Linda Holmes: 10 Reasons This Was TV's Decade Ten years ago, "reality TV" meant The Real World and people watched TV with a quaint device ... the TV set. NPR's pop-culture blogger counts 10 of the things that have changed our TV-watching lives the most. She finds they're mostly for the better.
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Linda Holmes: 10 Reasons This Was TV's Decade

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Linda Holmes: 10 Reasons This Was TV's Decade

Linda Holmes: 10 Reasons This Was TV's Decade

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Do you remember when people watched TV on a TV set? Shows had scripts and they hired professional actors? Now it's so-called reality shows, and HD, DVR, TNT. Linda Holmes writes about pop culture at the NPR blog Monkey See. Thanks so much for being with us.

LINDA HOLMES: Oh, thank you for asking.

SIMON: And what do you see as some of the breakthroughs of the past decade?

HOLMES: Well, to answer that question, let's listen to a little tape.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Lost"))

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as character) Did you get caught on purpose? You and your people have been here for God knows how long, and you got caught in a...

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (as character) (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #1: Excuse me?

(Soundbite of TV, "30 Rock")

Ms. TINA FEY (Actor, Comedienne): (as Liz Lemon) My name is Liz Lemon and I received flowers from your shop tonight and I can't tell who they're from.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Mad Men")

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (as character) Hopefully, if you follow my lead, you can avoid some of the mistakes I've made here.

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (as character) (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Woman: (as character) Like that one.

HOLMES: And that is - we heard, ABC's "Lost," which is about to have its last season, NBC's "30 Rock" and AMC's "Mad Men."

SIMON: "Mad Men"?

HOLMES: Oh, I love "Mad Men." "Mad Men" has been really influential in the sense that I think it's the first show on basic cable that has broken through in terms of prestige quite as much as some of the premium channel shows like "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" and things like that were able to do and see as a basic channel, which had nothing to do with original programming until just a couple years ago.

SIMON: And recognizing that it's hazardous to try and imitate David Letterman over the past few months, give us some of your top 10 developments in television over the past decade.

HOLMES: Absolutely. You know, some of the top developments that we have are reality shows, as you mentioned, and quality on cable, there's DVR technology, there's watching online, there are fan campaigns affected by the Internet. Landscape has changed a lot.

SIMON: How much are some of these developments both caused and dictated by the fact that the audience is declining?

HOLMES: Well, the audience is certainly splintering. So yeah, the audience for any individual show is so much smaller than it used to be because there are so many more options...

SIMON: As third as many people watch the evening news used to when the late Walter Cronkite was anchoring.

HOLMES: Right, absolutely. And it definitely applies - if you look across network primetime shows, what used to be poor ratings for a network show would now be perfectly decent ratings because they're competing with so much on cable. And what we think of now as enormous hit shows would not have qualified as hit shows 10 or 20 years ago.

SIMON: What are some of the technological changes that you think have also driven some of the developments?

HOLMES: Well, obviously there has been a great, in the last 10 years a great movement toward watching television in other ways other than sitting in front of your TV. There are a lot more options to watch online. People watch both through the network sites and through third-party sites. You can watch your TV on DVD. You can sort of watch it in lots of different ways and that has lead people to be much more able to pick and choose a lot more carefully.

They're not as much at the mercy of scheduling and what's on opposite what. And it used to be that there were these massive collisions when they put "The Simpsons" on opposite "The Cosby Show." It was this big issue for the networks to set things against each other. Now it doesn't matter as much.

And in fact, that's one of the things that's been so tough for the new "Jay Leno Show" at 10:00. It's not that they're losing to the other things on at 10:00; they're losing to people watching things on their DVR that they've taped.

SIMON: Yeah, that had been on earlier.

HOLMES: Absolutely.

SIMON: Ten years is a long time. And if we'd been sitting here 10 years ago, there are technological developments that we couldn't have predicted. But anything you want to throw out as a supposition?

HOLMES: My guess would be that 10 years from now rather than paying for cable you're going to be paying something for content that you're going to be able to watch on your TV or on your computer or on your phone or whatever you want. This is one of the problems with trying to make these kind of suppositions, is that 10 years ago there wasn't even iTunes.

So the whole concept of buying content online and downloading it and paying for it piece by piece, it's very difficult to look at and say what is going to change the way people watch. But there's no question that the commercial-supported broadcast model is in a lot of trouble.

SIMON: Linda Holmes writes about pop culture for NPR's Monkey See blog. Thanks so much.

HOLMES: Well, thank you.

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