Tuesday, 23 November 2010

DOCTOR WHO ANNIVERSARY



It was forty-seven years ago today...

(Of course 'Doctor Who' hasn't been broadcast continually since 23rd November 1963, and there's been whole periods when it's been on the air when we've collectively wished it wasn't! But when it's been good it's been very, very good... so may the good Doctor have many more faces!)

18 comments:

  1. Is this based on a genuine Coming Soon from 1963? Because if it is, it's a real shame that they scribbled all over it with modern music. Like adding CGI to the Mona Lisa.

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  2. I don't think so, no. I doubt may of those survived The Great Archive Purge.

    The old, pure electronic theme tune is soooooooo much better than the revamped, stringified version.

    What about if they added CGI to the Mona Lisa but enigmatically?

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  3. Very few trailers survive from the '60s. There certainly isn't one for An Unearthly Child. They did broadcast a trailer on November 16th and another on November 22nd, about half an hour before the JFK assassination. I'm not sure if anybody even knows what the trailers were like.

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  4. I started to wonder if there were any lost episodes where the only film we have came from trailers. But I can't think of an example, the ones I've checked out were either used in other episodes (such as the end-episode overlap) or clips shown in other shows, such as 'Blue Peter'.

    ...unless anyone reading this knows different?

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  5. I'm not an expert, but I have read quite a bit about where clips from missing episodes comes from and I can't recall anything that was taken from a trailer. As you say, mostly those clips were either used in other episodes or other shows and I'd also add the censor clips. (There were a lot of clips which were removed from episodes by Australian censors and then set aside. In a bit of historical irony, the bits that were deemed unsuitable to be seen are now the only clips from several episodes that survive and therefore the only parts we can see.)

    I would be surprised if any trailers were saved since those films were probably reused immediately. (You don't need to save them to send to New Zealand or anything.) Some trailers do have surviving audio as some of the people who recorded the audio of every Doctor Who episode also recorded audio from trailers. I don't know how common even this was since the only ones whose audio I know survives are intrinsically interesting trailers, such as Patrick Troughton's specially filmed trailer for The Web of Fear.

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  6. Thanks for the info, Andrew!

    Yes, I love the irony of only the censored clips surviving. It's also interesting that Australian broadcasting was (at least then) more restrictive than in Britain. It seems to run counter to our 'laid back' image of Australia.

    I was kind of speculating whether trailers were exported to other countries along with the episodes, as a kind of package, to save them creating their own. No idea whether that actually happened though!

    Incidentally, do you know much about when and how the show was first shown in the States? I've often come across this thing where we see it as family viewing, whereas in America it's cult TV.

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  7. The show was first shown in the States in 1972 during Pertwee's tenure. It was shown on certain commercial television stations, but was not a great success and virtually nobody remembers it. (However, this is significant since some of these episodes were videotaped by American viewers and that's how the color was restored to some Pertwee serials where the original color was wiped.)

    In 1977, it got sold to PBS stations en masse and to a very limited number of commercial stations and this time it was a big success. Virtually all American fans came to the show in this way - lots and lots of Tom Baker (and some Peter Davison and Colin Baker when they came around) endlessly repeated on the local PBS station from 1977 until the mid-1980s. Thus, if you ask an American fan how he was introduced to Doctor Who, 99% of the time the answer will be watching Tom Baker episodes on PBS.

    Being on PBS and stuck between nature documentaries and strange Britcoms like "Are You Being Served?", it was either going to be a cult hit or nothing.

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  8. Ironically this was pretty much my experience of the show! Due to my age group, I have hazy memories of Pertwee but Tom Baker was really my Doctor.

    From memory, though, you're more a Hartnell fan?

    I was more wondering, however, if the channel framed the viewing experience. In Britain it was broadcast at peak time on the main channel, and the whole family watched it. PBS in America (though formally similar to the BBC) was probably more niche.

    But if that sounds like a postive experience, remember that here 'Are You Being Served?' was definitely the norm!

