Retiring personalities cause uncertainty for TV

Over the past few days I’ve become aware of how much television is changing. Several personalities have either retired or plan to retire from their long running shows. Without these recognized celebrities, the future of staple television is shrouded by a long, dark tunnel.

Consider this list: Tom Brokaw, Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, Andy Rooney. All four have retired from their longtime TV posts, with three of them holding long-term posts in news programs. Brokaw delivered the evening news with solemn precision, Larry King addressed even the most controversial issues of the time, and Andy Rooney added his personal insight on everything from terrorism to sleeping. Although Oprah didn’t sit at a news desk in front of teleprompter, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” redefined the talk-show genre.

Now, three of these four personalities have retired and are out of television for the foreseeable future. Rooney even passed away just a few weeks after his final on-air appearance. Oprah has her own network, but her onscreen presence has left a notable gap in daytime television.

The next TV icon in the retirement line is Regis Philbin, who is currently enjoying his final season on the weekday morning “Live with Regis and Kelly.”

Retirement has now impacted evening, daytime and morning television. But what is it about the loss of these icons that is so much more noticeable than when actors jump ship on scripted television?

Believe it or not, these personalities are much more in-touch with their viewers than most avid viewers would readily recognize. Their shows are aimed at informing or introducing to the audience a world the viewer rarely, if ever, experiences in daily life: Hollywood, uncommon ailments, politics, war. Society needs these news programs and talk shows to stay informed as well as remain anchored in reality.

Too much of television has lapsed into escapism. I’ve lost count of how many different versions of “CSI” exist. Each new fall TV lineup brings 30-plus new shows, and some are so hit-or-miss I’m convinced network bigwigs literally play darts during their meetings.

Also consider how far that escapism has gone – reality TV is the hit genre these days; our escapism is so severe we feel the desire to go into someone else’s “reality.” I sometimes refuse to believe MTV once aired nothing but music.

I realize times do change, but I just don’t have a good feeling about the uncertainty ahead for television. I shudder to imagine “Justin Bieber Tonight” or “Live with Kelly and The Situation.” No replacement hosts or news anchors seem up to par with the departed legends. Then someday those legends won’t even be remembered by the new generations, or even care what they meant to American television.

Maybe I’m middle-aged and I didn’t even know it.

DAN KUBACKI

[email protected]