“And So We’re Told, This is the Golden Age.”
This weekend Orange is the New Black Season 3 was released to Netflix. The girlfriend is a big fan of the show (me not so much) and she has spent the last four days catching up on it. Now what this means of course, is that she will have to wait an entire year before the next season comes out. This doesn’t bother her at all, but being someone who grew up watching television week to week, this concept still perplexes me.
Although I have started watching plenty of shows on Netflix and DVD over the years, I have never been able to get into the Netflix original series. Even the newer seasons of Arrested Development and Trailer Park Boys are still sitting in my queue. There’s just something about the week to week scheduling of a television show on network or cable that sits better with me. It probably has to do my inability to do the same thing for hours on end, but shows never seem to stick with me if I watch them too closely together. I enjoy catching back up with shows in chunks, but my original viewing of them tends to go better if I don’t watch ten of them in a row.
I know that my dislike of “binge watching” (some of the most annoying terminology of the 21st Century by the way) puts me in the minority of most people. Thirty minute sitcoms are a bit easier to handle in a long watch, but a show like Orange is the New Black just becomes draining, and that goes for shows that I like as well. A comparable show to Orange is the New Black is OZ. OZ is a show that I like quite a bit that also takes place at a prison. I watched it solely on DVD, but I couldn’t handle more than a couple of shows at a time. I can barely sit still for a three hour movie, much less half of a TV season.
Another by-product of the new “golden age” of television is people’s inability to understand why you don’t watch a show. Game of Thrones is the perfect example. I hate fantasy shows/movies/literature and yes, that means I don’t like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Once again, I am the minority and I am okay with that. Whenever I tell someone that I don’t like Harry Potter they seem to understand, but whenever I tell them I don’t like Game of Thrones it just seems to blow their mind. In all honesty, I have watched two episodes of Game of Thrones and, just as I expected, I thought it was garbage, but no one wants to hear this. Everyone tries to explain to me that it’s “different” and that it’s not really fantasy, but if it’s not a fantasy show, then why does it have dragons and magic in it? The last time I checked no one was conjuring up dragons on Seinfeld.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is the “gritty realism” of a show like Sons of Anarchy, which is neither gritty nor realistic it’s just kind of dumb. The problem with shows on HBO and Showtime becoming successful is that basic cable feels the need to follow suit. For every Mad Men or Breaking Bad, two truly classic shows, there are five crap shows labeled as edgy that get by strictly on violence, profanity, and asses. Sons of Anarchy is one of the best examples of this. It’s the dramatic equivalent of a bumper sticker that says FREAK; a desperate cry for attention.
The time period of the late 1940’s through the early 1960’s is generally regarded as the Golden Age of Television. This was the time period that television was finding its footing, and most of the people working on it were former playwrights and movie makers. They brought with them a certain gravity and seriousness that would later be taken over by the whims of advertisers. Television was always a money making business, but in the early days it was also seen as a tool for educating and influencing the masses.
Somewhere along the way the educational avenue was mostly abandoned and relegated to Public Broadcasting, and most mainstream programming became pure entertainment. Then when cable and satellite came along, networks eventually had to resort to lower budgets which directly led to the lowest common denominator format of reality TV. With the debut on HBO of The Sopranos in the late 1990’s, the landscape changed again. No longer was network the only place for expensive dramas and comedies. Soon, virtually every channel was trying to get into original content and that continues to this day, with the addition of the various streaming services.
Critics continue to refer to our current time frame as the second Golden Age of Television; to me this is pretty foolish. As good as a streaming service might be, the question is how and will they be able to keep up the quality and the revenue. The network model has worked as well as it has for so long due to the affiliate model, but Netflix or Amazon doesn’t have that backing. They have been upstarts up until this point, but what happens when they are the behemoths? Amazon has already had a lot of customer pushback in the last few years (although, its retail arm gets the brunt of that), and when Netflix eventually has to raise its prices, which has already happened once to a varied response, how will that go over? Compound this with the fact that to get the same amount of content over the various platforms that cable provides, ends up costing about the same, is cutting the cord truly going to be worth it? The second Golden Age of Television might be a real thing when it comes to show quality (although that is a dubious observation in and of itself), but the cost seems more of a meet the old boss, same as the new boss type of situation. But then again what do I know? I don’t even like Game of Thrones.
Until next time…