If you compare the very best television shows of today to the very best television shows of thirty or forty years ago, there’s no comparison. The old best shows are crud compared to very best shows available today. One reason, at least, is the rise of cable: the evasion of boneheaded Puritan censorship it has permitted and the pressure of competition it has brought to bear. The basic possibilities of story and character didn’t need to evolve; literature and even movies were old by the 1970s and 1980s, with many brilliant classics to emulate. But that heritage was rarely fully exploited. It was thought that all TV needed was a formula and a few likeable and charismatic characters that people would enjoy seeing again next week.
The shows that made an impression on me as a kid were stuff like “Star Trek,” in reruns; “The Avengers,” in reruns (Emma Peel seasons especially); “The Brady Bunch,” “Six Million Dollar Man,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Mission Impossible”; later, “Dallas” (with a story arc continuing from episode to episode, but in meandering and endless soap-opera fashion). Not all of that once-compulsively watchable fare is unwatchable now, but it’s all pretty thin. “The Prisoner,” to a lesser extent early “Columbo,” and maybe a few others I don’t know about tried harder.
Production values have advanced, but above all the scripts have advanced. Was there anything way back when as compelling as “Lost,” “24,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” or the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” (surely not the original “Battlestar Galactica”)? I’m not gainsaying the allure of megawatt star power, just saying the crowd-hypnotizing stars of those days would have much better stuff to work with if they could have been stars today.
Hence, even if Obama and his ilk succeed in destroying the economy and plunging America and the world into a new Dark Age, all is not lost. And that’s really the moral for today. So long as we can hold on to our digital TVs and keep a remnant of the interwebs running, and keep enough dry goods in hidden storage units to last a decade or so, we who survive will enjoy access to a fairly large backlog of truly fine and entertaining television, large enough to sporadically distract us from our despair as our once great civilization sputters, careens, clanks and hiccups into oblivion. Problem solved.