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HBO and the idea of quality TV…

September 19, 2011

So I’m sitting outside on a sunny, sunny day, on my Mac – as you do- following the coverage of the Emmy’s on Twitter – as you do – and Peter Dinklage just won Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his role on Game of Thrones, a HBO show (based on a series of books which I have yet to read – I have too much blogging to do).  He had the above to say in his acceptance speech. Followed closely by this:

Not that that lessens the validity of the previous statement in any way, shape or form!

HBO isn’t just a television network anymore – it is an exclusive brand. I realised this not only when we were told in the lecture, but when I made a trip to the local JB Hi-fi and discovered HBO had its very own section in the DVD shelves. They have long been associated with edgy, high quality, cutting edge drama, producing shows such as Big Love, Sex and the Cit, the Wire, Deadwood, True Blood, Game of Thrones etc. Shows that are critically acclaimed and considered ‘high end’ drama. No ‘Wife Swap’ to be found on this network people! It’s exclusive, in a way. It’s a cable network, not ‘free to air’ – you have to pay to see this high quality shows.

The idea of ‘quality tv’ though is not an old concept:

“Even before a normative notion of ‘everyday television’ had solidified, the idea of ‘quality drama’ existed in the form of live’ anthology’ teleplays of the 1950’s” (p. 146) HBO however, really brought the idea of quality TV to the forefront. It even likes to think of itself as something beyond normal television.

“So, HBO is a full-service cable service. It gives us texts that are not TV. It interprets them for us [in its promos]. It promotes them as art cinema. It punctures its own promotions to show how post-modern it is.” (p.155)

Another aspect of the idea of ‘quality TV’ is that of serialised drama – now, Jane Feuer points out that because something is serialised, it might give rise to some potentially ‘negative comparison(s) to soap opera’. How would you compare a show like Big Love to a serialised soap like The Bold and the Beautiful (ugh!) However Feuer, using the example of the West Wing, that while it is serialised in terms of narrative structure (long form narratives stretched over the series) it lacks the melodramatic aspect associated with soaps (p. 149)

Whether the shows on HBO are really on the same level as ‘art cinema’ is up to individual interpretation, there is no denying that HBO programmes have obtained a certain status.

 

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