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.
2008: The Effects of a Strike Season
2008 was a strong but brief year for television, with the WGA writers strike in full effect, most series had significantly abbreviated seasons, though those brief seasons tended to be among the best of those series’ runs. Several strong new shows debuted as well, with True Blood, Fringe, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles tackling various aspects of genre television, and Generation Kill and Sons of Anarchy presenting gritty and violent border pushing dramas. In the UK, Charlie Brooker combined the growing zombie trend with hit reality series Big Brother to deliver a high concept horror miniseries called Dead Set, and The Inbetweeners brought us fast paced witty comedy. Biggest of all in 2008 was the debut of AMC’s Breaking Bad, which would go on to be one of the highest rated shows in TV history.
With the financial crisis of 2009 on the horizon, signs of worldwide economic calamity were everywhere. The sub-prime mortgage debacle of 2007 spurred overly cautious behavior in investors, which began to deteriorate the various stock markets. Meanwhile, Bernard “Bernie” Madoff was arrested by the U.S. federal government for the largest financial fraud in recorded history. Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme for decades that spanned thousands of victimized investors for nearly $20 billion. Financial woes in the United States pushed production of many TV shows and movies out of the country, and raised the prominence of foreign investors in US entertainment productions.
The 2008 Summer Olympics was held in Beijing, China, with the world’s eyes glued to the rising international superpower. Beijing put on an exhaustingly intricate display of their capabilities with the construction of multiple high profile arenas and auditoriums, and a stunning opening ceremony that included over 15,000 performers and cost over $100,000,000 to produce. The united States topped the total medals count with 110, while China topped the Gold medal count with 51. US Swimmer Michael Phelps bested the record for number of medals earned in a single Olympics by winning 8 Gold medals. The 2008 Olympics were a symbol of China’s growing influence as a world power which has greatly influenced the production of high budget films in recent years. As Chinese power continues to grow, their role in the international entertainment industry grows with it. It is only a matter of time until we see a major push in television production from China as well.
2008 was the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the releases of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, 2 separate movies set in the same universe with direct cross-over elements, and unprecedented building blocks towards an ever expanding film continuity. Marvel Comics’ chief rival DC made waves themselves with the release of Christopher Nolan’s second Batman movie, The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight featured a brilliant portrayal of its key villain the Joker by Australian actor Heath Ledger, who unfortunately passed away in 2008 as well, before the release of The Dark Knight. DC bested Marvel in critical reception and box office returns, but Marvel’s world building would eventually prove to be the better business strategy. As Marvel’s Cinematic Universe continues to expand, DC has begun to take cues by moving in a similar direction with their upcoming slate of DC film projects. Marvel has expanded their Cinematic Universe into television as well, and while DC has a stronger TV presence at this time, their TV and Film continuities are not shared.
True Blood – The Vampire Craze Moves to Television
Following the explosive success of Twilight, it was no surprise to see Vampires and Werewolves come back to TV in multiple forms. When HBO launched True Blood it was kind of the anti-Twilight. With its gore, sex, and satire, True Blood was a respite from the angst driven puritanical “storytelling” of Twilight. Unfortunately, as with much satire, True Blood quickly lost its teeth, and went out with a whimper in 2014.
Sons of Anarchy – Motorcycles, Bromance, and Total Creative Control
Sons of Anarchy, more than anything, is a testament to the creative freedom possible, given the right circumstances. Most cable and network drama episodes run a standard 40-some minutes stretched out to an even 60 with commercials. Sons of Anarchy episodes often ran 10 to 20 minutes over the 60 minute slot, sometimes much more. FX was also known to be rather hands off in the production of the series. Showrunner Kurt Sutter’s free reign dealings with FX will be the most influential aspect of the series. Sutter recently signed a large development contract with FX after beginning pre-production of Sons of Anarchy’s final season, which came to a close earlier this month.
Breaking Bad – Character Development and Severe Consequences
The best thing to come out of 2008 was AMC’s second big grab at the original content crown. Breaking Bad came to us from Showrunner Vince Gilligan, who previously worked as a writer and producer on The X-Files. Starring Malcolm in the Middle’s Bryan Cranston as brilliant chemist Walter White (a role that won the actor 4 Emmy awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series), Breaking Bad declared the superiority of the long form storytelling of television over film with exquisitely deep character development and constant callbacks to the consequences of previous actions. Breaking Bad is now seen by many as one of the greatest TV shows in television history.
Breaking Bad made unapologetic use of several overt storytelling techniques, Chekhov’s Gun, for example, the idea that everything seen must come to a use. If we, the viewers, see a clear shot of a gun, the gun WILL be used. Breaking Bad used Chekhov’s Gun as a means of creating tension through foreshadowing. As an audience we would know something was going to happen, but we wouldn’t know when, or even what. When properly executed, Chekhov’s Gun can produce near heart stopping levels of tension in a story. Few stories have used it as well as Breaking Bad. Though the almost deterministic nature of the foreshadowing gave the series a heightened sensibility that threatened to clash with the series naturalistic grit, Vince Gilligan was able to achieve an almost inconceivable balance between the 2 often contrary agents.
2008 was the year in which audiences everywhere came to know the title Showrunner, as the role became more significant, and the audience, more sophisticated. 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.