Week 5: Cult TV

1.  Wilcox and Lavery (2002) identify 9 defining characteristics of ‘quality TV’ – can you apply (with justifications) any of the 9 characteristics on this list to another TV series (including those on Netflix, etc.) that you have viewed recently ? Are there any other characteristics that you could add to their list?

Television has become a dominant part of modern life. Across the world people are turning on televisions to watch the latest episodes of whatever flashy or exciting drama has hit the world by storm. Most of this content that people watch is there to draw the eye, to grab your attention, and then bombard us with the shallow plots and often shallower characters; depending on good looks and overly done drama to hold it. However, there is occasionally a quality show that is released into the circuit that makes an impact, gathers a following and provides actually entertainment that is also thought provoking and really engaging. Measuring what constitutes quality TV can be an extremely difficult challenge.

According to Wilcox and Lavery (2002), there are 9 different ways in which to measure if a show counts as quality. They used the example of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as it matches all of their criteria, and I have to agree that they make a good argument. Looking at my own television habits, I realized that a number of the defining characteristics of quality television could be applied to one of my own favorite shows, The Blacklist.

The Blacklist is an American crime thriller that has been running for 6 seasons, with a seventh on the way. It focuses on the interactions between a criminal mastermind (Raymond Reddington) and the FBI as they work together to take down those on Raymond’s ‘Blacklist’ of the most influential and dangerous people and groups in the world. Primarily set in Washington D.C, these cases are a means to explore the personal lives of the characters and the hidden connections between Raymond and Agent Keen, his handler. While there is plenty of action, it is these longer term plot lines that are teased out across seasons that keep the viewers engaged with the story, as connections are made between apparently unrelated events.

The Blacklist fits several of the several elements of criteria for being quality television. Primarily, it has a memory of all that has transpired within the show, making use of previous character arcs, items and plot developments to weave a greater story across the entirety of the show. Stories with no obvious connection to each other lead to events, deaths or discoveries that push the plot onward, and every episode is heavily dependent on what has already transpired to dictate what will happen. There is also the discussion of controversial topics, such as the corruption of officials in the government of the United States and even the assertion of a president through illegal means. It challenges our preconceptions about good and evil by putting the criminals we are supposed to hate on the right side, fighting against corruption by those who are supposed to protect us. It also has a large ensemble cast, with the core team of FBI agents working together throughout a lot of the series, the occasional deaths leading to replacements, all of whom have plenty of screen time dedicated to developing their own characters and history. While some characters are more central to the plot, all of them have a real impact on the story on a regular basis.

While the list provided by Wilcox and Lavery is extensive, one thing I would add to it would be the balance of humor with drama. If a show gets to grim, people don’t want to have to deal with it, while if it is overly humorous, you lose the intellectual stimulation that you want from a script. A well balanced show will provide the drama while using the humor to provide enough lightness to the proceedings to help people cope with dark events on screen.


McCabe, J., & Akass, K. (2011). Quality TV: Contemporary American television and beyond. London: I.B. Tauris.

Wilcox, R. & Lavery, D. (2002). Introduction, in R. Wilcox & D. Lavery (eds) Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.

Geraghty, C. (n.d.). Aesthetics and Quality in Popular Television Drama – Christine Geraghty, 2003. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1367877903006001002?casa_token=hiOr8U_0YscAAAAA:HyvJ6e519hwGIjnLENQTkERwrubxxMXbJGz5uKj7QKyFz1JgRusWhOfUjysSDZJ__vXeYQ6XD1Ae5bA

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