I keep reading that we are in a golden age of television. Given how little I watch television these days, I have no direct experience to speak from. I assume that what is meant by “golden age of television” is the programs. But as I wander through my house, I might be convinced otherwise. Somehow, we’ve gone from a couple of televisions to 5 televisions. We have a great big one above the fireplace in the living room; one in our bedroom; one in the guest room/exercise room; one in the family room, and one in the playroom/Xbox room, I’m not really sure how this happened.
These are “smart TVs.” I don’t know how smart they really are, but they are slowly making the remote control obsolete, and anything that makes the remote obsolete is a sign of progress. Maybe we should call them “progressive TVs” instead. I’ve counted 9 remotes for these 5 TVs. Fortunately, most of them can be controlled by voice, so the remotes collect dust somewhere between the couch cushions. It took a while, but I no longer feel awkward asking Alexa to turn off the living room TV, or turning the volume down.
I suspect that when someone speaks of the golden age of television, they are not talking about television sets, but the programming. Specifically, I suspect they are talking about the premium programs that seem to be everywhere. We subscribe to HBO (through the cable company), Netflix, Disney+, and as Amazon Prime members, we also have access to Amazon Prime videos. I also managed to get a year of Apple TV+ for free, although I am still not certain how that came about. All of these produce original programming which, because it is subscription-based, has the potential for being high-quality.
I watched the first 2 episodes of The Mandalorian, and while I am a fan of both Star Wars and westerns, I was bored out of my mind after the first two and gave up.
Most of my entertainment comes from reading. I used to turn to television for something that I could dip into without thinking much about it. The problem these days is that most series have morphed into serials. You can’t dip into one episode, without watching the next, and the next, and the next. And thus, binge-watching is born. I don’t want to spend a lot of time watching. I want something where I can allow my brain to relax for 20 or 40 minutes between books without any cliff-hanger. Then, too, television dramas have become too over the top for me. On those instance when I do watch a drama, I often come away feeling totally wiped out.
The TVs, smart and progressive as they may be, are really just superfluous. I can watch Netflix, Disney+, HBO, and Amazon Prime on my phone, iPad, computer, and on the XBox. Indeed, with our cable, I can watch any of the hundreds of channels we get on my phone, iPad, computer, etc. so long as I am connected to the home network. In that kind of environment, we really don’t need one television, let alone five of them.
Golden age or not, I see a promising future for television, both from the devices and the programming. The nice thing I have discovered about watching a movie like Star Wars on the big TV over the fireplace is that, with the lights dimmed, it feels like I’m sitting in a movie theater. I see almost no value to going to the movies these days. No movie is worth the parking headaches, the cost of the tickets, popcorn, hotdog, or soda. I’d just as soon stay home and wait for the movie to be released on one of the streaming services. And yet… when I do go to the movie theater, usually about once a year, it always seems the theater is virtually empty.
It occurs to me that the ideal solution would be to take advantage of the high quality smart TVs and the streaming services and just send the movies direct to the services, forgoing the theater experience entirely. For me, it would be a win. I’m not sure what people get out of the movie theater experience these days, other than being able to see a picture a few months before everyone else. Eliminate that and there’s really no need for movie theaters any more. Imagine being able to watch Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on release day in the comfort of your own house, with the lights dimmed, and munching on food you already have in the pantry. Even better: when you have to get up in the middle of Act 3 because you drank all of those sodas, you can pause the movie to ensure you don’t miss anything. Gone will be the days of millions of middle-aged men scampering back to their seats in a dark theater and whispering to their significant other, “What’d I miss?”
And what of the movie theater? Many will perish, but I imagine there will be one theater nearby that will show second runs of classic picture, and do so in style. It will be an occasion to dress for. Dinner and show will be an elegant affair the way it once was. All things come full circle.