Boob Tube Revival

People like TV again. Is it a product of the economy or just some great shows?

By Jere Hester
|  Wednesday, Dec 16, 2009  |  Updated 11:00 PM CDT
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Good, Bad and Ugly: The Decade in Reality TV

Fans are falling for "Glee."

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Less than a week after its rollicking mid-season finale, "Glee" notched four Golden Globe nominations, including a shot at the best comedy or musical show award.

The program about oddball high school glee club members is a seeming anomaly: a critical favorite with a loyal audience that passes for reasonably impressive these days, about eight million.

The nominations came amid a report that shows TV is the favorite medium of 34 percent of Americans – up from 27 percent in 2008, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Deloitte's State of the Media Democracy survey suggests that even in the Internet age (the web placed No. 2 in the poll), TV has some life in it yet.

There could be a bunch of reasons for the results of the survey, taken in September and October: in a poor economy, people tend to stay home. Prices of large, flat-screen TVs are lower than ever. This year’s switchover to digital transmission has meant sharper pictures and crisper sound.

There’s one other key factor whose impact might be underestimated: a bevy of quality new shows.

This season is proving one of the best in memory, with strong network fare such as "Community," "Modern Family," "The Good Wife," and "Parks and Recreation," which has come into its own after a brief, somewhat shaky introduction last season.

Cable outfits have added to the mix as well, with HBO's "Hung" and "Bored to Death," and TNT's recent arrival "Men of a Certain Age" (all three, coincidentally, tackle changing definitions of manhood with dark humor).

The new shows are building audiences, but there's not a "Friends" in the bunch in terms of mass appeal. No show gets "American Idol"-type ratings anymore. Even "Idol" was down last season.

Yet amid shrinking audiences and the decline of the traditional network model, recent years have brought some fine shows catering to niche crowds. "The Sopranos" and "Mad Men" have bookended the trend in the last decade, with "The Wire," "The Office" (UK and US), "Arrested Development," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "30 Rock" and many others in between.

We’re not in a Golden Age where everybody watches the same shows. The segmentation inherent in the Internet also has taken hold on TV.

But it’s refreshing to see the influx of some quality scripted fare at a time when too much reality show junk is clogging the airwaves. Like the success of "Glee," that’s something worth singing about.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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