Is Today TV’s Golden Age?

“Hey do you watch Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones?” If you are a student at Colgate or any other university, this question has probably been posed to you more times than you care to remember. Today, TV has arguably become the most popular form of entertainment. People can download or stream entire seasons of their favorite shows on to their computers or Xbox without having to leave their room. This and the increased acclaim received by modern TV dramas has led to today’s golden age of television.

        Before the rise of Netflix, HBO Go and en masse torrent sites, TV watching was casual and people normally had one or two programs that they would watch consistently. It was a week to week affair and the notion of “binge watching” was laughable. Now, a college student can easily wake up on a Saturday morning, start season one of Breaking Bad and reach season two by nightfall.

        The widespread use of on demand and online streaming shows are no longer worried about ratings as much as in the 1980s and 1990s. This leads to more controversial main characters, or anti-heros, such as the Sopranos’ Tony Soprano and Breaking Bad’s Walter White. Beginning with HBO’s launch of the Sopranos in 1999, television dramas began to explore characters with different backgrounds and much greater depth than the stereotypical cop, lawyer or doctor.

        Many of these widely popular and critically successful shows air only on subscription based television networks such as HBO, Showtime and Netflix (the one exception being AMC, which was formerly a subscription network until the early 2000s). This business models allows the channels to hire big-name actors and actresses, such as Steve Buscemi of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Kevin Spacey of Netflix’s House of Cards.

        Quality TV shows in this day and age now have movie-quality special effects, cinematography and international location shoots. Another aspect of some of these dramas is their ability to create and sustain slowly developing story lines which facilitate increased character depth and complex plot lines. Many people, myself included, have begun to shift more towards television dramas, rather than big budget summer blockbusters.

        Despite all of the recent acclaim received by shows such as Breaking Bad, The Wire, and Game of Thrones, there is still a lot of bad television shows on air right now. Reality television shows seem to dominate most of the air time on cable TV. The main cable networks (NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX) never fail to air crappy dramas about cops, lawyers and doctors. Just recently (last Sunday) I was watching the Giants/Dallas game and a commercial for a new drama popped up on my screen. The premise appeared to be about a cop (surprise) who suffered from some sort of injury which left him paralyzed. This cop, played by Blair Underwood, now fights crime from the seat of his wheelchair. Apparently Joe Swanson needed his own TV show separate from Family Guy.

        Although a large percentage of what is aired on television today is complete crap, I think today’s TV dramas have brought us into a golden age. Some of these programs are brilliant and definitely worth watching, even if they are no longer on air. Just try to make sure that it isn’t exam week before you try to invest all your time watching Walter White in his tighty-whiteys.

Contact J.P. Letourneau at [email protected]