“The Death of an Idol”

Television has been a changing art form over the almost 90 years of its existence. No one would deny its role as an entertainment vehicle over the past several generations.  It has brought news from around the world into our homes and influenced how we spend our money through its paid advertising.  
Perhaps its greatest impact, however, has been television’s role in influencing our culture; how we look, feel and think about things.   The announcement by Fox Television that this will be American Idol’s last season illustrates that nothing holds our attention forever.  Despite a record breaking eight consecutive seasons as the top ranked program, Idol has lost the all-important young viewer.
Debuting in 2002, American Idol has made stars of many, none more so than Simon Colwell and Ryan Seacrest.  For fifteen years, the program helped launch the careers of a variety of pop artists such as Kelly Clarkston, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Hudson. Along with Survivor, it helped launch the era of reality TV and in many ways changed the face of television.
While I never thought of myself as being addicted to television, it has obviously affected my life.  Like many my age, there were only three channels in my early youth: CBS, NBC and ABC.  
My brother and I were the “remote controls” in our house, getting up to change the channel whenever our father told us to.  We then had to adjust the “rabbit ears”, often adorned with tin foil, or later turn the outdoor antenna in a certain direction to receive the best signal.
The 50s brought us I Love Lucy, a show that still brings laughter to our home thanks to the endless reruns that have allowed us to practically memorize most of the episodes.
The 60s brought us Star Trek which, along with its memorable opening musical score, promised to “boldly take us where no man has gone before”.  It inspired an entire generation of young people to think differently and to push conventional wisdom.
The 70s gave us a show that redefined comedy, Saturday Night Live, and helped launch the careers of comedians that later became legends.  To be a host of this program is still a sought after position, decades after its early cutting edge humor hit the screen.
The 80s were a turbulent time in this country.  The Cosby Show showed America what an upper class black family could look like and had a tremendously positive effect on race relations in this country.
The 90s were different for me as my own children began growing up.  Many would say The Simpsons was the best show of the decade as it pushed the edge of humor and changed the way we thought about animation.  I never have watched a single episode. In our house, Seinfeld got the nod.  Who can forget the Soup Nazi?
By the 2000s we were getting most of our programing by satellite and cable.  American Idol made its debut, but The Sopranos gets my vote for the best series.  Long term storytelling helped us learn that even a New Jersey mob boss can have personal problems at home.
As for our current decade, the 2010s most would pick Game of Thrones or perhaps Walking Dead.   I am showing why I am no longer the ideal advertising target as I have never watched an episode of either show.  That is probably because I am too busy watching reruns of everything else on Netflix.
From I Love Lucy to Walking Dead in my own lifetime.  Did we change television or did it change us?  I guess we will just have to stay tuned.
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Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]

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