The story of American television’s recent past is one of upended traditions, a once cozy and complacent medium revolutionized by shattered taboos and antiheroes, serialization and binge-watching. But a lot of what’s fresh and inventive about the Peak TV era looks a little less so when you consider the precedents. Think it was gutsy of Game Of Thrones to bump off Ned Stark in episode nine? Then perhaps you haven’t seen how HBO’s very first hour-long drama ends its series premiere.
All of which is a rambling and pretentious preamble to protect the spoiler-phobic from being exposed to the full contents of this feature as they innocently scroll through their feeds. Consider yourself warned: Surprising developments in the first episodes of six scripted television programs are discussed in full below. But this is more than “Spoiler: The Inventory.” This is the tale of how a single creative choice can ripple across the surface of an entire art form, inspiring others, opening up previously unseen narrative avenues, and building into an entirely modern TV phenomenon that’s also one of the oldest TV stories there is: One show’s successful idea, imitated and altered ad infinitum.