Placeshifting, a new media term that refers to the ability of viewers to shift programming oﬀ their television sets and onto hard drives and mobile devices, has multiple meanings in the current television industry.1 The technological placeshifting that allows viewers to access their in-home devices from remote locations contributes to the ratings drain associated with timeshifted viewing, especially given that many of these placeshifters are accessing stored rather than live broadcasts and watching TV on their own schedules.2 The networks inadvertently contributed to this phenomenon when they began oﬀering complex dramas such as Alias and Lost with series-long plot and character arcs that were better suited to viewing oﬀ the broadcast TV platform. The Big Three scheduled these kinds of series, at least in part, to respond to the channel spectrum placeshifting that occurred in the late 1990s when HBO began airing its own original series.3 During the next decade audiences started to view the premium channel as the home of the “quality drama series,”4 a marketing term that had come to stand for series with “large ensemble casts in well-crafted multilayered narratives that explore a side of American society not found in more formulaic fare.”5 Through its original series, HBO displaced NBC, which had built its late twentieth-century brand reputation on broadcasting both hits like ER (1994-2009) and critically acclaimed, although underperforming, dramas including Homicide: Life on the Street (1993-99), a quirky cop series that experimented in structure and tone.6 It was HBO, however, that greenlit the edgy prison drama Oz (July 1997-February 2003) from Homicide’s writer/producer Tom Fontana and, later, The Wire (June 2002-March 2008), from David Simon, the writer of the novel on which Homicide is based. As HBO’s ﬁrst weekly hour-long scripted drama, Oz generated critical buzz for the premium channel. That buzz intensiﬁed in 1999 when David Chase, who had been a producer on CBS’s quality drama Northern Exposure (1990-95), created HBO’s The Sopranos (January 1999June 2007).7 It quickly became the It’s not TV. It’s HBO signature series. Positioning its television dramas and comedies in relation to conceptions of distinction was a way for HBO to target consumers who prefer products that reinforce their self-conception that their tastes are more elite than everyone else’s.8 Among them are the viewers who, upon learning that Fontana is a television writer, would proudly proclaim, “I don’t watch TV” and then recount in detail the latest episode of Sex and
the City.9 Fontana’s anecdote indicates how in the late 1990s NBC’s self-proclaimed status as the location on television for “quality TV” had already been undercut by HBO’s skilled marketing and programming choices.10 It did not help that during the next decade, broadcast networks contributed to the migration of the “quality drama” to cable by giving more primetime slots to reality programming.