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Emmys look like bad omen

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This year, once again, cable stations took a large chunk of the pie at the annual Emmy Awards. Each year the influence of cable television grows. From the standpoint of free-enterprise, that's a good thing. The more choices the merrier for the American consumer. Competition rewards the winners and weeds out the losers.

Cream does, indeed, rise to the top.

Sadly — as one wag once said, so does pond scum. And many of the choices on cable television these days are pretty sticky and oily. They have become so "low-brow" they could be called "no brow." And with cable pandering to the lowest common denominator, the networks are now lowering their standards just to compete. Words and situations once relegated to movie art houses now grace "Will and Grace" regularly. The networks say they've had to get down in the mud and fight if they hope to stay in business.

A bigger question is, "Why would anyone want to be in the mud business?"

Some cable fare, of course, is top of the line. This year the movie "Door to Door" won an Emmy. William H. Macy practically replaced Willie Loman as the nation's favorite bedraggled salesman. And though the old line about "130 channels to choose from there's nothing on" seems eerily true at times, in fairness something worth watching can almost always be found on cable television — if you know where to look.

Tiptoeing through that minefield of messiness looking for the good stuff, however, can be a daunting journey.

Cable has given us some of the great news programming of our time. It has also given us Howard Stern.

Some would say that's not a fair trade.

Still, as cable keeps expanding its range, its quality and its base of core viewers; and as the networks continue to slide south to join them in being provocative, profane and promiscuous, it will be up to the consumer to step up and make those free-market choices that drive out the bad and bring in the good.

It was P.T. Barnum who said, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public." It is high time the old ringmaster were proven wrong.

The nation needs to step up and preserve the best of its popular culture, before it no longer has a popular culture worth saving.