Articles

WHAT TV WILL DO TO YOU

Television’s critics and boosters in the U. S. are still arguing whether it’s a good thing or not. But one thing seems certain: TV’s going to change your life when it comes to Canada

DON MAGILL March 1 1951
Articles

WHAT TV WILL DO TO YOU

Television’s critics and boosters in the U. S. are still arguing whether it’s a good thing or not. But one thing seems certain: TV’s going to change your life when it comes to Canada

DON MAGILL March 1 1951

WHAT TV WILL DO TO YOU

Television’s critics and boosters in the U. S. are still arguing whether it’s a good thing or not. But one thing seems certain: TV’s going to change your life when it comes to Canada

DON MAGILL

THERE’S no doubt that when television finally does come to Canada — the first station is due to open this fall—it is going to make changes in your way of life. Whether the changes will be swift and sweeping (as in the U. S.) or mild and moderate (as in Britain) depends largely on what kind of TV we get. At the time of writing it seems j that the CBC will okay a compromise between the two systems.

Perhaps 35,000 Canadian homes near the U. S. border already have TV sets, with their owners and their families getting dizzy staring at blurry images from distant transmitters. There’s even a set in Alberta (cost: $470) where reception would II be limited to about 15 minutes every two months. But if the growth of TV in Canada paralleled that of the U. S. two out of every three homes might i have a set by 1956.

In Britain, where non-commercial TV has been operating since 1937 (with a break during the war years), it created a flurry at the start but after about two years of two-hour nightly programs and occasional afternoon shows it seems to have become simply another highly interesting and very useful entertainment medium. But in the States, after five years of all-out commercial TV, it’s brought about a social revolution.

The critics and boosters of American-brand TV are still arguing hotly. Seven major educational associations are currently urging the Federal Com-

munications Commission to reserve a portion of TV for non-commercial educational use. Allied with the educators are many women’s groups and other organizations alarmed by the effects of commercial television on children.

Last fall a television dealers’ and manufacturers’ association ran an advertisement which solemnly intoned: “There are some things a son or daughter won't tell you!” The weeping little girl and the solemn-faced boy in the illustration were ashamed to admit that they were social outcasts because there was no TV set in their home. The advertisement, in 1,100 U. S. newspapers, instantly aroused a storm of protest. People apparently didn’t like being told in print what they feared in private: not to own television in the U. S. today is to be behind the times and an outcast from a whole new world.

This is just a sample of what has happened in America’s five years of television. Five years isn’t long for a social revolution. That’s the first thing you can learn about TV from observing the U. S. —it could make a violent and sudden change in Canadian ways.

Movie-makers and radio people hopefully predicted a long and sickly infancy for TV. A few years ago one radio wit chuckled nastily, “TV is definitely here to go.” He couldn’t have been more wrong.

From a few thousand sets in 1945, almost all

in the New York area, the total number in use climbed rapidly to a million by January, 1949. In another year it soared to 3,600,000. As 1951 came in, it had skyrocketed to somewhere above 9 millions. This growth surpassed all sane predictions.

Within the past two years 20,000 miles of coaxial cables, the special lines that pipe TV from one city to another, have been installed. More than 100 TV stations are operating. Nearly half the U. S. population is within telecast areas. By 1955, say industry leaders, there will be 30 million sets in use and the Federal Communications Commission hopes to allow more than 2,200 stations to operate.

So Real You’ll Reach For It

In 1949 there were ">nlv r 200 TV sets operating in Canada. A year later the figure had jumped to 32,000. It’s expected that 50,000 more will be sold this year.

Britain has about 500,000 sets in the two areas served by transmitters—London and Birmingham. But there is a great unsatisfied demand.

The 9 million TV sets now in U. S. homes are still small in number compared with the 85 million radio sets. But in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, television pollsters claim their medium has already won 40% of the evening listening audience.

The combination of watching and listening is called “impact” by advertisers. A radio announcer can sing the praises of a glass of cold beer in rapturous tones. But on TV that same beer is poured out before your eyes, foaming up and frosting the glass with its coldness. Then a hand I lifts it up and moves it toward the camera. The glass seems to be coming right out of the screen at you. As though poised at your lips, it tips up I slowly and the beer drains out into some unseen gullet. “Ah,” says the announcer. “Aaaah.” That’s “impact.”

Trade papers are full of case histories which tell of advertisers having sold $50,000 worth of furniture for an $800 TV “spot announcement,” and of $10,000 worth of fur coats being grabbed up by customers after a 30-second commercial. Department stores, teachers, and parents know what “impact” means in terms of small boys: the

Hopalong Cassidy cowboy fad is at its peak. These things explain why in 1948 U. S. advertisers spent $8,700,000 on TV—and boosted it to $35 millions in 1949.

Many of the great names in U. S. movies and radio are switching over to television as fast as they can. “Staying in radio,” said ventriloquist

Edgar Bergen after 13 years as a top figure in that medium, “is like wearing the same old suit. For good or bad you should change.” So saying, he and Charlie McCarthy signed up for a series of TV shows which began this past fall.

