There are a few possible explanations for why good TV is suddenly showing an increase in financial viability, and one of which could be its accessibility. Streaming content on Netflix, Hulu, and VOD means viewers don’t have to leave home for a good story, and the rise of binge-watching proves audiences are eating it up. A recent article from Film School Rejects theorizes that streaming content might be one of the reasons big-budget blockbusters haven’t done so well this summer. Landon Black called Orange Is the New Black “perhaps the most talked-about media object this summer…[and] while I have no way to prove that more people would have seen 2 Guns had we not been watching the former stars of American Pie and That ‘70s Show on streaming ‘television,’ it certainly seems that TV in its myriad forms has regained its rightful spot in offering a truly competitive screen like it did in the 1950s.”
Another reason could be that shows like Breaking Bad are reaching some important, occasionally hard-to-reach demographics. According to the New York Times, “[the show’s] viewership in the 18- to 49-year-old audience bracket…beat CBS, NBC, and ABC combined” for its season premiere. Advertisers are also attracted to Breaking Bad’s success with male viewers, who account for 60 percent of the show’s total audience. A large concentration of male viewers has also attracted advertisers to shows on AMC’s competitor FX, a network that’s also earned a reputation for strong, unique programming. “FX’s playbook consists of luring creative people with the promise of artistic freedom rather than a financial windfall,” the Times said in a 2012 write-up. That creative promise inspired Louis C.K. to turn down a seven-figure deal for a network TV show, and that seemingly big risk helped turn him into a household name.
After years of big risks and little financial payoff, the buzz of critical hits is now attracting both viewers and advertisers. The cultural worth of shows like Breaking Bad is probably already evident to most Flavorwire readers, but it would be pretentious and reductive to say that this kind of TV is valuable merely because of its critical acclaim. However, praise doesn’t come from nothing, and thankfully, so many of these surprise hits are beloved because they tell compelling, important stories. Shows like Mad Men ask us to look at our nation’s legacy, while Breaking Bad, Homeland, and Orange Is the New Black confront us with its rough present. Because of their subject matter, shows like these are relevant in ways American Idol or NCIS never can be, and fortunately for TV lovers, they’re attracting bigger audiences than ever before. After years of talk, it looks like fans of the Golden Age of Television can finally put their money where their mouths are.