How Apple TV+ Cornered the Market on “Prestige Dad TV”

Photographs: Apple; Collage: Gabe Conte

Masters of the Air, the miniseries about young, shearling-clad World War II fighter pilots, felt familiar at first. Or, as we put it in GQ:Masters of the Air Is Band of Brothers With Planes and Everyone Is in It.” Let’s parse this. Yes, everyone is in it (Austin Butler, Callum Turner, and Barry Keoghan, at least). As for the “Band of Brothers With Planes” part: Masters of the Air is an installment in Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’s WWII extended universe, which began with Brothers in 2001 and continued with The Pacific (Band of Brothers with boats) in 2010. But while both those series were HBO productions, Masters of the Air is, conspicuously, not.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the $250 million production price tag caused HBO to bow out in 2019. Apple then swept in like a [Googles “types of planes + Masters of the Air”] and, in January 2024, released it on Apple TV+. Five years into the launch of the streaming service, this move thoroughly made sense. Because if there’s one thing Apple TV+ does better than anyone, it’s Prestige Dad TV.

What, exactly, is Prestige Dad TV? First, we must remember the halcyon days of the Second Golden Age of Television, which was ushered in around 2000 by shows like The Sopranos and Mad Men and Breaking Bad. In other words, what we know as Prestige TV.

Nearly a quarter-century later, we’re in a streaming-network arms race, with hundreds of new TV shows premiering annually. Despite any outward aspirations to capture that prestige glow—complicated heroes, darkness both figurative and literal, high production costs—not everything can fall into this echelon. In fact, most shows can’t. Quantity is superseding quality, to the point where networks are leaning more and more into background TV—shows so simple you can digest them while simultaneously scrolling on your phone.

Somewhere in between those two poles of highfalutin drama and at-home lobotomization is Prestige Dad TV. It’s different from Dad TV, which is, as Yahoo recently put it, “where shows like Yellowstone, Billions and Reacher live—not too heavy, not too light, just right for unwinding.” With no disrespect to Bosch or Ray Donovan, Prestige Dad shows aren’t built to run for seven seasons and then get a spinoff. Prestige Dad TV has all the classic signifiers of prestige TV, but is laser-focused on topics that dads of a certain age traditionally can’t get enough of. Espionage. Action. History—especially, but not limited to, World War II. Shows about no-nonsense older men—especially, but not limited to, dads—saving the day.

Unlike traditional Dad TV, Prestige Dad TV is for dads who aren’t like other dads. After all, they have the know-how to subscribe to Apple TV+ in the first place. It's still not as gargantuan as, say, Netflix or Prime Video. The catalog itself is also smaller and more carefully curated. “Having entered the streaming battlefield with no legacy library and no licensed content … Apple has always proudly taken a quality-over-quantity approach to its original programming,” Variety reported last fall.

Even before Apple TV+ officially launched, it signaled its premium-dad ambitions by ordering Masters of the Air for its in-house studio. Within its first year, it released Greyhound, a feature film about the Battle of the Atlantic, starring none other than the Emperor of Dads himself, Tom Hanks. And just as Masters of the Air concludes on March 15th, Apple TV+ is also releasing a documentary narrated by Hanks about the actual men Masters of the Air is based on.

Lest you think their big-budget historical dramas are solely about the Western Front and Tom Hanks, Manhunt also premieres on March 15th. As if the punchy name and true crime vibe wasn’t already intoxicating to dads, Manhunt is set in 1865 (yes) and about U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (yes) trying to track down John Wilkes Booth in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination (oh yes).

More of a Revolutionary War dad? Apple TV+ is here for you too. (If HBO’s John Adams was made in 2024, chances are it would be an Apple TV+ joint.) On April 12th, they’re releasing the limited series Franklin, starring none other than Michael Douglas as Benjamin Franklin, embarking on “a secret mission to France,” in what is hopefully not an erotic thriller in any way, shape, or form.

Speaking of Douglas, Prestige Dad TV excels at getting veteran actors who dads love to make the leap into television. Check out Gary Oldman (his last name is literally “old man”) in Slow Horses, fully embracing his inner crank and giving one of his best performances as a former Cold War agent who can’t stand his incompetent younger co-workers. Idris Elba in Hijack takes it a step further and gives us an entire show about a dad so hyper-competent that he can negotiate his way out of a hijacking crisis and save nearly an entire plane of people.

It makes me think of Max Read’s treatise on ‘90s Dad Thrillers. (Incidentally, Harrison Ford, king of the 90s dad thriller, made his TV debut last year as a gruff therapist in the comedy Shrinking on—you guessed it—Apple TV+.) “Thirty years ago,” Read wrote, “Succession would've been a Dad Thriller starring Sean Connery as Logan Roy, William Baldwin as Kendall, and Rene Russo as Shiv.” The dad-thriller is one of many film genres that have largely disappeared, so we may not ever see a movie like The Fugitive in theaters again—but it’s only a matter of time before we get an equivalent eight-part series.

Meanwhile, the Prestige Dad genre is catching on elsewhere. On the big screen, dad movies ruled the multiplex in 2023. Netflix recently announced they’re producing a series from the Game of Thrones creators about the assassination of President James Garfield. There’s never been a better time to watch TV for dads—while standing up two feet away from the screen, of course.

Originally Appeared on GQ


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