Wednesday, September 1, 2010

LA Times-Is Television Really The New Cinema?

Cast of AMC's "Mad Men": Lionsgate TV
(Story reported by Steven Zeitchik for the LA Times)

The idea that contemporary television does storytelling -- particularly drama -- better than its cinematic counterpart has been advanced for a while now, especially by those, well, working in television. It's been particularly present this summer. Writing about FX chief John Landgraf at the Television Critics Assn. Tour earlier this month, Forbes' Lacey Rose noted that "rather than lament the loss of the creatively ambitious, mid-priced drama that once brought multidimensional characters to the big screen, he, like ... many of his cable cohorts, has stepped up to fill the void."

Storytelling on the small screen is deeper and richer, the television camp maintains, than it is on the effects- and brand-obsessed big screen of the studio system -- or, for that matter, in an indie-film world that has gone stale. Which is why, the argument goes, the best actors now regularly choose cable. Or as Michael Tolkin, "The Player" scribe and unofficial avatar of the disenchanted-screenwriters movement, told us a few years ago: "Character has migrated to television."

Few would deny that cable has upped its game (and everyone else's in television) over the last decade, as the wave of "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under" and "The Shield" hit, followed soon after by "Damages," "Dexter" and "Mad Men," to name a few examples. And network comedies such as this year's Emmy-winning "Modern Family" and previous Emmy darling "30 Rock" can offer a sharp kick to the gut of contemporary life.

The movie industry, meanwhile, has hardly helped its own cause this summer, cynically churning out a series of forgettable big-budget brands wearing the clothes of a real movie.

But the TV First argument has holes aplenty. Those who advance it point to how much more story and character development television offers. But TV has an innate advantage in this department; that's how it goes when you have as many as 20 or 30 screen hours to develop a story instead of 1 1/2 or two. Unlike TV, movies are not designed to play over a long period or to follow the jagged EKG of characters' lives over the years. It's like asking an opera singer to rap and then wondering why she can't rhyme. The better question to ask of both film and television is not how much time each one takes but what it does with the time it has.

(Click here to read the full story on the LA Times website.)

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