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  9. PBS is also not a national channel or anything so what time Doctor Who came on was determined by each individual state’s PBS station. Where I grew up I had access to Connecticut Public Television, which broadcast Doctor Who episodically at 5:00 PM every weekday, Massachusetts Public Television, which broadcast it as a movie version once a week on Saturday at about 6:00 PM, and a commercial New York station which broadcast Doctor Who episodically once a week right before prime time (about 6:30 PM), though that one had stopped broadcasting it by the early '80s. I currently live in what was the last place in the country still showing classic Doctor Who on PBS and they played a couple of episodes every Saturday night at about 10:00 PM, but I believe they started playing only the new show a couple of years back. And, yes, PBS is a very niche thing in the U.S. Very few people watch it, mostly highly educated upper middle class people for the documentaries and the imported British costume dramas, though it was also the venue for Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers so it had a reasonably large children’s audience for those programmes.

    When I was growing up, my older brother watched a lot of PBS and was a Doctor Who fan. I remember watching Tom Baker in The Ark in Space as a fairly small child and I watched occasional snatches of episodes here and there, but I really didn’t watch the show much at all. Then in the mid-80s, when I was a teenager, both of the local PBS stations announced that they were going to start playing the show from the beginning. It was the first time ever that the black and white episodes had been sold to the United States. With the opportunity to watch it from the start, I decided to give it a try. So I watched An Unearthly Child and it was one of the most brilliant things I had ever seen. I mean no disrespect to the series, almost all of which I love, when I say that it never quite lived up to that promise ever again, but the rest of the Hartnell era was so solid that it hooked me for good. I am likely one of the very few viewers in the world (except for UK viewers who are at least 50 years old) who was introduced to the show by watching it in its original order from beginning to end. I have done it a few times since (adding reconstructions when appropriate) and I’m looking forward to doing it again once my DVD collection is complete.

    Hartnell is still my favorite Doctor though I love all of the first four Doctors. I regard Seasons 1-14 as one of the best runs any show has ever had and Seasons 15-26 (and most of the new show) as an interesting coda, though some of my favorite individual episodes/stories come in that coda.

    Normally PBS only runs the really good Britcoms (such as "Yes Minister") so I tried to watch "Are You Being Served?" since I figured it had to be decent, but it was just dreadful. Of course, at the time American television was pretty much playing nothing but dreadful sitcoms, so there you are.

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  10. This is an interesting post, Andrew, for both general and specific reasons. It certainly explains much of the perspective you have on the show, as exhibited in various Comments sections. (I’m afraid I’m much more a bog-standard forty-something Fourth Doctor fan.) I am also pleased to hear that there were two serialised showings for every one ‘movie-style’! It’s not just that the show was often constructed around the cliffhangers, the episodic format seems crucial somehow.

    I’ve plans to say more about this at some future date, but I’m interested in Mark Fisher’s (aka K-Punk’s) description of the show as ‘unheimlich’, unhomely or strangely familiar. This has probably been a staple of TV SF in Britain since the rocket ship crashed into a terraced street in ‘The Quatermass Experiment’. Of course this has morphed as time has gone on, and Police Boxes and Edwardian dress have become les familiar parts of the landscape, like the bowler hats in Magritte paintings.

    But in the States they were never familiar, they were always strange - the sort of icons tourists would take photos of. Defamiliarising them thereby performs a different function. I’d guess it to be more similar to the Britain-as-olde-magic-land of the Harry Potter films. I’d also guess a large part of its appeal (or PBS in general) is a kind of ‘Britophile’ phenomenon. (And the States must be the only country to have Britophiles!)

    ” With the opportunity to watch it from the start, I decided to give it a try. So I watched An Unearthly Child and it was one of the most brilliant things I had ever seen. I mean no disrespect to the series, almost all of which I love, when I say that it never quite lived up to that promise ever again…”

    Largely agree, but I’m not quite sure I’d describe ‘Unearthly Child’ as “brilliant”. It I’d call it more enticing so many set-ups and cues that too soon get dropped. Of course, it may equally be true that a large part of the episode’s appeal is precisely down to that. It has an air of mystery through pointing down a different track that in the end didn’t get explored, so we’ll never know what was down there.

