One state of the union should perhaps be set aside for people who do not watch television. The citizens settling there could remain the captains of their own airwaves. If they wanted to see girls in bikinis, they would have to go out and find some actual girls in actual bikinis. No surrogate thrills for this crowd.
In time, as Orson Welles said of the passive Swiss, they might come up with something as interesting as chocolate or the cuckoo clock. At least this plan would isolate the misanthropes, balkers, shirkers and disgruntled bibliophiles who think television is the ruination of civilization.
These are the same people who, 200 years or so ago, were saying, "Do you think we really ought to throw this lovely tea into the harbor?"
They thought the printing press would kill conversation, too.
For the rest of us, television is daily bread. It has so saturated the culture and the society that is has replaced the automobile as the essential and least escapable American machine. The TV screen gets more concentrated visual attention than any other single display space. In 1977, television established innumberable new beachheads in our precious consciousness and thus reinforced its dominance.
Some may think the pivotal media moment of the year was the Miami trial of 15-year-old Ronny Zamora, whose lawyer argued that the youth committed a murder because he was under the "intoxicating" influence of television, and of TV violoence. It would have been sensational enough at that, but the Florida Supreme Court had added an irony - this was the first trial in the state to be televised, almost in its entirety, under a one-year experimental plan.
The pivotal moment was not the trial itself, however, or the telecast of it on the Miami public TV station, or even the guilty verdict handed down at the end.
No, the pivotal moment was when the members of the jury sent a note to the judge asking if they could watch some of the TV version of the trial. They wanted to see what they looked like on television.
The judge said no.
Television and truth played a heightened cat and mouse game all year long, from the quasi-fact of the Frost-Nixon interviews to the quasi-fiction of "Washington: Behind Closed Doors" to the semi-quasi-docu-fantasy of "The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald." Whether all of "Roots" was true or not became irrelevant because the magnificent national shared experience obviated all the usual critical criteria.
"Roots" and the network coverage of Anwar Sadat's journey to Israel were the most positive viewing events of the year. Separately or considered together they represent monumental vindication for the medium America loves to say it hates.
When it came to shattering truths through TV, however, the British may have had the largest hold. In August, millions of viewers saw a 60-year-old woman urge her 87-year-old mother to take her own life. The tape had been made covertly in a London nursing home by police and was shown by England's Yorkshire television as part of a documentary on euthanasia and old age.
In the United States, the issue of violence on television refused to die, even if the networks did succeed in substantially shooting down a repeatedly rewritten House Communications Subcommittee report on the subject. "Starsky and Hutch" holstered their guns, for the most part, and NBC introduced "CHiPs," a refreshing and breezy cop show on which a shot was never fired. Producers and writers squawked in Hollywood that the new nonviolence was stifling their creative freedom and so aired the year's least convincing grievance.
Teapot tempest: ABC's pseudo-sexy "Soap" got lots of media attention, but the more significant TV news may have been its increasing penetration into everyday life. Actual viewing of daytime TV programs fell off dramatically, but the TV screen increasingly became the spectre you could not avoid simply by leaving the house.
At airports and train stations, people had the option of using television to kill waiting time. When you got off the Eastern Shuttle in New York, a television screen was there to greet you, and a closed-circuit feed of stock market quotations and, of course, commercials. On some airplanes, the TV screen replaced the old movie screen. TV stood guard in more and more office buildings and apartment houses, and more and more bars boasted of big-screen super-vision sets inside as a customer lure.
And in Ohio, police identified protesters at the site of the Kent State shootings by watching videotapes of the demonstrations.
The home video industry poised for an explosion as at least a dozen firms began aggressively hawking video-cassette recorders in the $1,000 price range. In Cleveland, Warner Cable introduced the experimental Qube system, allowing viewers not only a selection of three dozen channels of information, services and entertainment but also the opportunity for two-way communication between viewer and program.
All such developments suggest inspiring new threats to the existing corporated structure of the broadcasting industry but also indicate that the television screen will become more, not less, dominant in our environment.
As if to murmur a glum "amen" to that, the motion picture industry, once TV's hysterical foe, now its virtual parasite, came full circle and introduced just the thing moviegoers were no doubt yearning for: TV commercials in the theater.
Television saturation is planet-wide, not just a national. In October, the residents of Pemba and Zanzibar in Tanzania - many of them living without adequate food, shelter or health care - nevertheless got the first color television outlet in Africa. Another conquest for the empire of the global village.
One can look at this steady, accelerating advance of television into all of Earth's crannies and the last private nooks of our lives and find it acutely distressing, even alarming, but that's an essentially emotional reaction. Did people similarly deplore the pernicious spread of the printed word? It's too late to turn back now.
Hysteria about dehumanizing effects of television can be entertaining and provocative, but when it gets right down to the basic question, television has surely enriched more lives than it has impoverished and brightened more corners than it has darkened. As the very young and the very old. Ask yourself the next time there is no one around but the trusty tube.
Ask Lorne Michaels, the brightest producer in television and one of my personal favorite media theorists, even on this pragmatic level: "Television is the great cure for loneliness ever invented," Michaels says. "You can go into any Holiday Inn in any city in the country, turn on a television set and - you're home." Home is where the eye is.