A Showtime executive wants his latest show, Masters of Sex, to be "bait for cultural critics," but, while a golden age of television has been a golden age for people who write about television, this self-awareness isn't really a good development for television.
The quote came up in a discussion about the upcoming drama following the sexual research team Masters and Johnson between The New York Times' Dave Itzkoff and Showtime's president for entertainment David Nevins:
Just as Homeland, Showtime’s Emmy-winning thriller, caught on by injecting itself into ongoing debates about terrorism and espionage, Mr. Nevins said he hoped Masters of Sex would “similarly be bait for cultural critics and editors,” as long as it did not descend into “dismissible prurience.”
Nevins' comment is an honest take on how our modern television economy works. He doesn't just want viewers—who may tune in to see all the, yes, sex on Masters of Sex—he wants engaged viewers who will place the show in some sort of sociopolitical context. Now it's not enough just to have ratings because there are plenty of shows that are watched by millions of people and yet barely discussed. You also have to have conversation. (Though if cultural criticism were enough to sustain a show, we'd get another season of Enlightened or Bunheads.)
But Nevins also comes off as a little desperate. Showtime has always been second fiddle to HBO when it comes to prestige, and he'd probably rather not think about the fact that the commentary surrounding the second season of Homeland had to do less with what the show said about terrorism and espionage, and more with how crazy it got.
It doesn't bode well for Masters that Nevins is asking for cultural criticism. Think pieces about shows like Mad Men or Breaking Bad or even, yes, Homeland come first because those shows are entertaining. If a show is just "cultural critic bait" that makes it sort of like school for television watchers. And no one really wants that.