There are two sorts of television history which do not mix very well.
Traditionally, television history has been written in technical terms, but such histories can place a heavy demand on the lay reader. More recently, histories have been centred on the television programmes and their impact on viewers. For example in 2005 the American PBS network broadcast a documentary entitled "Pioneers of Television" which was entirely about entertainers such as Milton Berle, Carol Burnett and Sid Caesar, with no mention of America's technical pioneers such as Zworykin and Farnsworth.
Joe Moran's new book helps us to bridge the gap between these two sorts of television history. Much of the early technical impact, in the UK anyway, centres around John Logie Baird's public demonstrations and experimental BBC broadcasts in the 1920s and early 1930s. But even as late as 1952, the BBC were only broadcasting television for 5-6 hours per day. The major growth in television was driven by two events; the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, and the start-up of independent television in 1955.
Moran describes the impact of television in terms of very readable anecdotes, among which he smoothly inserts some telling statistics. As the years wore on, the technology continued to improve, but its impact on viewers was gradually overlooked in comparison to the impact of the programmes themselves. Television reached a sort of plateau after the arrival of colour in the 1960s, but thirty years later the mass audience began to be fragmented, thanks to multi-channel developments; competition between broadcasters intensified.
Today the technology is more advanced than ever, with the demise of the cathode ray tube and the arrival of digital display, large flat screens, HDTV etc. However there is a groundswell of discontent about programme quality. There have been scandals about individuals who have abused their inflated status as "television celebrities". Questions have been asked about the enormous salaries and severance payments to senior executives. These aspects of television history have been rather soft-pedalled by Mr.Moran.
Television is 88 years old and it will continue to evolve. The old monolithic centralised broadcasting culture, epitomised by the BBC until a few years years ago, is being replaced by more interactive and individual forms of television. Joe Moran's book will help us to understand these complexities and the links between technology, economics and viewer impact; but a more incisive approach is needed.