A byproduct of this so-called “golden age of TV” has been the breaking of many of TV's “golden rules.”
They were unwritten, unofficial rules, of course. But over the past dozen years, with the explosion of cable channels and online outlets, many TV taboos aren't necessarily taboos any more. Here are five of them:
MOVIE STARS STICK TO MOVIES
Okay, I don't expect to see Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie in a sitcom or a police procedural any time soon, so there still is an element of this at play. But just about every month there's an announcement of yet another well-established movie person moving to the small screen. Just off the top of my head, the recent list includes James Spader, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Bacon, Anna Faris and Matthew McConaughey. Many of them lament that the only movies being made these days are superhero blockbusters, and only about seven people star in all of them. From acting and writing and producing perspectives, TV has benefited from that shift. For story-telling right now, TV has left movies in the dark.
MAJOR CHARACTERS ARE SAFE
In the past, about the only time a major character on a TV show ever was killed off, it was because the actor or actress involved wanted to leave, or was in a contract dispute, or had become a colossal pain in the ass behind the scenes. But especially with the surge in high-quality cable fare, significant characters now die regularly for plot purposes exclusively. No one is safe, my friends (notwithstanding the recent Brian Griffin bait-and-switch on Family Guy).
CITIES HAVE TO BE ANONYMOUS
The thought used to be that audiences couldn't relate to specific cities if they didn't happen to live in those specific cities. But many TV shows have become like mini-movies every week, and they often use cities as virtual characters, adding nuance and atmosphere to the proceedings (regardless of whether the shows actually are shot where they're set). Viewers now tend to roll their eyes when a series is set in an anonymous locale. That doesn't feel real enough for audiences anymore.
SEASONS LITERALLY MEAN SOMETHING
Another direct impact of cable flexing its muscles is the jettisoning of the traditional TV calendar. Remember when a “TV season” actually was tied to the word “season”? TV shows started in the fall. They ran until the spring. Summers were filled with reruns and goofy variety shows. These days, big-time debuts, on cable or broadcast or Netflix, can occur at any time of the year. There is no such thing as a TV off-season.
RERUNS ARE ACCEPTABLE
No, they're not. Reruns aren't just a minor annoyance any more, they are a source of great confusion to viewers, who have grown used to the cable model, i.e., 10 or 12 episodes per year, aired in consecutive weeks, save perhaps for national holidays. When audiences see a rerun now, often their first reaction is that someone has screwed up. The days of padding in this manner are over. Twenty years from now, will “rerun” be a completely obsolete word? Will anyone even know what it means?