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Chronology of the TV renaissance?


Had a thought this morning which has been intriguing me. We’ve been watching Westworld and really enjoying it - the quality of the writing, the extremely high production values (seriously, how many sets??), and the A-list level of some of the cast (Hopkins, Newton). What struck me is that this is just another excellent series, and there are so many to choose from at the moment, we’ve really never had it so good.

So I got to thinking that as we’re in a TV renaissance at the moment, where did it start? I remember 24 starting, and the idea of a genuine movie star being in it was revolutionary (Kiefer Sutherland … although hardly at his peak), and the first time that moving into television wasn’t practically career suicide for a movie star.

But what came next? Was it Lost that cemented the return on investment for massive budget television? And was True Detective the first instance when an A-list movie actor (Matthew McConaughey, riding high off Magic Mike, Lincoln Lawyer and Dallas Buyers Club) signed onto a TV show at the height of their movie career? Am trying to think of another actor in a show that’s quite that A-listy, but failing.

Which are the key markers on the road to now, where we have such wealth of excellent TV with no signs of flagging?

And finally, I imagined a potential future where you have actors entirely CGI, but motion captured by the actors themselves - the CGI allowing the actors to be placed into VR situations where you can move around the room and watch the acting from any angle, walking in between an argument or seeing a firefight from inside the room, but able to move around the scene at will.

Exciting times for telly. Any thoughts?


For US television for me it all comes back to Twin Peaks. That started it all, 80s TV could be fun but was pretty dumb overall


Yeah, I thought about Twin Peaks, and it’s kind of the prototype, but there’s such a gulf of time between then and 24 that I wonder if it’s more of a unique case (but that would’ve helped things like massive budget telly to occur because there was a precedent).


ER is a landmark, it was the first big drama hit in an era that was becoming dominated by reality TV. The future looked “real” then this far more traditional show came along and found a huge audience.

It’s nowhere near as sophisticated as ‘Twin Peaks’ or later shows like ‘The Sopranos’ but it proved the mainstream public still wanted well made, dramatic TV.


Yeah, good point - I remember the Tarantino episode - ER definitely made TV more acceptable among Hollywood types.


I wonder whether Friends, with its massive budgets for actors being news around the world … and the amount of money it must’ve generated, that may have been a key milestone too.


That would depend on how connected sitcoms and drama are in the industry?

‘Friends’ was huge, ‘Seinfeld’ was huge, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ was more of a cult thing but still a big hit and ‘Larry Sanders’ has faded from pop culture but it was a big deal in its day.

Comedy still make huge amounts of money, but it gets less headlines than the dramas.


I guess it’s the point that Hollywood accepted TV that’s interesting me. There was such a sense that if you turned up on a show your movie career was over, and it’s really looking like it could flip the other way - TV must be so enticing to a serious actor, getting to explore a character like nowhere else. Friends had the cameos which makes me think it’s part of the chronology (could Cheers be too?).


Alec Guinness was a humongously big movie star before he went into television. You might remember him from little things such as Star Wars.

In 1979 he moved to television to star in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

So you need to push your chronology back to at least 1979.


I think the modern resurgence of prestige television on a large scale pop cultural level came at least after Kings - cause it missed it by a mile.

I miss Kings.


Hill Street Blues was often cited as an influence on the 90’s TV showrunners who started serialising their shows more

Babylon 5 and the X-Files in the 90s. B5 more for the influence it had on writers than its popularity, but both were forerunners of contemporary peak TV


I really think the UK is just a different story. Mike Leigh was on tv or Dennis Potter going back to the 60s and 70s. Both the level of sophistication and the Star thing are just different.


Also, Guinness could give a rat’s arse about Star Wars. :slight_smile:


British TV of the 1970s is actually preferable to today’s output though.


Tinker Tailor
I, Claudius
Tales of the Unexpected
Terence Ratigan’s plays
Ghost Stories At Christmas

…and a raft of others that have such a high level of writing and acting that it’s a crime that we still have to deal with shlock like CSI these days.


It’s ok, you can say “better” :wink:


Niche programming made solely for an isolated island hardly counts as medium defining. :wink:


America may have oceans on both sides, but calling it an isolated island is a bit much.


At that period of time you could definitely say that. I think the UK fell behind for a decade. We’re now moving into a period where it’s often difficult to tell the difference with co-productions and global appeal.
How much is Game of Thrones a UK or US production? A big swig of both.


I was mostly just having a dig at David. No actually offence was intended. :wink:


He’ll never change. :smile: