Thursday, March 25, 2010

Film On TV: There Is No Box

We all know TV was invented by the advertising agencies, designed as elongated commercials for lifestyle and family products. Its evolved over the years, becoming more entertainment-focused, and in the process has morphed into a bigger, darker pop-culture influence. You could probably argue that – web aside – it’s THE most influential piece of that particularly obsessive puzzle. But even as network TV degrades otherwise quality programming with blatant commercialization for products from Apple and whatever auto dealer produces the highest bid (I’m looking at you, The Office and Modern Family) an uprising has boiled and stirred in the nether regions of TV programming. It’s the rebellion to the Big Network Empire, the shiny white “good” resisting the darker side of The Force. It’s called cable, and it wants to show you a better way...
For years it was network’s ugly step-brother, reserved for movies and bad reality TV. And they were usually the older flicks, the ones networks wouldn’t premier, and Premium channels didn’t feel like making people pay for. Then HBO changed the game, programming shows like The Sopranos and Oz and proving TV shows could be bold and different, even if that came at the expense of big money ad support. They bucked the system, encouraged audiences to do the same, and gave them a place and opportunity to do so…for a price.

HBO wasn’t a white knight. It was still playing the money game. Entertainment is an industry, and nothing will ever change that. What they did was give the audience the opportunity to get something different for its money, and arguably something better. “You want better TV? Better story?” they asked. “Fine. But you’re gonna have to pay for it.” It wasn’t perfect. It was a start.*

It was FX that really changed the game. They were Fox’s dumping ground, a cheap and easy revenue stream for a network struggling to fit in with the big boys. And as such, they could take risks.

The Shield was a risk, and it paid a BIG reward. Dark and dirty with challenging characters and an in-your-face style, when The Shield kicked through doors and into gear it was damn near the best thing on TV. I’m biased – it’s a personal favorite – but for my money, there isn’t a single series more complete and sound in scope and multi-season narrative. But that’s just opinion. This is the fact – The Shield paved the way for similarly daring programming, and broke ground for quality, non-premium television storytelling that would, by definition, never adhere to the advertising-based standards that generally hamper network TV.

On FX it was followed by the likes of Nip Tuck, Rescue Me, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Damages and Sons of Anarchy. Soon shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad started popping up. Even networks started taking chances – shows like LOST are the direct result of the waves that emerged from HBO’s ripples, of the idea that TV could be something bigger, and better.

These new shows attract feature screenwriters and directors, and with the material those people create, big name actors. “Original programming” on cable TV has become a force. Its production and story-telling is on another level.

Which brings us (finally) to the idea of “Film on TV.” Pop-culture historians and enthusiasts have never been able to ignore the impact of television programming. We can no longer ignore (and frankly must embrace) the quality of its storytelling. Television analysis is building in popularity online, and it’s a notion we at Cinewise are going to continue.

We can’t argue that money is no longer a factor, in film or television. But the evolution on the small screen, and the small screen films (some of which posses a depth and breadth Big Screen cinema can never achieve) is as deserving of analysis, criticism and respect as anything you shell out $10 to see in theaters.

If you feel the same way, “tune in” and enjoy our series. If you don’t, then let us convince you. The sooner we all acknowledge and embrace the revolution laid out before us, the better entertained we’ll all be.

*This is not to say that there hasn’t been fun, quality programming in the past. It’s just never been so consistently risky and dramatically successful.

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