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TV, or not TV

January 25, 2015

Recently, in an Email correspondence an old friend wrote that he thought “much of TV today is like movies.”

In the midst of writing this post, an article appeared in the January 22nd edition of the NYTimes. Reporting from the Sundance Film Festival, Brooks Barnes wrote that “television [is becoming] a force [at the festival]. Independent filmmakers are flocking to TV.” 

My friend’s comment capped a stretch in which several other friends commented about the serials they had watched or were watching (Happy Valley, The Honorable Woman, Red Riding...always Breaking Bad). I asked these friends if they still read. Most answered that these days they watch TV series, either renting or streaming, hardly read much anymore or go to the movies.

“Like the rest of moviedom, the independent-film world is grappling with the incursion of television as a creative and financial force.”

Back on October 24, 2013, in one of my first posts, I likened the screens on contemporary digital devices (laptops to smartphones, tablets to phablets) to the nickelodeon and its place in the evolution of the cinema at the beginning of the 20th century.

“…analysts estimate that digital and video-on-demand services are replacing art houses as the primary outlet for more than 90 percent of independent films.”

At Sundance, the hipeoisie now refer to independent filmmakers who are migrating to TV as “serial storytellers.”

Back in Victorian England, before the advent of film, wasn’t Charles Dickens a “serial storyteller?”

When I began writing this post, my intent was to address certain aesthetic issues apropos film versus TV.

I remain a narrative film devotee. I favor the cadences of movie storytelling; like dramatic compression; appreciate beginnings, middles, and ends, though not necessarily in that order.

I personally don’t watch much TV; find the beats not to my liking. Nor am I partial to the way TV keeps viewers hanging on, primarily focused on getting them to tune in next time. Seems forced. I often tire of the prolonged story.

Of course that approach is changing with the evolving practice of releasing a show’s complete season in one swoop, allowing viewers to binge watch. Suppliers say they’re giving 21st century consumers “what they want, when and where they want it.” Bundled billing statements arrive like clockwork. You don’t have to do a thing.

Narrative movies operate on a deep rhythmic level, musical and poetic. TV seems more novelistic, a novel that too often tells me more than I need or want to know; telling and often showing the obvious.

Though on the surface movies and TV seem similar, using moving images to tell a story, on a syntactical level I think the two mediums are very different. Along the way TV has acquired a more polished film look, but I don’t feel TV possesses a true film sense.

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5 Comments
  1. I like this one Ray. It seems like TV is again become the “new frontier,” especially with mobile devices and places where young filmmakers can be seen.

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    • And he was a Canadian…to boot…One thing…the key concept here is syntax (or product if you will)…the language of cinema and the language of TV…not so much the delivery systems.

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    • Not the delivery devices so much…it’s more about how a story is told cinematically as opposed how TV does the telling.

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  2. Paul permalink

    Ray,
    I see you are back to your Movie vs TV debate again. Unfortunately, there is no right or wrong answer. Both mediums play to a different audience. With monster TVs now exceeding 100 inches, and we now have a 60″+ OLED TV on the scene, the home theater experience is fast approaching the level of picture and sound one can obtain in a movie theater, minus the multitude of teenagers playing with their smart phones. We have TV series releasing an entire season at once, as you say. And while there appears to be some convergence going on, I do believe what speaks to one person, is the bane of another person’s experience.
    Having been a director of several movies, I am sure you carry a little bias baggage for one medium over the other. But if you read the formulaic novels of authors like Dan Brown and his Da Vinci series, you find very little difference to the miniseries where they force the artificial “baited breath” ending. And don’t forget the Sesame Street generation have grown up, and how they need to be inundated with media overload crammed into the smallest time possible. Long scenes that carry the necessary silence to build the emotional content simply create boredom among this younger generation that results in the smart phone retrieval until the next dynamic scene explodes with thunderous volume upon the screen to assault their senses.
    In the end, it’s one of those “to each their own” scenarios, leaving only those who take a polarized point of view to debate their “polar-opposite” colleagues the benefits of one medium over the other. Hail Marshall!
    Paul

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  3. Beth permalink

    I’ve never seen cinematic television. I think film and TV are intrinsically different mediums. TV is less interesting; less filling than film but full of too much ‘stuff’.

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