Can I Watch Only Quality TV Each Year?

We’ve gotten into the habit of watching an hour (well, a TV hour, meaning 42 to 50 minutes) of commercial-free TV before bed. Not every night, certainly, but probably four to five nights a week.

We don’t have a TV–we watch downloaded shows on a laptop. They’re what I’d judge to be ‘quality’ shows. Television has experienced a renaissance in quality in the last decade, and these shows are the result. They’re mostly critically-acclaimed–“Dexter”, “Veronica Mars” (though the acting on this show is appalling), “30 Rock”, “Battlestar Galactica” and so forth.

I got to wondering. If we, hypothetically, watched four or five episodes of quality television each week, is there enough out there for an entire year?

Let’s make it 230 TV-hours a year. What are the best shows that add up to about that number? I’ll use these critics’ lists as a starting point, and tweak them a bit for my personal preferences. I’ll also assume that the writer’s strike didn’t exist (so that there would be complete seasons). The numbers refer to the total hours for a season:

  • “Dexter” – 12
  • “Mad Men” – 22
  • “30 Rock” – 11
  • “House” – 22
  • “Big Love” – 12
  • “The Wire” – 22
  • “Battlestar Galactica” – 22
  • “Friday Night Lights” – 22
  • “Pushing Daisies” – 22
  • “Rome” – 10
  • “Damages” – 13
  • “Californication” – 22
  • “The War” – 7

No Project Runway at My House

I haven’t seen a single episode of many of these shows (this season or past ones), so I’m basing my notion of ‘quality’ on critical response and word of mouth. It’s in the eye of the beholder. If you think “Project Runway” is quality TV, well, all power to you. You just can’t watch it at my house.

Plus, back in Canada, I spend plenty of time watching the Canucks, so that qualifies as my brainless viewing. I was hoping I could come back to some local playoff hockey, but that’s not looking all that likely.

My list gets me to 219 hours of TV. That sounds like a lot when you say it like that, but it’s only about 3.5 hours of TV a week (as each TV hour probably averages 50 minutes or less).

That’s encouraging, in a way. If you’re disciplined in what you watch, you really could spend a reasonable amount of time enjoying just the cream of the television crop.</p

Plus, there’s plenty of good TV (I’ve never seen more than one episode of “Deadwood”, “Arrested Development”, “House” and so forth) that I’ve missed from the past five years to fill in the gaps


  1. Nathan: Indeed, though I wasn’t sure if “Mad Men” just stopped because of the writer’s strike. Maybe somebody can think of another show to add to that list to round it back up to about 220.

  2. This is exactly what we do a lot of the time as well. We just started watching the last season of The Wire last night.

    We like watching Six Feet Under even though it’s older and we’ve seen the whole season twice, and Big Love too (we own the first season). We’ve rented Alias but got a bit bored with it after a while. Recently we had a 24 marathon because I’d never seen it. We watched 2 seasons and I had to take a break.

    We have the Shaw PVR and I record all the design and home reno shows I enjoy, and so I can watch those at my leisure, fast fwd’ing through the icky commercials. Even with our regular programs we like (Amazing Race, Survivor, Lost), we’ll record it and start the program 15 minutes or so late, so we can skip the ads.

    I watch more than 3.5 hours of TV a week I’m sure, but I feel that it’s “plenty good TV” for me. If I could have completely ad-free TV I’d be pretty happy.

  3. Robot Chicken – While probably not “critically acclaimed” or “politically correct” is fantastic, and at around 10 to 15 minutes a pop it could be used as quality-filler. 20 episodes per season so it’s only about 3 and a half hours a year, and some of the episodes are really re-watchable because of the fast pace and the density and variety of gags.

  4. Outside The Office and Lost, DVD/BT is the only way I watch TV now.

    I remember you posted a clip from it a few weeks ago, so I don’t know if you’ve seen it all, but Flight of the Conchords is great. IIRC, there are 13 22-min episodes.

    I’ve heard a lot about Heroes and I just started the first season. Through the first half dozen episodes its been good.

    Deadwood and Arrested Development are also great choices to fill in gaps.

  5. Off the top of my head I’ll recommend a few I’ve been watching lately, though I’ve only seen a couple episodes of each so I can’t guarantee quality:

    Extras (if you’re into Ricky Gervais)

    The Secret Diary of a Call Girl (if you don’t mind Billie Piper)

    There’s also a lot of old stuff that gets around the internets via word of mouth. You just generally have to ask the right friends what they recommend.

  6. Nathan: Noted.

    Mike and Mike: I’ve seen segments of both shows (the Robot Chicken Star Wars special was excellent), but tend to prefer my sketch comedy in bite-sized served over the web.

    Gillian: Will check out “Extras”. I tried out “The Secret Diary of a Call Girl” but was a bit underwhelmed (despite Billie Piper’s hotness).

    Alastair: Jeremy whats-his-name is charismatic, and I’ve enjoyed a few bits in years past (like the endless abuse he inflicted on a pickup truck), but I have zero interest in cars. I don’t even like driving them.

  7. Ah, that’s the strangest thing about the show – take my brother-in-law, for instance – he can’t get enough of the show, and he’s without question the most un-car person I know. And my sister-in-law, who loves the show as well is equally car indifferent.

    It’s the editing, the script, the camera work, the music, the whole package. The cars are just a convenient shell upon which to place the whole show. In short, it’s a well produced show, not a show about cars. Heck, I have a 94 Subaru and a Mazda – hardly show stoppers in the pantheon of supercars… But I do lust after a Ferrari from time to time… Right before I figure out how much they cost…

    If I may, try the African adventure – episode 04,
    season 10 – originally broadcast on Nov, 4, 2007.

    The trek to the North Pole – episode 00, season 10, July 25, 2007

    And try the American trip Ep 3, Season 9 – Feb 23, 2007, I think.

    …all classics. But the Winter Olympics special with the biathlon driving/shooting, ice skating, ice hockey with small cars, rocket-powered Austin Minis, among other things… is another classic episode…

  8. Todd and Julie: Yep, we watched all three seasons of “Weeds” last fall. The writing is tremendously sharp, and the acting really quality. This monologue always cracks me up (er, for mature audiences only):

  9. I’ve only seen two shows on your list. 30 Rock and House. Both entertaining. But give me a CSI rerun any night of the week, after a long day at the office. It asks nothing of me. I zone out. I drift off. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.

  10. Thanks for pointing out some shows I’ve missed (being overseas last year, and mostly giving up on TV-watching this year) – I’m especially enjoying Californication!

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