Big American sitcoms, R.I.P.
I'd argue that a more alternative brand of TV has entered a golden age the past five years or so. Successful HBO series like Six Feet Under and The Wire spring to mind.
A lot of TV culture has gone underground because we're watching it differently. Torrents, DVDs, and streaming content makes it so we watch TV series much like we read a novel--that is, all in one sitting, if we want.
People are no longer at the mercy of the big networks for their TV fix. As a result, it's become apparent that people have tastes that go beyond Ross and Rachel. Shows like The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Arrested Development have raised the smartness bar for TV, and, thankfully, have made TV talk at the water cooler interesting again.
In today's previews, I mentioned - in passing and with reference to The Big Bang Theory (which I'm sure you've read thoroughly and taken to heart) - the apparent demise of juggernaut American sitcoms. Though Friends and The Simpsons still constitute something of a spine to programming on E4 and Sky One respectively, can you imagine a sitcom from America now that could be as huge as Friends was in its mid-1990s heyday?
As popular as My Name is Earl is, I can't imagine any one popping into the hairdressers and asking for "a Joy", can you? And though The Big Bang Theory has a bouncy theme tune by The Barenaked Ladies, I can't see it reaching number three in the singles charts, as The Rembrandts' I'll Be There For You did back when we were all obsessed with Ross and Rachel and the gang.
Of course, Britain has always had a funny (peculiar, not ha-ha) relationships with US sitcoms: Everyone Loves Raymond and King of Queens were hardly hits here though massive in the US. Similarly, How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men fail to set the UK heather alight. But even in the US, the studio sitcom is a dying beast. Is it simply that the big American sitcom is, like, so over?