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[good read] Why TV Is Better Than The Movies

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout' started by No Worries, Feb 24, 2007.

  1. No Worries

    No Worries Contributing Member

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    Why TV Is Better Than The Movies

    Film has always been the Four Seasons to television's Motel 6. Not anymore. Here's how the small screen ended up so much bigger—and bolder—than the big one.

    By Devin Gordon
    Newsweek

    Feb. 26, 2007 issue - Denis Leary remembers the exact moment when all his notions about what television could be got blown to smithereens. It came during the first season of "The Sopranos." "It was the episode where Tony Soprano is driving Meadow to visit colleges and he runs into the snitch along the way," says Leary, the star and co-creator of FX's firefighter dramedy "Rescue Me." Tony (James Gandolfini) happens upon the turncoat, who'd been placed in witness protection, at a gas station on some leafy country road. The next day, after dropping off his daughter for a campus interview, Tony tracks down the snitch and brutally strangles him to death with a coil of wire. "I remember watching that and thinking, 'Oh, my God ... '," Leary says. "I don't think I blinked that entire episode. The show ended at 10 o'clock, and at 10:05 the phone in my apartment started ringing off the hook. That's when I thought, 'If they can do this, you can do anything in this format'."

    For other people, maybe it was another moment. Maybe it was the two-hour pilot episode of "Lost," which opened with the nightmarish aftermath of a plane crash on a deserted, and deeply peculiar, tropical island. It cost ABC a small fortune—reportedly $12 million—but it proved that network TV could match the scope and storytelling electricity of a feature film. For me, my "moment" is every single episode of "The Wire," the astounding HBO series that's been labeled a crime drama but is actually a sprawling, visual novel about the decline and fall of an American city. "Our model when we started doing 'The Wire' wasn't other television shows," says David Simon, the Baltimore Sun crime reporter turned TV scribe who co-created the series. "The standard we were looking at was Balzac's Paris, or Dickens's London, or Tolstoy's Moscow. In TV, you can actually say that out loud, and then go do it."

    It's dangerous to make broad generalizations about TV versus film without sounding as though you're comparing apples and tubas, but let's do it anyway: television is running circles around the movies. The Internet age has put both industries into a state of high anxiety, with everyone scrambling to figure out how money will be made in a digital future where people watch movies on their phones and surf the Web on their TVs. But while the major film studios have responded by taking shelter beneath big-tent franchises, the TV industry has gone the opposite route, welcoming anyone with an original idea. The roster of channels has ballooned into the hundreds, creating a niche universe where shows don't need to be dumbed down in order to survive (because the dummies have their own channels). DVDs, meanwhile, have upended how we watch television, transforming shows from disposable weekly units into 8-, 12-, sometimes 22-hour movies. "We get a lot of people who tell us they don't even watch the show when it airs," says Joel Surnow, co-creator of "24." "They wait for the DVD and watch it all at once."

    Sure, TV still makes plenty of crap. And, yes, film is peerless when it comes to grand spectacles like "Lord of the Rings." But how many recent Hollywood comedies have been as lacerating as NBC's "The Office" or Comedy Central's taboo-blasting "Sarah Silverman Program"? (OK, "Borat"—a movie based on a character created for ... television.) The film industry is in love with serial-killer stories, but it took Showtime's "Dexter" to breathe new life into the genre. And roll your eyes if you want, but nothing out of Hollywood generates anything close to the hysteria of a single episode of "American Idol."

    This is supposed to be Hollywood's biggest moment of the year. It's Oscar time, in case you forgot. But anyone who actually wants to go see a movie this week will have a choice between Paramount's Eddie-Murphy-in-a-fat-suit comedy "Norbit" and Sony's comic-book adaptation "Ghost Rider," starring Nicolas Cage, which wasn't screened for critics—industry code for a movie so lousy that the best review it can hope for is no review at all. Soon it'll be summertime, and the annual march of the sequels will resume. "Spider-Man 3." "Shrek 3." The third "Pirates of the Caribbean." The fourth "Die Hard." The fifth "Harry Potter."

    If that list excites you, there's probably a simple explanation: you're 12. But for everyone else, it's hard to shake the feeling that Hollywood has lost interest in us. "Whenever I see a movie that impresses me, I always wonder how it occurred. Like, how did they thread that one through the needle?" says Simon. "And inevitably, you find out it was made quietly, and for very little money." Consider this year's Oscar nominees for best picture. Only two are the products of major studios, Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" and Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima," and both men are legends who've earned the right to tell their studio bosses to butt out. The other three came out of "specialty" satellites to the big studios, such as Fox Searchlight and Paramount Vantage. In essence, the job of quality moviemaking has been outsourced.

