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Transparent, with Jeffrey Tambor (centre) in the lead, is one of the TV shows now available on demand on Amazon Prime for Singapore viewers.

The Crown, starring Claire Foy and now a Netflix highlight, has been critically acclaimed.

Never been more diverse - and better

Dec 30, 2016 5:50 AM

TV is changing faster than you can say Amazon Prime, and it's almost all for the better. As we hurtle through the second decade of what's called the "Golden Age of Television", the number of acclaimed TV shows has risen unprecedentedly. In 2015, the number of scripted TV series aired in the United States was 400, compared to 376 in 2014.

2016 alone saw the debut of some two dozen new shows including Stranger Things, The Crown, Westworld, American Crime Story, The Night Of, Better Things, Search Party, Atlanta, The OA, The Night Manager and The Good Place. Shows that are only one year old like Mr Robot, Better Call Saul, American Crime and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt hit new highs in 2016, while older favourites like Game of Thrones, The Americans, Veep, Rectify, Orange Is The New Black, Black Mirror and Silicon Valley held their ground.

The exponential rise in quality TV shows has a lot to do with Internet companies such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu putting their resources into creating original content that viewers can access any time they want. Amazon Prime Video was launched in Singapore earlier this month, and now goes head-to-head with Netflix which was rolled out this year.

Apart from hammering the last nail in the coffin for appointment TV, the proliferation of online shows has also allowed more voices from various minority backgrounds to emerge and be heard around the world. The diverse roster of winners of this year's Primetime Emmy Awards proved as much. Jeffrey Tambor won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy for playing a transgender father in Transparent, while Egyptian-American newcomer Raimi Malek scooped Outstanding Lead Actor in Drama for Mr Robot.

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These developments will have repercussions for the politics of representation in the arts and entertainment for years to come. In cinema, for instance, 2016 saw big movies embroiled in huge yellow-face controversies, such as Tilda Swinton playing a character that was originally Chinese in Doctor Strange, and Matt Damon taking the lead in Zhang Yimou's historical epic The Great Wall.

Another round of protests by Asian actors will emerge when Ghost In The Shell opens in March 2017 with Scarlett Johansson playing a character that should have been Japanese. Hollywood is facing greater pressure now to address the lack of diversity on the silver screen.

Meanwhile, as TV brings forth more characters from minority groups including LGBTQ, a strong backlash would surely come from the conservative quarters of Singapore, demanding that the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) step in and regulate the content. How IMDA responds to these demands, which seem contrarian to a rapidly changing world, will be watched closely.