How Relevant is the Past?

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

“Think only of the past for its remembrance gives you pleasure.”

Jane Austen wrote this almost 200 years ago, via her strong-willed protagonist, Elizabeth Bennett. For many modern audiences, the past, rose-tinted with nostalgia, continues to be a source of pleasure…and not just through remakes of ‘Pride and Prejudice’!

The last few years have seen a resurgence in Period Dramas on TV (For more on this, see TheirTV blog.) Much of this may have been spawned by ‘Mad Men’, but since Don Draper hit our screens, we have had Boardwalk Empire (HBO), The Borgias (Showtime), Hell on Wheels (AMC), Spartacus (Starz), as well as Life on Mars (ABC), Swingtown (CBS), Pan Am (ABC) and Playboy (NBC). You’ll notice a common trend, even with the ones I mentioned. When they’re on broadcast networks, period dramas tend to fail. That’s because they generally have narrow appeal. That appeal may well be loyal and highly engaged, which is why cable often proves a better home.

But even on cable, dramas set in the past can often struggle when compared to their present-day counterparts. Let’s compare ‘Mad Men’ to ‘The Walking Dead’, as both shows air on the same network, and both are perceived as big cultural hits.




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