    For decades, if film was the Four Seasons, TV was a Motel 6. You worked in television for the money, or to reboot your career, or just to hang on. Now actors like Alec Baldwin, Steve Carell and Salma Hayek go from hit movies to network-TV gigs, and no one thinks they're nuts. Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco ("Crash") went straight from the best-picture Oscar to creating "The Black Donnellys" for NBC. Steven Spielberg is doing a reality show for Fox. David Mamet—David Mamet!—created a drama for CBS. "The people working in television right now are the Shakespeares of the medium," says Ira Glass, host of the public-radio program "This American Life," which has been turned into a jewel of a TV series on Showtime and will start airing on March 22. "That's probably a pretentious thing to say, but I also think it's true. It's true in the same way that Leonard Bernstein was figuring out what you could do with a Broadway show when he wrote 'West Side Story,' or in music when Sinatra recorded his Capitol albums."

    This obviously isn't the first "golden age of television." In the 1950s, Milton Berle and "I Love Lucy" reinvented comedy. In the 1970s, Norman Lear did it again with socially conscious shows like "All in the Family." The difference now is TV is challenging movies on their own turf—narratively and visually—and winning. The best shows tell their stories slowly, carefully and with exquisite detail, putting viewers inside the experience of another person with unparalleled intimacy. This is the grand achievement of "The Sopranos," and it's why the show's final season, which begins on April 8, is a safe bet to be the cultural happening of the year. In television "the writer is king," says Carlton Cuse, an executive producer on "Lost." "We're at the top of the food chain." In the film world, the director is in charge, or the star. "It's almost impossible to write a movie with a big star and not have that person put his or her thumbprint on top of it," Cuse says.

    To some, the notion of TV as a writer's Eden is more of a recruiting poster than a reality. "Nobody ever really feels all that in charge," says Jon Turtletaub, who directed Disney's hit movie "National Treasure" and created "Jericho" for CBS. "If you want control, write a book." Others believe that Hollywood's failing isn't creative, but technological. "The movie business is still caught up in how it's always been done," says Todd Wagner, co-president of 2929 Entertainment ("Good Night, and Good Luck"), which has been leaning on studios to release films on several platforms—in theaters, online and on DVD—at once. "Film is still built around a business model where they're trying to get as many people as possible to see something on the very first weekend, at very select locations, for months before it's available any other way. Television isn't doing that. The realization they've come to is, why wouldn't you put it out there?"

    One reason is piracy. The studios don't make many films, so they need to wring out every last penny. But there's another reason they're so reluctant to sell "Shrek 3" DVDs at Wal-Mart on opening day: image. Hollywood is determined to protect the "specialness" of movies, and if you can get them any time, anywhere, how special can they be? "There's always going to be that excitement where you think, 'Oh, I made a movie! And it's gonna be at a theater! And people will be eating popcorn!' " says Tina Fey, who wrote the 2004 hit "Mean Girls" and created the NBC sitcom "30 Rock." "It's just different." Hollywood wants to be consumer friendly, but not too friendly, because that arm's length exclusivity is the essence of glamour. And without glamour, what is Hollywood? Yup—television. Last year, when Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana shared a screenwriting Oscar for "Brokeback Mountain," McMurtry thanked his typewriter. During an interview, he grumbled while Ossana sang the praises of modern TV. "It's not a question of quality," McMurtry responded. "It just means the prestige is still with film, and I suspect it always will be. Put it this way: I'd rather have an Oscar than an Emmy." The man's got a point.

    Then again, it's possible to win an Oscar only if your film actually gets made, and good luck with that. The economics of the movie business have created a climate of "paranoia" in Hollywood, says megamovie producer Brian Grazer, an Oscar winner for "A Beautiful Mind" whose company, Imagine Entertainment, also co-owns "24." The average film budget, according to the latest Nielsen figures, is about $60 million, with an additional $36 million in marketing costs. That means the typical Hollywood film is a $100 million bet—with the money paid upfront, before anyone sees a penny in return. That kind of environment has a stultifying effect on artists. "They begin to worry that their movie will never get made, that they'll never hear 'yes' again," Grazer says, "so they end up being much more accommodating to an executive's opinions." Increasingly, Hollywood is making only two types of films: lavish blockbusters ("Superman Returns" cost $204 million) or thrifty, $15 million genre bets like horror flicks and lowbrow comedies. The midrange $60 million drama has all but vanished—at least from theaters.

    With all those channels and all those hours to fill, television has charged into the void. In five years, according to Adams Media Research, the number of digital-cable subscribers in the United States tripled, from 10 million in 2000 to 30 million in 2005. In such a crowded market, you either evolve or die. "Desperation breeds inspiration," says NBC president Kevin Reilly. And thanks to iTunes and TiVo, networks can afford to be patient with a quality show, knowing an audience has multiple ways to find it. NBC hopes that will happen with its Texas high-school football drama "Friday Night Lights," a superb show that's only incidentally about football. The series actually surpasses the 2004 film because the long form of TV has given its writers leeway to explore an entire small-town orbit. Freed from the need to sell tickets, the TV show doesn't have to swell to a crowd-pleasing gridiron drive.

