The idea that TV is overtaking film as a creative medium has been around since the 90’s, but although the small screen has been producing some interesting and original series for many years, it is only recently that people have begun preferring a night in with “Breaking Bad” on Netflix or a weekend with a box set of “Game of Thrones” to a trip to the movie theaters.
Although there is still plenty of guilty pleasure to be had from a bit of bad TV, a convergence of factors driving the most original writers out of film, and dragging them into TV, has generated some truly groundbreaking and artistic creations in recent years.
5. TV IS A WRITER’S MEDIUM
Screenwriters are notoriously powerless when it comes to moviemaking. Once they have produced the script, and probably watched as it has been torn apart and put back together by a series of producers and marketing gurus, their input will likely be limited to a few set visits during which they will be encouraged to sit quietly in the corner while the “real” work goes on. Writers in TV can have a lot more power. They can start out as part of a team, invited to play around with someone else’s characters, and move up to become showrunners, taking control of an entire fictional world of their own creation.
At each end of the spectrum, there is space in TV for new writers to experiment, and for experienced ones to flex their muscles and show the producers how it should be done. Some of the best writing in TV has come from writer-led shows such as “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad.”
4. TV DOESN’T RELY ON ADAPTATIONS
Adaptations and sequels are considered a safe and profitable bet in the movies, which means that anyone who is trying to get a film made will struggle to find someone willing to fund a project that is not already a well-known story. Some of these adaptations are great, but there are only so many versions of “Batman” or “Pride and Prejudice” that you can watch before you start to hunger for something new.
The place to find these less familiar adaptations, alongside material that is completely original, is your TV. An idea like “Mad Men” is unlikely to get a chance on the big screen.
3. TV EXPLORES MORE CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS AND DARKER CHARACTERS
Film has its share of antiheroes, but characters and themes tend to get a lot darker on TV than they do in the movies, as a result of the greater tolerance for experimentation and the ability to devote sufficient time to explore sensitive issues in depth.
Themes that would be glossed over with a tidy ending in a movie can be examined in detail on TV, so that discussions of the latest episode can end up evolving into serious debates about social issues or philosophical concepts such as utilitarianism and egotism. Meanwhile, we are challenged to identify with ever-darker characters. Tony Soprano was not allowed to murder anyone on screen until viewers had built a relationship with him, but Walter White in “Breaking Bad” kills someone in the very first episode.
2. TV IS NOT AFRAID OF SUBTLETY OR SLOW DEVELOPMENT
A film has to cut out extraneous subplots, keep its pace up and get to the end of the story before the audience starts getting restless. It can’t afford to allow its characters to develop gradually as people do in real life. A villain who learns the error of his ways will have to make his about-turn in a single scene. The two people who met at the beginning of the movie will end up married a couple of hours later.
In TV, characters can develop more naturally, and we have the time to form stronger bonds with them that allow us to recognize even the smallest changes, and to understand the significance of events that hark back to backstories revealed many seasons ago.
1. INTERNET TV IS CREATING BETTER AUDIENCES
The eclipse of the big screen behind the small one has benefited hugely from the ability to reach viewers online, and particularly the creation of Internet TV services such as Netflix. Rather than trying to convince a television channel to find a place in their schedule for a series that might be a bit too unusual for the executives, or which might never grow beyond a small, cult audience, it is now possible to build the audience you need online. Shows might even create a following that, as in the case of “Arrested Development,” becomes powerful enough to ensure that they get more of what they like.