It occurred to me last night that the HBO revolution which made adult, in the last ten years, most American drama on television, and most political comedy, had a cause, and it is a political one.
And it is this. It is impossible to imagine an episode of Homeland with commercials. It is also impossible to imagine an episode, so encumbered, of Rome, Veep, Mad Men, Girls, John Adams, The Borgias, or Breaking Bad.
Commercials require the darkest drama to ‘lighten up’ after the commercial break. You can’t keep going down, down, fathoms down, into despair or gore or suspense or grim incestuous revelation when you have to come up, in seven minutes’ time, for ‘air’, and product placement, and jovial scenes of suburban reconciliation.
This explains, too, why the BBC led the world in long-form drama, and America took forty-five years to catch up with it. It explains why Edge of Darkness was possible, and why it had a deeper focus than I Love Lucy. It explains why Talking To A Stranger and Father Knows Best had nothing in common. The attention span of the audience had to be longer. And, with commercials, it couldn’t be. More to come.