HBO’s raising of the bar for television has inevitably spawned imitators. It is difficult to imagine AMC’s smoothly-paced Mad Men or Showtime’s explicit comedy drama Californication without HBO’s boundary-breaking antecedents. Even traditional networks have upped their game: ABC’s zesty mockumentary Modern Family has just won its second Emmy for outstanding comedy series. A benign cycle is under way.
Viewers are being treated with intelligence and respect, and TV as an art form is rising rapidly through the ranks. A cultural paradox is playing itself out: as previously elitist art forms such as contemporary art become more accessible (and in many cases more superficial), the mass entertainment industry of television has begun to nurture its own elites.