Acting Performance in Quality Television

Rachel Wilson

No, I am not talking about the quality of your television screen. Quality television is not about watching TV in HD with the biggest screen size, it’s about the kind of TV shows that you watch. With the Emmy Awards coming up, it’s only natural to take a look at what quality television is and why it is the best.

What is Quality Television?

Have you ever wondered why some shows feel like they are at a higher level than other shows? You are probably watching a show that can be defined as quality television. Quality television is the idea that television shows are of a higher quality if they have more complex narratives, mise-en-scènes, bigger budgets, successful well-known actors, etc. Quality television shows are shot in ways that compare to how films are shot. They have a higher style and usually fewer cameras than most shows that are not “quality”. Quality television shows are often associated with realism and/or darker themes, like sex, money, and violence, and are geared toward a more “highbrow” audience. By “highbrow” I mean the richer, whiter, and straighter male types of audiences who are more likely to enjoy male dominated stories about sex, money, and violence. Quality television shows earn more recognition and the most respectable award nominations because they have bigger audiences, and more money in their budgets to produce the best stories, cast ensembles, etc. The most noticeable detail from quality television shows is the higher caliber of acting and actors who star in the shows. This part of the overall performance of quality television is the most talked about and arguably the most important part of any show. If a quality television show does not have high-quality acting or good actors in it, then it is not seen as a good show, and is not given the recognition that the producers and creators of the show desire. Quality television shows require good acting performances to maintain their “quality”.

Why is Quality TV So Good?

Quality television shows can be found anywhere these days, but it all started with HBO. HBO became huge in the 90s with its original programming that premiered throughout the 90s. HBO used to, and still does, pride themselves on the quality of their programming that their slogan used to be “It’s not TV. It’s HBO” (HBO). HBO believed in their quality productions so much that they advertised themselves as better than all TV. In the article “Boundary Collisions in HBO-BBC Transnational Coproduction: Rome and Parade’s End,” Robin Nelson writes that “HBO distinguished itself, and transformed the television industry, in establishing a market for distinctive and aspirational TV series based on good writing under the creative freedom of a premium subscription channel not beholden to advertisers’ sensibilities” (149). This shows that HBO was the original subscription service that started the movement into quality television shows. With the move towards better writing and more aspirational TV series, HBO initiated the start of quality television.

Some of HBO’s most successful and notable quality TV shows came out in the late 90s. This elevated HBO’s status and convinced other networks to follow suit and create their own quality television. With the move into the 21st century, more and more channels and networks debuted their own quality television shows. Nowadays, quality television can be found anywhere, and anyone can access it with almost every streaming service having their own original quality television shows to stream. The introduction of streaming services allowed for quality television to expand away from cable and into the hands of more consumers. Quality television used to rely on corporations advertising their products during the commercial breaks in-between scenes in quality TV shows. Now that streaming services have a lot of money, the creators of quality TV shows have bigger budgets and do not have to worry about which advertisers need to advertise their products in their show and they do not have to worry about organizing their episodes in ways that make room for commercial breaks. Putting the advertising concerns aside, creators of quality TV shows often have another main worry in mind. Casting their shows with the best actors is what makes or breaks any television show, not just those of “quality”. In the article “Reframing Television Performance,” Philip Drake writes that the “distinctiveness of such quality television as The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards, it seems to me, is at least in part due to their screen performances” (6). This shows that any good quality TV show is successful because of the level of acting performances that are showcased in them. The most successful quality television shows of all time are recognized as such because of the memorable acting performances that were a part of them.

Quality Acting Performances Are Vital to The Success of Quality TV Shows

As I mentioned in the end of the previous section, the most successful quality TV shows of all time are seen as “quality television” partly, or even mainly, because of the superior acting performances that were a part of them. In the case of television in the media, the most successful shows are the most talked about shows. The most talked about subject of the most talked about shows is usually the acting because the actors involved are the most famous figures of the shows, and the acting categories in every award show are always the most prestigious and popular categories every year. Therefore, if your show has good actors, you have a successful show. Success is most often measured in awards earned and numbers of audience members watching and interacting with the shows. Overall, high-quality performances are the most important element of any quality television show. One successful quality television show that depended its success on its high-quality acting performances was the FX show, The Americans. The Americans ran for six seasons from 2013-2018 and won 4 Primetime Emmy Awards. The overwhelming majority of their Emmy wins, and nominations, were for the acting performances throughout the series. The reason why The Americans had so much success with their acting performances was because they hired a successful actor from overseas, and because the writing of the show required for the lead performances within the show to be multilayered and more complex than other roles in the show.

