While public television was created as an alternative to the commercialization of the airwaves by private interests, it has become "a decorous government information service," mostly used to inform the public about issues of interest to lawmakers. So "public TV is yours the way a Stealth bomber is yours" your taxes pay for it, but you have little control over its content or direction. The author contends that commercial TV sells products, while public TV sells attitudes, but both present essentially the same material, generated by the same people, only "differently wrapped." Smith, an award-winning TV producer and a public TV pioneer, ably traces the shift from creative, "atelier-style" public programming production to the modern "brokerage house" system, with the proverbial bean counters displacing the real artists, leaving the public with visually uninteresting propaganda. While Smith's argument is important and, at times, very well documented, his crankier assertions are distracting. Are all "animal shows" simply covert arguments for corporate neo-Darwinism? Are diatribes against "Affirmative Action" really relevant here? Most readers could do without not only the digressions but also Smith's custom of peppering every page with rhetorical questions he answers himself. Still, the closing plea for a National Alternative Television Production Center staffed by creative people and endowed by an independent trust fund is an important concept to discuss. (Aug. 1) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Conservatives have branded public television as elitist, while liberals decry its dependence on corporate sponsorship. As with television itself, however, the issues are rarely black and white. Seasoned writer/ producer Smith and Ouellette (media studies, Rutgers) agree that public TV has failed miserably, but they disagree on just what it has failed to do. Ouellette sees in public broadcasting the potential to correct social injustice. PBS, she argues, has historically projected the views of the dominant (white, male) culture, while minorities, women, and blue-collar workers have been either ignored entirely or depicted as humorous or pitiable. She believes that public TV should embrace mass culture rather than trying to rise above it. Her ideas, though intriguing, are frequently obscured by social science jargon ("The history of KTCA problematizes geographic essentialism"), making the book appropriate for academic libraries. A refugee from the world of public broadcasting, Smith sees public TV as an art form whose potential has been repeatedly squelched by lawmakers and business executives. In sharp contrast to Ouellette's pleas for cultural sensitivity, Smith cites political correctness as a major obstacle to innovative programming. The authors' divergent views are best illustrated by their attitudes about the early-1970s program The Great American Dream Machine: Ouellette complains that the show poked fun at "the lowly, feminized masses," while Smith praises the show's "verve, style and originality" and intimates that it was dropped because of its controversial content. Smith envisions a national production center that would develop programs with backing from a national trust fund, unconstrained by government oversight. Smith's opinionated rant is more fun to read than Ouellette's work, but too much of the text has only marginal relevance to his thesis. The extraneous diatribes against affirmative action, local school boards, etc., make this an optional purchase for public libraries, though it may be appropriate for communications collections.-Susan M. Colowick, North Olympic Lib. Syst., Port Angeles, WA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.