Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010
by PopMatters Staff
by Richard Beck
n+1 (20 May 2010)

“Hill Street Blues elicited the response it did by changing the way stories were told in prime time. Up through the second half of the 1970s, prime time television was episodic. Each episode of a show like Dragnet introduced a narrative and then resolved that narrative in time for the closing credits. Jack Webb, Lucille Ball, Starsky, Hutch—from week to week these characters reappeared on the screen as though newly born, blissfully unburdened of everything but the flickering present. By the early 80s, though, it was clear that something needed to change. The arrival of pay and cable television stations, as well as home video equipment and rental chains, had eaten away at ratings, depressing network television viewership by just over 3% between 1977 and 1982. ABC, CBS, and NBC needed to inspire new kinds of loyalty in their audiences. They did it by making the stories longer, and by giving their characters memories and futures.”

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