Monday, January 14, 2013

TV > Movies < TV

It's been ten years since I canceled cable TV.  Back then, I couldn't imagine myself suggesting that television would surpass cinema in terms of quality production.

First, let's start with what we know.  The overwhelming majority of television programming is horrible.  The explosion of available channels has media companies scrambling for content to throw out on the air. This is why there are 19 pawn & auction-themed television shows.

  Here they are, listed by channel:
Antiques Roadshow (PBS)
Pawn Stars (History)
American Pickers (History)
American Restoration (History) Pawn Queens (TLC) What the Sell? (TLC) Auctioneer$ (TLC)
Hardcore Pawn (TruTV)
Big Brian: The Fortune Seller (TruTV) Auction Hunters (Spike) Scrappers (Spike) Auction Kings (Discovery)
American Treasures (Discovery)
Cash & Cari (HGTV) Cash in the Attic (HGTV)
Storage Wars (A&E)
Auction Packed (NatGeo) Hollywood Treasure (SyFy) Oddities (Science Channel)

And how about 24-hour news channels?  There are 8, assuming you don't also get BBC news, ITN, or Al-Jazeera:
The Fox News Channel
Fox Business Network
Current TV
Bloomberg Television

This is also why there is a show called "Punkin' Chuckin'" on the Science Channel, and  don't even get me started on fucking Honey Boo Boo.

Remarkably, this same medium manages to produce today's best written visual media: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, Band of Brothers, Entourage... I'm sure others would add many more to the list. TV is where to look for quality writing, detailed characters, great performances, and most importantly, a willingness to take risks.

I suspect this all has to do with marketing and financing.  In order to be profitible, a movie needs to fill theaters in its first few weeks.  If it's a big hit and has an extended run, all the better, but the fact is, it doesn't matter if it's lackluster and doesn't earn repeat viewings and word-of-mouth marketing.   TV is precisely the opposite.  For a TV show to be profitible, it needs consistent viewers.  A TV show can't win by suckering in a big viewership for its premiere episode with cool trailers.  It needs to keep those viewers and get them to tell their friends what a great show it is.  Special effects, tits, and one-liners grab attention, but it's story and character development that keep it.

Therefore, the media companies, all six of them, have it figured out.  They sucker us into movie seats by cramming all the best bits of a 2 hour movie into a 3 minute trailer; they keep idiots coming back week after week with trashy drama and emotional bloodsport, but figured out that the rest of us have brains.


  1. And you're not even counting the fact that there are three versions of Storage Wars. Along with the original, there is Storage Wars-Texas and Storage Wars-New York.

  2. Hey! American Pickers is a good program. It lacks all the typical drama of the standard reality nonsense.

    Everything goes in waves. I imagine the reality TV and aspirational programming wave will die out at some point.

    While I agree with your reasoning on why TV produces such great stories, it's that same reasoning that forces TV to run those same stories into the ground. If people are still watching, and you're still selling advertisements, keep it going.

    Off the top of my head I can't think of any American television programs that went off the air while they were still fresh, or when they completed a solid narrative arc. Hopefully someone can correct me, because I'm the first to admit I don't watch that much television.

  3. Yeah, stories being run into the ground is an unfortunately common trend in TV. I can only think of positive cases where the narrative is already set, I.E. based on a book. A decent book, mind you, because True Blood is also based on a series of books.

    Band of Brothers - based on a book of the same title
    The Pacific - based on 3 books
    Rome - writen by a survivalist recluse O_o

    I'm sure there are more, but these are all I can think of at the moment.

    Dexter was excellent. Unfortunately, it keeps revisiting the same arc for the characters of Dexter and Debra, so only half the seasons have been truly exceptional.

    Deadwood was magnificently written and acted... and then the story just.... fucking.... stopped.... and.... nothing.... advanced.... it........ episode................ after............ episode........ and then it was canceled. Big surprise, that.

    We'll see what happens with Mad Men, Game of Thrones, etc...