by Coop Cooper
This past weekend, a friend of mine mentioned how they rarely go to the movies anymore. This is a common remark I hear when the topic of my movie reviews come up. The interesting part of this particular remark was that she claimed there was now so much good fictional programming on TV that she had all the entertainment she needed right at home. As the discussion progressed, I realized that not only was she right, but that I myself was looking more forward to watching my favorite shows on a weekly basis rather than the most anticipated summer blockbusters set to release this year.
It appears that television might be finally catching up, or possibly surpassing, the movie industry in terms of quality entertainment.
I have mentioned before in my weekly articles that one-hour cable dramas have increased in quality over the past few years but there are a few ‘water cooler’ shows that stand out apart from the rest. “Game of Thrones”, “Mad Men”, “The Walking Dead”, “House of Cards” and most recently “True Detective” have large budgets to attract A-list talent once afforded only to Hollywood films. Thanks to cheap-to-produce reality shows, TV networks can allocate more of their production budgets to these well-crafted programs. When you can produce a big-budgeted show created by some of the best filmmakers in the business and stars like Matthew McConaughey in the lead, you end up with a pretty good show.
But if good TV programming is keeping people at home, does this mean movie studios are dropping the ball? Partially, but episodic TV shows have some advantages over movies. Firstly, they give the writers and actors plenty of opportunity to hone their skills and perfect their characters. Even the best actors have to work hard to polish the characters they play. An episodic series gives them that chance and even previously unproven actors and writers can gain the experience to become the best in the business and produce quality work. The longer time frame also allows audiences to create strong emotional connections with these characters. Plus TV is much more accessible than feature films with major theatrical releases, particularly in rural areas.
The TV industry has been better at adopting improved business models. Some scoffed at Netflix’s plan to create “House of Cards” exclusively for the web and release all of the episodes at once, but the gamble ended up paying off and now “Cards” is a huge success. The cancelled TV show “Veronica Mars” had so many dedicated fans that the creators were able to crowdfund a feature “Veronica Mars” film on Kickstarter using fan donations. Additionally, the film will release in theaters and online simultaneously. The best model the feature film industry has been able to muster up in the past decade has been improved 3-D which rarely enhances the cinematic experience.
However, the movie industry is not dying. As George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have predicted, perhaps making ‘big event’ films that tour around like Broadway plays with in-theater effects and live actors in the aisles could keep the experience alive. Indie films are more pervasive and provide tons of content, but they will probably find their best market online.
TV stands to grow the most as more A-listers make the leap over to the small screen and quality programming continues to grow and improve. When I caught Sunday’s “The Walking Dead” and “True Detective” episodes, I could see improvements in those shows even over the course of the season. The were two of the best episodes of the respective shows so far. Especially “The Walking Dead”. There are characters on that show I did not care for who have suddenly blossomed into amazingly complex and sympathetic humans after testing my patience for four seasons. Even major networks have slowly come to their senses to provide more edgy shows like “Hannibal” and “The Following”.
I’m not predicting a reduction in my own theater attendance this year, but I do agree with my friend that watching a TV show on Netflix is often more preferable than driving all the way to the theater to endure rude cellphone users, screaming kids, an increasing amount of commercials and a potentially bad movie. However, when the experience is ideal, there is quite nothing like it and I hope it is always there for us to enjoy.