This essay argues against reducing the recent history of global television to an oversimplified transition between ‘statist’ and ‘consumerist’ dispensations. As apparently irreconcilable ideologies of television, the statist and consumerist models represent two ways of imagining the relation between the deployment of media and the project of modernity. Despite their surface differences, both share a tendency to imagine television in primarily ‘representative’ rather than ‘constitutive’ terms: they both evaluate television according to its ability to represent or address supposedly pre-existing publics, as opposed to its power to help constitute those very publics. I develop the question of the constitutive potential of television by reconsidering a decade of Indian television history – the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s – that is generally dismissed as a transitional phase between statist and consumerist paradigms. Through a discussion that is empirically grounded in the Indian experience, I propose categories that might inform comparative explorations of media and modernity in an age of globalization.