Between academic and practitioner, producer and executive , thinker and doer, teacher and theoretician there too often exists a Chinese Wall. So how rare it is when you find an individual like George Dessart. Dessart, Professor Emeritus at Brooklyn College and former VP at CBS is all of the above. You can read his official bio here, but my recollection of him is more personal. Not TOO long ago, he was my professor. Without giving offense to my other teachers, he is one of only two whose lessons I often seem to remember even if I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast (the other is the historian Paul Avrich).
So when preparing for this past class on global media and the history of the BBC, it is no surprise that professor Dessart was very close to the front of my mind. So why should you care? To paraphrase Arthur Jenson from Network, because you study television, dummy (none of you are dummies, but the quote doesn’t work without it). In his book Down the Tube: An Inside Account of the Failure of American Television, co-written with William Baker, Dessart and Baker try to make sense of why American television is in decline. Baker and Dessart, both TV executives at the highest levels, take our text-book orthodoxy and explain it in thoughtful, real-world terms. For Dessart and Baker, the cycle of regulation and deregulation has had a destructive effect on American media and the example of the BBC is used as a comparative counterpoint.
Much has changed in the broadcast world since the book was published in 1999, but many of the dynamics are still in play. If you have any inclinations to work in the media industry, have an intellectual interest in television or just want to be an educated consumer of your favorite show, read Down The Tube. Now.