I have been discussing the state of the one hour drama on TV with Michael a lot lately. My contention is that right now may be the best time in the history of television for dramas. I have often heard that the early days of TV in the 1950s to early 60’s was considered the “Golden Age of Television” with many live dramatic broadcasts by the great play-writes on the time. My earliest remembrances of TV were from the mid to late 60’s when we only were able to pick up CBS and ABC programming on our set. It is hard to imagine a time like that now isn’t it.
I remember gathering with my family to watch Perry Mason, Gunsmoke and Bonanza. These, along with The Defenders and Mission: Impossible, were considered the best dramas on TV in the 60’s.
The 70’s were basically a wasteland for TV dramas. Columbo, The Waltons and The Rockford Files were probably the best things on along with Upstairs, Downstairs on PBS which certainly nobody in my house watched.
The 80’s were a little better anchored by NBC’s 3 great dramas, Hill Street Blues, LA Law and St. Elsewhere.
The 90’s were even better having Picket Fences and Northern Exposure on CBS, ER and Law and Order on NBC and NYPD Blue and The Practice on ABC. Add the new Fox Network with The X-Files and things were looking up.
The 2000’s brought The West Wing, arguably the best drama ever on network TV. This show, along with Lost, 24, Friday Night Lights and House gave this time some credibility. However, this began the era of the reality show and game show. Survivor, American Idol , Who Wants to be a Millionaire and their countless imitators threatened to make the drama a TV afterthought. The big 3 networks were overrun with these types of shows, some airing multiple times each week.
However, in the world of cable TV networks, the drama was beginning to get a total rebirth. In 2004 The Sopranos won its first Emmy as best drama and by this past year, not a single best drama nominee came from the traditional networks. Because of these non-traditional venues, dramas are taking more chances and therefore are producing challenging and riveting TV (see The Shield.)
Right now, you can see a collection of diverse, well written and well acted dramas as good as anything that has been on TV. My favorites are:
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Mad Men (AMC)
The Walking Dead (AMC)
Hell on Wheels (AMC)
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Sons of Anarchy (FX)
House of Cards (Netflix)
Also, when TV awards season comes around, keep an eye out to see if these outstanding performances get noticed:
Robin Wright-House of Cards
Corey Stoll-House of Cards
Elizabeth Moss-Top of the Lake
Vera Farminga-Bates Motel
Vera Farminga-Bates Motel