Nowadays, TV-channels and online streaming platforms offer an extensive selection of excellent shows, which can be attributed to the notion of quality television. This term was originally coined in the 1970s and, today, it functions as a meta-genre which implies three key features, these are complexity, authenticity, and signature style (Schluetz, 2016). Therefore, in order to be considered quality television, series have to be held to high standards of production, storytelling, and, to some extent, be innovative. There are many examples of quality television released over the past years, including shows such as The Wire and The Sopranos. Yet, when studying the topic from a historical perspective, it is important to analyze those series which preceded the modern ones. Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice are the perfect examples of quality television which excelled at achieving high levels of complexity and signature style, which ultimately attracted large audiences to them.
The authors of Hill Street Blues revolutionized the genre of cop shows and TV drama in general by introducing innovative elements to its form. One of the primary features of the show was its continuing storylines, which allowed the audience to observe not only different crime investigations but also the personal lives of the main characters. It comprised aspects of different genres, including detective shows, soap operas, and even comedy, and often incorporated discussions on the social issues topical during that period. For example, in the twelfth episode of the first season, captain Furillo manages to get the local councilman charged for corruption, yet the bureaucrat’s powerful friends retaliate by preventing Furillo from being promoted (Kozoll & Bochco, 1981). Such elements contribute to the show’s authenticity and complexity, while its eclectic nature creates its signature style. TV drama series which followed Hill Street Blues adopted many of its techniques and methods, which shows that the iconic show significantly shaped the definition of quality television.
Similarly, Miami Vice is another series from the 1980s which changed the approach to TV-production and largely defined the standard of quality television. The authors of Miami Vice chose to invest heavily into the production, which included designing fashionable attires for the main characters, using exotic cars and yachts, as well as utilizing popular songs as soundtracks. Essentially, the show’s primary innovation was that it introduced Hollywood-level quality to TV-series, described by Caldwell (1995) as cinematic style. For instance, in the fifteenth episode of the first season, the main characters travel to Colombia to find a law enforcement agent behind the murders of drug dealers (Yerkovich & Pinero, 1985). The plot of this episode is comparable to feature movies with considerable budgets of the period. Miami Vice significantly contributed to the future of quality television by making large-scale actions and expensive sets a part of TV-series production.
Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice exemplify quality television of the twentieth century, and many of the features introduced by these series are still utilized by modern shows. Hill Street Blues was one of the earliest examples of quality television since it incorporated various genres and covered topical social issues of its period. Moreover, it offered to the audience a unique insight into the private lives of law enforcement officers, which were intertwined with the storylines. Miami Vice advanced the area of quality television by stressing the importance of production and making its episode look like full-fledged feature movies. Thus, the two series shaped the development of quality television and continue to influence screenwriters and their stories to this date.
Caldwell, J. T. (1995). Televisuality, style, crisis, and authority in American television. Rutgers University Press.
Kozoll, M., & Bochco, S. (Writers), & Thompson, R. C. (Director). (1981). I never promised you a rose, Marvin (Season 1, episode 12) [TV series episode]. In Kozoll, M., & S. Bochco (Executive Producers), Hill Street Blues. MTM Enterprises.
Schluetz, D. M. (2016). Contemporary quality TV: The entertainment experience of complex serial narratives. Annals of the International Communication Association, 40(1), 95–124. Web.
Yerkovich, A., & Pinero, M. (Writers), & Glaser, P. M. (Director). (1985). Smuggler’s blues (Season 1, episode 15) [TV series episode]. In Mann, M. (Executive Producer), Miami Vice. Michael Mann Productions.