TV Gives Feature Film a Run for its Money

Evan Ramirez, El Vaquero Staff Writer

For years, when a movie star took a job in television he or she was looked down upon. Taking a role on television could end up killing their career on the silver screen entirely. However, in recent years, the landscape of entertainment has taken a turn in favor of the small screen.

The quality of television is at its highest in decades. Channels like HBO, AMC and FX are producing strong shows on a yearly basis.

HBO’s “Game of Thrones” has captured mainstream audiences’ attention that might have had no interest in the fantasy genre. They were able to do this with high quality storytelling and convincing acting.

In the early ‘90s the independent film movement was booming in large part thanks to Miramax. Directors like Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction,” 1994) and Kevin Smith (“Clerks,” 1994) were getting their big break and distributors, like Miramax, were taking chances on foreign films that would turn out to be modern day classics, such as Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Blue.”

As of late, many critically acclaimed foreign films are having difficult times finding audiences in the states. Movies like Giorgos Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth,” Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank,” or Ben Wheatley’s “Kill List,” for the most part, are only being seen by audiences in their country of origin or by hardcore cinephiles.

Though the quality of film might seem to have diminished in recent years, it’s most certainly still present, just a little bit harder to find. This is where television is able to swoop in and capture audiences’ attention.

NBC’s viewership has been down for a couple of years, yet its output of comedies are some of the best on the air. Shows like “The Office” are running on fumes, but series like “Community” and “Parks and Recreation” are arguably two of the best on television.
The same can also be said for ABC’s “Happy Endings,” as well as the FX animated series “Archer” and the groundbreaking show “Louie.”

What’s puzzling about these shows is that many of them seem like they are almost always in danger of being canceled. This is mostly in large part due to the content that they are putting out.

“Community” is unlike any other series that’s been on the air and the mainstream audience that goes and watches “The Big Bang Theory” will never flock to a show like it.

Lately, in both TV and film, it seems like mass audiences are gravitating toward inferior work, though the same can’t be said about Joss Whedon’s superb blockbuster “The Avengers,” which broke all sorts of records in the past month. Pointing out a quality piece of entertainment that has the ability to maintain a decent sized audience is difficult to find.

A person can flip through channels and, more likely than not, he or she will find an excellent drama. After months off the air, “Mad Men” has come back and is as good as ever, and “Breaking Bad” is still getting the respect it deserves.

Some genres are just easier to find on film. A prime example of this is horror. While the entire genre can be ridiculed for the lack of quality output in recent years, the people over at FX have done a commendable job with “American Horror Story.”

It can be said that television shows have a more difficult time of maintaining quality. There are both positives and negatives to working in film or television, based solely on storytelling technique.

In television, producers, writers and creators have the ability to take shows in completely different directions than seasons before, like FOX’s superb sci-fi series “Fringe.” Having the ability to tell a story of 22 episodes at 44 minutes apiece also allows for writers to expand characters. This can also be a hindrance, as the overall quality of the product can end up in jeopardy.

This is one of the reasons why cable networks like the previously mentioned FX, AMC and HBO are succeeding. Having to produce series that only put out 10, 12 or 13 episode seasons allows for tighter storytelling.

This can also be tied back to films, as a director and writer only have a certain amount of time to get everything onto the screen.

It’s going to be hard for a television show to ever match the quality and beauty of a movie like Nicolas Roeg’s masterpiece “Walkabout,” but they can keep trying.

Though the previously mentioned shows and foreign films get critical acclaim from writers and their outspoken fans, walking down the street and finding someone who loves a series like “Childrens Hospital” or a movie like “The Tree of Life” might be a bit difficult.

Each medium has their strengths, and those that put them to good use are often rewarded for their work. Luckily for audiences, choosing between film and television doesn’t have that stigma that often comes with actor’s decision.