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Shelf Life

How ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘The Wire’ showed ratings didn’t matter

David Gura Jul 4, 2013
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Shelf Life

How ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘The Wire’ showed ratings didn’t matter

David Gura Jul 4, 2013
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On the timeline of television history you could say the “television drama” was re-born in the late nineties and came of age in the last decade. HBO led the way and other cable networks followed suit. Think shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” and “Mad Men.” Cable networks and their shows have managed to change the game. They’ve made TV executives care about something other than big ratings.

In his new book, “Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad,” journalist Brett Martin says rather than the pithy sitcom, televison has become the place where we turn for big, complicated stories.

About why these new types of complicated dramas were able to thrive, he says:

“You had a confluence of events all leading to one place. The creation of television in which the one god of television, ratings, no longer mattered. And so you had a huge proliferation of cable channels,  you had televisions that were beautiful to watch, you had technology like the DVR and at that time DVDs that allowed serialization to take place, so you could catch up to a story that was going on and on and on.  And for all those reasons there were suddenly places like, originally HBO and other networks that followed that recognized quality and identity might be more important than numbers.”

About “The Sopranos” he says:

“To me it’s impossible to overestimate the degree to which the Sopranos began this revolution. And I’d say that it’s become clear that it’s very hard to overestimate the degree to which James Gandolfini’s role in ‘The Sopranos’ made that possible. “

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