What Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury Thought About Television

From The Cable Guide // May 1991
From The Cable Guide // May 1991 / From The Cable Guide // May 1991

The May 1991 issue of The Cable Guide is chock-full of vital information, like time and channel listings for both Bloodfist II and the tape-delayed World Professional Squash Association Championship. Also included in this ephemeral TV encyclopedia are charming and prickly interviews with Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury. The visionary authors sat down to talk about—what else?—television.

The interviews are presented as dueling, short features, and they are published under the auspices of promoting the authors’ upcoming cable specials—Kurt Vonnegut’s Monkey House on Showtime and Ray Bradbury Theater on HBO. Even when doing PR work, they remained their true, sardonic selves.

“I’m sorry television exists,” Vonnegut told the interviewer. According to him, TV is “like a rotten teacher in high school, except it’s everybody’s teacher.”

The piece only softens Vonnegut’s acerbic edge when it came time to fit in a promo for his Showtime special. “Viewer be warned,” The Cable Guide asserted. “While TV can be vapid and misleading, the few quality shows—including Kurt Vonnegut’s Monkey House—can be ‘good for our souls.’”

When asked whether television has any artistic value compared to literature, Vonnegut responded, “I don’t know if it is, or if I am, of any value … it’s like gymnastics. What good does a somersault do anybody?”

Bradbury agreed. He said TV shows, like books, are “mostly trash. I’m full of trash … I’ve watched thousands of hours of TV. I’ve seen every movie ever made … everything’s the same. There’s not a single idea in Predator. It’s beautifully made. But, you watch men get killed and it doesn’t mean anything. There are no philosophical concepts.”

Still, television isn't all terrible. “If you have any imagination,” Bradbury said, “you take in all the trash along with all that’s excellent, and then you become you.” Bradbury listed Nova as one of his favorite shows, and he called CNN “the most revolutionary thing in years.”

Even though Vonnegut likened TV to thalidomide—“we don’t know what the side effects are until it’s too late”—he still knew a great show when he saw one. “Cheers is extremely well done,” he said. “So were M*A*S*H and Hill Street Blues.”

Vonnegut added, “I’d rather have written Cheers than anything I’ve written.”

Click to enlarge the interviews below: