We're living in the golden age of television.
I became an obsessive TV watcher around the time my parents sent me to boarding school. I thought Friends was the end-all-be-all of television until someone left tapes of My So-Called Life in the common room’s VCR. I paid as much attention to the dialogue and plot as I did Rayanne’s wardrobe, which means a lot. The writers had accurately captured the heightened sense of emotion and angst that comes with being that age. And I couldn’t get enough of it. When the show wasn’t renewed for a second season, I experienced my first of many devastating TV disappointments. (RIP Lone Star. RIP Terriers.)
But, years later, the tide seems to be turning in my favor. It seems that as movies have gotten dumber and flashier (EXPLOSIONS! COMIC BOOK HEROES! FANTASY!), television has gone the opposite direction. The quality of the writing and production has gotten noticeably better. The cost of making good TV shows is going down, thanks in part to digital distribution and production. Now more than ever, it's worth it to take a risk on a TV audience.
Cable and premium channels—and the internet—have become venues for big-name, high-production-value, character-driven programming. Shows like the The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and even Community are conditioning us to become a more patient and intelligent audience. TV is taking more risks and achieving better results.
Netflix’s bold $100 million deal to license 26 hours of original content before it’s even produced has turned quite a few heads in Hollywood. The show in question? House of Cards, a remake of the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name that explored the "ruthless underside of British politics." The new version will be set against a backdrop of modern-day U.S. electoral politics, with Kevin Spacey starring as the "ambitious politician."
This is a risky approach for Netflix since the show doesn’t yet have a built-in audience despite the involvement of both Kevin Spacey and Executive Producer David Fincher. Why the confidence, then?
Because we are living in the golden age of television!