“Scandal.” “Orange Is The New Black.” “The Amy Schumer Show.” There’s so much great television, that it’s difficult to carve out enough hours in the week to watch it all.
After spending 11 hours in a VoD service Netflix-induced coma binging on the latest season of “House of Cards,” you might wonder… how did television get so good?
Think back to “M.A.S.H.” or “I Love Lucy” or “Dragnet.” They might have been wonderful in their own way, but they didn’t exactly have complex, slow-burning plots.
“The assumption was that people needed to be able to pick up an episode, follow what was going on in that episode, and then maybe they would miss a couple episodes,” explains Jason Mittell, a professor at Middlebury College and author of Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. “Every story had to be, if not self-contained, at least explicable on its own.”
A shift began around 20 years ago, when some television shows became less worried about maintaining their episodic nature. They grew more serial and complex, with writers and producers assuming the audience could handle following the show from one week to the next.
Mittell believes that this happened for two main reasons: New technology and a fragmentation of the audience.
First, the rise of a whole host of cable channels (and in more modern times, television creators like Amazon and Netflix), led to an increase in the number of niche shows being created.
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