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Downton Abbey & Mad Men: What do TV shows say about our culture?

I am one of those people who loves TV. Yes, I also love reading books but after a long day, to me, there’s nothing better than curling up on the couch and watching TV.

Recently, when looking at what I was watching, I started to notice a trend. The shows I most looking forward to watching are Mad Men and Downton Abbey – period pieces. I know I’m not alone in these being my favorite shows as my Twitter feed blows up every Sunday night with excitement as the Earl of Grantham, his family and household staff navigate the early 20th Century. Let’s also not forget the anticipation for the return of Don Draper and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce team this spring.

So what does it say about our culture that two popular TV shows are period pieces? It could be escapism in part, but more than that I think audiences are so drawn to these television shows because of their rich storytelling. The characters are well-developed and while we don’t like each and every one, we care about what happens next and how the story continues.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what the television shows I watch say about me and those around me. Often times, my thoughts bring me back to a lecture I attended given by Lauren Zalaznick, Chairman of Entertainment & Digital Networks and Integrated Media at NBCUniversal, about “The Conscience of Television.” This lecture was a fascinating exploration about how television preferences have changed over time in relation to the socio-economic and political factors in our country. Fortunately for those who were not able to attend that lecture, it was also a featured Ted Talk:

Based on Zalaznick’s presentation, looking at the popularity of Downton Abbey and Mad Men it would seem that due to higher unemployment rates compared to five years ago, the need for fantasy/imagination television that takes us out of our every day is on the rise. While I don’t believe Reality TV is going anywhere, it’s my hope that the next decade of television won’t be so focused on judgment but rather on storytelling so we can further develop the conscience of television.

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