Newton N. Minow, who in the early 1960s while serving as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission famously described American television as a “vast wasteland,” passed away on Saturday at the age of 97.
Who Was Newton N. Minow?
President John F. Kennedy selected Minow to lead the FCC, but he only held the position for two years. But even after he departed his position, his biting indictment of television programming, which he gave in front of the National Association of Broadcasters, continued to resonate.
On May 9, 1961, he addressed a group of television executives at a NAB conference in Washington, D.C. At the time, Americans were watching a regular stream of black-and-white TV programming from only three networks: CBS, ABC, and NBC.
Nothing is better when television is good, according to Minow, not even the theatre, magazines, or newspapers. “However, nothing is worse when television is bad.”
About Newton N. Minow
The CEOs present were then invited to watch an entire day of their own programming without interruptions. Keep looking at that set until the station shuts down, Minow instructed. I can guarantee you the area you will see is a large wasteland.
He stated that the typical fare consisted primarily of “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.”
At a crucial juncture in the early days of television, Minow became the FCC’s chairman. Nine out of ten American households had televisions by 1960. The first presidential debate to air on television took place in the same year, featuring Vice President Richard Nixon and then-Sen. John Kennedy. The first communications satellite, Telstar 1, was launched by the summer of 1962.
Lived A Happy Life
Public broadcasters like PBS and the network of radio stations that play NPR programmes were initially allowed entry thanks to the Public Communications Act of 1968.
The 1964 TV sitcom Gilligan’s Island, which featured a group of individuals shipwrecked on a barren island, was precisely the kind of material Minow referred to as a “vast wasteland.” It turns out that Sherwood Schwartz, the show’s creator, gave the S.S. Minnow, the show’s doomed boat, the chairman of the FCC.
According to his daughter Nell Minow, Minow passed away at home on Saturday, surrounded by loved ones. She told the news organisation that “he wanted to be at home.” He lived a happy life.