May 23, 2013 Updated: May 23, 2013 at 11:55 am
In the 1970s, during the prime of my TV viewing years, if I wanted to watch a television show, I had only three channels to choose from. (I'm certain no kid in the '70s watched PBS, so I'm not counting it.) Viewers were at the mercy of ABC, NBC and CBS and whatever they decided to air. Not sitting in front of your TV set during the latest episode of "Starsky & Hutch" or "Charlie's Angels?" Sorry, you missed it, until reruns circled back around. Back in the day, television shows were appointment viewing only.
Yes, I know. I sound like an old man who had to walk to school uphill both ways in 30 feet of snow. But if you compare television now to what we used to think was good TV, the differences are astounding.
Fewer forms of media have evolved more rapidly than television. But it's in the past 10 years, with the growth of the Internet, where that evolution of TV has seen more changes than in any time in its history.
There are more quality programs than ever before and the content has never been better. Some may look back and wax nostalgic for a less complicated time, but to them I say, try watching an episode of any show from the 1970s, '80s or '90s today. They're dreadful. Sure, they all have great theme songs and Lynda Carter still looks amazing in her Wonder Woman outfit, as does the General Lee jumping over Hazzard Creek. But they're more unintentionally funny today than engaging.
This time, right now, is TV's Golden Age for three significant reasons.
Endless choices. While the four major networks offer quality traditional programming, the days when the best shows were only available on Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS are long gone. Because cable networks draw smaller Nielsen numbers, they've been forced to be more creative and innovative. This has led most cable channels to take bigger risks and provide more niche programming. HBO's "Game of Thrones" would never appear on any of the Big Four networks because it would be too expensive. Neither would A&E's "Duck Dynasty" because it doesn't appeal to a wide enough audience.
Impressive storytelling. Television shows are more engrossing now than ever before because they tell better stories. Part of that is due to the technological advancement of TV production. A show such as NBC's special effects-heavy "Grimm" or TNT's "Falling Skies" would have been impossible to pull off 10 years ago.
But a typical TV season is also much more tightly packed than it used to be. Instead of a traditional 22- to 24-episode season, many series are now 12 to 14 episodes long. Viewers get less programming, but shows have become more streamlined with richer content. Perhaps the biggest reason the storytelling has improved in TV is the influx of quality actors. For years, television was viewed with disdain by movie actors, but now older film stars such as Dennis Quaid ("Vegas"), Sigourney Weaver ("Political Animals") and Kevin Spacey ("House of Cards") have found new life on the small screen.
Cut cable loose. To watch great television shows you don't even need to own an actual TV, let alone have a cable provider. Many on-demand streaming services offer customers a chance to watch previously aired episodes of current TV shows as well as their own original programming. Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix all have several quality series starring big-name actors that are exclusive to their services. You can watch these shows on your tablet, computer or smart phone and, yes, even your TV.
If you like your TV but not the high cable bill, look into an inexpensive alternatives, such as HD antennas. A friend of mine bought a DVR through TiVo and pays $10/month to watch over-the-air HD shows.
Inspired, I went to Radio Shack and bought my own HD antenna for my cable-less video game room. This summer I'll be looking to give my cable provider the boot on my primary TV. Sorry, Comcast.
If you do some digging, you can get quality TV programming whenever you want, wherever you want. It has the benefit of living in the golden age of television.
You can follow Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones on Twitter at twitter.com/terryterrones.