Question of the Week #5

A simple question about television spirals on and on…


What do you think about this whole “golden age of television” thing?


I like it. That is, I like that so many people are taking television seriously. I have a hard time with the “golden age” notion for anything. When people today say that about the 1970’s regarding film I find it hard to take them seriously. I suspect that if they were in the same position they currently occupy in the 70’s they would be saying, “Oh, the 30’s, man that was the golden age of film. Anything was finally possible.”

Which is to say most people tend to view such things with a large dose of nostalgia, which is what makes the situation of television refreshing. People are saying that about something that is happening right now. Let me repeat this: people are saying that something happening right now is good. What an absolute rarity. Not – the music industry has gone down in flames and no one knows how to navigate that world any longer. Not – the economy is in shambles due to sub-prime mortgages and somehow this means gas prices are going to trying to compete with those in Europe. No, people are actually praising the state of television. This impresses me.

What is baffling is that it took so long for the people making television to wise up to a few facts. First, television is better suited (over film) to telling certain kinds of stories. No brainer, right? If you need a long gestating story where a slow burn will really pay off, do you do it with 24 episodes or two hours? Second, that people who are investing the amount of time television shows require actually want substance. I’m not criticizing any particular program but this realization that you can tell more complex stories with television is another overdue¬†revelation. Of course you can delve into the motivations and the psyche of characters better if you have more time with them. Third, and lets make it the final point, television is being allowed to take a little time to develop stories. This may feel similar to the first point but the difference lies in how television shows are being made and who is paying for them. Now that there are different stations/companies/providers making this content they are no longer as tied to advertising and having an immediate viewership. At a time when every movie is being called a failure or a success based on their Thursday night box office receipts, it is fantastic that companies like Netflix and Amazon – never mind cable stations, are doing away with the similar measure of success for television. And this all means that shows can take their time to tell their stories, or tell them in different ways.

So what I really think is – great but what took you so long? And, I also suspect that most people making television now still lack the sophistication, confidence and wherewithal to actually commit and tell amazing stories. Even something as revered and lauded as Breaking Bad fell prey to so many of the pitfalls of a show that runs for five seasons. Who is Sklyer, what skills/ambitions does she have and what kind of person is she? It depends on the season and what the writers felt they needed to make her in relation to her husband. I don’t mean to target this show in particular I just think it is a prime example of a good but imperfect television show. If we all continue to take television seriously I think shows like Breaking Bad will continue to improve and ultimately be more fulfilling. It is exciting.

Author: John Ryan Sullivan

I am a writer and filmmaker.

3 thoughts on “Question of the Week #5”

  1. I dig that you’re enjoying people celebrating the present over the past. But it’s a little harsh, and maybe a bit naive to presume that the people making TV have taken too long to come around.

    We must not forget that the linear TV schedules those guys had to follow was very strict, and very demanding of products that had a rapid turnaround. And it’s also still a relatively young medium when you consider the grand scheme of things. If you consider how the types of shows, and the style of shows has changed since the internet became a primary distribution platform, you can start to see how bloody complicated and enmeshed the whole sodding thing is. Food for thought n that.

    1. Hi TBoneMalkovich,

      First I apologize for not writing something sooner. You took the time to comment, let alone read what I wrote , and I appreciate that.

      Second, part of the reason why I did not immediately respond is because you seem to be taking me to task for criticizing sub-standard television – while simultaneously making my own argument about the changing nature of the industry back at me. I am still unsure as how best to respond to this.

      The reasons for mediocre television, while perhaps helpful in understanding the end result, do not excuse it. Anyone who watched the X Files and saw not only the unevenness of the show overall but it’s decline in quality as it continued was not comforted with the why. My intention with this post was to be neither negative not harsh. Rather I wished to point out a rather positive change regarding this cultural commentary. For once people are not pining for the way things were but celebrating how they are.

      Whether you look at the arts, sports, politics or any other aspect of modern living I think you will find this to be a rarity. Now we seem only to praise technological or moral advancements and decry the lack or previous quality or sincerity.

      My closing statement where I targeted Breaking Bad may have undermined my overall point and may have lead to your post. I simply wanted to illustrate that while I agree with general consensus that tekevision is currently at a high point, many seem to be wearing rose-colored glasses concerning the current batch of darlings. The urge to do better, to not be complacent, especially now in this time of improved quality must remain. Otherwise we wil have simply trade the laugh track for ever changeable wives who serve no purpose other than to help tell the protaganist’s story.

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