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This was a good year for TV, says critic David Bianculli, and that had a lot to do with two new shows from Netflix: House of Cards, the American adaptation of the BBC political thriller series, and Orange Is the New Black, a dramatic comedy which takes place in a women's federal prison. "I was very impressed with the overall quality of what Netflix gave us," Bianculli tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "... That was quite a string of good shows."
So, without further ado, here's Bianculli's top-10 TV list for 2013:
1. Breaking Bad (AMC) "ended as brilliantly as it began. I'm so grateful for that series."
2. The Good Wife (CBS) "has sort of done what Homeland did its first season, which by splitting up its law firm and having people you liked be adversaries, you had equal weight given to what would be the antagonist and the protagonist, and you sort of liked them both."
3. Mad Men (AMC) "didn't have the best year for me, but had the best single moment I think Mad Men has had in a long time."
4. Justified (FX) "had one of its very best years, so well-written and directed. It may be my favorite show of next year. I don't know if it's going to keep building, but I have expectations like that for it."
5. The Colbert Report (Comedy Central) "did too much good stuff this year to not make the list again."
6. The Walking Dead (AMC): "I'll never forget when I came in here to review The Walking Dead and I said, 'Oh no, it's a zombie show, but it's good.' ... It really is an amazing show."
7. House of Cards (Netflix) "blew Netflix wide open."
8. Masters of Sex (Showtime) "is the first show since AMC's Mad Men to do a period drama really well and it's because of how clearly it's delineating these characters."
9. Downton Abbey (PBS) "kept up its quality and was noticed for all the right reasons."
10. Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) "was basically a female Oz, which was HBO's first big prison drama, but done really well."
On the year overall
[It was] a good year if for no other reason than Netflix changed everything again by bringing in House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. It changed things not only for them and for the Emmys and for the competition, but everybody else started to say, "Hey, that's a new way to do stuff." So in 2014, we're going to have other people swinging for the fences and putting money behind quality shows that haven't been getting on the networks lately, and maybe the networks will finally wise up.
On binge watching
It denies the chance for people to have a communal experience. I think Arrested Development would have gotten so much more press had it been shown one episode a week. It's sort of like everybody wants to get the maximum output right away, and there's no thought of long-range planning, so whatever big hit they get for the first big week, that's all they're interested in. ...
Netflix also still is very protective of its numbers, so we don't really know how many people are watching, how many people see the first episode, binge immediately and go back. But I want to praise Netflix for going to quality programmers, coming up with quality programs. I just would beg them to release one or two a week, double it if you have to, but keep that sense of anticipation coming.
On the evolving definition of a TV "season"
Part of the logic is that sometimes the producers just don't feel they can do quality by turning it out faster than that. David Chase on The Sopranos was one of the first to say "I gotta slow down a little bit." And when shows such as Breaking Bad split seasons, and they were rewarded — Walking Dead, same thing — they had more people when they came back, rather than fewer people. ...
It's getting closer to the British model, [they'd] do six episodes and that would be a season, and then they would come back a year or two later and do more. It's a sensible way of doing it, but only if you have enough of them that when one show goes away, another one you like is taking its place. That's the problem with the networks — they don't have that. ...
The season used to be [called] the fall TV season; that began because the U.S. auto manufacturers wanted to push their new models. The cars came out in September, so they wanted to have all the eyeballs in front of the TV sets and they wanted to sell lots of ads. ... But now that's totally ridiculous. ... It's an antiquated set of rules that people are still playing by.
On the biggest successes and what they mean for the future of TV
Among the biggest successes of 2013 were a cable show — [AMC's] The Walking Dead, which got 12-13 million viewers, more than network television was getting, for a zombie drama — and something that was televised this month, Sound of Music Live on NBC, which got that level of viewership. ... So it shows that if you give people reasons to watch live TV, or TV at the same time, they still will. ...
Otherwise, what I think network television is doing as it's marching toward its own grave is not giving people reasons to watch programs as they show them. They can catch them a day later, week later, a season later, a DVD box set later. When I talk to my students at Rowan University and I ask them, "What are you watching?" they're not watching a lot. They're catching [it] after the fact, catching it on Hulu, catching it viral, or grabbing it from a friend or BitTorrent [file-sharing it] illegally ... and that's going to change the game completely.
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