Anyone who appreciates how good television can be when its at its best owes a thank you to Dorothy Collins Swanson. And now is the time to say it.
Since 1984, as the founder and head of the grassroots group Viewers for Quality Television, Swanson has pushed and prodded networks to value the medium and viewers by offering worthwhile series.
She and her dedicated band of VQT members have focused attention on outstanding creative fare from "Designing Women" and "China Beach" to this seasons "Gilmore Girls" and demanded more of the same.
They left it to politicians and others to debate the appropriate level of violence or sex or profanity on television. For VQT, the picture tube was half full, offering enough absorbing dramas and comedies to prove that intelligent work could be done in Hollywood.
Money and membership dwindle
Now, 16 years after Swansons lobbying efforts for the cop drama "Cagney & Lacey" led to the creation of VQT, shes pulling the plug. Her Fairfax, Va.-based nonprofit group is being dissolved; its December newsletter highlighting the best of the current TV season was its last.
The decision was tough but inevitable, Swanson said, and the timing is bittersweet. Her book, "The Story of Viewers for Quality Television: From Grassroots to Prime Time," is just out from Syracuse University Press in New York.
Swanson, who was a 44-year-old Michigan homemaker when she stumbled into her role of advocate for TV excellence, hasnt tired of the battle. But the money and membership levels she needs to keep VQT alive just arent there anymore.
VQT has dropped from its peak of about 5,000 participants to fewer than 1,000, making it impossible to stage such costly activities as the annual awards dinner and convention in Los Angeles.
Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, who encouraged Swanson to document VQTs history, said the group blossomed at a time when television was entering a golden age and helped define it.
"What they wanted to make television an environment with many more good shows, to protect those shows, to make television better, to somehow give viewers a role in that has basically been accomplished," he said.
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