‘Wasteland’ Revisited

As her dad did, Newton Minow's daughter sums up TV's current terrain
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Anyone who has been around the video business as long as The Wire’s aged scribe-in-residence will remember the “vast wasteland” moniker that JFK’s Federal Communications Commission chairman, Newton Minow, applied to broadcast TV’s handful of channels in the early 1960s.

Nell Minow

Nell Minow

Well, a new generation of Minow has come up with a label for the new generation of multiplatform video, at least after The Wire went fishing for it. It is not an upgrade.

Newton’s daughter Nell Minow, a film critic who provides viewing advice for mothers and children at moviemom.com, was among those calling on Congress and the FCC last week to nip “content creep” in the bud by turning over the TV content ratings to health experts and others, rather than having them determined by an industry which has a vested interest in what those ratings are.

In a report to Congress earlier this year, the FCC conceded the content ratings system has some issues, but provided no mandates for action.

Minow and the Parents Television Council, which is driving the pushback, pointed to the violence and language that have crept into PG-rated shows — the same rating that Disney movies get. They say that the industry will not move absent some government spur.

Turning over ratings oversight to third parties would put the industry-led Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board out of business. The board’s chair, by the way, is Michael Powell, president of NCTA-The Internet & Television Association. Powell has told the PTC he is committed to giving viewers informed choices, but Minow does not see reform of the TV ratings or the current video landscape in the offing.

The Wire wondered what that current video landscape looked like to the younger Minow, so we reached out to her through PTC to find out what two-word label she would apply to today’s video terrain.

Her emailed answer (drum roll, please): “Toxic Swamp.”