Thursday, August 24, 2006

Golden Age of Television

Blogging about Arrested Development made me think- Even with the show's cancellation, could we be in the middle of a Golden Age of Television. Or perhaps the beginning of a Golden Age?

I don't watch a lot of TV, but I'm struck by the large number of shows I'd like to watch- or rather, shows I've just heard very good things about. I can probably only count 24, Southpark, and Battlestar Galactica among the shows I watch regularly, but even that group tells me why we are in the midst of television's golden age- 2 of the 3 shows I watch are on cable. The success of the Sopranos on HBO sparked a cable revolution- whereas the cable networks used to be home to endless repeats and overplayed movies, cable has now chosen to innovate. Between HBO, Showtime, USA, TNT, and Fx alone, you've more than doubled the number of networks producing their own dramatic programming over the past 20 years.

But it's not just numbers. Even given the fact that there are more networks producing more shows, the shows we have today are still better. As a means of comparison, look at the top 20 programs from 20 years ago. For top comedies you have The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, and The Golden Girls, along with shows like Who's The Boss, Night Court, and Growing Pains. For dramatic programming you've got Murder She Wrote, Dallas, Dynasty, and Miami Vice.

Given this list, historically good television seems to be the exception, not the rule. What's on today? Off the top of my head (other than the 3 shows I named above) I could name Curb Your Enthusiasm, Deadwood, The Sopranos, House, The Office, My Name Is Earl, Monk, The Shield, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and any of the Law and Order or CSI type shows as worth watching. I'm sure I'm leaving plenty off that list. (Which by the way, didn't even include cartoon stalwarts The Simpsons or Family Guy, or sketch comedy gems on Comedy Central like Chapelle's Show or Mind of Mencia.) It's not so much that so many of the shows are better- maybe that's something to argue about (or maybe not). Today's shows just seem far more unique, far more quirky, and far more interesting.

The other thing is, the array of choices we have isn't limited to traditional programming. There is a wide variety of reality programming and documentary shows, geared specifically toward the audience of the network they are presented on. (Think of shows on Court TV, The Food Network, or the History Channel.) A large number of cable networks now have their own original primetime programming. So turn on the TV at 8:00 and rather than the 3 choices you had 20 years ago, you may now have 30 or 40.

And why do we always say "nothing is on?" Maybe our taste has just improved, and maybe TV is a bit more than the brain drain we used to think it was.

Comments Welcome


Blogger A Fan For All Seasons said...

TV is definately back. A few years ago there was basically nothing on TV that I would set my clock to. Last year at school, however, everyday but Friday had shows that I wanted to see. Monday - 24, Tuesday - Scrubs, Wed - Lost and South Park, Thursday - My Name is Earl and The Office (Law and Order too).

1 reason for this is the DVD boom. Now if you miss a few shows, you can just buy them. You can also be introduced to shows from the beginning to end.

Another reason is shows are finally starting to get original. The "family" comedy like Everybody Loves Raymond is almost dead, and shows are stopping the MASH/Cheers formula. Now, shows aren't worried about having a 5-6 year run. Lost creators for example, know the show is limited, so they aren't afraid to make every week A+ material. I say, Long Live the Idiot Box.

4:20 PM  

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