But reports that TV is draining the advertising pool dry seem premature, if not dead wrong. All the U. S. radio networks except CBS recorded a sharp drop in revenue last year but already this year the pendulum seems to have swung back. Variety, in an early January issue under the headline “Radio Rolls Back Into High,” reported that as soon as the sales offices opened for the year the big networks were deluged with business. NBC, which had been toying with the idea of cutting rates, practically sold out in the first week and swiftly dropped the idea. Even Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony have found a radio sponsor this year. A soap company laid out a straight million dollars to CBS for a 15-minute afternoon serial.

In the magazine field, too, gloomy predictions of revenue and circulation decreases were wrong. In fact, latest figures from officially accepted sources show total advertising revenue in magazines at an all-time peak at the end of 1950. The 13 leading American magazines as a group showed a half-million circulation gain in 1950 and survey organizations were finding that magazine reading seemed as high in TV homes as in non-TV homes.

Hollywood’s Got the Jitters

Newspapers have more than held their own. Last July they began an upward trend in revenue that has lifted them to the highest point ever.

Widespread forecasts of a sharp drop in book reading because of TV also seem wide of the mark. The American Booksellers’ Association, surveying sales of 340 leading bookshops in both TV and non-TV areas, announced recently that the “effect, if any, television is having on the book reading

and buying public . . . has been absolutely nil.” Throughout October and November of last year, for instance, book sales in TV areas, instead of dropping sharply, rose more than 1%.

Movie-makers, though, seem really scared. In the first half of 1950, 580 U. S. movie houses (out of a total of 18,000) closed up. One typical story was that of a big investor in Union, New Jersey, who suddenly scrapped plans for building a handsome new movie house, put up a supermarket in its place, and said outright that the coming of TV was the reason.

Aiming right at the movie audience the Ford dealers started a program this season called “Ford Movie Night.” Two and a half hours long, it bundles up a short comedy and a cowboy film; then, after the children are in bed, it gives the parents a feature film. “It gives the viewer double-feature enjoyment right in his own armchair,” said a cheerful Ford dealer.

Paramount Films recently made a survey which

shows that people who own TV sets go to movies 20% to 30%, less often. Charles Skouras, president of a 500-house national theatre chain, has said outright that TV is giving “terrific competition” to films.

And movie magnate Sam Goldwyn said in a discussion at the University of Denver that TV would force Hollywood to drop from the present 400-odd films a year to around 100 or 150 a year, all of the latter good. “Why should people go out to see bad films,” he asked tartly, “when they can stay home and see bad TV?”

In British TV areas movie attendance dropped sharply when television was still a novelty but soon îturned to normal.

I This growth and power of the new industry is /either fine or horrible, depending on where you stand. Boston University President Daniel Marsh states that “if the television craze continues with the present level of programs we are destined ■ to have a nation of morons.” But a school principal in Maryland decided that TV has knit families ÍJ closer together, reduced street, accidents to children, :j improved adolescent behavior, and cut down on ||j “idle conversation.”

Many sports managers have good reason to fear TV, in spite of the payments TV sponsors Lw make for rights to telecast events. For one thing, a big sports event with an empty arena just doesn’t have the right atmosphere. For another thing, baseball managers believe that although majorleague games haven’t suffered yet, people are staying away from the minor-league games in ; droves to watch the big-timers on television. Yet without the minor leagues, the whole recruiting system on which the sport is based will fall apart.

Expect an H-Shaped Jungle

Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, predicted some months ago that by this coming season the major leagues will forbid baseball telecasts. Elsewhere similar moves are being made: the Western Conference of college football teams has banned telecasting of live games by its members. The Kentucky Derby management stoutly refuses to grant telecast ing rights to anyone.

Whether such boycotts can stand up remains to be seen. Sports officials in Cleveland, Ohio, have already reported that amusement tax receipts are down 16.6%.

In Britain, too, sports promoters banded together to shut out TV, but the reaction from the public was so strong that the BBC set up an advisory committee to study the issue. It recommended that 100 major sports events be televised each year, the selection to be made by the committee.

One thing worriers tell themselves is that no one can really see the long-range effects. When radio came in the phonograph seemed doomed and sales of recordings were poor for some years. But as the vast new audience for popular and classical music was built up the record business grew bigger and healthier than ever before. Whether in future years TV will do the same for those it is now throttling, no one knows.

T'-'These are only the beginning of the effects of j TV on the life and habits of the people of the U. S.

I Others are visible everywhere. Store windows are ' jammed with TV sets, replacing radios and records. The fight over color television ranks with major congressional news on the front pages. Big gleaming ^ TV transmission trucks are a common sight in * New York, Hollywood, and Chicago. You can see them parked on side streets with their heavy black Í cables running through a nearby window to cameras V inside where some celebrity is having his breakfast before the eyes of thousands. v x Cameras on street corners or on top of moving trücks have become so commonplace that passersby automatically grin and wave, hoping to be seen by friends somewhere. Big cluttered brilliantly lit TV studios have sprouted all over New York in old warehouses, in empty lofts, and in pre-empted legitimate theatres (16 of which have succumbed to« radio and TV in the past several years). In

Hollywood, CBS is beginning to spend about $35 millions on a five-building “TV City” that will rival the major movie studios.

