Once upon a time, the original series was the exclusive purview of the broadcast networks. As a matter of fact, for many years, these were called first “radio series” and then “TV series”.
But as our viewing options and technology broadened and advance, so did the opportunity for original series. With the coming of pay cable and a la carte pay stations such as HBO and Showtime came the first made-for-cable series. Showtime led the charge with several series throughout the 80’s, starting with John Byner’s 1980 sketch comedy series (produced with the CBC) “Bizarre”, followed in 1984 by “Brothers” and then in 1986 by “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”, both sitcoms. HBO followed in the nineties with the unusual sketch comedy series “Hardcore TV”, and Garry Shandling’s follow-up to his series, “The Larry Sanders Show”, both in 1992. Today, both pay cable channels have award-winning series, including “True Blood” and “Boardwalk Empire” on HBO and “Dexter” and “Homeland” on Showtime.
Basic cable channels tended to stay out of the original series wars, contenting themselves with syndicating programs from other stations for many years. There were the occasional exceptions to the rule, such as the the excellent AMC series about the golden age of radio called “Remember WENN”. AMC was also the network that started the current stampede of basic-cable series with “Breaking Bad”. Today, many basic cable channels carry original programming, both comedy and drama, including “The Walking Dead” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philedelphia”. There is also the DirecTV exclusive channel Audience, which carries many original series including this year’s “Rogue” and the last two seasons of the Glenn Close drama “Damages”, which they picked up after TBS dropped it.
Hulu began running both on-demand series and series brought over from other countries as a way to promote it’s pay service Hulu Plus. These series include “Behind the Mask”, “The Wrong Man” and the Israeli series “Prisoners of War”, which is the inspiration for Showtime’s “Homeland”.
Earlier this year, Netflix began running on-demand original series with the Kevin Spacey series “House of Cards”. They followed this with “Hemlock Grove”, and, in May 2013 with new episodes of the Fox series “Arrested Development”.
Also this year, Amazon Video decided to try it’s hand at original series programming with several new children’s series and sitcoms, including a serialized adaptation of the hit 2009 movie “Zombieland”, which the creators originally envisioned as a TV series. Right now, Amazon only offers the pilots of these shows for free on their video service.
~ Randal Schaffer