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The Vanishing Vision provides a vivid and often amusing behind-the-screens history. Day tells how a program producer, desperate to locate a family willing to live with television cameras for seven months, borrowed a dime--and a suggestion--from a blind date and telephoned the Louds of Santa Barbara. The result was the mesmerizing twelve-hour documentary, An American Family. Day relates how Big Bird and his friends were created to spice up Sesame Street when test runs showed a flagging interest in the program's "live-action" segments. And he describes how Frieda Hennock, the first woman appointed to the FCC, overpowered the resistance of her male colleagues to lay the foundation for public television.
Along the way, Day identifies the particular forces that have shaped public television. The result, in his view, is a Byzantine bureaucracy kept on a leash by an untrusting Congress, with a fragmented leadership that lacks a clearly defined mission in today's multimedia environment. Public television's "democratic" structure of over 300 stations stifles boldness and innovation while absorbing money needed for national programming.
Day calls for a bold rethinking of public television's mission, advocating a system that is adequately funded and independent of government, one capable of countering commercial television's "lowest-common-denominator" approach with a full range of substantive programs, comedy as well as culture, entertainment as well as information.
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Public television United States History