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Friday, 13 November 2009

Good Night And Good Luck.

I have just finished watching the George Clooney movie "Good Night, And Good Luck". The movie is set in the 1950's, at CBS TV in the USA & particularly set around the making of the "See It Now" programme featuring Ed Murrow.
The movie is well worth watching by the way & is based on a true story.

Bookending the movie is a speech given by Ed Murrow, the American broadcaster. In this speech he bemoans the state of American TV in the late 1950's & expresses his fears for the direction in which it is heading.
To paraphrase a part of the speech that jumped out at me, "TV has the ability to teach, illuminate & inspire. Otherwise, it is just wires & lights in a box".
What struck me the most about that quote was the fact that it is as relevant today, as it was in the late 1950's.

Although i can only speak with any real experience of TV in the UK, i have seen the way that TV has been going downhill in recent years.
TV does indeed have "the ability to teach, illuminate & inspire". But, that is so often overlooked in favour of "entertainment", exactly as it was back in the 1950's.

Yes, we still have current affairs programmes on British TV. But, these are often being pushed back later & later into the late evening & therefore attract a smaller audience. The content of these programmes has also altered. The topics covered are dumbed down & not so serious as in days gone by.
Even the main news bulletins cover stories they never would have covered a few years ago. I often despair at seeing "news" items about celebrities, or reality TV shows on the 6 'o' clock news.
Modern day documentaries, at which British TV used to excel, are not what they were. They seem to be made to appeal to the lowest commmon denominator & treat the audience as if they were all stupid.
Maybe that is another consequence of the emphasis on entertainment?

As Ed Murrow said in his speech, just because a current affairs programme may cost more to make, or attract a smaller audience, doesn't mean it is not worthwhile. If you don't allow TV to open people's eyes to what is really happening in the world around them, the implications may very well turn around & bite you in years to come. Ignorance can be very dangerous after all.

Another aspect of this topic that also struck me, was how we could also use that speech to iilustrate where we now are with the Internet.

The Internet also has that "ability to teach, illumintae & inspire". But, as i mentioned in a blog post the other day ("It's the Internet, but not as we know it"). Some people would like to turn the Internet into a giant entertainment system & in effect, a huge TV station.

Have we learned nothing?

If he were alive today, i wonder what Ed Murrow would make of this current situation?
Maybe we need somebody to make a similar speech today?

Good night & good luck.


  1. It's an interesting question, what would Edward R. Murrow think if he were a modern broadcaster. Would he be happy working at CNN, producing in-depth reports and thinking nothing's wrong? Or would he be raising the alarms of how the growth of thousands of cable choices - or narrow-casting - has further sunk us into an abyss where in order to rise above the noise, each station has to have some extreme point-of-view a drum to beat and clear, un-biased information gets pushed to the side?

  2. Maybe that's the problem? The proliferation of channels & other more modern forms of media is making TV companies think they have to go down that route.
    As anywhere, there is a market for decent unbiased reporting. But, some people just don't realise it.
    I'm sure you know far more about Ed Murrow than i do Ken. I first heard about him due to his WW2 reports from London.