So I’m wondering why is TV so much better than it used to be. I assumed, early on, that the ‘Sopranos’ was a ‘made for television’ rip on the Godfather movies and had to see an episode by accident before I started to catch on. It was more like a movie with top notch production values that went on and on, exploring the lives of characters in a way no movie could. Suddenly an audience appeared that wanted more, expected more, and like ripples in a pond television opened up and became more challenging.
In the case of the Sopranos the obvious difference was a new method of finance, subscription vs mass audience advertising. With salaries paid in advance, attracting the widest audience possible was no longer the first priority of story telling, and soon more naturalistic approaches to more significant subjects were being considered, and by commercial television as well. Seems the audience was always ready to be taken seriously, to take themselves seriously, but television had talked down to them since the beginning, since from the beginning public airways have been paid for by advertising.
The ‘Mad Men’ of fifties period advertising agencies haven’t gone away. Oh, they dress a bit differently now and some have come out to much applause, but they still objectify everyone and everything, and many are headed for the bottle by the early forties just like several generations before them, burned out, cynical, and finally pushed to the sidelines. They aspired to be artists once you know, many of them, but somewhere along the line they decided to use their talent to make money. It isn’t that hard. Industry at most every level loves talent, and advertising agencies pay more for it than anybody else except, of course, the movies.
You just have to be ready to apply your talent to anything the art director throws across your desk. Sometimes it’s something nice, sometimes it isn’t, doesn’t matter. Your job is to attract attention to this thing, this service, this unwanted and unnecessary whatever, and we don’t care how, use your talent. It wears folks down, and worse than that. It turns them cynical about themselves and lowers their regard for fellow humans, how could it not? Still, there is no conspiracy. Turns out television has never really reached its full potential to educate and enlighten, even to entertain, because corrupted artistic directors looked in their mirrors and saw swine -- I need a drink.
Now it seems some production companies are getting to extend themselves, to tell human stories in a frank and honest way, because it turns out that’s what a lot of people prefer to watch. Who knew? What was needed was an alternative, and thank you HBO for finding the audience commercial television executives claimed wasn’t even there.