ABR Ian Potter Foundation Fellowship: 'The Golden Age of Television?' by James McNamara

In 2013, US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich asked Australians to stop pirating Game of Thrones. A single episode of HBO’s gritty fantasy drama had been illegally downloaded over four million times, equalling the legitimate viewership of the program. ‘As the Ambassador here in Australia,’ Mr Bleich wrote, ‘it was especially troubling to find out that Australian fans were some of the worst offenders with among the highest piracy rates of Game of Thrones in the world.’

Sniggers about our penal heritage aside, this illustrates a wider cultural phenomenon: the rise of US television drama. Over the past decade and a half – since HBO’s The Sopranos débuted in 1999 – America has produced cable shows that elevated television to an art. Television moved from ‘fast-food entertainment’, ‘mind candy’ (in producer Aaron Spelling’s words) to a medium reviewed in highbrow literary journals and discussed with a passion and currency that literary fiction can only envy.

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James McNamara

James McNamara

James McNamara is an Australian television writer based in Los Angeles. His television work includes comedy and drama writers rooms for the Academy Award-winning See-Saw Films, Matchbox Pictures/NBC Universal, Foxtel, ABC, Porchlight Films, and Endemol Shine, and developing shows for Goalpost Pictures and Playmaker Media/Sony Pictures. McNamara received ABR’s third Ian Potter Foundation Fellowship for his long-form essay, ‘The Golden Age of Television?’ (ABR, April 2015), praised by Clive James as ‘a global contribution to cultural analysis’. McNamara’s essays and criticism have also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Times Literary Supplement, and The Spectator.

Born in Western Australia in 1982, McNamara received degrees in English and Law from the University of Western Australia, graduated in screenwriting from AFTRS, and holds a doctorate in English from Oxford, where he was a Clarendon Scholar. Before becoming a writer, McNamara was a litigator specialising in international disputes at a top-tier US law firm. He was recently named a BAFTA LA Newcomer. 

Published in April 2015, no. 370

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