The scale of society has grown too big. Searching for mass appeal means a race to the lowest common denominator, leaving many with a hollow feeling. Technology has developed that gives the impression that centralization will provide benefits. That same technology can be used by decentralized controllers to give markets or entities a better representation of what they want. The tastemakers will tell us what is right and good. Tastemakers can also grow incredibly detached from the audiences they supposedly serve. America witnessed this in May as two reruns of I Love Lucy received nearly double the viewers of the Mad Men series finale.
This is Mad Men the water cooler show for the hip. How could I Love Lucy trounce it in the ratings? Why was Mad Men only pulling in 3.3 million viewers for its final episode? Part of this might be the idea that people say they like a show or say they watch but in reality do not. How much of Mad Men's cultural pull was just the mid-20th century aesthetics and LARPing that viewers could enjoy? It might be that Mad Men was a water cooler show to talk about the show's looks and eye candy but not about the actual show. Mad Men could be a SWPL thing. Like all SWPL things, the SWPLs claim to know all about it, but in reality, they know just enough to make small talk and appear knowledgeable.
The other split is that I Love Lucy had a gigantic audience that appealed to the masses. Those masses, while old or dead, still exist in large enough numbers to watch an age old rerun that they already know. Mad Men was beloved by our tastemakers, our cultural gatekeepers, and supposed media elites. Mad Men was a show that played to the NYC centric media's love with itself and the nostalgia vibe that has engulfed our culture as diversity causes people to seek the familiar and certain. Enough people who mattered liked Mad Men, therefore they made the show matter and appear better than it was. This is why The Wire is so lauded while The Shield is relatively forgotten for cable cop dramas. Both were very well done, but one played to the liberal narrative while the other was dark from start to finish with no real heroes. One show became the subject of Harvard courses, while the other has seen supporting characters move onto decent roles in other cop dramas.
This is also why white pundits wrung their hands over liking a show that was so white. How could they love something, consider it cool and hip, but it was so white??? They overlooked the reality of 1960 Madison Avenue and expected a rainbow to be onscreen. Media members also overlooked the heavy female writing crew. It is never quite enough for them. This is also why the few minorities allowed to grace the pages of the NY Times bemoan the whiteness of Mad Men and Girls. "A show is considered excellent, why aren't we on that show? Quick sound the alarm? We need black bodies and homos STAT!" It is a pathetic weird way of trying to skeeze some credit off the celebrated show; like adding a few blacks to Girls and Mad Men will allow some Afro-Am studies professor to think blacks contribute to high/middle brow culture. For a comical juxtaposition, the children's show Veggie Tales for years was Christian and unapologetically white. It had a Mexican character straight from the '50s Warner Brothers set who often played the antagonist and another Indian stereotype character. The NY Times never noticed because the show was for the rubes and never crossed their radar screen. No worries about anachronistic stereotyping with Veggie Tales.
It is not really how many people you reach, but who you reach. I Love Lucy's reruns scored nearly double the viewers, but for right now, which telecast mattered more to viewers? SWPLs and television critics raved or ranted about the series finale as well as the end of the Golden Age of television. I Love Lucy's reruns received a nice blurb about being colorized. This is also a product of the modern inclination towards deconstruction. The tastemakers are pretty detached in their views as they continued to push Mad Men as a very important show with very important messages in contrast to fans who wondered where America went wrong and rolled their eyes at new characters that reflected the Jewish/black/gay experience in the late '60s. The intelligentsia, if it reaches low to dicuss television, while want to deconstruct a show like Mad Men and discuss its dissection of '60s culture with 50 years in between. Your viewers at home do not care. People just wanted to see if Don failed just like people just want to see Lucy get into some hysterical situation and nail a few punch lines.