    Again, plans to say more about that at some future date!

    I am likely one of the very few viewers in the world… who was introduced to the show by watching it in its original order from beginning to end. I have done it a few times since… and I’m looking forward to doing it again.”

    …and again…

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  11. Actually there was a time when almost all the PBS stations were playing them movie-style. I was very lucky because both stations from which I gathered my old VHS collection played them episodically, but it wasn't typical of PBS stations in certain time periods. There was a time when Lionheart was only selling the movie versions to PBS stations so unless the station had its own back catalog it was stuck with them. However, almost all of my collection is episodic. (There were a couple of Pertwee stories when I screwed up the taping on CPTV and had to replace with the movie version from MPTV.) I complete agree that the episodic version is crucial. (Unfortunately, I also have "episodic" versions of The Five Doctors and Season 22, where the cliffhangers make no sense at all, but the episodes were butchered in order to fit the time slot.)

    'Britophile' is a new word for me. They're usually called Anglophiles and poor Scotland and Wales just get ignored. I would argue that Commonwealth countries are chock full of Anglophiles; it's just that nobody counts them. (I worked for some time with a gentleman from Trinidad who, despite his fairly leftist politics, was nonetheless very fond of the monarchy. I think this can only be explained by Anglophilia.) But Britain shouldn't feel too bad. Are there any Americophiles anywhere? (Actually, there are, of course, but I think they almost all wind up by becoming American citizens.)

    I agree with what you say about enticing and mystery and all of that, but I think it's brilliant as well. Keep in mind that An Unearthly Child has to get credit for the whole idea of the Doctor and the TARDIS and all of that is brilliant. This, of course, is part of the difference in our perspective. You came to the first episode steeped in the show's lore already, so what you saw most of all are the paths shown which were never trod. My perspective gives it full credit for the path it did tread as well, i.e. the mysterious man in the police box whisking people away into Time and Space.

    You can imagine my disappointment, though, when I got to The War Games and realized that nobody remembered all that stuff about being "exiles, cut off from our own planet without friends or protection." Even though this had happened only five years earlier, granted with an entirely different production team. Biggest weakness of Doctor Who and arguably also its biggest strength - no institutional memory whatsoever.

    And yes, I also can't wait to watch the show with my daughter. I've even started collecting the novelizations purely so she can read them, if she so desires.

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  12. ”'Britophile' is a new word for me.”

    That could be because I’ve only just invented it! I was kind of riffing of the American habit of calling English English ‘British’.

    ”I would argue that Commonwealth countries are chock full of Anglophiles; it's just that nobody counts them. (I worked for some time with a gentleman from Trinidad who, despite his fairly leftist politics, was nonetheless very fond of the monarchy. I think this can only be explained by Anglophilia.) Are there any Americophiles anywhere? (Actually, there are, of course, but I think they almost all wind up by becoming American citizens.)”

    That was representative of British Leftists of a certain generation, too. Your attitude towards the monarchy was often a litmus test of how left you were. (Nowadays even pro-royalists tend to talk as though they should get a choice over who the monarch is. Which is kind of missing the point about monarchism, really.)

    I was partly coining the term ‘Britophile’ because I consider that in America something unique happens. America should be more similar to the other dollar nations (rather than Trinidad or India) but the War of Independence continues to resonate throughout history. To use a trivial example, Australians and New Zealanders my age tended to grow up reading the same comics as I did. British culture was more naturalised, less exotic, to them. (Of course globalisation is making everything moe homogenous, I’m really talking about the residue of the past.)

    Americanophilia is similarly unique – it’s everywhere, but so is Americanophobia. This is pretty much fixed by America being the dominant world economy. At a certain point it stops being a choice to consume American products, because they are so ubiquitous. If I decide to go to the cinema one night, chances are I’ll end up seeing an American film. People wear American fashions or listen to hip-hop without even thinking about it. This is enhanced by American culture being weighted towards popular culture, even more so than Britain.

