[Pay television]

Friday, June 24, 1955

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

Series of hearings on pay telelvision in Washington. Huge amount of propaganda. People who want pay television - the people who want to make a living from it. 60-80% are for pay television. When people were asked what kind of programs they like best - most popular was Omnibus. Edward Murrow's See It Now. Sports and I Love Lucy - not an exclusively egghead audience. A demand for something different from what is already given. Broadcasters were living in a false paradise, thinking that everybody loved them. Statistical proof that people spend more time listening to radio than anything else, except for sleeping and making a living. People spend more time with the radio on, but were barely listening and sometimes paying close attention. General Sarnoff [David Sarnoff] made the point that pay television would come into the home like gas or electric services. Should be treated like a public utility and regulated by the government. Would be folly to believe that what affects the majority of people who have a television does not affect the minority that does not. Toll bridges eventually free after they are paid for. Not the case with pay television - everything above the cost becomes profit. Regulations and rates. Can not arbitrarily change its rates. State approval. Providers have to spell out what kind of programs you will get with pay television. Federal Communications Commission not going to tell what they can put on the air. Can't legally escape the responsibility. No guarantee that pay television will give a higher level of intellectual content or that it will operate without commercials. So far, Seldes has given argument against pay television. Columbia Broadcasting System announced it will provide the funds for a nationwide study on what public wants from television. We haven't even got the vocabulary for discussing our problems. Hopes that what CBS is doing will provide us with at least the right works to ask the right questions.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

WNYC archives id: 71109
Municipal archives id: LT6496

Hosted by:

Gilbert Seldes


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About Lively Arts, The

Legendary critic and author of The Seven Lively Arts Gilbert Seldes discusses big-thinking issues in art and life from his characteristically populist perspective.

Simultaneously a timely and visionary program, Gilbert Seldes's The Lively Arts (1953-1956) examines contemporary issues of 1950s television, radio, and theater, as well as current events and the intellectual arts. Seldes, who was the first Director for Television at CBS News and the founding Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, was also a renowned critic, author, playwright, and editor. As a major social critic and observer, Seldes viewed theater, television, and radio with a prescient eye to the future based on a well-informed understanding of the past. 

These programs feature commentary and discussion on a wide range of topics — from sex and censorship in the movies to progressive education to juvenile delinquency to political campaigning on television — many of which are still hotly debated today. Serving as a precursor to Seldes's television programs and providing an audio context for his seminal books, this show is key to understanding today's cultural commentary.


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