08/06/2014 05:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Dominant Medium: Television

The average American watches four hours and 19 minutes of television daily, according to

What's that? You've been meaning to catch up on Mad Men, Breaking Bad and House of Cards but you don't really watch much TV? In fact, you don't even own a television or have cable?

Insert long pause here. I'm speechless.

Next thing you'll tell me is you never snack between meals, you don't drink or smoke, and you only read the lost books of Aristotle for entertainment. Well, congratulations. I'm sure you're very pleased with yourself; however, it's not likely you have much to share with your friends, co-workers, family, or... Now here's the rub... With anyone looking to cast you.

My point is: if you intend to work in the field of television, you need to study the medium.


From the moment you walk into an audition for anything, a commercial, a film, a corporate narrative or training film, a cartoon, you name it... you will very likely be given a simple, pop-culture reference that includes a style, character, actor, attitude or situation found in any of the most-popular shows from recent television. If you aren't even remotely familiar with the reference, you will be at a decided disadvantage and it will appear you have left your home on the Moon just long enough to visit planet Earth for this audition.

"It's really become the dominant cultural medium of our time in terms of discussion, in terms of inspiration, in terms of excitement." So says Andy Greenwald, writer for "One of the reasons TV got so good in the last ten years is because people got sick of their projects not being made in Hollywood. So, we saw this flood of actors and writers and ideas just gushing into TV. In order to get attention they took risks. And they pushed TV past the boundaries we had become so used to for the past 30 or 40 years."

"Television is having its second 'Golden Age'," said actor/director Rob Reiner. "Right now, there are things happening on television that are far beyond anything you see even in movies."

If you really think television only offers culturally depraved content and is nothing more than pandering to the lowest common denominator, then you haven't seen anything on television for a really, really longtime... Gilligan.

The truth is the last ten years or more has seen television deliver work that often artistically surpasses every other medium today. Consider The Sopranos, Homeland, nearly anything on Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network, Dexter, Arrested Development and 30 Rock. Granted, we've never had such a surplus of channel options; in most regions, cable alone offers more than a thousand channels with their basic package.

If you must rant and rail against something, pick on something you honestly know something about. Besides avoidance only leads to ignorance and that's never acceptable especially when there's so much great work being done. (And to be done for that matter.)

All of this work is as near as a Netflix subscription for about $8 a month and a DVR rental with your cable provider for about the same. Both are investments well spent on your career.

So study up, Young Scholar. You might just enjoy yourself. With projects like The Borgias, Portlandia, Ray Donovan, Orange is the New Black, Parks and Rec, Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, Modern Family, Louie and The Good Wife, just to name a few... You may have some backlog of viewing to catch up on. No worries. Divide and conquer.