Skip to main content

About the project


Welcome to Scoring Peak TV, a project examining the transformation of television and its sonic storytelling from the 1990s to the present day. The project is in two phases of work: a conference/workshop (to be held at RNCM in Manchester, UK in July 2022) and an essay collection co-edited by Dr Steve (Janet K.) Halfyard and Prof. Nicholas Reyland.

Although a precise definition of ‘quality TV’ has proven elusive, Robert J. Thompson once suggested, in a 2007 essay marking a decade since the publication of his Television’s Second Golden Age: From Hill Street Blues to ER (1996), ‘we knew it when we saw it’. But do we know it when we hear it?

This project aims to do that hearing and audioviewing, and to analyse, map, contextualize, and critique the evolution of scoring and sound design practice during what is variously referred to as ‘quality’, ‘high-end’, ‘TVIII’, ‘peak TV’, or ‘the new golden age’ of televisual narrative. Examples relevant to the project extend from early and somewhat isolated instances such as Hill Street Blues (1981-87), The Singing Detective (1986), thirtysomething (1987-91), Dekalog (1989) and Twin Peaks (1990-91), via significant productions including The X-Files (1993-2002), Ally McBeal (1997-2002), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), and The West Wing (1999-2006) to series which, in one way or another, contested and extended the conventions or boundaries of TV storytelling in the wake of The Sopranos (1999-2007) – an increasingly rapid deluge, only slowed by the recent pandemic’s break in production schedules, including 24, Angel, Atlanta, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Black Mirror, Chernobyl, Dexter, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, Fargo, Firefly, Fleabag, Game of Thrones, Girls, Hannibal, House of Cards, Killing Eve, Luther, Mad Men, Mr Robot, Orange is the New Black, Six Feet Under, The Americans, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Killing, The L Word, The Mandalorian, The Wire, This is England, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Utopia, Westworld – and many more shows, including non-fiction and other content adopting (or resisting) peak TV’s paradigmatic status. Creatives producing music and sound for such shows have been adapting, evolving, rejecting, transcending, satirizing, and in many other ways moving beyond the conventions of blocks, library music and limited original content that once demarcated TV music and sound from film and other audiovisual media. Television’s sonic storytelling has been transforming.