    Americanophobia from a Leftist perspective is perhaps unsurprising (even if it makes for a crude analysis of the world), but it’s actually far more widespread than that. I think this is because America is seen as The Boss, and everyone likes to grumble about their boss. I’m frequently amazed by how many otherwise intelligent people will assume America is composed of white cigar-chomping oil barons whose skyscrapers are surrounded by black homeless guys, with no-one working a regular job.

    In short, ‘going British’ in America means tweeds and a Scottish malt whisky. ‘Going American’ in Britain means a backwards baseball cap and Coca Cola.

    “You can imagine my disappointment, though, when I got to The War Games and realized that nobody remembered all that stuff about being "exiles, cut off from our own planet without friends or protection."

    This is probably another combination of different jump-on points and cultural differences, but I see the Doctor’s voluntary exile as an essential element. The aristocrat who turned his back on his privileged position is a frequent one in our culture. (Think of the Titus novels.)

    ”Biggest weakness of Doctor Who and arguably also its biggest strength - no institutional memory whatsoever.”

    Basic rule of continuity, build on it when it suits you. Ignore it as soon as it doesn’t. Good continuity does not a good story make.

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  13. True on the absolute ubiquity of American culture. I think the best comment on this comes in Wayne's World, when Wayne asks Cassandra how she learned to speak English. From the Police Academy movies, she says. And it's true: there is no avoiding the English language, and there's no avoiding the gradual takeover of the American dialect.

    On Americanophilia: count me in. I love the fact that the the USA, more than any other country, was designed rather than just agglomerating by chance. I love the explicit constitution, and the bill of rights (although it pains me greatly to see the TSA and other government agencies crapping all over it).

    I also have to admit that the best TY (as well as the worst) comes out of America: if you leave Doctor Who out of the equation, then all of my favourite TV series are American: Veronica Mars, Buffy, Firefly, The West Wing, Frasier ... Maybe it's just that the size of the market allows a wider spread of ambition, with lower lows (which I just ignore) and higher highs.

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  14. I decidedly agree that the U.S. has a different relationship with Mother England than the Commonwealth nations. I also agree that this is largely due to the War of Independence, though there are other factors since then as well such as Jay's Treaty, the War of 1812, England's ambivalent support for the South in the Civil War, etc. In the 20th century, the U.S. was happy to put all that behind them, but the separation in culture had already been achieved.

    I’m frequently amazed by how many otherwise intelligent people will assume America is composed of white cigar-chomping oil barons whose skyscrapers are surrounded by black homeless guys, with no-one working a regular job.

    For what it's worth, I'd blame this on our own popular culture. If you watch U.S. cop shows, you'd swear that all American blacks lived in ghettos dealing drugs, which isn't remotely true. (The Wire, which is extravagantly praised for its realism, even though it's not actually terribly realistic, is probably the greatest modern offender.) And to watch our sitcoms, you'd think that all white Americans lived really fabulously opulent lives, apparently through inherited wealth or something. (I can't tell you the number of twenty-somethings I've seen on television sitcoms with jobs like waitressing who live in New York apartments I couldn't afford to live in.)

    This is probably another combination of different jump-on points and cultural differences, but I see the Doctor’s voluntary exile as an essential element. The aristocrat who turned his back on his privileged position is a frequent one in our culture. (Think of the Titus novels.)

    I'm fine with the Doctor being a voluntary exile. I just wish they had come up with an explanation that made some sort of sense with the character as originally presented.

    Basic rule of continuity, build on it when it suits you. Ignore it as soon as it doesn’t. Good continuity does not a good story make.

    Obviously not. And for the most part I'm in favor of ignoring continuity in Doctor Who. I couldn't care less whether the Dalek stories contradict each other and I also don't care that there are no less than three separate explanations for the destruction of Atlantis. I do think it would be helpful if they tried to be at least a little consistent when dealing with the personal history of the main character since that's the stuff that people (and not just obsessive fans) remember.

    Mike: my own Americophilia (can an American be an Americophile?) stems from the same source, though certainly the list of America's historical sins is long and grievous, but this is true of every nation. Sadly, we gave up our Fourth Amendment rights at airports back in 1973 when only rich people flew and I think very few people cared. It's a great pity since it's now a pretty firmly enshrined exception. Only the far right and the far left have been vocally opposed to the new TSA security measures. The majority in the middle seem to be indifferent, more's the pity.

