Once upon a time—the turn of the 21st century—in a land that now seems far away—Jersey—a man named Tony crossed the New York border into North Caldwell, New Jersey, where he drove past some delis and bakeries and rolled up a pristine path to his gigantic driveway. And so began the Golden Age of television. In the modern Golden Age, maverick auteurs like David Chase (The Sopranos), David Simon (The Wire), Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad), and Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) took a novel versus a traditional, serialized approach to television. The Golden Age took the workplace drama (Mad Men), the crime drama (The Wire), the western (Deadwood), the mobster tale (The Sopranos) and whatever Lost was and complicated them with anti-heroes and deep, complex writing. The Golden Age was defined by a few great shows, the best to ever grace the medium, that everyone watched, talked about, and experienced at the same time. Sunday nights with HBO or AMC became a sacred ritual.
But the good times couldn’t last. When Walter White bowed out in 2013 with an Emmy in hand and to universal admiration, Gilligan rode out into the sunset. It marked the beginning of the end of the Golden Age. In place of Golden Age programming, a multitude of genre shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones rose up as Mad Men carried the Golden Age into its twilight, limping along at times.
At the 2015 Emmy’s though, that golden twilight finally faded away. It was David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, creators of Game of Thrones, not Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner who won Best Drama and earned the last words on TV’s “biggest” night. In their speech, the American showrunners of the world’s biggest show describe how all across the world—in Morocco, North Ireland, ect—a Thrones production crew would wake in the morning, and they’d be off. It’s a different kind of ambition than Weiner’s and his auter companions, one than spans outward rather than inward.
It was a symbolic moment, the Emmys are good for those at least. And so began the Silver Age in earnest—a time of a million different shows in a million different places. Television has gone from ornate to overwhelming. As the demand for good television went up, and the cable channels’ funding and streaming services’ money continued to flood in. Good television spread across the land. Exceptional quality gave way to a large quantity of (just) really good shows. And we’re left wondering what to do with a stuffed DVR and a ballooning Netflix queue. Welcome to the Silver Age of television.
Featured Image By Breck Wills / Heights Editor