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Old 10-05-2013, 09:31 AM   #1
jilter
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Is television in a renaissance?

I think so.
I used to be resentful of the short and erratic seasons that are handed to us currently in contrast to the structured, dependable, long television seasons I enjoyed the first half of my life. But, I realize (thru discussions with my children) that the writing, not to mention, production costs are in a different realm than the television of years' past. Also, the immense amount of content produced for television that is available across all media is mind-boggling. And I believe there was discussion not that long ago if television could survive the internet. Well, television (IMO) is thriving to be sure. And I believe in great part, it is (ironically)due to the internet. There is no way to accurately measure how many people actually view television content. However, thru social media,
different delivery systems, etc; it is clear, the numbers are staggering. And to me it feels like the choices are endless. To be sure, there is plenty of mediocrity on television. But, I do think, at least in the 50 years or so of my life - television has never been better.
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Old 10-05-2013, 09:45 AM   #2
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I'm not feeling the same love for the medium, at least when it comes to broadcast television. I feel most of it is being written so thinly to enable us to play with our phones and tablets while we 'watch' television in the background.

I have tried out five new shows this season; I have only one of those left that I'm still watching. Why do I want to waste my time watching such stupid stuff? I can read a book or find something else to entertain me that doesn't insult my intelligence. HBO, Showtime, and Netflix are producing some great shows that I feel are worth my time, but in general I'm watching less TV than ever.
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Old 10-05-2013, 09:54 AM   #3
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I think you raise a valid argument. I really wanted to hear what other people had to say about this. Television being written to be in the background is a very interesting perspective. Not one I agree with, but interesting nonetheless.
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Old 10-05-2013, 12:44 PM   #4
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...But, I do think, at least in the 50 years or so of my life - television has never been better.
I'm in my early 60s and I disagree. But the problem is almost like comparing apples/oranges (when you talk about things like technology and production values). My main argument would be that, as pure, wholesome, entertainment, there was nothing better than TV in the mid 50s to mid/late 60s...

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Old 10-05-2013, 02:40 PM   #5
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I'm in my early 60s and I disagree. But the problem is almost like comparing apples/oranges (when you talk about things like technology and production values). My main argument would be that, as pure, wholesome, entertainment, there was nothing better than TV in the mid 50s to mid/late 60s...
And I'll disagree with you. This is the golden age of television, imo. In the past TV was mostly a poor rival to movies but in the last 10 or 15 yrs or so tv has just gotten better and better. These days the quality of the acting, writing, and direction equals - and in many instances, surpasses - movies. Shows like The West Wing (when Sorkin was in charge), The Wire, Breaking Bad, Homeland, The Sopranos, Justified, House of Cards and so on. I would also include great Brit series such as Prime Suspect, Cracker, Inspector Morse, Collision, Downton Abbey and many others.

Because of their format, TV series and mini-series have the opportunity to do what movies can't - have long story arcs with very complex plots and in-depth explorations of the characters. Ron Howard once talked about this in an interview, saying that tv (at its best) has become literature. In format, these great series and mini-series are more akin to dramatized novels than movies. And while there has certainly been great tv in the past, it was nothing like the proliferation of quality programming that we've seen in this past decade or so.
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Old 10-05-2013, 03:56 PM   #6
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And I'll disagree with you. This is the golden age of television, imo. In the past TV was mostly a poor rival to movies but in the last 10 or 15 yrs or so tv has just gotten better and better. These days the quality of the acting, writing, and direction equals - and in many instances, surpasses - movies. Shows like The West Wing (when Sorkin was in charge), The Wire, Breaking Bad, Homeland, The Sopranos, Justified, House of Cards and so on. I would also include great Brit series such as Prime Suspect, Cracker, Inspector Morse, Collision, Downton Abbey and many others.

Because of their format, TV series and mini-series have the opportunity to do what movies can't - have long story arcs with very complex plots and in-depth explorations of the characters. Ron Howard once talked about this in an interview, saying that tv (at its best) has become literature. In format, these great series and mini-series are more akin to dramatized novels than movies. And while there has certainly been great tv in the past, it was nothing like the proliferation of quality programming that we've seen in this past decade or so.
You left House of Cards out of your list of great Brit series.

The original House of Cards and sequel (or sequels), not the Americanized version.
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Old 10-05-2013, 06:39 PM   #7
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There are two ways to measure. The amount of quality like some of you are listing or the average or percentage of quality. For the first, yes, there is a lot of good television. But there is so much more television than there was back when we had three networks. So, there may be a lot of good but there is also a lot more dreck.