    I've tried TV from a number of different countries (English-speaking) and only the U.K. can approach U.S. television. The U.S. has major advantages on everybody: namely big heaping gobs of money for production values and a massive market which, as you say, allows for large numbers of niche programs. The U.K. have a definite advantage in acting talent (due to a stronger theatrical tradition) and an arguable advantage in writing talent, certainly in facility with language, i.e. dialogue. For these reasons, the U.K. is about the only English-speaking country which can hope to counteract U.S. advantages. The U.S. of course also produces an absolute mountain of garbage television. I'd bet it produces more garbage television than the rest of the world combined produces television, but who cares about average quality? Only top quality matters since nobody's forced to watch the garbage.

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  15. For some reason Andrew Stevens has sent a post which came to me as an e-mail but didn't get posted here. I'll re-post it now, with apologies to anyone who sees it twice. It also looks like I need
    to break it into two posts. Anyway, Andrew says...

    "I decidedly agree that the U.S. has a different relationship with Mother England than the Commonwealth nations. I also agree that this is largely due to the War of Independence, though there are other factors since then as well such as Jay's Treaty, the War of 1812, England's ambivalent support for the South in the Civil War, etc. In the 20th century, the U.S. was happy to put all that behind them, but the separation in culture had already been achieved.

    I’m frequently amazed by how many otherwise intelligent people will assume America is composed of white cigar-chomping oil barons whose skyscrapers are surrounded by black homeless guys, with no-one working a regular job.

    For what it's worth, I'd blame this on our own popular culture. If you watch U.S. cop shows, you'd swear that all American blacks lived in ghettos dealing drugs, which isn't remotely true. (The Wire, which is extravagantly praised for its realism, even though it's not actually terribly realistic, is probably the greatest modern offender.) And to watch our sitcoms, you'd think that all white Americans lived really fabulously opulent lives, apparently through inherited wealth or something. (I can't tell you the number of twenty-somethings I've seen on television sitcoms with jobs like waitressing who live in New York apartments I couldn't afford to live in.)

    This is probably another combination of different jump-on points and cultural differences, but I see the Doctor’s voluntary exile as an essential element. The aristocrat who turned his back on his privileged position is a frequent one in our culture. (Think of the Titus novels.)

    I'm fine with the Doctor being a voluntary exile. I just wish they had come up with an explanation that made some sort of sense with the character as originally presented.

    Basic rule of continuity, build on it when it suits you. Ignore it as soon as it doesn’t. Good continuity does not a good story make.

    Obviously not. And for the most part I'm in favor of ignoring continuity in Doctor Who. I couldn't care less whether the Dalek stories contradict each other and I also don't care that there are no less than three separate explanations for the destruction of Atlantis. I do think it would be helpful if they tried to be at least a little consistent when dealing with the personal history of the main character since that's the stuff that people (and not just obsessive fans) remember. "

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  16. He then adds...

    "Mike: my own Americophilia (can an American be an Americophile?) stems from the same source, though certainly the list of America's historical sins is long and grievous, but this is true of every nation. Sadly, we gave up our Fourth Amendment rights at airports back in 1973 when only rich people flew and I think very few people cared. It's a great pity since it's now a pretty firmly enshrined exception. Only the far right and the far left have been vocally opposed to the new TSA security measures. The majority in the middle seem to be indifferent, more's the pity.

    I've tried TV from a number of different countries (English-speaking) and only the U.K. can approach U.S. television. The U.S. has major advantages on everybody: namely big heaping gobs of money for production values and a massive market which, as you say, allows for large numbers of niche programs. The U.K. have a definite advantage in acting talent (due to a stronger theatrical tradition) and an arguable advantage in writing talent, certainly in facility with language, i.e. dialogue. For these reasons, the U.K. is about the only English-speaking country which can hope to counteract U.S. advantages. The U.S. of course also produces an absolute mountain of garbage television. I'd bet it produces more garbage television than the rest of the world combined produces television, but who cares about average quality? Only top quality matters since nobody's forced to watch the garbage. "

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  17. And this is me!