The very look of your home neighborhood will change when TV comes. There will be a forest of stiff, H-shaped aluminum antennae on the roofs; and in the dense apartment districts it will become a veritable jungle. In New York worried Fire Department officials consider them a hazard to fire fighters. Antennae cause fights between landlords and tenants, are considered a blight by sensitive home builders and are a pleasure to no one except wing-weary migratory fowl.

American interior decorators fought TV and lost. TV sets now look like TV sets in most new designs, with their naked faces out front. Not content with this they are forcing other pieces of furniture to conform. Chairs are now made on rubber wheels, for greater viewing usefulness. Interior decorators furnish and arrange the living room with the telescreen as the focus of the plan. Several highpriced designers create nothing but “television furniture.”

Some house builders are even making TV basic in their plans. Built-in sets in the living room walls, for instance, are a big selling point in the houses of Levittown, Long Island, America’s biggest private low-cost housing venture.

Will We All Be Televidiots?

j It is on your private home life that TV can nave its greatest effect, however. So far, no complete sociological analyses have been released, but all signs from the States point to great changes in family and home patterns. When the University of Southern California asked questions of 800 families many a wife reported a new source of annoyance—her husband no longer would take her out at night, but preferred to stay at home and watch the set. On the other hand, the screen was definitely bringing the family together in the home again—“but not necessarily in a face-to-face relation.” Though people sat in the same room, they scarcely saw or spoke to each other, the report found.

What unrestricted TV could do to your children is worth thinking about. A teacher in Melrose, Mass., writes that since her pupils have “gotten TV” they are horrifyingly gun-conscious (many children’s programs in the U. S. consist of warmedover Western movies). They are chronically tired and jaded from too much watching. “They have no sense of values, no feeling of wonder, no sustained interest,” she complains.

In Stamford, Conn., a junior high-school principal named Joseph Franchina questioned his 223 students and found that 50% were averaging four hours a day in front of TV sets—as much time per week as they spent in school. The results were obvious: Franchina’s failure list was getting longer each semester.

Mothers who want their kids to be quiet, or who have trouble getting them to eat, are blessing TV as a miracle. But giving daily doses of such an anodyne to children may make them dopes in every sense of the word. They may all grow to be, as Ogden Nash says, televidiots.

In contrast to all this gloom, hearken to the following words of sweetness and light: “What

is television doing to our children? It will make them happier, better informed ... It will acquaint them with the people who govern us, with the plays and books which have formed our literary heritage, and with the manners and habits and speech of our people ... It will make them better citizens.” The speaker? Leon Levine, director of Discussion Broadcasts for the CBS network.

Enough of these storm warnings. Television is going to change your life to some degree for better or worse, and you ought to know the worst. But there is a better side. As an entertainment medium for sheer relaxation in the comfort and privacy of the home it is unbeatable—when the programs happen to be good.

You can sit in your easy chair, collar unbuttoned, shoes off, refreshments at hand, and have the great stars of Broadway and the screen act for you. The world’s great plays are yours, almost free, and right at hand. Stars of the Metropolitan sing and act for you. Comedians relax you and athletes thrill you. You not only hear the news, but you get to see rush films of historic events the very day they are taking place. In these many ways your life can, and will, become infinitely richer and more varied. It’s all up to the programmers—which is why the kind of control the CBC exerts on radio in Canada may be just what U. S. television needs, and isn’t getting.

Berle Goes Big With Beer-nursers

f The basis of old-fashioned democracy was the /town meeting, where people got to see and hear j each other. That isn’t possible today, but TV /(brings it a little closer than it has been. U. S.

political candidates are having to face the cameras |i day after day and be exposed pitilessly. The fine fringing statements a politician used to hand out ! to the Press aren’t enough. In round-table dis, eussions and unrehearsed debates the man will ¡reveal his real self. On the other hand, there is always the danger that a spellbinder and tub thumper will have vastly greater chances to influence new millions of listeners.

As to TV’s effects on other departments of our lives, they may not prove so dreadful after a while. A generation ago, in the days of crystal sets, radio addicts used to sit entranced with their earphones on all evening. As radio grew up, so did the movies and so did people themselves. They learned to take radio or leave it alone. TV, having initially dislodged our habits, may be pushed back into its corner by forces as yet unknown.

One thing is certain: nothing is certain. A couple of years back TV was a big specialty of U. S. bars. Every drinking place had a big sign plastered on the window, reading “Television tonight.” It dragged in lots of extra customers and operators were ecstatic. But as more and more sets entered U. S. homes the kind of folks who went to the bar to see television changed. The spenders put their money into TV for their homes.

The bars are still crowded but, as one New York bartender said the other day, “Things has gone j to pot all of a suddint. These bums, they come in here and nurse a 10-cent beer for an hour while 1 they watch Milton Berle. They fill up the joint, but they don’t buy nothin’. This television, it’s ruinin’ my place. I’m goin’ to t’row it out, you watch if I don’t.” ★