The impact of streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, cannot be underestimated. They have, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, irrevocably changed the manner in which a viewer consumes television, and in turn the narrative creation of a television series.

Before streaming services, narratives were created with clear climactic intervals, designed to entice the viewer to watch again next week. This meant that narratives were often rhythmically paced, and could, at times, feel stilted. Now, writers are no longer confined by these constraints, particularly when writing for a series that will be unrolled all in one go (streaming services have, in some cases, reverted to releasing one episode a week) and are writing with the knowledge that their viewer can choose the number of episodes that they want to consume in one sitting. Thus, writers must consider this when creating a series. How can they encourage the viewer to continue watching? How can they encourage a viewer to invest in an entire series in a potentially succinct period of time?

The implication and influence of these services are manifold. Artistically, they have impacted the potential narrative shape of a series as well as enabling writers to experiment more with subject matter and style. They have altered the very viewing experience and the way in which this experience is shared: viewers invariably share their thoughts through social media. Interestingly, the effect has been felt through the programmes shown on conventional television networks. Such is the success of these services (Netflix reported an additional 7 million subscribers last quarter) that conventional networks have had to invest in the quality of their programming in order to compete.

Arguably, the quality of television, both on networks and streaming services, has never been higher, and this rise in quality has given way to a class of programming referred to as ‘prestige television’. A series which is perceived as being of a higher superiority, often viewed as being artistic and featuring high production values. Shows such as Mad Men and The Sopranos are early examples of the form, and its further rise can be attributed to the impact of these streaming services. Now that television is considered a worthy art form in itself, no longer compared to film and found wanting, the quality of both the writing and the calibre of acting has increased. Take the addition of A list celebrities to the cast of television programmes.

Big Little Lies boasts a cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern, and similarly, both season one and two of True Detective attracted actors usually associated with film (Woody Harrelson, Rachel McAdams). What then is attracting actors of this calibre to the small screen? Many have noted that television affords them to create an affinity with a character that would not be possible in film. Even Big Little Lies’ relatively short run of seven episodes provided viewers with almost seven hours of character development. Kidman in particular won acclaim for her portrayal of Celeste, a mother who is suffering at the hands of a physically abusive partner. Such a nuanced and effective depiction, given the ability and space to unfold over hours of television, would not have been possible in film.

Signing up to a television series no longer means that actors are tied in for endless series with little respite. The rise of the anthology format, such as True Detective and The Girlfriend Experience, allows actors to invest themselves in a character, providing them with the opportunity to demonstrate their ability, without potentially neglecting film and other television opportunities.