5 Things that Transformed Television this Decade

The TV Addict (left) with J.J. Abrams at FRINGE’s launch party, August 2008

BEFORE: Friendships were destroyed, plans were broken and sporting events were left early as TV Addicts everywhere desperately attempt to get home in time for the say, the WHO’S THE BOSS/GROWING PAINS series finales. True Story.
AFTER: TV shows start when YOU want them to! Heck, 20 minutes late if possible so that one can easily (Note to advertisers, stop reading now) fast-forward through commercials.

The Internet
BEFORE: The internet was reserved for the original biggest losers: tech savvy nerds early-adopters who spent the better part of their evenings debating the relative merits of STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES versus STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.
AFTER: Those biggest losers have morphed into one of NBC’s only ratings bright spots, the tech savvy early-adopters are now internet billionaires, while the internet is the gift that keeps on giving. Allowing fans to watch their favorite shows at the click of a mouse while providing them with a virtual community in which to discuss the relative merits of THE SIMPSONS versus FAMILY GUY (Okay, so not everything has changed!)

The Viewers
BEFORE: Viewers were in essence powerless peons whose value to networks were measured by one, well two things: Their eyeballs.
AFTER: Thanks to the internet — and by extension social media such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, blogs, podcasts, and Whedonesque — viewers have been given a powerful bully pulpit in which to be heard. And oh yeah, networks are listening. Just ask the casts of CHUCK, DOLLHOUSE and JERICHO.

Reality TV
BEFORE: Next to the infomercial, reality television was once considered television’s lowest common denominator, relegated to lowly cable networks.
AFTER: While still relatively inexpensive to produce, reality television now hangs over a network schedule like a Sword of Damocles. Where a new comedy or drama has about two weeks to attract an audience. That or risk getting yanked off the air for the next WHO WANTS TO MARRY A TOP UNDERCOVER SURVIVOR IDOL which is patiently waiting in the wings.

J.J. Abrams
BEFORE: We passively watched television.
AFTER: We immerse ourselves in it. Watch, re-watch, analyze, discuss, attend conventions, scream at our television as a Bon Jovi performance delays the unforgettable post-Super Bowl ALIAS episode until almost 11pm eastern, and repeat. For better or worse, ALIAS and LOST transformed network television drama, providing audiences with dense mythologies and unforgettable characters that have had an immeasurable influence on many shows since (See: FLASHFORWARD, THE NINE, FRINGE, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, DOLLHOUSE to name a few.)

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  • Dave

    The DVR is easily one of the best inventions of recent times. I still remember when I had another tv running with a vcr recording a show as I was watching another in a different room. DVR has made me now more of a tv addict as on some nights like thursday and monday I have two dvrs recording two shows each at the same time. Hi my name is Dave and I am an addict.

  • Ace

    Good list :). This really has been a crazy decade for TV. When I think back to how I watched TV in 2000 to how I watch it now it is insane. I don’t think I could have imagined 10 years ago being able to watch a show you missed on-line. Dial-up was way too slow for that! Not to mention TV on DVD. Those didn’t exist either (what a sad time).

    Also, totally agree on the JJ Abrams part. I hope the new show he has in development will be as good as his others. Shows like LOST show another way that TV has changed so much in the last few years. As soon as a show is over, you can go online and discuss it will thousands of other people who love it as much as you do.

  • Dave,

    1) Admitting you have a problem is the first step in the road to recovery. And just to make you feel a little better about your addiction, before I went to Europe for six weeks after first year university, I wrote up a schedule for my mom who was left with the responsibility of putting in different video tapes (remember those?) on different days to ensure my myriad of programs were waiting for me upon my return!

  • Excellent list! Couldn’t agree more.

  • TVFan

    My two cents:

    TV Ratings:
    Before: They were the only way to measure if a series was a hit.
    After: They’re inconsequential seeing as though they fail to measure who watches shows online, which is how many people watch TV these days.

  • AJ

    you knew you were an addict when you planned a vacation based on the 6 hours available on your video tape and agonized over which shows would and wouldn’t make “the cut”.

    now, since most are available online, it’s GREAT!!! if I can’t watch something “live”, there are many other options!!! =D

  • Dave

    Thinking more about it the internet really has changed so much for tv. Look at the popularity of Hulu. That and the now all but standard to offer the shows online a day after they air(except you fox, I still hate you for that) And even things like torrents and file sharing has given way to download old shows that were either short lived or just have not been released on dvd.

  • Nick

    Many of you are too young to recall the days when we had no cable, no VCR and no internet. And we’re talking mid-80s, here. You watched one show on one channel, and rarely ever got to see the competition. Taping changed everything.

    Network execs need to find innovative ways to make the DVR viewer pay off for them. Ads incorporated into shows (fast-forward lockout, or something), more product placement, more entertaining ads, more ad pop-ups during actual programming…whatever it takes to keep the advertisers happy. Because without them, TV ceases to exist…and no one wants that.

