The Golden Age of TV Is About Quantity as Much as Quality
We live in a time when high-quality television has become the status quo. Shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones dominate the landscape, telling stories in a way that would make Shakespeare himself proud. This has led many to dub this the “Golden Age of TV,” and honestly, they’re not wrong.
We’ve never had television that’s been quite this spectacularly good, with even middle-tier offerings managing to provide some semblance of depth and value. But it’s not all merely about the quality of a handful of shows. Rather, it’s the staggering amount of them.
The other day, comedian Patton Oswalt took to Twitter to praise all of his favorite TV shows, starting by naming them one by one, in individual tweets. From there, it escalated into stuffing five to six shows into single tweets, until he was listing them off in droves.
He touched on everything from Last Week Tonight to The Walking Dead, making one thing abundantly clear: There is so much good TV out there. The gap between amazing and unwatchable is filling up, giving us a treasure chest of upper mid-tier quality that simply didn’t exist even a decade ago.
I know I’m supposed to embrace life & go outside & sunshine & I’ll be dead someday but fuck TV is SO GOOD right now. It really is.
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) March 3, 2015
The TV climate of the mid-2000s was one in which we had a handful of spectacular shows and an over-abundance of low quality titles. Fast forward to today, and the scales have balanced significantly. Mad Men feeling too heavy-handed for you? That’s great, because The CW has The Flash and Arrow to give you an entertaining break. Is Arrow too campy? Not a problem, because AMC’s Better Call Saul is ready to scratch your itch for something with more thoughtful writing.
There’s an old joke about cable TV that goes, “500 channels and nothing to watch!” But more and more, that thought is finding itself terribly outdated. Flip on your television on any given night of the week and odds are there’s almost too much.
How many times have you heard your friends talking about how they don’t watch TV because they feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices? It’s of course a double-edged sword in many ways. On one hand, there’s something for everyone. On the other, it’s difficult to draw someone in at an entry level when they see an assortment of 50 shows and are then told that each one is equally worth their time and energy.
What it comes down to is finding your TV niche and expanding from there. Anyone who likes compelling political character dramas should start with ABC’s Scandal and then move up to more mature offerings like Netflix’s House of Cards. A viewer looking to laugh can easily get into Fox’s New Girl and Brooklyn Nine Nine, and then move on to Yahoo’s Community for humor that goes far beyond the sitcom format. That “something for everyone” availability of modern TV can be a doorway as much as a barrier with the right guidance.
If there’s one thing we can take away from all this, it’s that managing the quantity of quality we have right now is important. It’s amazing that we live in a time when TV caters to compelling storytelling more than overwrought drama, but if we can’t get people in the door to watch any of this, it’s all for naught. But if we provide that doorway into the rich, vast world of our Golden Age of Television, our entertainment world will be better off for it in the end.