Times are a changin’.
Television shows are getting better and better while Hollywood has continued to hang their hats on the same old stuff. While TV programming is becoming more and more film-like, it seems like the film industry is making that a pretty low bar. And sure while we’ll always have wonderful films each year (I’m not going to argue that Argo, Silver Linings Playbook and The Avengers are terrible movies; far from it). But the overall theme in Hollywood seems to be following the old theme of network television: lowering the standards of excellence. And while networks have been scrambling for more and more reality TV shows, the execs in LA are scrambling for more and more sequels, prequels and remakes. Heck, even the new stories are the same old formulas.
It used to be a great attribute of movies that they could afford to move at a much slower pace and develop characters, plot points and relationships much more deliberately and often even more artfully. They had 90-150 minutes to do so. Television on the other hand was given the alternate task of fitting an entire plot into 22 (or if lucky, 44) minutes. However, since this new shift of film-like TV shows (that many say started with shows like Oz in 1997 and The Sopranos in 1999), their roles have switched.
Since this revolution in quality programming at home–as well as with the rise in frequency of repetition and redundancy within film–TV shows have been given the gift of time. No longer do complicated and intricate storylines need to be summarized and squeezed into their allotted weekly time slots. Because of the availability of every episode of every show being in everyone’s pocket–or at the very least, in people’s living rooms, anyone and everyone can watch entire seasons of their favorite shows in just a few hours, days or weeks. This has now flipped the roles of TV & Film on their heads (Flipped em for real.) and has made it seem as if film is the one being squeezed and forcing impossibly complex and arduous plot points into no more than two hours And then on the other hand, a television show can afford to go into more depth, take its time with the characters, and really flesh out a great story over an entire season of episodes.
It’ll be interesting to see how the next generation of film is produced and digested. It’s already beginning to change as Netflix has begun to produce its own shows (and quality shows at that). I can’t imagine the world were living in continuing down this path like we are for very much longer. Granted, there will always be a place for predictable sitcoms, trite legal dramas, and daily soap operas on television, but that doesn’t mean that the best of the best is staying the same as well. Right now we can go to the movie theater and see the latest film release for $10 (per person) plus $5-10 for refreshments, or we can stay at home and pay $7.99 per month (at least when watched legitimately–otherwise freely) and watch TV shows that are often written, acted, directed and produced at film-level quality.
Look, I love going to the movie theater as much as the next guy (love me some red vines and diet coke), but there’s a reason I haven’t gone to see many the last few years: money. I don’t have much of it. And most of this country is in this tiny little boat along with me–or should I say, large, shoddy boat along with me. But what we do have are laptops, Internet connections, and HDMI cables so we can watch any show and movie on our TVs and computers for anywhere from absolutely free to a few bucks a months. Heck, in college I even watched a few movies that’d only been our in theaters for a few days (at a friend’s house, of course).
So what’s the solution? What’s the endgame? Not entirely sure. But here are a few idea that I could see at least being part of the the next generation of TV/film production, and aspects of the next paradigm shift within the Industry…
– New movies available to watch at home…still $5-10 (via iTunes/amazon/etc.) and not just through your cable provider. Heck, they do this in hotel rooms, why can’t we do this on our laptops? I understand companies like Time Warner, Comcast and DirectTV are pretty dang big, so this may be something that just can’t happen, but it seems to be inevitable the way things are going.[It’s kind of like the fact that we currently have the technology to build inexpensive water-run cars with the only by-product being steam, but because Exxon, BP, and Chevron run just about everything in this country (as other oil companies contribute to run the world), we’ll probably never see a truly green car.]
– More and more crossover of film actors moving into television. J.J. Abrams has been leading this charge for years, and now it seems like premiere actors will be doing the same. I was shocked to see Kevin Spacey playing the lead in a TV show (well, Netflix-streaming show…I guess that’s a TV show…?) as he took the reigns of House of Cards (along with director David Fincher) and blew away critics. As he stated regarding his accepting his first television role in 25 years, “It’s not the first time I’ve been offered TV – and it’s not the first time David’s been offered TV – but for whatever reason, we both waited. Whether that was because maybe we were nervous about the confines of some kind of television… but it seemed like this was the right moment for us to jump into it. Netflix stepped up and outbid everybody and said, ‘We believe in you guys – you don’t have to audition and do a pilot, go do 26 episodes’ – so we were like… f**k, okay, that’s pretty awesome!”
– A lessened (or possibly even eradication of the) stigma behind straight-t0-TV movies. No longer will they be Oxygen/Lifetime originals, but instead produced and developed by quality people and worked through with the new generation of audiences in mind who are bored with formulaic, unoriginal programming (or at least, need a little wind0w-dressing on those story arcs).
Who knows? Maybe this is all for naught, and I’m just reading into this current trend of TV and film and each will go back to their “normal” roles in a few years. I seriously doubt it, but hey, I’ve been wrong before. I just know that for now, shows like Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, and Mad Men are just as good as any movie I’ve seen the last five years in theaters.
Excited to see how shows like these change the film landscape in the coming years.