Yes, American TV has improved since the 1990s

It’s always tempting to think that either

  1. We’re living in a golden age or
  2. Things are just getting worse as time goes on

Nevertheless, US TV has arguably had three great eras: the ‘Westinghouse era’, the Steve Bochco era and the HBO/post-HBO cable renaissance, and I do genuinely think we are almost certainly living in a golden age of US TV.

Do I have proof? Well, I think if we look at the following collection of title sequences for US TV shows that debuted as part of the 1995 season, we can see that things have definitely improved. Apart from the fact that you almost certainly remember none of them, they’re just plain shoddy. Particularly Burke’s Law, which was a revival of a show you’ve almost certainly forgotten from the 1960s but which nevertheless still had a better title sequence than the revival did.

There are a couple of outliers: there’s Due South, of course. No one say anything bad about Due South. Party of Five many people rated, although I never watched it.

But you’ll almost certainly remember Diagnosis Murder and Touched By An Angel not because they were good but because they’re either perpetually repeated on daytime TV or/and they were memorably awful and cheesy.

Of course, we need to compare and contrast with more recent times to prove our general hypothesis that TV is getting better. So let’s pick a relatively recent season at random: the 2008 season. That was a mere seven years ago now but 13 years after the 1995 season. Sigh.

So how many of these shows do you remember and turned out to be timeless classics?

Actually, quite a few were classics of varying degrees when they debuted, including Generation Kill, Sons of Anarchy, Leverage, Fringe, True Blood and The Mentalist, as well as arguably Dollhouse – although that doesn’t mean they didn’t get worse as time went on. There were also several memorable shows, although not always for the right reasons: Life on Mars (US), My Own Worst Enemy and Knight Rider – I’m looking at you here. Indeed, although it’s no excuse, many of the duffest shows can be laid at the door of NBC, which was then notoriously going through one of its worst ever creative periods thanks to a change in management.

So, yes, I think we can conclude that US TV is getting better. Thanks science!