The Flaming Nose is always interested in thoughtful articles about the state of television, and the NY Times has a good one this morning entitled "Weighty Dramas Flourish On Cable" written by Bill Carter.
We highly recommend a read of this, which talks a lot about the 10pm hour as the former network TV home of what I'd call "challenging" dramas, and the notion that what's airing on cable TV right now is today's equivalent of those. Good points about the difference between 9pm and 10pm shows, too.
The only thing that I'd comment, is that if what's coming out on cable networks now -- great drama like AMC's Breaking Bad and Mad Men, or FX's Rescue Me -- is equivalent to older critically-acclaimed 1op shows like St. Elsewhere, or NYPD Blue...well, yikes, because those shows were notorious flops in second-run situations. The article also talks about the difference in cost of the cable shows and the different economics -- having subscriber fees to offset costs -- but it's still an issue if these shows are of little financial use after the initial runs.
Cheap shows and an eternal afterlife -- that's the golden egg, but other than an exceptional 10pm network show like Law & Order (exceptional not in quality but in the simplistic nature of the structure), there's a lot of money being spent on shows that nobody wants to watch even twice.
But hey, read the article and find out what the NY Times has to say about it.