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.