2010 is here and I’m continuing my series “Top Culture,” a series of lists on the top pop culture trends and ideas of 2009. It’s the Cliff Notes version of what’s hot and happening as we enter a new year!

Top Culture: Five Greatest Changes to Television in the past Decade

I can remember when I was in Jr. High and my whole family would sit down to watch TGIF every Friday night. I was obsessed with the show “SeaQuest” and would be depressed for days when I had to miss an episode. Television isn’t what it used to be anymore. There has been great movement in television in the last decade or so and unless you were really paying attention, it was easy to miss. Even with all the changes to TV, according to the Nielsen Co., the average American spent more than 153 hours a month watching television in 2009.

Why focus on television? We are inundated with media everywhere we look today, from the little screens we carry in our hands to the gigantic screens of your local movie theater. Unfortunately, the internet changes at a rate so fast it is too difficult to pin down, and what we learn may becomes obsolete in months rather than years. Movies tend to change at a rate so slow it is both easy and hard to gauge the next big thing. Television moves at a speed we can follow, but also keeps up better with the times than other forms of media.

The Rise of Reality and Unscripted Television

In 2009 the most watched regularly scheduled television show was American Idol Wednesday. The second most watched show was American Idol Tuesday followed closely by Dancing with the Stars. In the past decade the reality and unscripted shows have not become a fad but a network staple. The shows are cheap to produce and garner the same ratings as scripted television. This can mean that the television star your teens look up to isn’t an actor who plays a character, but a real person who shared a part of their lives with them. Those unscripted shows your teens are watching may have more impact on them than any other scripted shows they watch.

Cable Television Finds an Audience

A decade ago, you would only find quality scripted television on the major networks. Now some of the most critically acclaimed shows happen on HBO, Showtime, and AMC. These cable shows do not have the same pressure for huge ratings nor do they have to abide by the same standards as the major networks. They can afford the best writers and actors, even pulling actors from the film industry, which almost never happened before. There are more shows for us to pay attention to than what is on NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX, and these shows can be more controversial than anything on the major networks. Ignoring the cable networks now means you may miss a good deal of the programming youth are watching.

The Rise of the DVR and Internet Streaming

The TiVo and DVR showed up on the scene and eliminated the need for stacks and stacks of hard to manage VHS tapes to watch your favorite shows. Now with the press of a button you can record and save all your favorite shows and watch them whenever you want. If you forget to TiVo the latest episode of your favorite show, simply watch it online. Most shows now can be streamed off the web straight to your computer. I watch my favorite shows as often on my computer as I do on my television. We are no longer tied to the schedule set up by the networks. Instead, more and more people are choosing to watch what they want when they want with very little difficulty. It is another piece of media that allows us to pick and choose for ourselves rather than depend on someone else’s time table. So just because youth group is on Thursday Nights doesn’t mean your kids aren’t watching Grey’s Anatomy.


It is not just movies on DVD anymore. Your favorite shows, both new and old are being released in huge numbers on DVD. This allows old shows to find a new following, cancelled shows to continue to find an audience, and serial dramas to gain rather than lose viewers over time. For example, 24’s first season had only modest ratings success, and its complexity means it would be difficult for viewers to jump in anywhere in the middle. The studio chose to put out the first season in a low priced box set about a month before the second season was to kick off. The idea was successful in racking in big sales numbers and a 25% rise in viewers. Much like how the DVR and streaming internet has allowed for more choice in television watching, TV on DVD allows us to watch and watch again shows we enjoy rather than waiting for reruns.

TV goes Digital

On June 12, 2009, after considerable delay, TV went digital and left behind its analog past. While people were able to keep their old equipment by purchasing a converter box, today 53% of Americans have a digital TV. Prices for digital TVs have dropped drastically in the last decade as the size of a normal household TV has grown. Digital TV’s picture allows viewers to see what they were missing in their analog TV. The picture is so crisp and clear it is easy to see how digital will soon take over televisions everywhere. The youth we work with today will think of the days of analog TV as nostalgically as some of our leaders think of black and white TV.