But the history of people even trying to create what would today be recognized as quality television programming is simply very short. Nothing from before the 1990s holds up at all and even something as good as the beloved Buffy is rather mechanically crude compared to a contemporary understanding of how you're supposed to put serialized drama on the screen. |Yglesias|
In the comments Yglesias makes it more explicit that he's only talking about dramas, but still. I seem to recall that Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere were both pretty good. Northern Exposure, by the way, came on the air in 1990, and I think it holds up pretty well against just about anything.
Anyway, there's something a little fishy about comparing TV shows across eras. Expectations change, and that doesn't necessarily mean that modern expectations are better. One thing to remember about shows like The Wire is that their intricate plotting more or less assumes both that viewers will watch episodes more than once and that viewers will sometimes watch several episodes back to back. To fault a show from the 1970s for existing in a different technological milieu strikes me as a mistake.
Still, I think it is right that there is an awful lot of good TV out there at the moment. I watched the first six episodes of Weeds the other day, and it was awesome. Sad and funny and clever all at once.