The Golden Age of (Pay) Television

There is a great deal of pessimism about the nation and the culture, so I thought it would be appropriate to mention one area where I think we are in a golden age: television.

I suppose that it is a little misleading to call it television.  What I have in mind are the cable (and mostly pay TV) series.  Shows like Game of Thrones and Mad Men (the early seasons were better for the latter), both of which just completed their seasons, House of Cards (which I am now watching), Boardwalk Empires, Downton Abbey, Dexter (again the early seasons), and a host of others.  All of these shows won’t appeal to everyone, and I am sure I am leaving out some favorites of the reader, but you get the idea.

In my view, these shows – for lack of a better term, let’s call them Pay TV series – are better than ordinary TV (a weak standard) and movies.  And the question is why?

There are various factors responsible.  One is that most of these series are on Cable and Pay TV and therefore are not subject to the restrictions on words and mature themes that govern ordinary TV.  Another is that these series are a new genre, if you will, giving the authors 12 shows in a season to develop characters and story arcs.  Unlike ordinary TV, the shows require that you watch them in order, so that they build plot lines and develop characters. 

But probably the most important reason is that these shows are designed for a relatively limited audience.  They make their money either through pay subscriptions or other ways, and therefore do not need to appeal to broad audiences.

Of course, the shows are not perfect.  One big problem is that they grow weaker as the seasons progress.  But that is a common problem with drama of this kind – after a while, we have seen it all before.

Overall, though, these Pay TV series are a great development, having been made possible when people finally came to understand how to make the most of a relatively new technology.