    ”I think the best comment on this comes in Wayne's World, when Wayne asks Cassandra how she learned to speak English. From the Police Academy movies, she says.”

    A friend of mine was working in North Carolina for a while. After explaining to someone she’d only just arrived from England, she was told “well you speak very good English!”

    ”I love the fact that the USA, more than any other country, was designed rather than just agglomerating by chance.”

    It is not, I hope you understand, that I don’t like design. I love Bauhaus art about as much as is possible without attempting conjugal rights with it. And one single sight of Comic Sans means I have to lie down in a darkened room, thinking happy thoughts.

    But you get beyond a scale and it just gets creepy. My parents lived for a while in Milton Keynes, which was designed after the grid system of some West Coast cities, and I hated it. It felt like being trapped in an architect’s drawing blown up to actual size. Being built on the South Downs pretty much rules out any grid system for here in Brighton. The whole town looks agglomerated higgledy-piggledgy and all the better for it! The great thing about human beings is that they can self-organise, and unexpected consequences come out of their endeavors.

    ...of course I don’t mean to generalise all American cities into one suburban sprawl. I’ve often seen Americans taking endless pictures while visiting Brighton, enthusing over its age. But Brighton’s a Victorian town. There’s parts of New York which are just as old.

    ”I love the explicit constitution, and the bill of rights (although it pains me greatly to see the TSA and other government agencies crapping all over it).”

    I can only quote Gil Scott Heron on the constitution – “a noble piece of paper.”

    ”I also agree that this is largely due to the War of Independence, though there are other factors since then as well...

    Oh, to be sure! Though I think the War of Independence started the snowball rolling. It was also a factor in the minimal nature of the welfare state in the US, which must surely be much of the source of the “self-reliant individual” in it’s culture.

    ”For what it's worth, I'd blame this on our own popular culture. If you watch U.S. cop shows, you'd swear that all American blacks lived in ghettos dealing drugs, which isn't remotely true. (The Wire, which is extravagantly praised for its realism, even though it's not actually terribly realistic, is probably the greatest modern offender.)’

    Now if you’d stuck to your general point I’d have been with you! But ’The Wire’ shows black characters from all walks of life. The incumbent Mayor, Senator Clay Davis, the Police Chief... all black. There’s also black cops and teachers. Of course, not one of those three examples is much of a positive role model, but that’s probably more due to the show’s credit rather than detriment.

    Veering wildly off-topic, I’m interested in the ways Americanophobia and Americanophilia can co-exist. I tend to see the ‘inside job’ conspiracy theories about S11 as an example of Americanophobia, where “America” is made the aggressor even when it’s American civilians getting killed. The fact that so many Americans choose to believe in all this doesn’t diminish what I’m saying... Americans can be as Americanophboic as well as philic.

    Yet in a BBC documentary about the ‘Loose Change’ film (one of the main conspiracy adherents), one maker proudly proclaims how they made the film on a no-budget and without any previous experience. He was clearly trying to make an anti-American film into an “all-American success story.” Is this two visions of America colliding with each other? Or just someone very stupid saying something very stupid?

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  18. ”I've tried TV from a number of different countries (English-speaking) and only the U.K. can approach U.S. television.”

    I believe in many other European countries the film industry is essentially subsidised, which probably draws people to it away from TV. (Raising the greater budgets is normally the main disadvantage.) No idea how it works in Australasia or Canada.

    ”The U.S. of course also produces an absolute mountain of garbage television. I'd bet it produces more garbage television than the rest of the world combined produces television, but who cares about average quality? Only top quality matters since nobody's forced to watch the garbage.”

    I’m not sure if it’s a matter of just upping the quantity and hoping the proportion of quality stays the same. I think of the renaissance of American TV to be relatively recent, and had heard it was more due to the arrival of cable networks such as HBO. (Similarly digital channels have created a mini-renaissance for the BBC. BBC4 is pretty much BBC2 the way I always remembered it. Though it goes in more for documentaries than dramas.)

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