Published January 1973 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd TV Gives Public A Re-Runaround Television networks arc understandably proud of the impact that TV has on our society. It is gaining as an important source of news for Americans; and it has become the basic source of entertainment for most of our citizens. But the networks must do more than just sit back and enjoy their lofty position; they must also assume the responsibility that comes with their position of importance. This is especially true in their role as providers of entertainment. There arc alternative sources for citizens looking for news; but, for entertainment, the aged, the ill, and other less mobile members of our society arc almost totally dependent upon television. So, too, are those families who can afford only occasional tickets to other forms of entertainment. Unfortunately, the networks have failed to meet their obligations in this area. Instead of fresh, new shows, they give the public carbon copies of programs that succeeded in previous years- -and they give the public fewer episodes each year. In 1950, each television series produced 39 episodes. By 1972, the average series produced only 22 episodes, meaning more than a half-year of re-runs for the viewing public. The networks explain that their costs for a 30-minute program rose from $50,000 in 1960 to $95,000 in 1972. Yet, as against this, advertising revenue during that same period increased at an even sharper rate. The networks claim that, since the 21 million persons who view a first-run show represent only 14 percent of the potential audience, the rerun is a public service. Yet, a much smaller number---about 15 million watch the average re-run, and many of them do so simply because there is nothing else to watch. Overall, there seems to be no excuse for the networks' failure to produce more fresh programs; and citizens groups have been expressing their outrage at this failure for several years. There is some reason to believe that their voices have been heard, and that action will be taken. The President has ordered the Federal Communications Commission to urge the networks voluntarily to cut back the number of prime time reruns; and, if they balk at his suggestion, he has threatened to "explore regulatory recommendations" to force them to cut back. Hopefully, the White House intervention will serve to remind the networks of their obligations to the viewing public, and will be sufficient to convince them to assume their full responsibility as an entertainment medium.