How TV Became the 500-Pound Alligator That Ate Our Lives

This is a wonderfully written review of a book that probably won’t ever be seen as it should be: Quite possibly the most important nonfiction work of our time.

Whoa, that was pretty damn pretentious, wasn’t it? But justifiable. Read on:


by Paul Teetor

Imagine bringing a cute little baby alligator home from the pet store only to see it grow into a giant 15-foot gator that takes over your house and dominates your daily life. That’s how David Thomson sees the history of television in his blockbuster new book, Television: A Biography (Thames & Hudson, $34.95).

 A recent Nielsen survey revealed that the average American watches more than five hours of television per day. Factor in the recommended eight hours for sleep (sounds high) and eight hours for work (sounds low), and the math says a majority of our free time is spent watching TV. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on a traditional full-size screen or through a streaming service on your computer, a tablet or the smartphone stuck in your back pocket. It’s all TV almost all the time, regardless of the platform.

So what are some of the unintended consequences of having 500 channels coming at us like a mudslide hurtling down a high Sierra burn area? Start with this unprecedented development, unthinkable just a decade ago: A reality-show star is now the presidential nominee of one of America’s two major political parties. He turned the presidential campaign into the ultimate reality show, complete with nonstop insults, graphic bragging about the size of his yuge penis and his “locker-room talk” about sexual assault, threats of arrest and imprisonment against his rivals, and the obligatory cliffhanger for the season finale: Will he or won’t he accept the election results?

Closer to home, the traditional Hollywood social and artistic hierarchy — film first, music second and TV a distant third — has been flipped on its head, with cutting-edge creativity and young talent flocking to TV while the film industry continues its decades-long, slow-motion creative collapse and loss of audience.
The overarching question as the TV universe expands like a mutant weed taking over our cultural and entertainment world: How the hell did we get from the black-and-white good guys–vs.–bad guys of Dragnet to the transgressive drama of Breaking Bad, from the conservative, all-American domestic humor of The Donna Reed Show to the progressive, transgender humor of Transparent?

And equally important: Where is TV going?

The illuminating answers can be found in Thomson’s deeply insightful, gracefully written, totally compelling new book. Plow through this 416-page anthropological monster and you will know all you need to know about the evolution of TV over the last 70 years and — more important — how and why it has assumed such a central position in our lives….

Read it all at LA Weekly