If you like "The Practice" or ""Ally McBeal"" or "NYPD Blue" or "ER" or "Friends" or "Frasier" or "Everybody Loves Raymond" or "The X-Files" or "West Wing", you owe VQT thanks for supporting these series.
If you were a fan of "Our World" or "Frank's Place," you owe VQT appreciation for trying to save those shows.
And if you liked "Cagney & Lacey" or "Designing Women," you owe VQT a debt of gratitude for keeping them on the air.
Since 1984, advocacy group Viewers for Quality Television and founder/president Dorothy Swanson have encouraged networks to keep smart, well-written and well-acted TV programs alive.
This week Swanson said VQT will be disbanded. She announced the organization's demise in the final issue of VQT's newsletter and on the group's Web site, www.vqt.org.
In a message to members, Swanson said the primary reason for VQT's dissolution was financial. VQT operated on an annual budget of less than $80,000 for most of the organization's 16-year existence. In the fiscal year that ended in March, VQT received only $34,692 in donations but expenses totaled more than $52,000. The difference was taken out of deferred salary saved by Swanson, VQT's sole employee.
In August, she told the Post-Gazette VQT would eventually peter out due to finances and a declining membership (once as high as 5,000, now only about 1,500).
"Everything runs its course," she said in August. "I'm going to have to recognize when we have done our job, when we have educated viewers on how to fight for what they're going to see on television. I won't just hang on for the sake of it."
Along with dwindling funds, Swanson's decision to move from northern Virginia to Florida hastened the shuttering of VQT. In a phone interview Thursday, she said she would have preferred to keep VQT going until next summer, but with the move it didn't make sense. Nonprofit VQT is incorporated in Virginia, and Swanson didn't want to go through the process of reincorporating in Florida.
"Business realities collided with personal circumstances to make now the best time to close it up," she said. "It seemed prudent to dissolve it while still in Virginia rather than drag it there with me and try to force a resurgence that I just didn't see was in the cards."
For America's television networks, the passing of VQT will mean the end of a promotional tool. Networks use the group's annual awards, new season opinion poll and endorsements to tout their series. Most recently, The WB used VQT's support of "Gilmore Girls" in promotional spots for that critically acclaimed but low-rated drama.
Swanson, who has been the lifeblood and guiding force of VQT, said she never considered continuing VQT as a less expensive online-only venture, saying she didn't want the organization to become a shadow of its former self. Nor did the VQT board of directors consider allowing members remaining in Virginia to take over.
"Whoever wanted to do it would only get $10 and a Rolodex file," Swanson said. "Someone would basically have to start over with a new organization."
And that, to Swanson, seems unlikely. As she chronicled in her recently published book, "The Story of Viewers for Quality Television: From Grassroots to Prime Time" ($28.95, Syracuse University Press), the group's creation was organic.
"They won't get the same set of circumstances," she said. "Everything just clicked and it was this incredible ride. I've had to know when to get off the merry-go-round, because the ride was getting slower and slower."
VQT may in part be a victim of its own success. The shows mentioned in the first sentence of this column are all hits. The quality of prime time television has improved since VQT began, making the group somewhat obsolete. Perhaps that's why Swanson could never attract enough members to keep VQT afloat. Add to that the impact of the Internet and online campaigns to save specific shows, and it's no wonder VQT's time has passed.
VQT members are saddened by the news, Swanson said, but many have e-mailed her, sending memories of what they learned from VQT. That makes the end of this era of television advocacy easier for Swanson to take.
"It's not like I feel we have unfinished business," she said. "It's not like I feel we didn't do our job. We did and we've accomplished a lot. Viewers know what to do [to campaign on behalf of a show]."
VQT made a difference. No question about that. Whether viewers knew of the organization or got involved, its existence improved the quality of television for everyone.
Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.