Golden Age of Television (2000s–present)

In the United States, the Golden Age of Television (also known as Peak TV or Prestige TV)[1][2] is a period widely regarded as being marked by a large number of "high quality", internationally-acclaimed television programs.[3][4][5][6]

Named in reference to the original Golden Age of Television in the 1950s, the period has also been referred to as the "New", "Second" or "Third Golden Age of Television." The various names reflect disagreement over whether shows of the 1980s and 1990s belong to a since-concluded golden era or to the current one.[7][8][9][10][11][12] Various sources have identified the beginning of the contemporary period as the early 1980s,[13] the late 1980s-early 1990s,[14] the mid-to-late 1990s,[15][16] or the early 2000s,[17] with some dispute as to whether the age ended in the late 2010s[18][19][20] or remains ongoing into the early 2020s.

It is believed to have resulted from advances in media distribution technology,[7][11] digital TV technology (including HDTV, online video platforms, TV streaming, video-on-demand, and web TV),[21][7] and a large increase in the number of hours of available television, which has prompted a major wave of content creation.[22]

HistoryEdit

French scholar Alexis Pichard has argued that television enjoyed a Second Golden Age[23] starting in the 2000s which was a combination of three elements: first, an improvement in both visual aesthetics and storytelling; second, an overall homogeneity between cable series and networks series; and third, a tremendous popular success. Pichard contends that this Second Golden Age was the result of a revolution initiated by the traditional networks in the 1980s and carried on by the cable channels (especially HBO) in the 1990s.[24]

Film director Francis Ford Coppola thinks that the second golden age of television comes from "kids" with their "little father's camcorder", who wanted to make films like he did in the 1970s but were not permitted to, so they did it for television.[25]

The new Golden Age brought creator-driven tragic dramas of the 2000s and 2010s, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer[26] and Oz,[26] which both first aired in 1997; 1999's The Sopranos[26][27] and The West Wing; 2001's Six Feet Under and 24;[28][26] 2002's The Wire[26] and The Shield,[26] 2004's Deadwood,[29][26] Lost[30] and Battlestar Galactica;[26] 2005's Avatar: The Last Airbender;[31] 2006's Friday Night Lights;[26] 2007's Mad Men;[26] 2008's Breaking Bad;[32][26] 2011's Game of Thrones;[12][33][34] and 2013's House of Cards.[35] Others appear in the Writers Guild of America vote for 101 Best Written TV Shows.[36]

Production values got higher than ever before on shows such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Homeland to the point of rivaling cinema while anti-heroic series like The Sopranos and The Wire were cited as improving television content thus earning critical praise.[37][38][39]

OriginsEdit

The Golden Age of television is believed to have resulted from advances in media distribution technology,[7][11] digital TV technology (including HDTV, online video platforms, TV streaming, video-on-demand, and web TV),[21][7] and a large increase in the number of hours of available television, which has prompted a major wave of content creation.[22]

Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice has argued that the current golden age began earlier with over-the-air broadcast shows like Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (both of which premiered in 1993), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997).[15] Will Gompertz of the BBC believes that Friends, which debuted in 1994, might stake a claim as the opening bookend show of the period.[16] Matt Zoller Seitz argues that it began in the 1980s with Hill Street Blues (1981) and St. Elsewhere (1982).[13] Kirk Hamilton of Kotaku has said that Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005) should be considered a part of the golden age of television, and recommended "the sophisticated kids show" to others.[40] With the rise of instant access to content on Netflix, creator-driven television shows like Breaking Bad, The Shield (2002), Friday Night Lights (2006) and Mad Men gained loyal followings that grew to become widely popular. The success of instant access to television shows was presaged by the popularity of DVDs, and continues to increase with the rise of digital platforms and online companies.

The increase in the number of shows is also cited as evidence of a Golden Age, or "peak TV". In the five years between 2011 and 2016, the number of scripted television shows, on broadcast, cable and digital platforms increased by 71%. In 2002, 182 television shows aired, while 2016 had 455 original scripted television shows and 495 in 2018. The number of shows are rising largely due to companies like Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu investing heavily in original content. The number of shows aired by online service increased from only one in 2009 to over 93 in 2016.[41][42][43][44][45][46]

Late eraEdit

An increasing reliance on rebooting and reviving existing franchises led to widespread belief that the Golden Age of Television was ending in the late 2010s,[18] with the caveat that some of these reboots (such as DuckTales,[47] Girl Meets World[48] and One Day at a Time[49][50]) share the positive reception and mature character development of original shows of the era. Viewership patterns in 2020 shifted rapidly toward reruns.[51] To address burnout from binge watching and concerns that the practice makes television more disposable and forgettable, streaming providers reduced their reliance on the practice in the early 2020s by returning to a more traditional model of releasing one new episode a week.[19] A showrunner for an unnamed Netflix series, a platform that has been especially aggressive toward releasing full seasons at once as a company policy, commented that the volume of existing content has made it more difficult to devote the time to binge watching.[19]

A 2021 interview of social media influencers noted that the teen sitcoms and teen dramas from the early Golden Age, driven by continued presence in reruns and video-on-demand platforms, have stronger followings among Generation Z than contemporary shows; they feel that the latter are more geared toward pre-teens or adults instead of teenagers, try too hard to appeal to current trends, and lack a sense of familiarity compared to shows that have been around since they were born. This is attributed as a cause for the increasing number of reboots and revivals of shows from early in the era.[20]

NPR noted in May 2022 that although television executives had predicted a peak in television series since the mid-2010s, the number of series continued to grow into the early 2020s, from 400 original productions across broadcast, cable and major streaming outlets in 2015 to 559 in 2021. The network noted that the major streamers, with the exception of Disney+ (which NPR attributed to the company's strong brand recognition), were seeing diminishing quality and, particularly in the case of Netflix, declining popularity.[52]

Characteristics and criticismEdit

Characteristics of this golden age are complicated characters who may be morally ambiguous or antiheroes, questionable behavior, complex plots, diverse perspectives, and often forays into R-rated territory.[53][54][55]

Genres of television associated with this golden age include dramas (especially ones originating on cable and digital platforms); sitcoms (especially ones that use comedy-drama which some critics would call "sadcoms"),[56] single-camera setup, or adult animation; sketch comedy (especially series linked to alternative comedy); and late-night talk shows (especially ones that emphasize news satire).

A key characteristic of the golden age is serialization, where a continuous story arc stretches over multiple episodes or seasons. Traditional American television had an episodic format, with each episode typically consisting of a self-contained story. During the golden age, there has been a transition to a serialization format, with a continuous story arc stretching over multiple episodes or seasons. John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards note that the serialization format was previously already a key defining characteristic of Japanese anime shows, notably the popular Dragon Ball Z (1989-1996), which distinguished them from American television shows at the time. Serialization later also became a key defining characteristic of American live-action television shows during the golden age.[57]

The era is not without criticism as the quantity of original shows being produced have some, like FX CEO John Landgraf[58] and Time's TV critic Judy Berman[1] worried about overwhelming the viewing audience to the point of what the latter called "peak redundancy".[1][59] Author Daniel Kelley claimed that this was also the Golden Age of bad TV with shows such as Zoo, Under the Dome and The I-Land.[60] Derek Thompson of The Atlantic stated that TV replaced movies as "elite entertainment".[61]

Notable figuresEdit

Showrunners
Actors
Hosts

Notable outletsEdit

Terrestrial networksEdit

Cable/satellite channelsEdit

International networksEdit

Streaming servicesEdit

Selected notable showsEdit

Past shows associated with the second Golden Age of TelevisionEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit