Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cavalcade of Capitalists: Financing TV Pioneers Without People of Color

This evening we watched PBS's "Pioneers of Television" segment on variety shows (from the 1950s to the 1970s). I was once again struck by the vacuum of morals, the sheer moral relativism of financial relationships.

Case in point: the unwillingness of financial sponsors in the 1950s to buy commercial time on variety shows that included African American guests or hosts. The most dramatic case in point was Nat King Cole's 1957 variety show, which sponsors refused to finance for fear of alienating southern audiences. NBC refused to bow to the market and financed the show itself all the while losing money. After one year, the show was cancelled for lack of advertising money. The market ruled African Americans out-of-place and money forced them out of TV variety shows.

It would not be until 1970, when Flip Wilson hosted variety show "Flip" and after more than 10 years of government enforced promotion and protection of civil rights for all that the market would come around to financing shows promoting black entertainers. Segregating advertising was a sad episode in TV history and it further sustains the argument that markets require government to move it toward a higher moral plane.

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