starved women and within a period of weeks one of these will emerge as the love of his life is pretty ridiculous, but one can’t deny the ratings success of the program. The American public obviously wants to believe in this fantasy.

And there are plenty of people who apparently want to go on national television and put themselves through a potentially emotionally damaging event. I can’t imagine why. Do you remember what dating was like? You want the kind of things that can happen on a date be broadcast on television?

The snippet that I caught was the part of the show in which the new happy couple – having found “love” through the show – talked about their experiences in front of a variety of contestants, audience members an others.

What struck me for the 10 minutes I watched it was the steadfastness Bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis showed in refusing to say he loved the young woman he picked, because apparently he doesn’t. The host Chris Harrison clearly wanted Galavis to say what the audience wanted him to say and he wouldn’t.

Either this guy is an obstructionist or he was being honest – something rare in reality television. In any event, he may have extended his 15 minutes of fame by not playing along with what was expected of him.

Howard Beale, the news anchor in “Network” who cracked up and now is being presented as a “mad prophet” can be seen in various permutations all over cable television. The wackier the “news” host the greater chance he or she does something that will become viral – a goal to which all of us in news now aspires.

In fact the lines between news and entertainment blurred a lot in “Network,” and they certainly blur today. Are any of the network morning shows actually about news?

Additional channel surfing netted me five beautiful moments on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” the absolute gold standard for reality show nonsense. It is the reality show equivalent of “Seinfeld” – a show about nothing. Of course “Seinfeld” was actually funny.

Always in a search for the family issues that would draw people to the tube apparently Bruce Jenner and his wife Kris have decided to separate and the family had a conference to discuss this sensitive subject – on air. It was hilarious to see these grasping media junkies talking about their strategies to control the public conversation. I especially loved the bit about protecting the youngest Jenner daughters!

The one show the mythical television organization in “Network” had which so far no cable outfit has produced was one in which political radicals who actually stage crimes on camera to bankroll their activities. I think it’s coming though.

Of course the argument could be made that if people didn’t want this kind of programming the networks would give us something else. Right?

I see what is happening on much of television like a cheap buffet. The food may not be too good but there is a lot of it and the price is right.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.