The current crisis tops its swaddling days when network TV faced red ink and uncertainty.
A mere 20 or 30 years ago the major networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- were media darlings for news, entertainment, sports, music and variety.
Americans were hypnotized by their living room Cyclops. TV moved from black and white to color with larger screens, technically flawless.
El Dorado! Mediocre talent attained stardom overnight, most caught in a revolving door that made them has-beens after a few seasons, their originality exhausted or stolen by younger talent.
In the last 20 years, TV bogged down with inane sitcoms, florid melodramas and occasional blockbusters: "Roots," "Dallas," "Gunsmoke!"
Vivid personalities blossomed then faded with repetitious shows, including a plethora of musical variety series starring Sinatra, Como, Andy Williams, Dinah Shore, Glen Campbell and dozens of others.
They, too, withered from over-exposure.
So did tiresome game shows with idiot audiences wearing costumes, making faces and screaming hysterically when guessing who was buried in Grant's Tomb.
In the past five years, TV heard its own death rattle with "reality" programs, phony adventure series with no-name casts -- "Big Brother" and "Survivor" and copycat shows.
We continue to tune in sets, employing the tube as a background to other activities, which befell radio and, of course, canned music.
With the advent of the new millennium, TV profits and ratings were in full retreat. The networks are in trouble.
The competition from cable and the variety of specialty channels providing viewers the opportunity to select specific areas of interest have left the networks reeling.
There is also the enormous competition of the Internet, which provides all manner of reciprocal activity for PC users.
Music, TV shows, movies and sports are now being downloaded in millions of American homes, to say nothing of chat rooms, E-mail and other avenues of communication.
To make matters worse, movies are better than ever, being shown on bigger screens with better sound and the perfection of digitized production and projection, to say nothing of astonishing special effects.
Movies provide an opportunity to escape claustrophobic living quarters, allowing people to get out to mix and mingle in group experience.
Who would have thought even 10 years ago that TV had just about run its course as the dominating entertainment medium? And for free!
Take the recent announcement of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe Awards nominations, which rewards both TV and movie productions and performers.
After reading about Russell Crowe, Will Smith, Kevin Spacey, Billy Bob Thornton and Denzel Washington, did anyone really care about Andre Braugher, James Gandolfini, Rob Lowe, Dylan McDermott and Martin Sheen.
The same TV names crop up year after year.
The Oscar candidates are vividly fresh and perform on a higher plane in a more sophisticated medium with superior writers and actors.
There are five new movies nominated every year.
In TV its the same dreary group: "Ally McBeal," "Frasier," "Malcolm in the Middle," "Sex and the City," "Will & Grace" -- or worse.
Those shows, mutilated by laugh tracks and/or melodramatic scores, invade our homes every week with the same old, same old.
TV is far from dead, but it's ailing.
Yet in covering breaking news, whether it be O.J. Simpson riding on the floor of a white Bronco with a gun in his mouth or the terrorist atrocities of Sept. 11, nothing surpasses the immediacy of the tube.
All the same, daily news coverage has become an orchestrated affront.
For instance: At the scene of a tragedy, a mass killing, train wreck or hurricane, inevitably the camera will focus on a merciless cliche, groups of sobbing women, encouraged to shriek in agony by the TV reporter to hype the story.
Television is not so much about entertainment or even news coverage as it is about commerce. Nielsen ratings are published weekly; sweep weeks are publicized to attract sponsors.
It's about money, as are movies. But you get far, far more bang for the buck in a motion picture theater than listening to crass commercials that repeatedly interrupt every show on the air, including the news.
Will TV go the way of stereopticons and nickelodeons?
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