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Teleliteracy - Taking Television Seriously.

TELELITERACY - Taking Television Seriously by David Bianculli (Continuum, 315pp.) is - quite properly - a very serious attempt by the TV critic of the New York Post to conscientiously examine the status of the medium. As his reviews attest, Bianculli is an excellent writer with a realistic point-of-view, which comes across forcefully in this book.

He ranges far and wide and in his opening lines says "there is no sense talking about what TV is unless we also look at what TV was, where it came from - and where, in another sense, we're coming from." He concludes with the debatable theory that, "if we do not learn from our TV history we are condemned to repeats. Knowing more about television's past, and watching more of its better offering from the present, are the best ways to come to terms with the future."

That raises quite a few questions relating to TV's societal and cultural responsibilities, which Bianculli doesn't answer very satisfactorily in this - often rambling - book.

In another chapter, talking about TV news generally (The Gulf War, the Thomas hearings, etc.) and throwing in "The Civil War" series on PBS, he notes that, as television changes and grows, "it also continues to entertain and inform. Only idiots continue to think of it as an idiot box."

That may delight the network executives, but it surely comes as a shock to those who, nightly, search the channels for a multiple choice of programs with some intelligence. Furthermore, it seems questionable to blame the level of audience tastes for what we are NOT getting on television.

But then Bianculli, who has an erudite mind and whose writing carries conviction without really piercing the dark, sees it the other way and says "Plainly put, television doesn't try hard enough most of the time."

Bianculli seems to feel that people don't focus sufficiently on what TV does at its best, but he forgets that that "best" is something of a rarity, unless "best" is judged by the ratings standard, which indeed does change the picture. One of the best chapters deals with The Civil War series which, quite accurately, Bianculli equates with the Gulf War as two outstanding events in one TV season.

This is a thought provoking, and on many levels challenging book which certainly fascinates with its examination of the medium - past, present and future.

Bianculli clearly sees the need to stress the TV positive even at a time when many find the medium badly wanting in boldness and originality.
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Publication:Video Age International
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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