SPANISH TELEVISION, which is the private fief of the government, appears to be dedicated to treating a captive audience of millions as if they were boobs.
While Spanish authors, playwrights and movie makers have blossomed with creativity in the two years since the death of dictator Francisco Franco, Radio Television Espanola (RTVE), has yet to offer a major original show on a Spanish theme.
"The RTVE bosses have stone-walled," said a frustrated producer. "They don't want to show anything more controversial than a soccer game or a series on Spanish rivers."
This week, for instance, RTVE's two channels -- which broadcast in color and black and white -- will provide viewers with such American crime series as "Colombo" and "Starsky and Hutch." The movie of the week is "They Died With Their Boots On," made in 1942 and starring Errol Flynn.
The films of Luis Bunuel, the great Spanish director, have yet to be shown to Spanish television audiences. Nor are the movies of younger Spanish film makers like Carlos Saura and Basilio Patino about to enter Spanish homes via the television screen.
"They're too sophisticated," said a television official. "You must consider that our audience is national and includes children."
That is true.In hundreds of isolated villages families gather nightly in bars to watch television, while the children's eyes are glued to the screen during the imported U.S. detective programs. They are fascinated by the cars and the violence.
WHEN THE NEWS programs come on, most viewers either turn their sets off or begin to talk and sip wine. RTVE's news is closely controlled by censors. Premier Adolfo Suarez and King Juan Carlos keep close tabs on what is reported.
Recently four top television commentators quit, charging that the new head of the network was tightening news control and breaking a promise to allow freedom to report.
There have been no documentaries on the plight of Spain's growing unemployed or the landless sharecroppers of Andalusia, or of life in the huts where thousands live in misery outside Madrid and other large cities, or of the discrimination against the Spanish gypsies.
RTVE was widely used last summer to promote parliamentary elections, Spain's first free vote in 41 years. But when returns showed that the Socialists were running a close second to the government's party, RTVE went off the air.
"It was as if Gerald Ford had ordered all American TV networks turned off because they showed that Jimmy Carter was winning," said a television commentator. "The government simply wants to keep its hold on TV. That's all there is to it."
It is still a propaganda medium. Every time a foreign dignitary comes to Madrid he is quoted at length on the progress Spain has made toward becoming a democracy. Political debates are endless and boring because they rarely deal with the basic issues confronting Spain.
"In Franco's days, TV showed the inauguration of dams and factories to demonstrate Spanish progress, and violence abroad to prove Spain was a country of law and order," said a viewer. "Now we get talk, talk, talk about democracy by politicians."
A writer who wanted to produce a show like "All in the Family" in which a Francoist equivalent of Archie Bunker tries to cope with his Communist daughter and anarchist son, was chased off Prado del Rey, where RTVE has its expensive and modern studios.
"I was told I was crazy," said the writer. "I was accused of trying to start the civil war all over -- when all I plotted was humor and satire, which is one way to exorcise the devil that is still in Spain."
FOR WEEKS recently, newspapers reported that network officials held jobs with publicity firms, that the government-appointed director general was connected with a company that prepared political propaganda promoting democracy, that directors were paid for using commercial products as props, and that there were no budget controls to show where the money goes.
"It was all to no avail," said a critic "RTVE didn't crumble under the attack."
The government wants to give the network more cultural content but nobody seems to agree on what culture is. The network is showing a BBC series on popular music -- including American rock, swing, jazz and the blues -- but nothing on Spanish flamenco.
RTVE employs 7,500 persons. It costs taxpayers more than $100 million last year, plus a special credit of $65 million to cover unexplained expenses. Nobody knows what it will cost in 1978, but the government is planning to tax television sets to defray the cost.
"I'd be happy to pay the tax if RTVE didn't make me and my children yawn for 500 hours a week," said a banker.
Since the June election, political leaders -- including Suarez, who headed the network under Franco and appointed many of its present officials --have been vying for control of the screen, as an image maker that penetrates millions of Spanish homes.
"The desires of the viewers don't count in this battle," said a writer. "The politicians want TV to sell themselves. The medium for education and entertainment for adults and children is not their concern. It's the message they're after."
This was absolutely clear in Franco's days, when all Spaniards understood the rules of the television game. Mrs. Franco once had a commentator fired because he wore an open shirt that showed the hair on his chest. And a censor told a critic he could not describe Goya's "naked Maja" as undressed.