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The so-called "wasteland" of US television has generated drama that puts Britain to shame. But the networks' golden era may now be at an end

By Andrew Billen   August 2002

On 9th may 1961, Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, rose to address the most powerful men in American television. Since 1934, the FCC had been charged with protecting the American public interest from the excesses of a broadcasting free-for-all, the likes of which Britain, partly for reasons of Reithian paternalism, had never known. “When television is good, nothing-not the theatre, not the magazines or newspapers-nothing is better,” Newt (as he was known) told his Washington audience. “But when television is bad,” he went on, “nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your…

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