Glenn Garvin Reviews Two Books About TV Regulation and Deregulation


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If we had a U.S. Portraiture Commission with the power to investigate whether Willem De Kooning controlled too much of the abstract impressionist market; or if Philip Roth had to worry about losing his novelist license over those scenes in Portnoy's Complaint with a hooker defecating on a glass-top coffee table; or if some agency, every few years, held hearings in which the public was invited to comment on Oliver Stone's qualifications to make films-doesn't it seem possible that painting and literature and the cinema would be different, and probably worse, than they are now?

For decades, no art form was more meticulously regulated by the government than television. For decades, no art form was more relentlessly bashed by its critics. Amazingly, nobody ever seems to make a connection between these two facts.

What makes this blind spot about regulation's effect on art even more curious, notes Glenn Garvin in his review of two books about the changing television scene, is that over the past two decades, as TV has increasingly slipped the bit of government regulation from its mouth, programming has dramatically improved.