For all the good stuff you guys list, there was some damned good stuff in the 1950s. A lot of great actors, actresses and writers worked in TV back then.

I have to say that there is more quantity of good now but no way are we in a golden age because the average quality is probably not the best.
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Old 10-05-2013, 06:49 PM   #8
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Steven Johnson has a book that touches on this topic; it's called Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Pop Culture is Making Us Smarter. He points out how when people who say TV sucks today compared to the past, they usually take the very worst of what's on air now and bring up the very best of what was on in the past, which is hardly a fair comparison.

In fact, he says that if you map out the complexity and cognitive processing required to keep up with today's shows, it dwarfs what you needed for the past. A show like "Hill Street Blues," for example, was ahead of its time with separate A and B storylines, but it's trivially simply compared to the multiple storylines in, say, "24."

It's pretty counterintuitive, but I bet if you go back and watch the classic TV shows of the past, you'll see that they often don't hold up nearly as well as you thought they would.
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Old 10-05-2013, 08:26 PM   #9
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Wait. So his theory is that multiple story lines make shows better? Like the intercutting of the Kardashians?

I suppose Shakespeare is crap because he mostly focused on one story.

Sure. Old tv like Dick Van Dyke show stands up quite well. Reruns abound all over and you can see them and they are popular. Sub channels have popped up with old shows. Many play very well.

And let us not forget the days when you had playhouse 90 and other dramas. Things like Marty or Come Back Little Sheba.
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Old 10-05-2013, 09:05 PM   #10
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I would say that shows light Twilight Zone and Star Trek TOS were/are intellectually challenging...in ways that shows today don't even begin to address...
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Old 10-05-2013, 09:55 PM   #11
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Well, it's a little more complicated than I've summarized, but multiple storylines in the same 43 minutes (for an hourlong drama, sans commercials) means that the writers have to rely on viewers to pay more attention and not need everything re-explained in great detail (notwithstanding the "previously on . . . " intros) and more importantly, to draw inferences about events that aren't shown.

As for the original "Star Trek," which I do love, but really, how much intellectual prowess does it take to watch something like "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" and conclude that racism = bad? Or "Turnabout Intruder" for the proposition that sexism = bad? Admittedly, I'm cherry-picking from among the worst episodes, but it's useful to keep in mind that not everything from the past was sparkling and brilliant, just as not everything today is crap.

Here's another example. Consider the original "Mission: Impossible" (late 1960s-early 1970s), in which every episode in the first four seasons was about secretly undermining or overthrowing some despotic foreign leader, with no discussion at all about the ramifications or the legitimacy of covert operations of this sort. Now compare it to "La Femme Nikita" (late 1990s-early 2000s), where there are frequent considerations of whether Section One's counterterrorism operations are a cure worse than the disease.

Or, if you want to look at law shows, the difference between "L.A. Law" (mid-1980s-early 1990s) and "The Practice" (late 1990s-early 2000s) is pretty stark.

"Lost," "The Shield," "The Wire," "The Sopranos," "24" . . . all post-2000 shows that sustain far more complexity and ambiguity than shows in the past.
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Old 10-05-2013, 11:01 PM   #12
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...As for the original "Star Trek," which I do love, but really, how much intellectual prowess does it take to watch something like "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" and conclude that racism = bad? Or "Turnabout Intruder" for the proposition that sexism = bad?...
Star Trek, in its time, was very political and thought provoking. You have to analyze it within its time period.
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Old 10-05-2013, 11:18 PM   #13
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Star Trek, in its time, was very political and thought provoking. You have to analyze it within its time period.
Well, sure, but I'm not sure I see how that relates to comparing old shows to new ones. Are you saying that times are more sophisticated now, so that TV shows are correspondingly more sophisticated but not as much so relative to how old shows were to their time?
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Old 10-06-2013, 04:04 AM   #14
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multiple storylines in the same 43 minutes means that the writers have to rely on viewers to pay more attention
Absolutely to the contrary: it is a necessary adjustment to the impaired attention span of modern audiences.
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Old 10-06-2013, 09:20 AM   #15
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Well, it's a little more complicated than I've summarized, but multiple storylines in the same 43 minutes (for an hourlong drama, sans commercials) means that the writers have to rely on viewers to pay more attention and not need everything re-explained in great detail (notwithstanding the "previously on . . . " intros) and more importantly, to draw inferences about events that aren't shown. As for the original "Star Trek," which I do love, but really, how much intellectual prowess does it take to watch something like "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" and conclude that racism = bad? Or "Turnabout Intruder" for the proposition that sexism = bad? Admittedly, I'm cherry-picking from among the worst episodes, but it's useful to keep in mind that not everything from the past was sparkling and brilliant, just as not everything today is crap. Here's another example. Consider the original "Mission: Impossible" (late 1960s-early 1970s), in which every episode in the first four seasons was about secretly undermining or overthrowing some despotic foreign leader, with no discussion at all about the ramifications or the legitimacy of covert operations of this sort. Now compare it to "La Femme Nikita" (late 1990s-early 2000s), where there are frequent considerations of whether Section One's counterterrorism operations are a cure worse than the disease. Or, if you want to look at law shows, the difference between "L.A. Law" (mid-1980s-early 1990s) and "The Practice" (late 1990s-early 2000s) is pretty stark. "Lost," "The Shield," "The Wire," "The Sopranos," "24" . . . all post-2000 shows that sustain far more complexity and ambiguity than shows in the past.
I see no correlation between number of story threads and quality. Soap operas have had tons of threads for the longest time. You really want to compare them to Henry V?

