When you think about TV, it can seem like a lot has changed while much has remained the same. The same actors turn up on “Saturday Night Live,” Netflix is still a household word, and premium programming can still be found on HBO.
But while those things are all true, streaming services have changed TV in ways that would make some of today’s biggest shows impossible to make in the previous decade. Here are six popular TV shows that would not have existed 10 years ago.
Game of Thrones
The end of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” earlier this year was a cultural event preceded by the same level of anticipation as a Super Bowl. It was also the recipient of a similar level of backlash (spoiler alert for that link!) from fans who were disappointed with the results.
This was to be expected. “Game of Thrones” dominated conversations around water coolers, internet forums, and talk shows from its debut in 2011. It also helped establish HBO’s online service, HBO GO, which would prove that a single network could have a successful online service with isolated content.
House of Cards
While “Game of Thrones” may have been the biggest show of the last decade, “House of Cards” was an important offering from the most influential steaming service of the last decade, Netflix. In 2011, in what was called “the biggest gamble” in the company’s then-14 year history, Netflix outbid both HBO and AMC to develop a remake of the British drama “House of Cards” helmed by award-winning director David Fincher.
This gamble did pay off, as the show went on to acclaim and helped Netflix become a platform for serious television. It also was a signal for how much money Netflix was willing to put into developing original material, an unimaginable proposition in the 2000s.
“Black Mirror” is an excellent example of how modern streaming services have refocused attention on ideas that were once thought too niche for mainstream appeal. This British Channel 4 science-fiction anthology show debuted with three episodes per season and was shot on a low budget.
When the series exploded in popularity on Netflix, it was purchased by the streaming giant, given a much bigger budget, and expanded upon. Anthology science-fiction was a genre thought long dead. Even the stories in “Lost” were anchored in character- and world-building. But the genre's rise in popularity has in turn inspired a reboot of the “Twilight Zone” on CBS – something that wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Hulu was just getting off the ground 10 years ago and began as a free service that seemed to do little but compile the shows that traditional networks offered. Even when paywalls went up, Hulu was never a competitor to the networks whose material it distributed.“The Handmaid’s Tale” changed that. This graphic, dystopian story adapted from the Margret Atwood novel of the same name featured scenes that would never been allowed on a network and would have raised eyebrows even on HBO. The show went on to win an Emmy for Best Drama Series, the first streaming-only show to do so.
This Amazon original is another example of a show featuring big names being financed from a source that would have been inconceivable 10 years ago. Amazon’s stratospheric growth would have been hard to predict back then, and its success in venturing into original programming would have not been on the table. Now, Amazon is poised to release a “Lord of the Rings” reboot with a rumored budget of over $1 billion.
“Transparent” is also an example of a show that culturally would not have been feasible a decade ago. The discussion over LGBTQ+ rights has expanded over the last 10 years, and a show featuring an out and proud transgender individual undergoing their transition would probably not have enjoyed the same level of success a decade ago.
This high budget, live-action "Star Wars" series is a prime example of a show that wouldn’t have been made 10 years ago. First, the series was not even on the radar then, and a live-action version on television was unthinkable. The amount of money that would need to be invested in such a project would not have been an option. And to offer that content on one paywall-protected source, such as Disney+, also wasn’t feasible.
While all the different streaming services might complicate things a bit, remember that in 2018 a record 495 original shows debuted – and over half of those were offered by streaming services. For better or for worse, it is a new era of television.
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