    It's not just the stories on TV that are improving; they look better, too. "Some of the action that 'Lost' and '24' are doing compares to almost any feature out there," says ABC president Steve McPherson. "We're making the investment in these shows. They're not cheap. But the production gap is closing." TV is spending more money on us—and we're spending more money on TV. Gradually, homes are filling with high-definition sets that rival the cinema experience, only without the nasty carpets sticky with spilled Coke. "I still occasionally hear someone say that they don't watch television," Leary says, "and I always tell them, 'Look, I don't care what book you're reading—put it down and watch these five shows, because you really, truly don't know what you're missing'." He's right, except for one thing: only five?
    © 2007 Newsweek, Inc.
     
  2. Master Baiter

    Master Baiter Contributing Member

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    It's funny because my girl and I have had this same discussion. With shows like Rome, LOST, The Wire, Six Feet Under, Dead Like Me, and many others, it's really difficult to get excited about any of the crap coming out of Hollywood.
     
  3. Franchise3

    Franchise3 Member

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    I gotta agree here. It's been a while since I got really pumped up to see a movie. I watched the entire first season of "Dexter" over Xmas break and I couldn't wait to get a free hour to sit down an watch the next episode. Movies are handcuffed because they only have 2 hours to work with, which nowadays equates to more style over substance.

    Hollywood better think up some kind of changes, otherwise they could be all but gone 20 years down the road.
     
  4. Achilleus

    Achilleus Member

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    Does he mean "better" as in more popular? His point I have not seen any television show that comes close to the quality of movies like Babel or Little Children. If movies are made by branches of the studios, who cares? What is the point of mentioning Norbit?

    Sarah Silverman's show is not very good.

    Steven Spielberg's "reality tv show" is about...making movies.

    Steve Carrell did not make "The Office" after The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and it's not like he's stopped making films to focus on tv.

    Gordon should have just said that television has improved, because he never explained how or in what way it is "better" than the movie industry (other than the DVD situation).
     
  5. Achilleus

    Achilleus Member

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    ^
    Scratch out "his point."

    Oh, The Sopranos is "not tv. It's HBO."

    :]
     
  6. pgabriel

    pgabriel Educated Negro

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    One thing the article doesn't give enough credit to is technology. why leave home when you have a home theater? and if you're still a single man, you have won half the battle if you can just watch the movie at home.
     
  7. Rocketman95

    Rocketman95 Hangout Boy

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    Exactly. He should argue that the studios don't market the actual good movies, only the ones that'll make them money. I love television and I'm watching more shows right now than I probably ever have, but that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of good movies out there.

    And yeah, only 12 year-olds are excited about Spiderman 3, the third in a series that has been both commercially and critically successful. :rolleyes:
     
  8. pgabriel

    pgabriel Educated Negro

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    because that's what the studios market. ask yourself what got more marketing, ghost rider or little children.

    but I don't know why some people get so defensive about hollywood. this guy isn't exactly trashing hollywood as much as saying that television has become better.
     
  9. hooroo

    hooroo Member

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    They're not even trying in Hollywood anymore. It's just x minutes of cgi, x minutes of nudity/sex scenes, and that's a movie.

    That said the last tv show I followed was Arrested Development. TV keeps cancelling shows I like.

    I've been downloading Naruto off the net. It's a cartoon but there's action and it's so cheesey it's fun to watch.
     
  10. MR. MEOWGI

    MR. MEOWGI Contributing Member

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    Don't get your Spidey Underoos in a wad.
     
  11. Dr of Dunk

    Dr of Dunk Clutch Crew

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    With a home theater, I doubt I'm ever going to the movies again. Big deal if I don't get to watch movies the day they come out. I'd rather not sit in the midst of a ton of people yammering, gnawing on popcorn, with kids running around making noise or commenting on everything going on in the movie, too. Oh yeah, and add to that, overpriced drinks and food at the movie theater. TV > Movie theater!
     
  12. Achilleus

    Achilleus Member

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    lol. Do people get defensive about Hollywood much? :confused:

    But yes, he does trash the movie industry.

    "...television is running circles around the movies."

    "This is supposed to be Hollywood's biggest moment of the year. It's Oscar time, in case you forgot. But anyone who actually wants to go see a movie this week will have a choice between Paramount's Eddie-Murphy-in-a-fat-suit comedy "Norbit" and Sony's comic-book adaptation 'Ghost Rider...'"

    What does Norbit have to do with the Oscars?

