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The Dark Side of TV Series - Now and Then

The darkness. The darkness. Having grown up with the likes of Magnum P.I., MacGyver, The A-Team, Airwolf, Who's the Boss? and The Golden Girls, a person's view of everything is probably skewed. For instance, you may think entertainment has grown much darker, edgier and geared towards the young who apparently wield a considerable amount of buying power and leverage. Watching these shows now, however much innuendo you missed with The Golden Girls... it's easy to see innocence lost.

Go Edgy or Broke

The family-friendly action-adventure and comedy peril of the aforementioned '80s series is no longer a marker for entertainment. Streaming services have become the go-to for people nowadays, which has broadened the overall offering with a seemingly limitless amount of series to choose from. Part of delivering such a glut of shows is trying to distinguish one from another.

Keeping up ratings, maintaining an audience, grabbing a casual viewer's attention... it's difficult to keep up as a viewer and arguably even more so as a show runner in trying to create entertainment that hooks audiences and keeps them coming back for more.

In the '80s, you had a captive market who you had to appease but there were fewer choices, which typically meant you'd get enough of a buy-in from simply existing and being not half bad. Keeping things mainstream, it was amazing just how enjoyable these shows were without having to pander to the darkness. Nowadays the pressure to grab your viewer within 8 seconds, compel them, appease them and tease them into wanting more is paramount.

Biased Demographics

This ageism was easy to see when Boston Legal was cancelled, creating wonderfully nutty legal comedy drama that seemed to favour slightly older audiences. As much as Alan Shore and Denny Crane were one of the best on-screen pairings with David E. Kelley creating one great season after another... it ended with a 13 episode fifth season.

The show's social media identity was recently updated, after years, which could mean something's bubbling under. Since the show came at a time when red versus blue was so inflamed, spewing forth brilliant debates about the United States of the early 2000s, we could see a return. Fingers crossed!

Narrative Arcs

Show formats were quite formulaic, episodic and didn't rely on you having seen the episode before or after. These shows were often created like standalone condensed movies where you could pack everything into the space of 42 minutes with 18 minutes of advert breaks to help push the channel's advertisers. Don't miss that! There were loose narrative arcs that would spill over an entire season to aid storytelling but in most cases you had to simply like the basic set up and what often felt like a rinse and repeat.

TV Broadcast Timing

Not knowing who was specifically watching the glowing living room box during prime time, there were obviously certain prerequisites and guidelines around what could and couldn't be screened. Dallas and Twin Peaks were deemed to be adult shows, which had later time slots, making it easier to screen more mature content later in the night. This made it a good idea to get the kids to bed by 8pm. So the darker shows have been around but it just seems sad that it's become so difficult to captivate an audience with lighter entertainment.

The weekly episodic structure kept you coming back for more and there were some nights where it was just irresistible not to veg in front of the television. Recording VHS tapes, you got the ads from the age and had to try and avoid ruining the rewatch experience with too much fast-forwarding. It was next-level at the time, being able to replicate episodes at will.

Watching MacGyver use store bought products and utensils to build a bomb probably wasn't the best messaging for kids who already had a thing for firecrackers but his inventive no-guns expertise spoke volumes at the time. Watching some of these shows now, there's a vast divide in terms of innocence, echoing a time where heroes didn't need a fatal flaw and could just keep foiling evil again and again.

Pure Escapism

Now with the ability to binge watch a whole season in one sitting after its release, consumerism and instant gratification is at an all-time high. Shows need to have a kicker and it's just sad how much isn't deemed pure or suitable for family viewing. Positive messaging is nice but nice doesn't sell series.