TV is an ongoing cycle of hits and misses. Even HBO, the channel responsible for probably more critically acclaimed series than any other, don't hit the mark every time - and even critical love is no guarantee of ratings success.
But one writer consistently gets it right. His name is David Simon.
He might not have the same level of name recognition as Joss Whedon or Greg Berlanti, but Simon's four most recent projects, all HBO series, have represented some of the most important and critically acclaimed series of the new millennium.
So why isn't everybody talking about his work?
Well, the truth is that his shows, despite receiving universal acclaim, don't tend to have mass audience appeal. Probably his best known work is The Wire, which began in 2002 and ran for five seasons. The Wire is frequently mentioned in the same breath as The Sopranos and Six Feet Under when people discuss the greatest TV series of all time. It explored facets of life not usually covered on television. It spent time developing its characters and it was not concerned with ratings (which is just as well, considering not many people watched it).
In 2004, Simon himself said that probably had something to do with the complex nature of the storytelling and the show's large non-white cast. It wasn't always comfortable viewing, and people don't always appreciate being challenged by TV.
Simon followed up The Wire with Generation Kill, a seven-part miniseries which followed a Rolling Stone journalist travelling with a platoon of marines at the start of the Iraqi war. The series is at turns funny and violent and visceral, and gives a ton of breathing room to its characters, avoiding pretty much all the usual cliches of war drama. It feels so real it could practically be a documentary. Next came Treme, which ran four seasons and focused on the people of the titular New Orleans neighbourhood rebuilding their lives after Hurricane Katrina.
If you're spotting a theme here, it might be that Simon isn't writing about things that are particularly in vogue. His series don't have people losing their shit on Twitter. His new miniseries, the six-part Show Me a Hero, stars man of the moment Oscar Isaac and tells the story of a controversial social housing project in the affluent New York neighbourhood of Yonkers.
As the man himself says in an interview with Grantland: “You are not going to get zombie-like numbers for a story about 200 units of low-income housing being built on the east side of the Saw Mill Expressway and the racial strife that ensues.” The critics might be on board, but it's hardly a sexy enough topic to lure audiences away from Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead.
Is audience appeal really that important for shows like Show Me a Hero?
But there's room for both types of show. A series as ambitious as Game of Thrones might never even have happened if The Wire and The Sopranos hadn't first paved the way for epic, character-driven pieces. Breaking Bad almost certainly wouldn't. And the fact that fewer people are watching the likes of Treme doesn't mean much - you only need to look at how The Wire took on a second life on DVD, reaching new audiences long after it had ended its run on television.
Simon has written a series with "no dragons, no vampires, no gangsters, no porn", in his own words - that's his formula. The joyful thing is that there's room for both. Entertainment is entertainment, whether it's a story that's important or one that's rooted in fantasy. But if you want to watch a story rooted in truth, you could do far worse than checking out Show Me a Hero, which is worth seeing for Isaac's towering central performance alone, and also stars Winona Ryder.
Will you be watching Show Me a Hero, and do today's biggest hits owe something to The Wire? Leave a comment and make yourself heard.