  • I disagree with the J.J. Abrams part. You just as easily could say the same thing about David Lynch, Chris Carter, and Joss Whedon for the 90s.

  • It is quite insulting that someone would think that LOST had any kind of effect whatsever on shows like Dollhouse or Battlestar Galactica. For one thing, Joss Whedon was creating dense worlds with inclusive mythology with BUFFY, ANGEL and FIREFLY quite a LONG time before LOST was even a thought in JJ Abram’s head. Second of all, Battlestar Galactica is BASED ON A SHOW FROM THE 70’S. If you want to claim that knock-off shows like The Nine of FlashForward were influenced by Abrams, then you’d be correct, since both shows are just cheap knock-offs of LOST. But BSG and Dollhouse are worlds of their own and neither’s deep mythology has anything to do with the poorly written, surface mythology of LOST. Saying so just makes you sound ignorant.. tr watching the shows and learning the history before you make comments like this.

  • Wanda

    I hear ya’ Nick!

    I remember being on my own, 21 years old, and making my first major purchase: a 19″ cable-ready tv with a, (wait for it)…….REMOTE CONTROL!!! It was 1985 and I was big-league now! My parents called me “spoiled and lazy”.

    My 2 cents:
    High-definition broadcasting. Football has never looked better. And as a 49ers fan, I need better more than ever….

  • J

    Joss Whedon was already a mythology master years before the silly Lost first aired. And unforgettable characters? I still see Buffy mentioned everywhere — everyone knows the name Buffy — but I hardly see Jen Garner in Alias or any Lost characters mentioned… and weren’t they supposed to be the unforgettable ones?

  • Dear Byrd and J,

    I by no means meant to infer that JJ Abrams invented the concept of mythology. I only meant that the success of LOST made the mythology heavy show far more palpable to nervous TV execs who would much prefer the write-by-numbers easy to follow procedurals that CBS specializes in.

  • House_Draven

    Take off Abrams, if you would, please. Joss Whedon was doing all he did and more a decade earlier. I know Abrams is trendy, but really, he’s sort of lacking in substance. As for saying that “Lost” affected “Dollhouse” — seriously,dude, share whatever drugs you’re on with the rest of us. As for BSG — it was a *remake* of a ’70s show!

    As for saying that before Abrams we passively watched television — you’ve been living in a black hole somewhere. There have been innumerable discussion boards, conventions, “watercooler shows” etc. etc. etc. long before Abrams came around.

    *Have* you been living under a rock?

  • Brandon

    byrd and J pretty much covered what I was thinking. Other than that, the list is fine.

  • Mikw

    Great list! As to dense mythology… It had certainly been done long before JJ Abrams, but Abrams helped bring it to the mainstream. There were awesome writers and producers who did it before (Whedon, Straczynski) , but they didn’t have succesful big primetime network slots.

  • bws

    My, my, aren’t the Whedon-aholics out in force today. Bottom line, Abrams did his stuff at a time when DVRs were taking off and you could do story arcs that lasted more than 3 episodes. Sure, Whedon did it before with Buffy… the problem is that the number of people who cared and who he reached was FAR, FAR LESS.

    Besides, comparing Abrams to Whedon is kind of pointless. He’s not the showrunner of LOST. I would say Buffy had more of an impact on female roles on television than actual mythology writing or sci-fi writing.

    In fairness, I would place HDTV in there. I would say it’s easily #2 behind DVRs.

  • Whedon Fan

    byrd, Flash Forward isn’t a knockoff influenced by Lost. It’s based on a novel, so should be counted alongside BSG.

    Mikw, I’m not sure how it was in the US, but in the UK Buffy and Babylon 5 had major primetime slots.

  • Andrew

    Don’t credit JJ Abrams with Dollhouse’s mythology. That’s all Joss Whedon – he started going deep and twisty into his shows starting with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997) LONG before Alias (2001) came around.

  • Whedon Fan

    bws, so because Abrams did it when recording shows was easier all others should be ignored? I think the fact that others were doing it when you couldn’t easily go back and see where a story arc came from, yet still had to be accessible, puts them in higher regard.

  • yosafbridge

    As much as I love Whedon…. Chris Carter was doing the long myth-arc thing on X-files long before anyone was thinking about Buffy or Lost.

  • Ace

    Dude, how did this become a Whedon vs. Abrams debate? They are both amazing creators and giving one respect doesn’t in any way detract from the other. I think the thing about Abrams is that he has managed to make sci-fi more accessible to everyday viewers (which I’m sure some others would say was a bad thing). My mother-in-law would never watch a regular sci-fi show, but she loves the humanity of the characters on LOST. Not that Whedon’s characters don’t have that! And hopefully the big network success (something that Whedon has not had :() of LOST will give networks the courage to back big pictures shows more in the future. But maybe instead of just saying Abrams, TVA should have gone with a category like “the fearless creator”. That could have included Abrams, Whedon, Bryan Fuller and others who make TV that is actually interesting.