We are talking quality, not complexity.
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Old 10-06-2013, 09:41 AM   #16
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Alan Sepinwall pretty much agrees with this in his book "The Revolution Was Televised", and if Alan says so, it must be true. Because I consider him the most thoughtful and perspicacious TV critic in the history of everything.
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Old 10-06-2013, 09:56 AM   #17
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I see no correlation between number of story threads and quality. Soap operas have had tons of threads for the longest time. You really want to compare them to Henry V?

We are talking quality, not complexity.
I've often thought if Shakespeare were alive today he would probably be writing soap operas.

However, Shakespeare did enjoy subplots in his plays. In Henry V you have plots concerning assassination of the king, the plight and fate of Henry's former drinking buddies and the courting of the princess.

I think we have more extremes on television than back in the earlier days. I think the good TV shows now are really good, as good or better than the good shows of the past. However the bad TV is much worse than bad TV of the '50s and '60s.
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Old 10-06-2013, 04:48 PM   #18
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I think we have more extremes on television than back in the earlier days. I think the good TV shows now are really good, as good or better than the good shows of the past. However the bad TV is much worse than bad TV of the '50s and '60s.
This is almost certainly right -- with so many more channels, including niche channels, there are more shows on air, and more opportunity to specialize.
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Old 10-06-2013, 07:31 PM   #19
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One genre of television that is definitely not having a renaissance right now is comedy. While there are a couple of decent ones out there, they're just not at a level we have seen in the past. Ask people to list the five best shows that were on in the past few years and I doubt most would list a comedy.
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Old 10-06-2013, 07:40 PM   #20
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One genre of television that is definitely not having a renaissance right now is comedy. While there are a couple of decent ones out there, they're just not at a level we have seen in the past. Ask people to list the five best shows that were on in the past few years and I doubt most would list a comedy.
People tell me Veep is really good. But I don't get the HBO or whatever premium channel it's on.

Parks and Recreation is good. But I will certainly tell you Breaking Bad is much better.
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Old 10-06-2013, 08:24 PM   #21
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One genre of television that is definitely not having a renaissance right now is comedy. While there are a couple of decent ones out there, they're just not at a level we have seen in the past. Ask people to list the five best shows that were on in the past few years and I doubt most would list a comedy.
I can think of a few that are/were outstanding. The Office, Arrested Development, and Orange is the new Black come to mind immediately.
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Old 10-06-2013, 08:44 PM   #22
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I can think of a few that are/were outstanding. The Office, Arrested Development, and Orange is the new Black come to mind immediately.
Best show on TV right now is BBT. For a time, The Office may have been.
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Old 10-06-2013, 08:56 PM   #23
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I dunno; New Girl is pretty darn funny. Probably the funniest sitcom I watch this year (I'm not watching the current season of Parks, since I'm a few seasons behind). IMO, New Girl is consistently funnier than BBT although BBT's humor is probably broader. It could be just my sense of humor.
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Old 10-06-2013, 09:35 PM   #24
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I dunno; New Girl is pretty darn funny. Probably the funniest sitcom I watch this year (I'm not watching the current season of Parks, since I'm a few seasons behind). IMO, New Girl is consistently funnier than BBT although BBT's humor is probably broader. It could be just my sense of humor.
Broader?
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Old 10-06-2013, 09:42 PM   #25
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Again, not saying that there aren't good comedies, just done that compete with the likes of Breaking Bad, House of Cards etc. And definitely nothing that compares with the likes of MASH, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers and Seinfeld.
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Old 10-06-2013, 10:15 PM   #26
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One genre of television that is definitely not having a renaissance right now is comedy. While there are a couple of decent ones out there, they're just not at a level we have seen in the past. Ask people to list the five best shows that were on in the past few years and I doubt most would list a comedy.
Great point, I totally agree. That may be part of the reason some people disagree with my original post. I know it is comedies I enjoy most on television. I am always optimistic when new comedies premiere, but almost always am disappointed, particularly in the last several years.
Veep and Modern Family are the two exceptions.
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Old 10-07-2013, 09:27 AM   #27
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Is TV better? I'm not sure. Here's the difference. It's a lot EASIER to write for TV now than it was before, there are far less restriction and parameters. Back in the day, you had to write in the confines of what was acceptable to be on TV in those days. I think of it this way. There's a school of thought among comedians that it's so much easier to do stand up using curse words than it is to do a "clean" act (think of Carlin vs. Seinfeld for example). But the best of the comedians can be funny without being "blue". That's where we are now with TV. Since there's no holds barred now, a writer can write about anything, with no restrictions. Nudity, violence, language. It's all acceptable now. So it opens up scripts that could never be done before. But does that make it better? Who's to say? Sure Breaking Bad or Mad Men or The Sopranos is some fantastic writing. But is it BETTER writing than The Twilight Zone, or Star Trek, or The West Wing? Is Veep, or Weeds or Orange is the New Black, better written than The Dick Van Dyke Show or M*A*S*H or All in the Family? Heck, is it even better than Modern Family or The Big Bang Theory? You have to wonder what those shows would have been like if they were written for cable? Conversely, you probably couldn't do Breaking Bad under the constraints of Network TV