    Again, as I said in the first post, what does popularity have to do with quality? Most of the time, the best films are never going to be widely marketed. When you "market," you are doing it because you want a broad group of people to watch the film. You are going to need a watered down movie to appeal to all of those people. But that's not always going to mean those movies are bad, look at movies like Forrest Gump, Titanic, Lord of the Rings III, Gladiator, etc. This year you have movies like The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine, which got a good deal of marketing.

    The article should have just been about television improving, because it has. It's just stupid to even compare it with movies. The bar is set a lot higher for films than television. TV shows get a longer chance to be successful. You can move them around in different time slots, place them behind popular shows to get the "spill-off audience," etc.

    Even with DVD sales television is going to have an advantage. Do you want to buy a 2 hour film, with some extras, or get 24 hours of a tv show?

    As the guy said, comparing tv and films is like comparing "apples and tubas." He should have just stopped right there...
     
  13. pgabriel

    pgabriel Educated Negro

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    a couple of things. when people refer to Hollywood, they refer to the popular movies. right or wrong that's what they refer to. secondly, because tv is running circles around hollywood, doesn't exactly mean he's trashing hollywood. I think he means that television is just that much better.

    and I think his point about hollywood is that it hasn't adapted well to the change in movie going habits. and I don't know why you aren't willing to compare movies to television. that's the point, television programs have become on par with movie. what's so different about "The Departed" from "The Wire" or "The Sopranos"?
     
  14. Achilleus

    Achilleus Member

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    Oh, it's definitely...

    <object width="425" height="350"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/WrjwaqZfjIY"></param><param name="wmode" value="transparent"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/WrjwaqZfjIY" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="transparent" width="425" height="350"></embed></object>

    That doesn't even make sense really... Movies have to pass a popularity threshold before they are considered "Hollywood ?" So "Crash," "Good Night, and Good Luck," and "Brokeback Mountain" would have been "Hollywood" films had they made more money? The author of the article doesnt even use that logic, because he mentions "Letters from Iwo Jima."

    Because one is a television show and one is a movie. They are two different things. We could compare made-for-tv movies, but not movies that open in theaters. They are completely different mediums. You have to leave your home to watch a movie. You can tivo your television show.

    Television can't be "on par" with movies, because they are in two separate fields.

    :)
     
  15. Achilleus

    Achilleus Member

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    Wow, Brokeback Mountain made 84 million dollars here. Hmm...just switch it with Munich.
     
  16. Supermac34

    Supermac34 President, Von Wafer Fan Club

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    He did make one good point that I think tends to be true. Its almost like there are no mid-level movies anymore.

    They are either $200 million blockbusters, or a $15 million niche film.

    I have a hard time finding character driven, mid level dramas with real movie stars in them. The only movies they seem to make in this mid level are romantic comedies, and its like they don't even try with those anymore.
     
  17. Rocketman95

    Rocketman95 Hangout Boy

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    I love how the choice is between Norbit and Ghost Rider. Why does the theatre by my house have 20 screens if those are the only two movies to choose from? :confused:

    I guess the author didn't realize Breach was out (which I think falls between $200 million blockbuster and $15 million niche movie). That movie was great. Chris Cooper is one of the best actors working in Hollywood today.

    That's one thing you don't really get in television that you do in movies. While you sometimes have good acting, on the whole, the acting in movies is far and away better than television. Even on the dramas I watch, the acting is laughable, especially Heroes.
     
  18. count_dough-ku

    count_dough-ku Contributing Member

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    TV is much better than movies these days. Look at the Oscars last night. Most of the 5 choices for Best Picture were so dull that some voters reportedly returned their ballots with nothing checked in that category. The winner, The Departed, was decent at best. And let's not forget it was a remake. And last year's winner, Crash, is one of the worst movies I've ever seen.

    Look at the summer release schedule, especially May. Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Pirates of the Caribbean III. Notice a pattern? Later in the summer, we get the 5th Harry Potter movie, 2nd Fantastic Four flick, and Die Hard is even coming out of retirement.

    Of course the good news about movies sucking balls lately is that I can cut back heavily on my DVD/HD-DVD/Blu-ray purchases. These days it's either catalog titles or TV series.
     
  19. Rocketman95

    Rocketman95 Hangout Boy

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    That's every summer. And on television we'll get Entourage, Rescue Me and about 42 new reality shows. Yippee!
     
  20. dandorotik

    dandorotik Contributing Member

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    I think television and film have their pluses and minuses. For the obvious, a telelvision show, particularly a sitcom, is shorter, so if it needs to make a point, it has to do it in a much shorter timeframe. A film can cover the same "plot" in more detail. Yet, on the flip side, a television season can demonstrate much more in character development, complicated story lines, etc. than a 2-hour movie.

    As far as quality, I really don't see where there is a great deal of difference between, say, 24 and Traffic. Or, for old-timers, the difference between The Rockford Files and The French Connection.
     

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