  • Mikw

    Buffy and B5 definitely did not even remotely have big slots over here, and were far, far less popular than Alias or Lost.

    Also, BSG is based on a 70s show, yes, but that show bears very, very little resemblance to the show of the 00s.

  • Mikw

    Ace, agreed. Both are extremely talented and have made very big ripples in how TV is made.

  • rehabber

    I go with the DVR being #1, I record EVERYTHING, even the news so I don’t have to watch more ED commercials. If companies would understand when you show the same ad over and over in an hour show it drives people crazy, now it does not have to. Just pass right by it. I do still stop and watch entertaining commercial, but there are just not enough of those around. Maybe the DVR will make them work harder to get us to watch.

    The only Abrams show I have ever watched is Fringe, but have not missed any of Whedon.

  • AO

    I love the work of both Whedon and Abrams and can accept the argument that their shows have been more popularly successful, with Lost the best commercially received of the bunch. But in terms of mythology, what J. Michael Straczynski did in BABYLON 5 (1994) was both grander and came earlier.

  • Colleen

    And by JJ Abrams, don’t you mean Joss Whedon? Or even Chris Carter? Gene Roddenberry? Doctor Who?

    He hardly invented interactive TV. Didn’t really have that much to do with Lost either, from what I understand.

  • JJ Abrams is a mastermind genius.

  • bws

    Also, the title of the post is THIS DECADE. If memory serves, Whedon had a better 90s than 00s. He wasn’t the showrunner of Buffy the last couple of years of Buffy and Angel was… meh. Of course, Dollhouse had probably the biggest promise unfulfilled of the decade. Dr. Horrible was great… but short lived. So there’s that. Sorry, I just don’t put Whedon in the TV pantheon. Abrams either really. He’s more of an idea man than a showrunner. But for that, hell yes. I don’t think anyone can dispute that Abrams “ideas” were top-notch this past 10 years. He is going to be rolling in so much cash over the next 10 years, it’s unfathomable.

    That said, we are truly living in the golden age of TV right now. There is more quality stuff out there than every before – shows that challenge the viewer to read more, research topics, interact with other viewers. And this largely due to #1, the DVR, and the Internet tying it all together.

  • Allie

    I don’t dispute the reasons that put J.J. Abrams on the list, but I don’t think that he trumps something mentioned in another comment: TV on DVD. DVD sets have had a HUGE effect on television this decade. Networks and studios and such give a lot more chances to certain shows when they think about how many DVDs it will sell. In fact, a lot of TV shows that were canceled got back on the air because people went crazy buying the DVDs and they realized, hey, if we make more episodes of this show, we can sell more DVDs, and make almost as much money as we do from advertisers.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Wow All those people complaining about not mentioning Whedon are completely and unsurprisingly ignoring the fact that BOTH of Whedon’s shows in the ’00s died on their pompous asses. Wanna talk about his influence in the 90s fine, but in the 00s all the vampire shows out there have rather more to do with the excerable Twilight than the quip-happy but brain-dead Slayer.

    Oh and Lost wasn’t Abrams’ show? Maybe not, but let’s not forget David Fury has interviewed as saying that until Season 5 Joss was rarely around Angel.

  • Ace

    Allie — Totally agree. If it weren’t for TV on DVD, I think Family Guy would have stayed cancelled. But I guess you can also put that in the “viewers” collumn since it was their buying the DVDs that helped. As someone who is catching up with three shows on DVD during the winter slump (Madmen, Battlestar, and FNL), I don’t know what we did before them! Actually, I do…when we were kids, my one friend’s dad would get four episodes of MASH on VHS a month and we thought it was the greatest thing ever :-P.

  • Dave

    Wow. Whedon lovers are out strong on this topic dange. TVA didn’t say he invented mythos tv or anything like that. It is a simple fact that JJ’s shows Lost and Alias made networks a lot more open to mythos tv as of late. He showed that you didn’t have to spoon feed your audience to get a good show that has a following. What show has whedon done thats had wide success? Buffy and angel were both on wb/cw was never that “huge”. His shows of late have all flopped. If anything id say Whedon could be credited for fan following. When he gets a fan he keeps them around and they follow him to every show. I’d rather he stick with comics I always thought his shows have been overrated.

  • Laura

    The Whedon fan reaction is coming from the claim that Lost’s mythology influenced Dollhouse when Whedon had actually been doing the deep mythology thing prior to Lost’s conception. But as Dave said, the TVA was talking about how Abrams made it popular on big networks (giving a mythology-heavy show like Dollhouse a chance at life on Fox). He wasn’t saying Whedon got the idea from Abrams.

    So all the arguing in the comments is pretty much moot.

  • SaneN85

    Laura, I beg to differ. All the arguing has given me faith that I may not have as big of a TV addiction as I had thought compared to others.

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