The Wire... The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Office, Red Riding, Underbelly, Life On Mars, Deadwood, Damages, Generation Kill, The Good Wife……. These are not exclusively crime fiction, nor am I necessarily a fan of them all. But what they all share is a high-end, adult approach to subject matter and production, a kind of observational genius and the will to put it to work in the service of good human story-telling. The equivalent SF shows (in terms of profile) seem not only to pursue, but almost to glory in, the exact opposite – an unrepentantly YA-eyed comic-book reading of the world.
There is a lot of disagreement in the discussion which follows but I have to say I agree with him (and of course I would add Mad Men and Breaking Bad to his list, perhaps The Shield). I love SF but the last really good space show I watched was Firefly, and the last good non-mimetic was Life on Mars. Doctor Who is a social and cultural phenomenon, which I love on those terms, but it isn't high class adult drama - it isn't even supposed to be.
ajr makes a supplemental post where he says - I think rightly - that quality shows don't get big audiences. Historical and crime dramas do however get awards and adult prestige. Do SF shows fail to win awards because they don't try to excel, or do they fail to excel because they are never in the running for awards? This is a genuine question - does the genre demean itself, or is it demeaned?
We see the same in high-budget films, they can not afford to stick their necks out, and art is by definition 'sticking its neck out'. Or perhaps I should say, every commercial venture can include one risk. Artistic integrity is a risk, and big budget is a risk, and a non-naturalistic premise is a risk. That means a high quality SF show or film is running three risks in one. It is a miracle we ever get any at all.