Clearly the networks have ceded Sunday night to the cable channels, where this past weekend you could have watched the “Game of Thrones” finale and premieres for “Ray Donovan” and Shark Week. Even the august “60 Minutes” rated only a 0.8.
Overlooking the threat of nuclear war that had us ducking and covering under our school desks, I look back to the days of national appointment TV like “The Lone Ranger,” “Ed Sullivan,” “The Honeymooners,” “Gunsmoke" and “I Love Lucy” with some affection.
There was something warmly communal that nearly every human you came into contact with the day after an episode had watched it and had an opinion.
Was it great TV? Probably not, but it was shared in a personal way that even social media can't replicate today. It made us all feel like neighbors — in contrast to the world today where we seem to be splintering into hundreds of xenophobic special-interest groups that pretend to care about others, but quietly resent their growing influence or power.
At the same time, what had been television has similarly splintered into hundreds if not thousands of iterations from subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, to hundreds of cable channels to online video produced professionally and by rank amateurs.
We went from a world where "nothing is on" to "everything is on, all the time,” now tasked with managing when and how to watch shows we like before someone else in our circle (who saw it earlier) drops a spoiler into the conversation.
And almost nothing is a "national" communal experience any more, with the exception of breaking news (usually bad) and the Super Bowl. We are instead divided into subgroups of “Game of Thrones,” “Downton Abby” or “Fargo” watchers. Meanwhile the programming, in an attempt to appeal to audiences raised on theatrical movies and early HBO, has gotten violent, misogynistic and, in many ways, stereotypical.
Make no mistake, I am a huge fan of much of the current scripted dramas that offer lots of gore and full-frontal, from “Banshee” to “Vikings," from “Feed the Beast” to “Peaky Blinders” (hell, I even liked “Vinyl”), but nothing feels universal or communal.
I miss that.