The new golden age of television and how we got there.
GQ contributor Martin traces the sea change in American television of the past decade and a half, which saw the medium evolve from a repository for numbing mediocrity (with some notable exceptions) to a venue for material that enjoys artistic parity with the best products of film, theater and literature. While the author clearly lays out the financial and technological conditions that made such high-quality, idiosyncratic TV possible—the proliferation of cable stations demanded more content, and more nuanced demographic targeting by advertisers and the relative indifference to ratings enjoyed by subscription channels made niche programming profitable—his real interest is in the protean creators (“showrunners,” in industry parlance) who brought highly personal, genre-redefining, boundary-pushing series to the small screen. That’s a wise strategy, as they are a singularly compelling group—The Sopranos creator David Chase, pathologically morose and embittered; The Wire’s David Simon, the fire-breathing investigative reporter intent on exposing the corruption in American institutions; David Milch, the mystical, oracular literary prodigy who redefined the Western with Deadwood; and Matthew Weiner, the abrasive, loquacious, obsessive mind behind Mad Men—that's as complex and fascinating in Martin’s account as their antihero protagonists are on the screen. Shows like these (and Breaking Bad, The Shield, and Six Feet Under) have dominated the recent cultural conversation in the way that movies did in the 1970s, engendering a passionately engaged and intellectually stimulated audience eager to debate, parse obscure details and evangelize about their favorite programs. Martin thrillingly explains how and why that conversation migrated to the erstwhile “idiot box.”
A lucid and entertaining analysis of contemporary quality TV, highly recommended to anyone who turns on the box to be challenged and engaged.