Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Golden Age of Television

It's a quiet holiday morning, the kind of morning that gives you room to think about things that you don't normally have time to think about, like television shows.

I love television. Like really, unabashedly, love television.  I'm not one of those people who thinks they're too "good" for tv.  I read a lot, so I don't feel guilty about the television that I watch or how much I love it.  And I only watch it once my kids are in bed, so I'm not taking time away from them.

Every season change I sift through the networks' offerings of new shows, noting the ones that interest me and scheduling them into my PVR.  My choices vary, usually based on premise, actors or creators, with the genres leaning towards Sci-Fi and comedy, but not always.  I'll watch British dramas, but rarely American, unless they star a British actor that I like. I give promising shows three episodes to prove themselves, and if I'm not excited to watch them by the third, they get dropped from the schedule.

Some shows I watch out of loyalty, because I've watched them from the first episode and want to see them through to their conclusion (Grey's Anatomy).  But if I feel like a show is dragging on too long, has lost it's spark, has lost it's entire original cast of characters, or has jumped the shark, I have no problem dropping it from the roster. I don't watch reality tv, game shows, daytime tv such as soaps, talkshows, etc., or surprisingly, the news. I read all my news online because I can read faster than I can watch. I do watch documentaries though, and will watch anything Anthony Bourdain.

I have a theory about the difference in the quality of television based on country of origin and networks.  Firstly you should know that the US and Britain are the two biggest exporters of pop culture and entertainment in the world.  India has an enormous entertainment industry, but doesn't seem that interested in exporting their cultural offerings.  So I will focus on only the US, Britain & Canada.

British shows typically have anywhere from 6-8 episodes in a season, which they call a "series".  Additionally, very popular shows typically include a Christmas episode, which can be a stand-alone episode or continue the storyline from the previous series as a connector to an upcoming series/season, for example, there is a great tradition of Doctor Who Christmas Episodes. But British series can be as short as 3 episodes (Sherlock).  Canadian seasons typically last for 13 episodes, and American for 22 episodes, except for specialty cable networks such as HBO, AMC, FX, Bravo, Showcase, etc. which have shorter seasons, much like Britain, with anywhere from 8-14 episodes.  I think that season length has a huge impact on quality. And Netflix has been a game changer.

Since British, Canadian, and cable shows don't require that a story line drag on for 22 episodes, they have the freedom to write tighter and more action-packed episodes.  There can be significant character development and plotline advancement in a shorter timespan, with fewer filler storylines.  I also love that many British writers & producers aren't afraid to end a show when they feel that they've told the story they wanted to tell, regardless of the popularity.  Gavin & Stacey is a good example of this. They don't keep flogging a dead horse to make more money.

I also appreciate the diversity of appearance of British television characters.  A show isn't filled with bland interchangeably pretty women and classically handsome men, but by real people, warts and all. And strangely enough, not being a supermodel doesn't seem to effect their ability to find and keep love, or live a fulfilling life within their world of make-believe.

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