Closer to reality

by Adel Ahmed

010People have been telling stories since time immemorial. The art of story-telling is in our blood and can be traced back through the ages piercing the veils of time. The primitives would sit around the fire as the shamans and elders would dance and weave stories of myth, the supernatural and the impossible.
The ancients sat around their amphitheaters and watched plays as epic tragedies and satires unfolded. The Victorians went to the Globe Theater to watch brilliant plays performed by Shakespearean actors. With every turn of century, this penchant for plays, performances and fantasies intensified and by early 20th century, with the advent of cinema and television, mankind was inexorably infected with the bug of movie and the lifelong passion for motion pictures began.
Every story has a hero, a protagonist who drives the story or from whose point of view we experience the tale. In the early years of motion picture and television series in particular the hero was clearly delineated. There was clear demarcation between good and evil, hero and villain. We don’t have to go too far back in the past to see the examples. If we visit the 80’s we can see TV series such as A-Team, MacGyver, Dark Justice, Knight Rider, Street Hawk, Raven, etc. where the good guy fights the bad guy, the good guy beats the bad guy, the good guy rescues the damsel in distress and most times, the good guy gets the girl as well.
In the mid and last quarter of the 20th century, people went to the theaters to watch movies, where the content could be more mature in nature, depicting sex, violence and other vices of the society. Television, on the other hand, was almost in everyone’s homes, airing more wholesome and family-oriented programme. The content in the TV were moral in nature, almost preachy and postulated on the goodness of mankind. This status quo for television remained in place for quite some time but by late 90’s something was about to change.
011While Happy Days, Mash, Wonder Years, Star Trek and X-Files were running in the 70s, 80s and 90s, something phenomenal was taking place on the big screen at the same time. The movies started experimenting with anti-heroes and the darker aspects of humanity. Anti-heroes are protagonists with flawed characters to a degree and can be cowardly, misguided or downright criminal and evil.
The films became grittier and explored what was then considered a taboo. Barry Lyndon, American History X, American Psycho, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Dog Day Afternoon, Amadeus, Scarface, Dirty Harry, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, God Father are to name a few movies which were not only financially successful but critically acclaimed for their brilliance and grittiness in depicting the darker sides of humanity and society.
The overwhelming success of these movies in the big screen had a spillover effect on the small screen and affected people’s consumption habits. Television serial makers noticed that audience was no longer satisfied by the knights in shining armour as their viewing habit began to shift. They now liked the Machiavellian stories with twists and turns and characters with moral ambiguity operating in the gray or the dark sides of humanity.
There were a few mini-series during the 90s like ‘Twin Peaks’ that carved its own niche. The show, that started off as a mystery eventually turned out to have facets of the supernatural thus attracting a global audience from the young viewer segments.
The late 90s saw a tipping point in television shows. The producers and script writers now rushed to cater to the people’s demand in a changed landscape. Television seemed to plummet down the rabbit hole through the looking glass and became the new Alice in Wonderland where the bad became good, black was the new white and virtue was yesterday’s news.
Due to this radical change in TV viewership there was now a whole new breed of TV shows that came into existence. Dexter, The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Hannibal, Borgias etc. became overnight success. Not only are the characters full of moral ambiguity, but these new TV shows now have more blood, gore, sex and violence, in some cases outdoing the movies in the big screen. A few such examples are Rome, Spartacus, Black Sails, Game of Thrones, Camelot, Da Vinci’s Demons, etc.
Where once we had only one TV channel broadcasting for few hours in the evening, we now have a plethora of TV channels, running 24/7 and inundating us with a myriad of TV shows. The choices seem infinite and the shows varied. There seems to be something for everybody and TV producers are constantly pushing the envelope, breaking new barriers, challenging our reality and driving us to reexamine our morals and ethics.
The little square box called the television has come a long way and have evolved in the process. So have the shows that were beamed into these TVs. The television was never static, it was born in the age of electronic, and its evolution is far from over. The show will go on as long as there is an audience and as long there is demand. The denizens of 21st century are living in the digital age and the little square box and its shows are evolving yet again to conform to the need, taste, demand and habit of a digital population with its multiple devices, media and connectivity.

In the next article on television shows, Adel Ahmed will write how viewers are increasingly shifting from the air waves to the internet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *