Week 9 – The Dispersal of Quality Television

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking about on this blog the attributes that describe what “quality television” is.  However, I feel like this term is very vague and open to interpretation   Personally, quality television to me isn’t just what is produced and aired on pay-tv channels, including the usually quality television king HBO.  One show, which I consider as part of the “quality tv” family is AMC’s Mad Men.

Since the show premiered in the American summer of 2007, I’ve heard great things about it amongst many of my friends.  Since my family at home does not subscribe to HBO, I never really thought of ever watching it, let alone any HBO show — which I’ve come to realise after seeing many HBO shows in this class is silly.  Just as a side note, I’ll be ordering HBO first thing when I return to the states, thanks to this class.  Anyway, the rave reviews have been subconsciously embedded in my mind so when I heard we would be screening Mad Men in the lecture this week, I was excited to see what all the talk was about.

We watched Season 1, Episode 13, “The Wheel.”  In a nutshell, the episode consisted of a man (Pete) trying to make a name for himself in his company, a woman learning that her husband could be having an affair (Francine), and a man (Don) who works for this company who is trying to sell this Kodak slide projector.  Despite the boring way I describe it, the episode was very captivating and is something that I consider as “quality tv.”

When the show first opened, it was in an office building.  The setting of this episode, and presumably the entire series, is very well executed.  The office building and clothing all resembles what you would think is what existed back in that time period.  The men were all in suites and the women were dressed professionally, but not to upstage the men.

To further enhance the authenticity of the setting, the characters act in the same general way that the social structure existed back then.  The men were in control and the women in the office were secretaries.  In the episode, one woman is hired as a secretary.  She is then given the opportunity to do the job of another man who his boss had a beef with.  It was interesting how the show scripted this part, as the woman was acted with astonishment as if this never happens (which was probably true back during the show’s depicted time period).

The fact that this show portrays this time period so well, especially in regards to setting and the aesthetics of the whole show in general, makes it more than qualified to join the “quality TV” club.  Many people believe that only HBO shows qualify, but shows like Mad Men on what these people may believe is a low-quality channel, AMC, are just as qualified.

Alessandra Stanley of the NY Times wrote a review of the series when it first debuted in 2007.

“‘Mad Men’ is both a drama and a comedy and all the better for it, a series that breaks new ground by luxuriating in the not-so-distant past.”

The show certainly isn’t my favorite by any means, but from what I’ve seen in class, it seems like a very well produced and well made show that pretty much stands for the definition of “quality tv.”

By saying this is a quality television show doesn’t mean it has it’s downfalls.  First of all, I’m not quite sure if this is because I haven’t seen many episodes or not but the story lines seem quite complicated.  I can’t really make judgements on this but for seeing one or two episodes, I’m still quite confused as to who is which character.

Another part, more specific to episode 13, was that Peggy (a secretary at the office) somehow doesn’t realise she is pregnant.  She finds this out when she goes to the hospital to be checked out, and she ends up having the baby right then.  I mean, come on.  That’s a little unrealistic.  Sure there is that “reality” television show called I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant back in the states on TLC, this storyline that she was pregnant and didn’t even know it was a bit far-fetched.

Despite the few shortcomings, this is series is one worth looking at.  If you’re one of those people who think HBO is the only destination for quality television, humour me and check out this show.  I think you’ll quite pleased.

Works Consulted:

1. Stanley, Alessandra. “Mad Men: Smoking, Drinking, Cheating and Selling.” NY Times. New York Times Company, 19 July 2007. Web. 26 Sept. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/19/arts/television/19stan.html&gt;.

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3 Responses to Week 9 – The Dispersal of Quality Television

  1. lucydayman says:

    Nice piece Zac! I was particularly interested in your views of what is and what isn’t ‘quality’ TV. Your statement “I feel like this term is very vague and open to interpretation” re: quality TV is very true. Sometimes I even personally feel that ‘quality TV’ is used in more of an elitist way as opposed to a general appreciation of a program e.g. ‘it’s ok to watch The Sopranos because it’s such a quality program’, I feel like people show worry less about labels because we don’t want to become so elitist that we avoid watching (a potentially amazing series) because it is broadcast on what some may assume to be a ‘lesser’ station. It’s a pretty interesting concept huh? I think often the quality of a TV program can depend greatly on its individual episodes, as opposed to its concept, in this case maybe Mad Men is considered less of a ‘quality’ program as its episodes can fluctuate between being very socially aware, edgy and narratively complex to becoming a bit too much soapie-esque drama. That’s only my personal opinion though. That said I really enjoyed your piece.


  2. kitharvey says:

    Z-Money, you are right to proclaim your newfound love of HBO!

    You will surely get the hang of Mad Men’s narrative style and storytelling techniques with a few more episodes to your name.

    I struggle to do anything other than dwell on Mad Men’s evocative portrayal of the happening 1960s. What a setting! I’ll never get sick of looking at the impeccable (now “vintage”) suits worn by male characters or the secretary chic of women in the Sterling Cooper office, particularly Joan.

    This is one of the reasons why I love your inclusion of so many pictures in this post!

    Words cannot describe the delight I take in the show’s visual style, undoubtedly its hallmark. The amount of effort that is put in to make Mad Men an authentic (and wonderfully romantic) representation of 1960s American life is awe-inspiring. That alone is enough to earn it the label: “Quality TV”.

  3. Pingback: Television Cultures: Comments Post | Tomorrow Comes Early

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