Remember the good old days? The days when you could turn on prime-time television at 9:00 or 10:00 PM and catch an arresting hour-long drama mid-season and feel thoroughly entertained? Oh sure, maybe you didn't know all the character's names on ER or what exactly was going on between Harry Hamlin and Susan Dey on LA LAW but, you could pretty much tune in any night and enjoy a well-constructed program. Other shows required even less dedication; The Twilight Zone, Quantum Leap or Law & Order (in any of its many incarnations) could be watched in whatever sequence one wished-you always knew Jerry Orbach's mordant one-liners would be the same. The model made sense; after all, television viewing was a casual activity – prone to whims of channel surfing and audience distraction (not to mention toilet breaks). Dramas that forced a deep commitment of time and mental energy on the viewer simply selected themselves out of candidacy for Neilsen glory. Not any more.
The Atlantic's Ben Schwarz also explores the "megamovie" in his recent review of Mad Men:
For more than 10 years, the intricate, multiseason narrative TV drama has exercised a dominant cultural sway over well-educated, well-off adults. Just as urbanish professionals in the 1950s could be counted on to collectively coo and argue over the latest Salinger short story, so that set in the 2000s has been most intellectually, emotionally, and aesthetically engaged not by fiction, the theater, or the cinema but by The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Big Love.
After watching videos of The Sopranos 13-hour first season, the film critic Vincent Canby discerned that this new genre—owing to its “cohesive dramatic arc,” the quality of its production values and ensemble performances, and the sophistication of its writing—amounted to a “megamovie” rather than merely a tarted-up TV miniseries. And he bestowed on it a fairly exalted pedigree, tracing it not just to Dennis Potter’s English production The Singing Detective (1986) and Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) but even to Erich von Stroheim’s lost silent masterpiece, the nine-and-a-half-hour Greed (1924).