The reason we look back on the television shows and films of our youth with such fondness is rooted in much more than blissful nostalgia. It comes down to the simple premise that things were just better back then.

We live in a time of light speed information transfer where audiences need constant input to stay glued to the screen. Without this input our focus drifts away from what we’re viewing and onto another gadget or bit of tech. For instance – how many times have you picked up a phone or tablet during an episode or feature-length? I’d say there’s not an innocent one among you.
To say that visual media back then was “better” doesn’t really cut it though, does it? Last week i watched Roger Moore’s outing as James Bond in ‘For your eyes only’ – i use this as an example because it illustrates a real change in the way tension is worked into a film and consumed. Theres a scene where our smarmy hero is climbing up a rope on a sheer cliff face. There is a henchman on the cliff above. The scene itself lasts a few minutes and within that time there is a palpable dramatic build. Will Bond fall? Will he make it to the top? Will the henchman destroy his climbing hook? There is no dialogue. Just a man and his rope. And it works beautifully.

( Roger Moore smarming up a rope )

Now, a scene like this would not make it into todays Hollywood (by that i mean todays Hollywood filmmaking trends and not the Hollywood environment of rampant sexual harassment) – due to tighter editing constraints and decreased run times – but mostly due to modern audiences needing to have their attention entirely, forcefully and consistently grabbed. Without sounding like an old man about it – films of today do not have the patience to play with that kind of narrative. The third act now feels like a bigger pay off because the film makers have been playing the long-game-tension-build instead of the ‘many builds’ of olden days. Ironically if i had the patience to graph this – it would look like steps, against the rising diagonal line of todays output.

It’s not that the quality of those old tv shows and films was better – as we’ve a come a long way visually, audibly and narratively since the 70s, 80’s and 90’s (my own personal golden era of television media) – but it certainly felt that the shows had more integrity, somehow more lovingly crafted and not just churned half heartedly to be disseminated among thousands of digital channels and streaming services.

There are obvious exceptions to this. Arguably shows like Sopranos, Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, Lost (come on, you were hooked for those first few seasons), Breaking Bad and Walking Dead all seeked to tell a coherent story and blend elements of quality in there too, building tension where permitted. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they didn’t. (The less said about where Walking Dead is going, the better) Cliffhanging mid-season and (pending renewal) finale has now become a staple of our times – whereas in previous years shows were left in limbo as to whether they would get another season.

So what was the factor that made shows like The A-Team, Knight Rider, Quantum Leap, Magnum PI and M*A*S*H* so culturally significant and nostalgically withstanding? What is the magical ingredient that makes us so fond of the output of yester-year?

Surely it’s more than just nostalgia. Personally i would say that these programmes impacted us at a point in our lives when we could learn something new from their viewing. When the medium of television was still a fairly new concept to your brain and you were discovering what it could achieve. Maybe it was the first time you saw it. Maybe it was a valuable life lesson. Either way you were informed and enriched (in some aspect of your being) by its viewing and to me that seems like a reason to remember it with fondness.

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