So I don't think TV is "better" than it used to be, simply there is MORE of it. I would says it's probably the same percentage of good to crap as always. There's just more good and more crap. For every Mad Men, there's some moronic reality show clogging up the airwaves.

To me the renaissance is not in content, but in availability. The "TV" as we knew it is history. It's become just a "screen" for viewing, among 4 or 5 other screens, your PC, or your tablet or your phone or heck, even your watch now. It opens up the possibility of watching not only "TV" scripted for networks, but "TV" made by you and me. That's the true renaissance. There will always be great content and bad content.
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Old 10-07-2013, 09:53 AM   #28
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For every great tv show there are five really awful reality shows that lots of people watch.
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Old 10-07-2013, 10:56 AM   #29
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Is TV better? I'm not sure. Here's the difference. It's a lot EASIER to write for TV now than it was before, there are far less restriction and parameters. Back in the day, you had to write in the confines of what was acceptable to be on TV in those days. I think of it this way. There's a school of thought among comedians that it's so much easier to do stand up using curse words than it is to do a "clean" act (think of Carlin vs. Seinfeld for example). But the best of the comedians can be funny without being "blue". That's where we are now with TV. Since there's no holds barred now, a writer can write about anything, with no restrictions. Nudity, violence, language. It's all acceptable now. So it opens up scripts that could never be done before. But does that make it better? Who's to say? Sure Breaking Bad or Mad Men or The Sopranos is some fantastic writing. But is it BETTER writing than The Twilight Zone, or Star Trek, or The West Wing? Is Veep, or Weeds or Orange is the New Black, better written than The Dick Van Dyke Show or M*A*S*H or All in the Family? Heck, is it even better than Modern Family or The Big Bang Theory? You have to wonder what those shows would have been like if they were written for cable? Conversely, you probably couldn't do Breaking Bad under the constraints of Network TV

So I don't think TV is "better" than it used to be, simply there is MORE of it. I would says it's probably the same percentage of good to crap as always. There's just more good and more crap. For every Mad Men, there's some moronic reality show clogging up the airwaves.

To me the renaissance is not in content, but in availability. The "TV" as we knew it is history. It's become just a "screen" for viewing, among 4 or 5 other screens, your PC, or your tablet or your phone or heck, even your watch now. It opens up the possibility of watching not only "TV" scripted for networks, but "TV" made by you and me. That's the true renaissance. There will always be great content and bad content.
This I can agree with (even if I think that Mad Men is pretentious crap).
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Old 10-09-2013, 09:41 AM   #30
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There do seem to be quite a few good shows lately. But it's harder than ever finding anything good among the crap. Often, when I look to see what's on, all I see is a barrage of crappy reality shows and 3rd rate comedies. And, because of the way they write shows now, if I discover a good show after the pilot, I'm lost because I've already missed a bunch. And then if I do decide I like a show, there's a good chance they'll put it on a 6 month hiatus!

I agree that the best new shows, where it's really one long story, can do things that you can't in a bunch of one hour shows, but the flip side is, it's harder to get started if you miss anything.
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