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.