1982 was The Year the Networks Died. They may eventually be born again, but at the moment, they're cryogenically frozen, waiting for the next age of television. They all say cable won't be such ruinous competition after all, but at the same time scramble like mad to get into it. The fools, the mad fools! Ha ha ha ha ha!
Many memorable television events of 1982 had nothing whatsoever to do with the three commercial networks -- or at least with what they tried to palm off as entertainment. Prime-time network fare becomes more and more negligible a part of the viewing experience every year. There was memorable TV in 1982; this was the year of "Brideshead Revisited," "Middletown," "Creativity With Bill Moyers," "Life on Earth," "Nature" and "To Serve Them All My Days" -- all on PBS. And the year of programs like "A Woman Called Golda" (which the networks had turned down) and "Smiley's People," the brain-teasing sequel to "Tinker, Tailor" -- both syndicated, non-network shows.
Even at something as simple as musical-variety programming the networks were outclassed, in this case by pay-TV productions from Home Box Office, which offered "Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park" and a hilarious Robert Klein comedy special, and Showtime, whose viewers saw a highly flawed but worthwhile Ernie Kovacs tribute and Frank Sinatra's "Concert for the Americas."
If one wants to look, really look, there is much that is rewarding or at least diverting on television. But increasingly, the networks are the last place one looks for that -- not the first.