At last night’s 2013 Emmy Awards, actor Don Cheadle offered a rambling salute to the power of TV. Starting with Walter Cronkite’s emotional reporting of Pres. Kennedy’s assassination and moving on to other touchstones of leftist history, Cheadle argued that TV is the binding force of modern society. TV tells society what to feel, how to think, and what is OK to express openly. TV is the vanguard and constitution of all that is worthwhile. Cheadle’s eyes tracked the teleprompter as if in disbelief of the propaganda he was required to spew. Far from an assertion of dominance, Cheadle’s speech was a desperate gasp of self-denial, for TV is actually dead as a social arbiter.
The Emmys are an industry award show designed to promote TV viewership. For decades, this meant nighttime programming on the big-three broadcast channels. Per the Ricardian theory of competitors moving toward each other, broadcast TV offered a single view of society and its history. Cheadle’s speech celebrated this stultified past but did not acknowledge today’s free market of ideas.
For starters, the Emmys do not even represent prime-time broadcast TV as they once did. Where there were once three contenders, there are now countless cable channels with incongruous marketing strategies. Rather than fighting for the heart of the US demographic, Emmy contenders now can slice off a profitable niche. Worse, one Emmy winner was a Netflix program that may never be broadcast. House of Cards was released at once onto the internet. There was no control over when it was to be watched, and its marketing model is contrary to broadcast TV because there are no advertisements or syndications. There are no remaining gatekeepers between creators and audiences – TV’s power is a wistful memory in Cheadle’s teleprompter.
Every category of TV’s dominance is gone. Small players like Matt Drudge and Andrew Breitbart took down broadcast news’s power to spike stories like Pres. Clinton’s abuse of power to cover-up an affair or Acorn’s abuse of its tax-exempt status to advance a radical-left agenda. NBC will eventually learn that it can no longer deceptively edit tape to shade the truth as anyone can now listen to the original.
In entertainment, TV is also losing its war. For every program like Glee which seeks to conflate gay issues with Democrat politics, there are more like Duck Dynasty that humanize traditionalists. Tina Fey was one of last night’s winners, but her show was never a ratings success. Perhaps Ms. Fey is an example of how a self-focused program with a mean-spirited leftist agenda can kill otherwise entertaining fare – viewers no longer have to swallow her politics to get a laugh.
Most people watch the various entertainment awards programs not to root for their favorite shows, but rather to see what the stars are wearing. Titillation without substance is pornography, and that is where broadcast TV is headed. Meanwhile, the unshackled audience is free to explore without the control Mr. Cheadle pined for. His speech was really an obituary, and nobody is going to miss the control the Emmy’s once represented.