From the Silver Screen to the Small Screen

Since the inception of broadcast television and the hour long drama, television has always tried to emulate film. Arguably, for decades, it failed to reach its goal. There were several reasons for this. For film, the possibilities are almost endless, limited only by budgets and studio interference.

Television on the other hand, has always been plagued by restrictions that have held it back. These restrictions range from quality of crew (the best gravitated towards film) to budget to censorship. All of these restrictions have slowly faded away with the coming of premium channels like HBO, AMC and FX. This transformation culminated with this week’s premiere of Martin Scorsese’s Boardwalk Empire.

While Boardwalk Empire is may be not the best show on TV (yet), it is the perfect example of how TV has changed so drastically over the last 50 years.

In the pilot we saw a show with a film-sized budget, lavish sets, and film grade actors and behind-the-scenes crew; not to mention the nudity, violence and constant swearing. A good show doesn’t need these to be great, but it does need artistic freedom.

In recent years, many great directors have had hard times finding financing for their projects, often having to cancel them in the end. This, combined with the newly emerging possibilities of television, is why we are seeing so many of the great working directors moving to television. No longer does television mean restriction, instead, on these premium channels, it means freedom to make the project exactly how they want. This is why Frank Darabont is adapting The Walking Dead for AMC and Michael Mann directed the horse racing pilot Luck for HBO.

However, it wasn’t just the freedom that TV has unleashed recently that is attracting the big film names, it is also the quality of the shows on premium channels like HBO, AMC and Showtime. With shows like The Wire, The Sopranos and Mad Men. These shows, which often surpassed the quality of many of the films released in recent years, proved to filmmakers that there is a reason to work on TV.

There is a risk that a filmmaker might not push for the quality they would on film. But with the extremely high quality of shows still in production, nothing but the best will do for these filmmakers to compete in this blossoming medium.

As TV begins to grow and the premium channels continue to push out great projects, we will see an increasing number of film directors shifting their focus to the small screen. With film actors coming on board and bringing with it their talent and respectability, it means great things are ahead for television.

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7 Responses to From the Silver Screen to the Small Screen

  1. Wayne says:

    I haven’t seen the premiere episode yet. The curse of a whole week of new shows and a rapidly filling DVR. I am looking forward to watching it though.
    Nothing makes me happier than seeing all these incredible shows emerging from cable networks and not just from established directors. Vince Gilligan would never have had the opportunity to create something as disturbingly beautiful as Breaking Bad with a movie studio.
    The much talked about demise of network television is somewhat sad, but a much needed thing for creativity and quality television. So many great shows that would not have been cancelled if networks didn’t have to do business the way they do.

  2. Angela says:

    The days of quality programming on easily accessible broadcast networks are over. If the viewing audience of those channels wants to know why the 1-hour long drama has been replaced by bad comedy shows, reality television, and repetitive crime procedural shows, they need only look in the mirror.
    We tell the networks what we like – and when you give the demographic to shows like Dancing with the Stars, Big Brother, Survivor, Two and a Half Men, and CSI, you are killing quality shows. The writers of those shows have no where to go BUT cable.
    The cable channels profit from hiring the quality writers to produce quality television. I have had people ask me before why there are no good shows on broadcast TV – I tell them to analyze what they are watching and then ask themselves that question.
    This is going sound strange – but I don’t have cable television. I do however hold a season pass through iTunes to Mad Men and own that show plus shows like Sports Night, Studio 60, The West Wing, and Star Trek: DS9 on DVD. You almost have to have cable anymore to watch intelligent programming.
    But we have no one to blame but ourselves and the addictive nature of competition and voyeurism. I’ll take Mad Men over Two and a Half Men any day.

  3. RunningSiren says:

    I refuse to pay for HBO Canada as they throw in the “movie channels” which I have no use for (prefer to watch a DVD of a film with all the special features), but eventually you can get the DVD of an HBO series and watch it in a week. I have fond memories of watching all of HBO’s “Carnivale” couple of years ago during the days off between Christmas and New Years. Will eventually watch “Boardwalk Empire” the same way. Heaven help me, but I’ve just started watching “True Blood” Season 1.

  4. I have to admit being a huge True Blood fan, for the first season at least. After that, it gets pretty bad, especially season 3 which I thought was one of the worst seasons of television HBO has produced.

    Watching Boardwalk Empire on DVD is going to be a great experience, as you can watch it faster but I can’t help myself from watching this as it airs.

    • RunningSiren says:

      Good to hear – I was sort of ‘forced’ to finally watch True Blood because my film fan friends watch every episode and they rave about it. Personally I prefer literary vampires (Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward, whose books would make a great TV mini-series), but at least now I can compare “my vampires” to True Blood’s.
      Nothing like the big screen vampire films of years ago that I remember watching on TV at midnight on the weekends, starring Christopher Lee – he was one scary dude (and no CGI back then).

  5. Wayne Marshall says:

    “especially season 3 which I thought was one of the worst seasons of television HBO has produced. ”
    Agreed.

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