With the end of the 90s came the start of the Golden Age of Television: a time that began a revolution that would change the face of TV shows forever. Unfortunately, the mass audience brought by this innovation also brought the possibility of making huge amounts of money. This inevitably led to the industry’s rapid transformation from an art to a business.
What does this mean for TV?
The Golden Age of Television began as early as 1997, with the game changer that was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The ball got rolling and key revolutionary shows began setting the standards for future television. That’s why so many shows up until the Green Age (2010, give or take) seem so cliché to the modern day viewer.
The Green Age of Television began and there was no more room for trial and error. Networks were guaranteed success if they stuck to “safe” shows that replicate techniques they have seen bring success in the Golden Age. “Risky” shows that could possibly bring something new to the table are slowly disappearing. The result? Countless TV shows that are just different versions of each other. From retelling the same few stories to using the same narrative techniques to utilizing already invented cinematography tricks, networks lack the vision of putting their faith in something new.
How did this happen?
One reason: TV shows are being advertised.
In 2009 there were 211 primetime scripted television series on air. Today, that number has almost doubled, and a fair amount of these shows are good. There aren’t enough hours in the day to watch it all. It’s bittersweet because while we may be able to watch a good show at our disposal, chances are we’re missing out on a great show that got lost in the crowd.
So what determines what shows we choose to watch? Well, it’s in our DNA. We are genetically wired to be social creatures. If all our friends are gushing about a show, we watch it. If someone we trust recommends a show, we watch it. But most importantly, if a show is printed on every magazine cover and billboard, advertised every commercial break and hyped up on every entertainment website, we watch it. Let’s face it, we strive to be in the loop. For every over-advertised show we watch, we are not watching an under-advertised show that’s even better. This means higher ratings and a golden ticket to getting renewed for a show that’s not as good.
Bottom line: Advertising television lowers the quality of television.
Can it be stopped?
Not by us. People will continue to watch TV even with its declining quality. I find it rather difficult to picture networks putting a halt to the kind of advertising that allows them to keep swimming in cash. I don’t need to start a protest just yet, I’ve still got plenty of shows from the Golden Age to binge. The best thing we can do for ourselves in a time like this is discover shows that fit our personal interests that are not necessarily in mainstream media. I’ve basked in the delight of some shows, many of which only lasted a season or two, that I have yet to meet a single person who’s heard of them. If you’re serious about catching quality television, it’s out there.
You just have to find it yourself.