Having watched some excellent quality drama recently I decided to review what they had in common.
First of all, it would probably help if I gave examples of what I consider quality television. It includes, but is not limited to: the Sci-Fi Channel's reimagined Battlestar Galactica, ABC's Lost, HBO's highly acclaimed production of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, and the UK's ITV channel Downton Abbey.
At first glance, these may not seem to have much in common. What connection could there possibly be between a futuristic sci-fi drama, a time-travel mystery, a swords and sorcery fantasy series and a period piece set in early 20th century England? The answer, dear reader, is characters, people in whom we have a vested interest, portrayed by competent actors. We may not necessarily like the characters, but we do have to want to know what happens to them.
It is not even a case of identifying with the characters. I have never been stranded on a mystery island with a Smoke Monster, nor survived a robotic genocidal attack. However, at the core of all of these shows is human interacting with human, humans dealing with situations outside their comfort zone, humans dealing with moral dilemmas, and that is eternal. Certainly, the special effects/sets/costumes/budgets are incredible, but without that emotional core, they are little more than pretty pictures, nothing to draw us back week after week.
George R.R. Martin recently drew my attention to a quote by William Faulkner, which goes something like this: "the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.” I believe that to be true, and for me, for any drama to retain my attention it must have that human core.