It's no secret the number of Americans watching TV has been steadily declining. I know why. The television industry can correct the situation if they'll just listen to me. Like all truly great ideas, mine is basically simple. All the networks need do is place people who have been making TV commercials in charge of programming and permit programming people to make commercials. It should have occurred to them years ago and now they are going to be red-faced that an old, washed-up disc jockey brings the idea to light.
Have you seen the Honda commercials? Those featuring gray dogs dressed as humans? It's absolutely spooky for one thing and it's also highly creative. Contrast that to a new TV drama that asks we accept the premise a twenty-some-year-old woman, barely out of pigtails, serves as a municipal court judge! Give me a break! Or how about the Budweiser talking lizards as an example of creativity and imagination compared to a pair of androgynous guys and one slightly dizzy girl all wrapped up in running a pizza parlor, another prime-time television offering.
I haven't actually watched many of these programs, but it's hard to avoid the ``promos'' as they are called in the television business; promotional announcements about coming attractions. And while I'm on the subject of promos, have you ever noticed the promotional announcements you see are invariably more entertaining than the actual programs?
I have been watching more evening television than usual for the past several weeks as I recover from some maintenance and repair work. I've even watched some of the daytime programming. A year or so back I installed Sony satellite TV systems for the house and the Airstream; when you're traveling it is nice to be able to access current and detailed weather and road information. Then, too, the primitive cable TV system available locally is practically hand-cranked. Let me tell you a couple things about satellite TV and program services. First, while you can get several hundred channels of TV, only eight of them are worth watching and, secondly, it'll cost you $45 a month just for that. I did enjoy having the option of 16 different NFL football games each Sunday this season, but that was an additional $150. Be prepared.
And have you noticed that we now have prime-time cartoon shows - and they are definitely not for kids. Since they are cartoons I would guess kids would naturally be drawn to them. Parents will want to check these out before they let the kids watch. That is, unless they really want to have stunted, mouthy third graders fluent in foul language and scatologyy. Surprisingly, in cartoon land, the presumed real of fantasy and imagination, many of the story lines are not all that creative. But right smack in the middle of one of these cheaply produced creations with a totally predictable plot (?) you might see a commercial - one of my favorites - depicting a guy sitting in a small boat fishing. Suddenly he gets a bite, hauls back on the rod, at which point he is jerked violently into the air, up and over straight into the water. The ripples of his disappearance fade and the small lake returns to evening serenity at which point a simple message scrolls across the screen ``never underestimate the competition,'' with the corporate logo of some consulting company at the bottom. Great commercial! It probably cost two million dollars to make that commercial. I'm guessing the networks would make five complete 13-week sitcom packages for that amount, seeing as how most of the sitcoms take place in one or two rooms and involve actors you've never heard of.
With satellite services available you can now find some entertaining and educational channels. One, Home And Garden TV, runs a 24-hour schedule of ``how to do it'' programming. The Discovery Channel is great, as is A&E Channel and the History Channel. I get a little tired of watching that darned Bob Villa popping up all over the place. Most men I know detest that smug little know-it-all. When he completes a complex home remodeling job he looks out at the camera and smirks ``see how easy it is and how quickly I did it.'' The women watching are thrilled and just love Bob Villa and all the guys are thinking ``buzz off you little troublemaker!''
The commercials seen in these programs are not as creative as those shown on the major networks, but there are some good ones. Like the lady who arrives home with two large shopping bags filled with laxatives, apparently intent on trying them out on her husband. And then there are the commercials for diet products.
Which leads me to a seriously troubling aspect of modern television advertising - the increasing frequency of messages that are little more than space age pitches by snake oil peddlers. I suspect you have seen some of them, but having spent most of my working life around broadcast commercials - good and bad - I am perhaps more attuned to them than some folks. I first noticed several years ago the trend toward promotion of various ``herbal'' products and ``natural'' remedies. There may be modest benefits derived through consumption of a few of these compounds and potions. But we are now deluged with pills and nostrums for any ailment, imagined or real, known to mankind. And they continue to get away with it. If you take the time to videotape and then ``freeze frame'' some of these commercials you'll see microscopically small print at the bottom of most of them. The message says, more or less ``No government or recognized medical laboratory has examined any of these products or statements to establish whether the products work or whether anything we say is accurate.''
It may be time to update and revise the Wiley Act of, I believe, 1903, which put the lid on the advertising of so-called medically beneficial products.
Warren W. Wiley, a former Juneau resident, political observer and radio personality, now lives in Montana. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.