The mark of a truly great television program is its ability to explore a world viewers may have never known while also making it familiar to them. No matter how far or distant the world being portrayed on your screen seems, the characters and story lines can feel like your own life. Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy world that doesn't exist yet viewers can find themselves relating to one or more of the characters. We've even tried to modernize them and visualize who they'd be if they existed in our lives today. Yet, what if a program that is meant to be set in the present can start to feel outdated? As viewers habit change, television is barely keeping up.
We all remember Zach Morris's cell phone and him ordering a pizza during class. That image was authentic to the time because that is what a cell phone looked like in the '90s. Although Saved by the Bell and many other programs that aired in the '90s can seem a bit campy when you watch them now they were of their time. That kind of dialogue twenty something years later can make viewers nostalgic or cringe. Television shows want to infuse the cultural dialogue of that era into the shows to appear relevant. But how much should writers tie-in cultural jargon? Is it even possible to keep up with nowadays?
Social media is a part of our daily lives and it will only grow with this younger generation who have grown up with cell phone in their hand. Do television programs capture that or create sci-fi worlds like Game of Thrones to avoid ever having to talk about tweeting?
During a dinner to promote her new USA show Complications, Jessica Szohr talked about how her former show, Gossip Girl, would be so out of date if it premiered today. Gossip Girl premiered in September of 2007 and centered around a fictitious gossip site in New York City. There were only a few celebrity gossip sites around and no Instagram. The show danced around modern day technology and attitudes about social media while never fully embracing it into the show.
The characters, who started off in high school, texted and used high school language. However, it wasn't until the later seasons that the show mentions actual celeb gossip sites or Twitter. If a show centered around teenagers living in the present world but didn't mention taking a selfie then it would be laughed off air.
Writers are still figuring out how to either work in technology to a show or work around it. TV Land's Younger is about a 40 year old woman who acts 26 to land her dream job (it's a stretch). Since the main character is in her 40's she is supposedly a social media noob and a lot of the dialogue can be tacky. The show however has become wildly popular among all age groups probably due to a great cast that allow viewers to look past the campy dialogue.
Who still uses flip phones?
The other route is completely taking out pop culture and even having your actors use flip phones. There have been many wildly successful shows with flip phone users. Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy and Orange is the New Black are just a few. Jessica Szohr even uses one for her new show. For those shows all the characters that use flip phones are in circumstances that limit them to the outside "real" world, a convenient scenario for the writers.
As viewers integrate social media into their daily lives, how much is it the responsibility of television programs to practically showcase them? It will be interesting to see how writers try to keep as we evolve at a faster rate than ever.