The Creation of Network Zombies
“The cameras were licking up the image of his body, were recording his every movement and noiselessly hurling them into millions of TV screens scattered throughout the world . . . Television reflected only people’s surfaces; it also kept peeling their images from their bodies until they were sucked into the caverns of their viewers’ eyes, forever beyond retrieval, to disappear.
“Chance became only an image for millions of real people. They would never know how real he was, since his thinking could not be televised.”
— Jerzy Kosinski, from the book Being There, 1970.
During the summer of 1997, the ABC television network launched a campaign to attract more viewers called TV Is Good. The ads (which appear in the animation below) were framed in bright yellow and seemed to use some form of reverse psychology. The campaign included ads in magazines, newspapers, radio and billboards in addition to on-air spots.
The revealing aspect of ABC’s TV Is Good campaign and rival NBC’s Must See TV mantra is how it portrays the average television viewer. Put simply: The networks want zombies!
A zombie is defined in the dictionary as “the body of a dead person given the semblance of life by a supernatural force” and “a person who is extremely unperceptive, unresponsive, and apathetic.” The networks want people to sit in their houses and stare for hours at the television. No thought, no opinions, no action. Just watch the tube.
The ABC ads were bright and humorous and they were a response to the steady decline of network viewership. Since 1990 viewers have been turning away from the big four networks — ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX — and instead watch more cable channels or watch less TV overall. ABC’s statement is that “television” is good; not “ABC” is good.
“A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll confirms that as the audience splinters, television’s powerful grip on the nation’s collective psyche is weakening,” reported The Journal on June 27, 1997. “To a large extent, the network’s loss has been cable TV’s gain — although some established cable channels are losing viewers, too.”
The poll indicated that 65 percent of TV households are watching less than they did five years ago. The most popular reasons for turning off the tube include a dislike for commercials; competing activities like work and exercise; lack of interesting programs; PCs and on-line services; and a belief that TV is a bad influence on children.
Interestingly, 79 percent of those polled wanted to see more programming about history, documentaries and the arts; 60 percent wanted to see less game shows and 85 percent wanted less Soap operas. The poll also noted that 59 percent of regular viewers believe TV has changed for the worse in the past decade.
And in the face these statistics, NBC’s heavily advertised Must See TV lineup includes a batch of absolutely moronic sitcoms.
One of the polled viewers told The Journal that prime-time programs have “become a landscape of unfunny sitcoms and excessively violent cops-and-robbers shows. The stuff that’s on now is so lowbrow, it’s stupefying.”
ABC’s response: Lousy TV is good TV. It just doesn’t get any better. Sorry.
“This is an absurd — and desperate — attempt to make it cool to park in front of the tube all day long,” said TV-Free America executive director, Henry Labalme about ABC’s ad campaign. “In the face of steadily declining ratings and market share, ABC is panicking. They’re trying to put on a brave, carefree face and to turn that into a marketing slogan.”
“Americans are finally moving beyond the old debates about whose show is better than whose and recognizing that all TV- watching displaces interactions and activities that are simply healthier, more productive and more fun. It is this trend that really worries the networks,” said Labalme.
“ABC wants to be ironic and hip, but the new ad campaign is liable to backfire. After fifty years of televised schlock, Americans are fed up, and they’re tuning out in record numbers. After all — and despite what ABC would have us believe — nobody ever lay on their death bed wishing they had spent more time watching Geraldo Rivera or Rosie O’Donnell,” said Labalme.
Human beings who spend between four and eight hours a day in a zombified state are just not getting all they can out of life.