Television in the ’00s vs. The Novel

It’s been the decade of Quality television — “The Wire,” “The Sopranos,” “Mad Men,” “Rescue Me,” and many others I want to see but haven’t like “Deadwood” and “The Shield.” It has gotten to the point where the good TV series have replaced the novel.

This comes back to David Simon and the critics calling “The Wire” a “novel for television.” But think on it — the best series today require a similar commitment by the viewer that novels required of their readers. And if you were to add up the time it takes to watch one season of these series, it probably amounts to the same amount of time it takes to read a great novel.

And it is not just the interchanging subplots and story lines, but in their ability to tell mature stories with conflicting, often tortured and sometimes unsavory heroes. Even something as seemingly middlebrow as “Playmakers” (ESPN’s one-season dramatic gem on pro football), “Entourage” and the final seasons of “Sex and the City” (great as lighter fare), or “Lost” and “24” (never saw them, but were once recommended before declining into parodies of themselves) have told involving storylines that cut across and over several episodes, sometimes several seasons, and require work on the part of the viewer to remain engaged. That required work does not often make for easy viewing, but it does make for rewarding viewing.

Maybe it’s a failing of the current climate of pop culture. Quick: name the best novel (hell, any novel) released this decade that does not contain “Harry Potter” in its title. This, too, with the Rise of the giant chain book stores in the last 10 years.

And to be sure, the rise in dramatic television this decade has dove-tailed, unfortunately, with the rise of some of the worst fast-food crap ever released on TV, like every reality show, new game show, and some of the worst sitcom ideas ever conceived.

Chalk it up to the rise of cable. I always thought it was funny that Time Warner always counter-advertised against satellite TV by using the (now old) argument that you’d lose your local network channels if you switched to the dish. That’s a problem? When was the last time you saw something good on one of the major networks? You can say “24” or “Lost” or “Alias.” Those are anomalies, and I’ve watched one episode out of those three series. I can barely watch sports on the network channels, and that’s with the sound off.

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