Wednesday, December 6, 2006

My old wish list

A decade ago, I made a conscious pledge: I will not return to writing about television.

Not with the kind of shows being churned out by the surviving local channels. It had become obvious that the local networks, two decades after being freed, were bent only on outrunning each other in the race to the entertainment gutter and journalistic ghetto. Their eyes appeared exclusively focused on lining pockets strained during the years of martial rule.

And the kinds of shows that they released in pursuit of their objectives were clearly not meant to stimulate analysis and critical thought. I have never seen how low television programs can go until today. Even newscasts show reporters/newsreaders shouting out the news like entertainment reporters in the United States, news reporters and cameramen lingering on scenes that evince the lowest and most undignified habits of benighted people, and subjects of stories voluntarily acting their crudest and most vicious or looking their stupidest and most witless, all because they happen to be in front of a television camera.

Happily, the advent of cable television provided a whole entrancing world view of what the small screen could potentially provide over time: Not the best all the time, but good ones many times. And from a multitude of sources.

To be honest, I don't even watch local channels anymore. When you think of how much there is to see and learn from all over the world, watching shows put up by a handful of local channels intent only on fighting for mass ratings becomes indefensible.

"Impressions," TV Times, 24-30 December 1978


Someday--I often told myself as I met deadline after deadline in a year that had brought me close to the threshold of great experience and the depths of great frustration--someday, I shall see what I have always dreamed of seeing. And I shall stop writing. I shall encounter, on small screens in bedrooms and living rooms where what passes for life after six in most households lights up with the push of an electronic button, the reality of a medium fully attuned to its power, an industry completely cognizant of its responsibilities to its public.

A friend laughs at me when I tell him of this vague someday. It is, he tells me all the time, a someday that will never come, because like all other things except you, that small screen in front of us is a business. Yet, my vague someday remains in my heart even as I write, sometimes with growing astringency, sometimes with powerless rage.

Perhaps because it is hard to forget an affection which was there long before those who are now in the industry ever thought of that small screen as a means of livelihood. And because, into a dimly-lighted living room long, long ago, a beloved old man brought home the first small screen ever to be seen in a neighborhood only then beginning to wake up to the wonders of electronics.

So this week, in a season of eternal hope, I remember my vague someday. I wish the industry that brings to us the flickering images from this small screen would share my dream of that day, because if it does not, then surely there is nothing to justify my being here, doing the things I do 52 weeks of every year, putting my sweat into every week and risking my name on every line, agonizing.

What do I wish for the industry this blessed season? The best minds and the best skills still to come from a generation of new recruits, unfettered by excuses, unlimited by time, unhampered by disillusionment. And from those already in the industry, a new burst of energy and dedication, giving life to new and different local dramatic programs, fresh comedy shows, more current-affairs formats (and not at ungodly hours, either). Less dependence on popular American television shows, more faith in local programs that are well-planned and well-executed, and which do not extend long after interest in them has waned.

And yes, newer movies for the late-movies slot. More miniseries like Roots and Holocaust, which help to explain the past to the present, engrossingly. Less preoccupation with romantic love as the subject of local dramas, for certainly, there must be other serious concerns that make the world go round. And, if we must have the American canned comedies, then more of the caliber of Lou Grant and M*A*S*H,please. Oh, and more British Broadcasting Co. dramatizations, more international documentaries.

And certainly, men with vision, men with a theory regarding the home screen, managing the networks. Because we believe that such men--whoever and whatever they may be, however they may think of those who write about television and whatever complaints they may have about "the critics"--can bring our own dream of that vague someday closer to reality. For surely, they hold a vision of the medium, a theory of television, that comes closest to our own. We can feel it; we know it.

Besides, what good can Philippine television get, at this time in its development, from a local Fred Silverman who would load prime time with his own perception of the mass pulse? Or from men and women without a theory of television whatsoever, who would only use the industry to satisfy their quicksilver whims and caprices?

To everybody, a happy season.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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