Newton N. Minow Dies Just Days Before 62nd Anniversary of His Famed “Television is a Vast Wasteland” Speech

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, (from left): Walter Cronkite (back to camera), Newton N. Minow, 'The Satellite That Talks', (Season 5, aired May 6, 1962), 1957-66.

Former FCC Chairman Newton N. Minow, who claimed television to be a “vast wasteland,” died on Saturday, May 6, at the age of 97. During his life, Minow was an outspoken critic of television, which he believed should be improved. (Not everyone agreed. Gilligan’s Island creator Sherwood Schwartz named their stranded boat, the S.S. Minnow, after him!) In 2016, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, who was once an intern at Minow’s Chicago law firm.

62 years ago today, Minow spoke in front of a meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, D.C. and told those who gathered that although he admired and respected the honorable profession of broadcasting, he felt that it could be better.

“When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better,” Minow said. “But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.”

One might ask the same today!