‘The Revolution Was Televised,’ but does the revolution continue with current TV?

Senior Television Writer
12.01.15 55 Comments

Today, the new, updated edition of “The Revolution Was Televised” – my book about 12 drama series that helped create and define this new Golden Age of television in which we’re currently living – went on sale in physical and digital bookstores around the world, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

As explained in greater detail in this post from last month, the chapters on “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” have been largely rewritten to account not only for the ends of both series (which were still producing new episodes when “Revolution” was first published in 2012), but to revisit certain aspects of each show’s formative years. (Vince Gilligan, for instance, finally explains his plans – two, actually – for the “Breaking Bad” season 1 finale that never got made.) There’s also a new epilogue talking about many of the changes to the TV business as a whole that have happened in the three years since the book’s initial release, smaller changes to some other chapters (factoring in things like “24: Live Another Day,” and David Chase’s recent comments about the end of “The Sopranos”), and a new intro that explains all the changes to the book.

There’s a lot of new material sprinkled throughout, not to mention a snazzy new cover featuring Don Draper on the front and Walter White and Mrs. Coach on the back, and this is the part where I remind you that it would make a handsome holiday gift for the TV lover of your choosing. But I also understand that many of you purchased the book back in 2012 (and/or purchased the second edition when it was picked up by a mainstream publisher in the spring of 2013), and if you simply want the new versions of “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” those are being sold as a joint eBook short for Kindle, Nook, and other digital formats.

In the new intro, I touch on some of the questions I got when the book was first released. The most popular of those was, “If there could have been a 13th show, what would it have been?” (Depending on my mood, the answer is either “Six Feet Under” or “Louie.”) Second to that is a question about dramas from this period in time that weren’t in the book (usually “The West Wing”), to which I always respond that this isn’t a book about the greatest dramas ever made, but about a dozen that in different ways reflected and influenced a transformative time in the industry.

Those two questions sometimes intertwine, though, and people ask me, “Is the revolution over? Will we ever see shows like the ones in this book again?”

This is the counterpoint to the idea of Peak TV in America. Sure, there may be more good to very good scripted shows than ever before, most people will acknowledge, but how many great ones are there? How many will we one day talk about the way we do about “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” or “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad”?

To some degree, eras are fluid. As I noted in an essay earlier this year, “Mad Men” effectively straddled two eras, since it debuted a month after “The Sopranos” ended, but before the current explosion of original content on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Sundance, et al. (It’s one of the biggest inspirations for that explosion, in fact.) The two AMC shows are in the book as the last links in the chain to the current environment, which was already starting to take shape back when I wrote it in 2012, but they belong as much to this period as to the Wild West that gave us Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey, and Jimmy McNulty.

And I have no problem finding current shows that stack up comfortably against many of the ones in the book. Yesterday, I put the finishing touches on my Top 10 list for the year, which will be published next week. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the final season of “Mad Men” is on it, but I ranked it behind recent seasons of several current series I adore, and that I can imagine one day slotting into a spot of whatever the ever-evolving TV canon winds up being.

We can’t do apples-to-apples comparisons because the newer shows haven’t completed their runs yet, and thus can’t be compared to a “Wire” or a “Breaking Bad.” And because the TV viewing audience is more fragmented than ever due to this abundance of choice, consensus on the best of the era seems tougher to come by than ever, particularly while we’re in the middle of these shows rather than years into their afterlife. (“The Wire” didn’t become most people’s favorite show ever until years after it had been canceled, and look at the huge ratings for the final “Breaking Bad” season versus the tiny ones for the first.) Right now, I’m compiling ballots for this year’s HitFix Television Critics Poll (also coming next week), and it’s striking how varied the lists are. A few shows pop up on lots of ballots, but even they tend to wind up anywhere from first place to tenth, and I’ve seen ballots where the top-ranked show was one that literally no one else voted for anywhere. Last year, “The Leftovers” was my top-rated show – and a current series I would have no problem pitting against many of the great dramas from the early part of the century – but it wound up on only a handful of critics’ ballots and didn’t even finish in the overall top 20.

Because there are so many shows to choose from these days, because so many of them are targeted at an even more niche audience than something like “The Wire” or “Mad Men” were when they started, and because we’re in the middle of their runs rather than past them, it’s harder to look at the current TV class and see as many inner circle Hall of Famers as there were, say, in 2004 (when HBO alone had new seasons of “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” and “Deadwood”). But jump ahead a decade from now, and I can easily imagine someone penning a book about TV in the 2010s, dealing with the many ways that “Louie,” “Game of Thrones,” “Orange Is the New Black,” “Transparent,” “Fargo” and a whole lot more continued transforming the way we watched and thought about the medium.

What does everybody else think? Are we still in a Hall of Fame era, or have we gradually eased into an abundance of Hall of the Very Good types?

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