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C'mon Hollywood: Is TV kicking film's ass?

12.04.2012

SPOILER WARNING: The show clips below may contain spoilers.  Be warned.  Also, be warned that they're awesome.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when, but I think it was the pilot for Lost that my perception of TV changed forever. The plane crash and resulting mindf*ck of an opener left me stunned and elated. Every frame of that pilot felt like I should’ve been watching it in a theater. I blasted through the first season faster than the smoke monster through the jungle and by the time it was over I was a slave to the show. The addiction had kicked in. I was doomed.

The resurgence of television shows and the entrance of cable programming as a force to be reckoned with in the last decade is no mystery. Shows like Lost, 24, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Wire, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, The Shield, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy, American Horror Story, Justified, etc. and comedies like Arrested Development, Modern Family, 30 Rock, The Office, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, How I Met Your Mother, The League, Eastbound and Down, Family Guy, South Park, etc. have become a cultural phenomenon. They’ve become the thing to talk about, to mull over, to predict and ponder. Many of these shows have taken over the place in your geek brains that contemplates the awesome and begs to be fed more, where the food source of film has started to wane.

As far as film goes, the obvious retort to its superiority over TV is the big-budget extravagance and star-power talent pool. However, that well is drying up of late. Indeed, TV used to be a death sentence for stars struggling to find good roles, a sure sign that their “true” career had ended. Now, it’s a career resurgence, a rebirth, and in many cases the perfect venue. Creative stars like J.J. Abrams, Martin Scorsese, Frank Darabont, Steven Spielberg, and countless other big names are making the leap, too, expanding their storytelling and opening new avenues to a medium that was once easily written off as background noise rather than viable entertainment.

Certainly, there are films I would never want to experience on TV only. I have a 55” Sony at home and as nice as it is, it doesn’t compare to the cinematic experience of something like THE AVENGERS, SKYFALL, or LORD OF THE RINGS on the “true” big screen. Movies that are full of spectacle, made with care and precision to be seen on a big screen should be seen as such. I couldn’t imagine something like AVATAR premiering on FX. The impact simply isn’t the same. But, can I wait for just about everything else? Sadly, yes.

Consider the films coming out this holiday season. You’re likely to catch THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, DJANGO UNCHAINED, and JACK REACHER, but I’m willing to bet that many of the “quieter” films get left behind (KILLING THEM SOFTLY, HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON, ON THE ROAD) in favor of waiting to catch them at home. And really, with audiences getting more and more disrespectful, especially with their cell phone addictions and impatient viewing habits, going to the theater can be a chore. So, we venture out to the big films, the “must-see’s” while the others can wait. What killed that urgency to see “everything”? Three things: Faster home video releases, big-ass TV’s and, most importantly, awesome TV shows to watch them on. In essence, the high quality of TV and cable has made it that much easier to “stick it out” and wait for video on the majority of films out today.

Hollywood’s answer to combat the recent love fest with TV is to make films that mirror the concept, hence, franchise fever. Oftentimes, we’re seeing the first entry of a proposed long line of films in an attempt to “hook” audiences in the same way that TV has done. The problem (solution?) is that TV is faster, cheaper, and more consistent. Film is at it’s best when it’s led by a resounding creative goal to, I don’t know, tell a story, rather than jam a foot in the door of a franchise. Even with all the STAR WARS VII talk of late, it’s already veering way too far into the minutiae of quantity over quality. I don’t need the promise of a new movie every two years. I just want a good one when there’s a good story to tell.

And that’s where TV wins. TV has the benefit of time (ratings dictated, of course) and can gauge an audience’s reaction to tailor the show as needed or desired. In fact, failing to pay attention can cause TV shows to crash and burn (see: Heroes). Movies have one shot. Once they’re out, that’s that. The only re-edits they may get is a director’s cut on DVD. Otherwise, it’s a one-time affair. TV has the time to develop, grow, let the characters breathe, think, and contemplate. Movies are fighting for seconds. It’s no easy racket.

I think both film and TV have strengths and weaknesses and I don’t feel the need to choose one over the other, but I will say this; Given the choice, I would rather watch an episode of one of my favorite TV shows than venture out to the theater for something I could easily wait for on blu ray. These days it’s a very easy choice to make.

Extra Tidbit: Do you find that your in-theater viewing has declined as TV/Cable has gotten better and more diverse?
Source: JoBlo.com

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