A forgotten TV show and the lost art of the letter

We write less and less, and what we write is increasingly ephemeral.
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Simon Jones was a cast member on the short-lived "The News is The News."

Simon Jones was a cast member on the short-lived “The News is The News.”

A week during which I forgot my laptop at home one day and my phone on another, and left my debit card in a bank ATM, I remembered a TV comedy from 31 years ago.

“The News is the News,” which had ties to “Saturday Night Live,” lasted only a matter of weeks in summer 1983. It spoofed the news (it should not be confused with HBO’s longer-running “Not Necessarily the News”).

I’m not even sure what prompted it, but I found myself searching YouTube and the Internet for any details of “The News is the News.” The Internet Movie Database lists the show’s cast: I remembered juggler/comedian Michael Davis; I had forgotten that it included “Monty Python” veteran Michael Palin, listed as London correspondent.

‘On orders from way up’

I remembered another Brit in the cast, actor Simon Jones, because I had written to him that summer. I was a big letter writer in my youth: to hockey players, broadcasters, actors, comedians. I liked to write, I liked getting mail, and I collected autographs.

I presume that I told Jones that I enjoyed his work on the show and asked him for an autographed photo, which he obliged. By the time I got his response, however, the show had been cancelled. I still have his letter, written on NBC stationery and dated “6th August 1983.”

“Dear Mr. Goulet:

“Many thanks for your letter of encouragement of June 24th. Alas, TN2 is now a defunct collector’s item. We were making striking progress in the ratings, which is what TV execs seem to care about most, but clearly that wasn’t enough.

“I have the vaguest feeling that perhaps we were terminated on orders from way up the corporate scale on the grounds that free speech is the sole prerogative of those who can pay to silence others.

“On the other hand, perhaps we were just too tasteless for prime time – or in the final analysis, taking too long to sort out a workable format. Who knows?”

Not only is the letter smartly written, but Jones’ handwriting is beautiful. The letter was worth keeping for those reasons alone.

Who saves emails?

Letter writing truly is a lost art, having lost out to email, Twitter, Snapchat. We write less and less, and what we write is increasingly ephemeral. The message we send to recipients nowadays is that they just aren’t worth our time and that what we have to say, no matter how abbreviated, isn’t worth the screen it’s printed on.

Why send a targeted, thoughtful letter anyway when we can just let it rip on Facebook and Twitter for the world to read? But who saves emails? What’s the oldest email in your possession?

Another Brit, Simon Garfield, wrote a book published in 2013, “To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing.”

“Emails are a poke, but letters are a caress, and letters stick around to be newly discovered,” Garfield writes.

The Washington Post review of his book noted that Garfield envisions the end of letters.

“The last letter will appear in our lifetime,” Garfield wrote. “It will be personal, emotional, maybe even handwritten, but crucially it will be physical, the evidence of human connection.”

If I reached out to a Simon Jones by way of email today, he might respond. Even if he were as thoughtful and eloquent as he was circa 1983, I would not take note of the email font the way I marveled at his script. It being email, I likely wouldn’t save it.

So 31 years hence, that correspondence would be lost to eternity, much as “The News is the News” is today.

The solution is literally in our hands: keep the art of letter writing alive, lest it go the way of a defunct collector’s item.

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