I have been a dedicated follower of both kinds of ‘screen’ entertainment we have – television and film – for a few years now. I’ve consumed far more TV as compared to films, and I mean the format and not just the medium, since web series offered by platforms like Netflix are also called ‘TV shows’. I believe most of the recent (in the last two decades) commercial cinema doesn’t even begin to compare with the quality that can be seen on television currently. Hereon, by “cinema” and “films”, I mean commercial cinema and films.
Previously, the best talent could be found only in the film industry for the most part. Now, this is no longer the case. That the TV actors are starting to get more spotlight and social media attention than their cinema counterparts is well-known. Now TV actors like Kit Harington and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are as recognisable as Hollywood bigwigs. In fact, Hollywood’s own Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler, Will Smith, and others are now turning to television.
The gargantuan commercial success enjoyed by TV series produced by HBO and AMC, particularly with flagship shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, has only improved things for television. And then we have Netflix and other digital entertainment platforms, that use the TV format if not the medium itself. Netflix’s Stranger Things and Black Mirror have become pop-culture phenomena much like Harry Potter and Twilight.
I find this change refreshing, being an avid television viewer myself. And I can venture a guess as to why all this might be happening. I feel the reason is simple enough. People are beginning to realise that the television format, with multiple episodes, is simply a better medium to tell a story. A Song of Ice and Fire series, on which Game of Thrones is based, would never have been possible as a film series. The costs of a large screen adaptation, what with its visual effects and sets, would have exceeded beyond creator’s wildest imaginations, and dividends would have likely been minimal. Also, with no guarantees of success, no studio would have taken up the project. Films need immediate success, without which they fail. Television is a little like books. It may rely on word of mouth publicity, and gradually gain followers. It does not depend necessarily depend upon the numbers of viewers during its first time an episode is aired. Breaking Bad was only moderately popular during its first two seasons.
But it is not just that television is easier to adapt from a series of books. After all, most TV series are based on original stories. The second (and the clincher for me) advantage of television is that it also allows comfortable, relaxed storytelling which films have no choice but to shun owing to time constraints. Most modern films clock under two hours and have to be really engrossing to retain moviegoers interest beyond that, while television series go on and on. The viewer can just finish an hour-odd episode and turn off his or her television. The result is slow-burn content on television.
Of course, you might eventually lose interest as there is a fine line between slow-burn and boring, but then there are so many options to choose from. Also, the episodic format allows TV shows to develop plot and characters more in a more believable way and also to build up slowly to the exciting climax (season finale or series finale). This makes for more enjoyable and immersive experience. Films, on the other hand, have to be exciting and action-packed and dramatic almost every ten minutes or so. This is why most commercial films are chock-full of set-pieces and massive showdowns with loads of special effects at the end. And this is why I’ve always wanted good films to go on and on. They don’t, and it is sad, but here is where television comes into the picture.