Ever since HBO broke the mould that had defined conventional network television by beginning to produce intelligent, well-written and expensive productions, critics started to proclaim a “Golden Age of Television.” Of course, what one terms a “Golden Age” is inevitably subjective: television as a medium has always been evolving, and with every new generation groundbreaking shows have redefined what the viewing public and critics see as excellence in broadcasting. The most innovative accomplishment of the show that broke the conventional pattern, The Sopranos, was to finally end the quasi-monopoly of the “Big Three” networks – ABC, NBC and CBS – that for all intents controlled the airwaves that had been beaming programming into American homes for so long.
Because they never had to conform to government regulations regarding language prohibitions and sexual content, HBO and subsequent premium networks could broaden the range of human experience in television scripts. No longer were shows produced just for network, prime-time broadcasting. Longer story arcs, realistic depictions of circumstances peppered with profanity-laced dialogue, and comedy shows without the legendary laugh track were offering what many considered the best television content. Able to skirt Federal Communications Commission regulations because they were not broadcast on open and free airwaves, they could offer the kind of risqué content that the networks could not.
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