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I don't understand what an author wants to say. A distinction between what and what? Between "counter-culture publications, risque niche programming, art house movies" and "cable television"? Or between network and cable? I'm confused.

The Simpsons openly rebelled against the staid world of television and remorselessly mocked American society. Even in the 1980s, neither of those were novel concepts. But unlike counter-culture publications, risque niche programming, and art house movies that trafficked in the same sentiment, The Simpsons was beamed directly into the vast majority of American homes. Marge and Homer were just as available in Kansas as they were in New York.

That is a distinction that has become less important in the days of satellite television, DVDs, broadband internet, and smart phones, but it was vital at the time. The influence the three television networks exerted over American culture is hard to comprehend today. Americans see only a handful of movies per year and read even fewer books. But that same mythically average American watches hours of television every day. For the overwhelming majority of people, the chattering cyclops was their cultural keystone, and it was dominated by just three organizations.

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The distinction is between "counter-culture publications, risque niche programming, and art house movies" (which "trafficked in the same sentiment") and "The Simpsons."

This sentence is long, so it's understandable that you might get lost. The basic structure is:

Unlike movies, The Simpsons was beamed directly into American homes.

Another way of putting the same idea, but with a different structure could be: Counter-culture publications, risque niche programming, and art house movies mocked American society, just like The Simpsons did. However, those other media were only available to certain people (for instance, people in New York City). The Simpsons, on the other hand, was watchable by anyone with a television set.

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It has nothing to do with cable television.

The contrast being made relates to a quarter of a century ago and is between, on the one hand, the huge audience served almost exclusively by the three major broadcasting networks and, on the other hand, the small audiences served by other media.

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