At the start of a new television season, rough and rowdy Fox TV has irrevocably ended The Big Three monopoly on America's airwaves. The new network -- home of Married With Children, Beverly Hills 90210, A Current Affair, In Living Color, and other controversial fare -- has built its success on a daring, semi-naughty, and superficially rebellious image. As comedian Dennis Miller recently quipped, "Fox is the network whose parents are out of town."
But Fox also has emerged from its infancy, for good and ill, as the most interesting and innovative force in American broadcasting. Meanwhile Fox's most important production, The Simpsons, begins a new season as the most discussed, analyzed, and merchandised program in recent TV history. Not to mention the first animated show for adults to hit the really, really big time since the ancient Flintstones.
Both the commercial-cultural phenomenon of Fox's let-it-all-hang-out entertainment ethos and the artistic-commercial success of The Simpsons draw us back to a favorite mass-media motto from a simpler time: "God must have loved the common people ... because he made so many of them." That slogan is identified in most minds with the venerable New York Daily News, which always prided itself on being the paper for the people that The New York Times looked down upon. It's the kind of paper that has lots of big pictures, short articles, punchy prose, and even punchier headlines. It carries lots of sports and crime news, and its tabloid format is easy to read on the bus or subway. It appeals demagogically to the (pre-inclusiveness) "common man" while propagating a message of cultural reaction and racial fear in the divide-and-conquer service of corporate wealth.