Roy Huggins, creator of The Fugitive, thought TV could be better
He was critical of his own work, too.
You just can't account for taste. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and quality is up to the viewer. There's no hard-and-fast rule for what is and isn't good. While networks can absolutely quantify television with data using ratings and market research, there's still no equation for calculating what makes a series great.
Someone who put a lot of thought into the quality of TV programs is Roy Huggins. Throughout the '50s, '60s, and '70s, Huggins was the influential writer/creator of several hit series. Exciting dramas like Maverick, The Fugitive, and The Rockford Files were all Huggins-assisted productions. He was a very effective screenwriter who knew how to hook audiences and keep them tuning in.
However, Huggins was on record as stating that television was nowhere near as good as it could be. It was his belief that the medium never quite lived up to its potential. With such impressive credentials, Huggins definitely knew what he was talking about. In 1963, as a guest columnist in The Los Angeles Times, Huggins listed his thoughts regarding the quality of shows that were then on TV.
"I have never watched a show of my own, on the air, without noting a number of ways in which it could have been better," Huggins wrote. He then went on to list three primary reasons that TV, as an art form, was suffering.
The first reason Huggins gave was "Time." To him, a great character was as driven by deadlines as a newspaper would be. However, producers of any given show are rarely, if ever, given sufficient time to plan ahead to avoid rushed scripting. Sometimes, to deliver the best product, the creators of a show need more time than the studio would allow.
Reason #2, as listed by Huggins, is money. He noted that television was an efficient, but costly, way for advertisers to reach their customers. The producer then, in turn, spends more money than is available to shepherd the project onto the airwaves. "Putting a show together," said Huggins, "is a continuum of compromise from the purchase of the original material to the casting of the actors."
The third and final reason given by Roy Huggins for the (supposed) sad state of television affairs was social pressure. He first pointed toward how expansive the TV-viewing audience was. Every part of the population was accounted for. The audience "is so enormous, and devotes so much time to viewing, that television's content cannot be ignored as a social force of some significance," he wrote.
"At present, the tendency among conscientious and influential groups is to overestimate that significance. They tend to deal with concepts that assume the audience to be a passive mass acted upon in one context or tranquilized in another by television. There is no professionally-accepted evidence that television is having a measurable effect on the attitudes or development of the millions who make up its many audiences. There IS professionally-accepted evidence that the relationship is the other way around: that people use television, and have a measurable effect on ITS development. I believe there is truth in both views, but the far greater weight is on the side of the latter."
Huggins' opinions, though, were not widely held by his television peers. As a result, those executives made decisions out of fear and compromise, leading to lots of programming that underperformed. Luckily though, Huggins stayed in the TV business and continued producing high-octane, character-driven series to thrill for decades to come!