We are in a golden age of television right now. TVEnthusiast will be celebrating this golden age through the holiday season with 10 feature articles, each focusing on 1 year of television in the golden age.
2007: The Rising Importance of the Showrunner
2007 was all over the place as far as themes in television, but some important debuts established its importance among the years of the golden age of television we find ourselves in. Chuck and Burn Notice had very different takes on espionage. Damages took us into the world of high profile class-action lawsuits. Big Bang Theory debuted as a quirky sitcom that would one day take over the world. Bryan Fuller expanded what could be expected from television production values with Pushing Daisies. NBC’s Bionic Woman proved once and for all that throwing everything you have at a problem wont fix it. But perhaps most notably, AMC stepped into the original content game with Mad Men. But the real impact of 2007 wouldn’t be felt until 2008, with the approaching writers strike publically putting a spotlight on the role, and importance of, the Showrunner.
2007 was a year of societal change. Seen as the end of the Agrarian age, 2007 was the first year in which the population of cities surpassed that of rural areas. The full effects of such a monumental shift will come into play slowly, as a transition, with cultural priorities shifting towards metropolitan living. The country of Mauritania outlawed slavery, which had been officially abolished in 1981. As such, slavery became illegal across the globe. Though illegal slavery still exists, and legal slavery has been outside of the cultural zeitgeist of most countries for decades, 2007 marks the first year in which slavery is a criminal offense in every corner of the world.
Apple unveiled their revolutionary iPhone in 1997. Though not the first smartphone on the market, Apple’s entrance to the field transitioned smartphones from a rare geek toy to a common device around the world. Apple’s involvement in the field spurred Google to become more invested in their own plans, which have grown dramatically in emerging markets where poor families without access to computers now have internet connected devices in the palm of their hands. The eventual result of smartphone technology is the faster globalization of society. As technology continues to advance in communications, the world will become smaller and more interconnected. Combined with the prevalence of Video on Demand services like Youtube, content can now be sent to the entire world from virtually anywhere in it.
2007 also marked the release of the final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Deathly Hallows sold 11 million copies in its first day of release and is now the fastest selling book of all time. Harry Potter introduced several generations to pleasure reading and, as such, to longer serialized storytelling. Many current TV shows are based on long running book series that grew in popularity thanks largely to Harry Potter’s influence.
Bionic Woman – Too Many Cooks.
The story of Bionic Woman isn’t one of success, nor is it one of great television, or even positive influence. The story of Bionic Woman is one of failure. The subheader for this segment, Too Many Cooks, sums up the problems with the show. Bionic Woman was pushed by the network rather than the talent in charge of it. NBC wanted to manufacture audience interest. They hired great talent, and they gave the project a lofty budget, but unfortunately they treated the making of the show like a manufacturing job. NBC threw new Showrunners at the project like you might imagine firemen drowning a fire under excess gallons of water, but the chaos and strife it caused in production, when paired with the impending writers strike, destroyed the show from within. As 2008 would prove once and for all, the importance of a strong Showrunner to a show is paramount to its stability.
Mad Men – AMC Takes the Stage.
Mad Men is an important show to the growth of television largely due to its position as AMCs first strong scripted series. Mad Men showed a commitment to strong scripted content from AMC that was later reinforced with 2008’s Breaking Bad, and 2010’s The Walking Dead. Though AMC has had its growing pains in dealing with budgets and negotiations for such high profile content, their entry as a top tier channel for high quality content mirrors the current growth of Netflix and Amazon in those directions, as well as Spike’s recent interest in scripted shows.
Outside of the network itself, Mad Men is perhaps the most accurate and meaningful depiction of its chosen era, the time between 1960 and the early 1970s. The concept is brilliant as a means of exploring the era. Mad Men follows the men and woman of a Madison Avenue advertising agency through the most culturally malleable era of the modern age. Great writing, great performances, and exceptional attention to historical detail brings us into the era itself through the lens of commercialism, while exposing the dirt conveniently left off the record of history.
Chuck and Burn Notice – 2 Ways to Tackle Modern Espionage.
2007 gave us 2 great spy dramas to chew on. Chuck, a fantastical comedy with near future science fiction touches and a melodramatic but cute love story. And Burn Notice, a MacGyver-esque procedural about a down and out spy in series with real life-hack credibility. Both shows were on the lighter side of espionage, with elements of comic relief, and a lot of fun adventure, but the shows also contained key differences in storytelling. Both shows helped to introduce a flood of espionage series to television screens.
Chuck was handled almost like a superhero series, with the protagonist living a dual life, protecting his superpower from an evil organization, while his family and friends were none the wiser. Chuck’s powers were gifted to him in an act of desperation from a former friend. Though initially on track for a real life in espionage, Chuck’s friend derailed this (unknown to Chuck) path in order to protect him. Now brought into this life against his wishes or knowledge, Chuck is a fish out of water in a world of ruthless killers and seductive spies.
Burn Notice featured a highly skilled operative with realistic human abilities, and a penchant for trouble-making. Together with his group of highly skilled friends and assets, protagonist Michael Westen finds clever means of solving little side projects while he tries to figure out why he had a burn notice placed on him that locks him down to his Miami, Florida hometown. Westen uses trickery and his skills as a former covert operative to bring small measures of justice and peace to those who hire him, all while he tries desperately to get back in the field as a full time spy.
2007 was a year in which the role of the Showrunner came into sharper focus for studios and audiences alike. Stay with us throughout the holidays as we explore more years of our current golden age. Participate in the discussion in our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows.