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.