The new turn of the century brought a new reality and awareness that television fiction is at its golden age in which TV shows are being matched with conventional films. TV stations compete between each other to offer the public better quality shows like never before. Great performers and directors in Hollywood agree to perform on the small screen realizing that TV Shows nowadays have the same reputation, as the movies a few years back. But how has this change transpired? Why do they put in so much money in quality TV series, knowing that they are considerably more expensive to produce than series that also have maintained good ratings? One reason is the new technological innovations as the Internet or Cable TV who modulate the public’s taste, the other one is because they are far-off from being the new phenomenon that appeared overnight. It is a logical result of a process that lasted more than three decades, between the seventies and the nineties.
The initial point of the current Golden Age is usually placed at the time when HBO decided to produce its own dramatic series with long duration (they started with Oz, then Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and The Wire…) and opened the way for many other networks to do the same: to pick a TV Show that will appeal to the general public because what people are looking for is a quality show. Besides that, in this fast living time, people just don’t have enough time to sit and watch a three-hour movie. They can enjoy a twenty or forty-minute show and follow the life of the main character, having the feeling that they somehow participate in it.
The US television industry, which pioneered so many things, remains the most powerful, leading and influential in the world. Consequently, much of the recent literature on this subject is in English and also uses terms that can lead to misunderstanding. For example, when trying to define terms like "quality shows” or "quality television”, people are talking more about the intention to realize a show than about the final result. In other words: a "quality show” may end up being a product that the public won’t like, but it will still be considered "quality” if it meets certain production requirements.
Until the late sixties, the big US networks (NBC, CBS, ABC) issued their fiction shows with a clear objective: to gather the widest possible audience. They measured the success of a show by the total viewers, and the more viewers that the program had, the more advertising money would get the advertisers. This is so logical that requires no explanation. Consequently, the recipe for making a successful show was quite simple: first, write simple arguments that could reach all minds or cultural levels. Second, a harmless tone to reach all members of the family. The purpose was not to exclude any sector of the public and so the shows were to be light, with a little complexity and quite innocent. None of this required large investments: by 1970 were well known the clichés that worked both in drama and comedy, crime drama and other genres. When there was something different, say, The Twilight Zone, it was a happy accident because of the stellar appearance of a genius like Rod Serling and not so much because of the general policy of the networks. The formula for success was to gather the more viewers the better, and the cheapest way possible. This was the system that prevailed until the marketers of advertising companies began to crumble the demographics of that audience.
Television, the one that is produced now is taking over the movies every day since Sunday. To make a better understanding of how and why that’s the case, we can make a short list and see for ourselves:
- The longitude of the television shows trumps the longer plots of the movies. For example, in Breaking Bad, there was a character who for an extended period transformed his life. Something that cannot be done in a movie. The fabulous The Killing dedicated the entire show just for one murder, shown in twenty hours. And what about The Returned and Buffy the Vampire Slayer – when they were presented to the public as a third rated movies weren’t even noticed, but when the discovery of the television was made both of the movies blossomed in a new version as a TV Shows. The interval and the space provided by the television did wonder for these shows.
- The past decade for the movies it’s not as innovative as for the TV shows. All the movies that started in the last ten years are somehow brand recognized and with no original ideas. Television was trying to push its way through, in that same period, with new, unique notions and take on the bigger market, that was meant to be just for the Cinema. Maybe from time to time they use some ideas from movies like the Avengers and Modern Family TV show that first were made into a movie, but for now, the innovation shown on the television goes way ahead of the movies. Just take Dexter show or Game of Thrones.
- One of the greatest things about television it’s the capacity to amaze. They can be a comedy like Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory or Friends, an intriguing thriller like The walking dead or Breaking bad, or horror as the famous Hannibal and amaze us with every episode. Movies, on the other hand, with this tendency to advertise or promote themselves end up just preoccupied with the sales. The television has the opportunity to appeal to everyone and to adjust when is needed. One day you can have a good laugh with a funny episode, the next day you can be astonished by the good drama and scared of the possibility of something being true. That something can happen every day and everywhere. Television has a calmer way of getting to people and providing them what they want.
- Let’s not forget to comment on the social networks and all the talking about what came to pass in the last episode of that and that show. Wow, could you believe that they could kill the main character in Game of Thrones? They try day to day to astonish people and pull up a new trick, and day really on the social media to help them. Just take Shonda Rimes and all of her produced TV Shows from Grey’s anatomy, Scandal and now to her last hit How to Get Away with Murder. She created a hashtag know as TGIT – thank God it’s Thursday – and arranged for all of her shows to be showed one after another in one day. People cannot way for Thursday to come fast enough. They talk to their friends about it, tweet of talk in forums about this and that character. They have a feeling that that know them and connect with some of them on a certain level. And if they are successful and have a big audience they can stay on the network for a long time. Like for example Grey’s Anatomy. The beginning of the show is already forgotten, they killed a lot of the main characters and introduced new ones, and the public is still watching it every Thursday and waiting for the new MacDreamy to appear on the small screen. The mouth to mouth strategy is the best. If you haven’t seen the new It show you are not attuned to the people around you. Remember the coffee brakes when people were talking about the weekend to come and about going to the Cinema to see the new Blockbuster, well now the topic is television. Have you watched the last episode of Hannibal, wow so much blood, just so different than the movie?
- Nowadays big actors take on roles in television. Actors who have won an Oscar, like Kevin Spacey. These days he is the main character in the well-known show House of Cards, where he is embracing his role and blowing all quality levels. Let’s compete with that. Some have tried. Matthew McConaughey in True Detective, participating in a mystery drama where he had to alter his exterior so much that he nearly couldn’t be recognized. That I the extent that actors would go to in order to win an Oscar. In this day and age, they are getting Emmys and Golden Globes for their remarkable appearance on a television. And what about the British actors that have reigned the small screen? Actors like Kate Winslet, Hugh Laurie and Damian Lewis. They are seen as international sensations. Before, people would wait for a year or two to see their much loved actor. Today they have coffee and watch them appear on television every week.
So, the big query is not: are the TV Shows taking over the movies, but what would movies do to change that? Would they have the energy to change the outcome and return its long lasting glory or would television invent another form to prevail over them? What do you think? Which would you choose?