We live in a pretty good time for TV. Not because some of the best shows are currently airing (though they are, as Breaking Bad, Community, Parks and Recreation, and, though your mileage may vary, Game of Thrones will attest). Not because ratings are up across the board, and good shows are popping up everywhere (because they aren’t). But because, for the first time in a long time, there are no shows that everybody is watching.
How does that signal a good time for TV? Simple – rather than one major show that dominates pop culture – M*A*S*H, Seinfeld, Friends – there is a show out there for everybody. You may not like Community, but chances are you like The Big Bang Theory, or Parks and Recreation, or The Office, or Modern Family, or Happy Endings,or 30 Rock, or – god forbid – Whitney. No matter what your taste, you will be able to find a show that you like, and probably like quite a bit. A while back, if you didn’t like Friends, you probably didn’t like TV, because everything else wanted to be Friends. Every show wanted to have that mainstream appeal, that widespread adoption, that massive cultural phenomenon aspect to it. But not every show could have that, and TV was rather dismal in that situation. But shows like Arrested Development and Joss Whedon’s pantheon of Buffy and Angel and Firefly paved the way for a new golden age, where networks are willing to take chances, are willing to give cult shows breathing room. Syndication and DVD sales are the new goals, not ratings.
And this is a good thing, because we DO get gems like Community and Parks and Recreation, because the showrunners are allowed to run wild. They aren’t being forced by networks to make their shows massively appealing. Sure, there’s got to be some network pressure – I suspect that NBC said no to the idea of Chang’s sister, which he apparently ate in utero, becoming a major plot point – but it’s nowhere near as restrictive as it once was. The showrunner, too, has become a powerful force to be reckoned with – would Community be even half of what it is today without Dan Harmon? Would Parks and Recreation without Greg Daniels? The answer is no, friends. The showrunner is the closest embodiment of the auteur that we get in television, the film director who creates the vision of the show, whereas the directors of each episode merely enforce a level of technical quality. This would not have happened in the era of Friends (though I wager most people would recognize Larry David as the showrunner of Seinfeld, he’s a bit of an exception due to his notoriety following Seinfeld. Can you name the showrunners of Friends? Probably not).
There isn’t really much of a grander point here – just to acknowledge that, as of right now, TV is pretty awesome, and you’re doing yourself a disservice by not sampling the entire platter, as there’s a lot of good things to try.