The Reign of Game of Thrones

When people think of quality TV shows, they usually think of shows like The Americans. However, one of the most successful quality TV shows, and TV shows in general, is HBO’s Game of Thrones. Most people probably would not think of Game of Thrones being a quality television show because unlike most quality TV shows, it is not based in a realistic setting. Game of Thrones is based in fantasy, but the acting and feats of special effects, locations, cinematography, and huge battle sequences make it a high-quality TV show. Game of Thrones ran on HBO for 8 seasons from 2011-2019 and won a record breaking 59 Primetime Emmy Awards. As I mentioned previously above, Emmy Awards and awards in general are how quality television shows measure their success, and Game of Thrones has the most of them out of every quality TV show in history. Like many quality TV shows, and unlike The Americans, Game of Thrones’ Emmy Award wins reflect many aspects of the overall performance, not just the acting. Because the show has such a large and talented ensemble cast, so many actors were nominated every year, but many of the wins for the show come from writing and effects. These elements are also very big parts of the overall performance and mise-en-scène of quality television shows.

Despite Game of Thrones not having many wins in the notable award categories for acting, the actors were still highly recognized and celebrated for their work in the show. Game of Thrones was the cause for most of the actors’ careers to expand and grow exponentially. According to the popular video media source WatchMojo, Peter Dinklage, who played the fan favorite Tyrion Lannister for all 8 seasons of Game of Thrones, has the third “best TV acting performance of the last century so far.” Ironically, Peter Dinklage is the most decorated actor from the series, and he is one of the only American actors in the show. With everything that has been focused on so far, Brits coming over to American quality TV shows has been very successful, but in this case, it is almost the exact opposite with just as much, if not more, success. British actors in main roles in quality television shows is synonymous with success, and even though Game of Thrones did not have Emmy wins by the British actors in the show, they were still highly commended for their performances. In the chapter “Game of Thrones: Investigating British Acting” from Transatlantic Television Drama: Industries, Programs, Fans, Simone Knox and Gary Cassidy wrote that “Game of Thrones, as a telefantasy show, could be assumed to privilege a certain kind of heightened performance style, one commonly labeled ‘theatrical’ and with which British and Irish actors have traditionally been associated” (184). No matter how you look at heightened theatrical performances, in the case of Game of Thrones, they work perfectly and should earn the credit that they deserve. This is just further proof of how perfectly the actors of Game of Thrones structured their high-quality performances for the show because when you watch the show, it feels like no other performances can compare.

Quality Performance = Better Performance

In conclusion, quality television shows have better performances which make them the more successful, and the best kind of television there is. There are many kinds of television that are just as enjoyable as quality television. Who doesn’t like to just sit and watch some reality TV or a sitcom? Overall, quality television is the best kind of television, and quality television performances are the best kinds of performances, because they are the most captivating to watch. The acting performances are extremely compelling, and the writing and production value of quality television shows are what keep audiences coming back to it for every episode and every season. This ultimately makes quality television the best kind of television because every aspect of performance in quality television is made and destined for success.

Works Cited

Benioff, David & Weiss, D.B., creators. Game of Thrones. HBO, 2011-2019.
Drake, P. (2016). Reframing Television Performance. Journal of Film and Video, 68 (3-4), 6-17.

https://doi.org/10.5406/jfilmvideo.68.3-4.0006

Framke, C., & D’Addario, D. (2020, November 25). The Best TV Performances of the Decade.

Variety. https://variety.com/feature/best-tv-performances-decade-2010-2019-1203440439/.

Home to Groundbreaking Series, Movies, Comedies & Documentaries. HBO. (n.d.).

https://www.hbo.com/.

IMDb.com. (2011, April 17). Game of Thrones. IMDb. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0944947/.
IMDb.com. (2013, January 30). The Americans. IMDb.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2149175/?ref_=ttawd_awd_tt.

Knox, S., & Cassidy, G. (2019). Game of Thrones. Transatlantic Television Drama, 181–200.

https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780190663124.003.0012

Nelson, R. (2019). Boundary Collisions in HBO-BBC Transnational Coproduction.

Transatlantic Television Drama, 147–162.

https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780190663124.003.0010

Spake, N. (2020, May). Top 20 TV Performances of the Century So Far.

https://www.watchmojo.com/video/id/33125.

Weisberg, Joseph, creator. The Americans. FX, 2013-2018.

 

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Acting Performance in Quality Television by Rachel Wilson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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