Cover image for Viewers like you? : how public TV failed the people
Viewers like you? : how public TV failed the people
Ouellette, Laurie.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
viii, 288 pages ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1650 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HE8700.79.U6 O94 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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How "public" is public television if only a small percentage of the American people tune in on a regular basis? When public television addresses "viewers like you," just who are you? Despite the current of frustration with commercial television that runs through American life, most TV viewers bypass the redemptive "oasis of the wasteland" represented by PBS and turn to the sitcoms, soap operas, music videos, game shows, weekly dramas, and popular news programs produced by the culture industries. Viewers Like You? traces the history of public broadcasting in the United States, questions its priorities, and argues that public TV's tendency to reject popular culture has undermined its capacity to serve the people it claims to represent. Drawing from archival research and cultural theory, the book shows that public television's perception of what the public needs is constrained by unquestioned cultural assumptions rooted in the politics of class, gender, and race.

Author Notes

Laurie Ouellette is assistant professor of media studies at Queens College, City University of New York. She has written for the Utne Reader, The Independent Film and Video Monthly, Cultural Studies, and Television and New Media, among other publications

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

How is it that public television, intended to provide a socially uplifting alternative to commercial broadcasting, is so often targeted for criticism, being labeled as corporate lackeys by the Left and as taxpayer-subsidized cultural elitists by the Right? Ouellette examines the history of public television, the personalities, and the issues that resulted in programming that sought to differentiate itself from the sitcoms and game shows of commercial television. The result has been programming that, despite the universal appeal of Sesame Street among children, has become a signifier of economic class and education. The author examines why public television hasn't been successful in providing a medium that expresses the interests of those outside of the white middle class, except for a few efforts during the turbulent 1960s. She also examines the cyclical threats to cut funding and how public television has sought to change the disconnection between its mission and its image. Readers interested in the media and American culture will enjoy this thought-provoking book. --Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

Conservatives have branded public television as elitist, while liberals decry its dependence on corporate sponsorship. As with television itself, however, the issues are rarely black and white. Seasoned writer/ producer Smith and Ouellette (media studies, Rutgers) agree that public TV has failed miserably, but they disagree on just what it has failed to do. Ouellette sees in public broadcasting the potential to correct social injustice. PBS, she argues, has historically projected the views of the dominant (white, male) culture, while minorities, women, and blue-collar workers have been either ignored entirely or depicted as humorous or pitiable. She believes that public TV should embrace mass culture rather than trying to rise above it. Her ideas, though intriguing, are frequently obscured by social science jargon ("The history of KTCA problematizes geographic essentialism"), making the book appropriate for academic libraries. A refugee from the world of public broadcasting, Smith sees public TV as an art form whose potential has been repeatedly squelched by lawmakers and business executives. In sharp contrast to Ouellette's pleas for cultural sensitivity, Smith cites political correctness as a major obstacle to innovative programming. The authors' divergent views are best illustrated by their attitudes about the early-1970s program The Great American Dream Machine: Ouellette complains that the show poked fun at "the lowly, feminized masses," while Smith praises the show's "verve, style and originality" and intimates that it was dropped because of its controversial content. Smith envisions a national production center that would develop programs with backing from a national trust fund, unconstrained by government oversight. Smith's opinionated rant is more fun to read than Ouellette's work, but too much of the text has only marginal relevance to his thesis. The extraneous diatribes against affirmative action, local school boards, etc., make this an optional purchase for public libraries, though it may be appropriate for communications collections.-Susan M. Colowick, North Olympic Lib. Syst., Port Angeles, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Cultural Contradictions of Public Television
Oasis of the Vast Wasteland
The Quest to Cultivate
TV Viewing as Good Citizenship
Something for Everyone
Radicalizing Middle America
Epilogue: Public Television, Popularity, and Cultural Justice