Archive for the ‘ Television ’ Category

A Burgeoning Market

The evolution of storytelling is an interesting process to follow. Seemingly every new advancement in technology has included a new way to tell a story. In days long gone, men drew crude drawings on walls to represent myths and stories and rules to live by. Before cameras existed, plays and dramas captured the collective imagination of an audience and transported it to a place it could hardly dream of. Men like Shakespeare and Marlowe shaped the minds of generations to come. This is starting to read like a Brit Lit essay, so I’ll try and get to the point.

In the 19th century, many writers (including Wilkie Collins whose novel, Moonstone, I’m on the verge of finishing) released bits of their stories in magazines to engross readers on a weekly basis. It may not seem huge, but the framework for the current mode of storytelling was set.

After serialized novels, there were movies, radio programs, TV shows, and video games among others. Obviously some people have told stories (albeit small ones) on Youtube. I’m disappointed that I didn’t act on the idea when I had it myself, but there have even been stories told on Twitter. I may still have to act on this at some point. Perhaps I should come up with a story first. Crawl before you walk, right?

When I was growing up, it was pretty easy to point to novels as the most respected form of fictional communication. Movies were an increasingly close second. Video games and TV shows rarely received respect in this regard, although they’re clearly two of the more prominent modes of narrative. Now, probably thanks to the advent of films like Date Movie and the like, aspersions have been cast on a lot of movies.  The increasing cost of film — rather, the increasing cost of getting the full experience of a film — has also helped drive people toward other outlets.  At the same time, shows like The Sopranos and The Wire and Breaking Bad and Mad Men have helped provide life to a medium that has not even begun to reach its full potential.

Television started out with popcorn shows like I Love Lucy and the like, rarely daring to dream or achieve very much. Although shows like Seinfeld had some fun, they didn’t really break any new ground or even attempt to. Perhaps the first great attempt at a true, meaningful narrative in the medium was Roots in 1977. M*A*S*H was another solid foray in this regard, actually. In fact, it seems from my limited research that writers had ambition, but the networks themselves were afraid. Since, at the time, writers could not turn to cable television, they were pretty much forced to submit to the will of network heads.

While it is easy to criticize a TV head for not wanting to try something daring, it’s hard to blame them when the public is so slow to accept the medium as a viable means of communication. When you look at the shows on broadcast TV that really try to do something, they rarely draw ratings. The current case would be Fringe on FOX. When it premiered, it was much ballyhooed as the first JJ Abrams show after LOST. It did not initially hook the viewer. A slow start may have ultimately sunk this show, despite the fact that it has evolved into one of the best shows currently going on the networks.  Even cable channels simply cannot commit to a show for an extended period to begin with, so it’s hard — nearly impossible — to plot out a show beyond a season.  Then, if a show is successful, frequently they can’t work to an end that they really want.  They have to keep stuffing new plot points and filler into a show because it makes money.  As such, the artistic integrity of a show is frequently compromised, whether the writers want to help it or not.

Thankfully, in recent years, cable networks like AMC, HBO, and FX have stepped up to grab grittier, better shows to give them a chance. Largely, this has resulted in an explosion in the quality of TV on cable AND on broadcast. FX has been home to some of the better comedies in recent years. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia may not always be a beacon of social relevance or importance, but it’s still fucking hilarious. Archer debuted last year and received largely positive critical reviews despite being a somewhat crudely animated cartoon about a perverted, stupid spy and his like-minded peers.

AMC has given birth to two of the most critically acclaimed genres in the history of television with Breaking Bad and Mad Men. HBO may have paved the way with The Sopranos, but they continue to churn out quality serials like Boardwalk Empire and the late series, The Wire.

The success of these popular shows has led several higher-profile actors to pursue new careers in television.  Steve Buscemi wasn’t exactly hurting for work in film, but the popular character actor went to Boardwalk Empire. Elijah Wood recently expressed this same opinion after signing up to star in the new FX show Wilfred.  More and more, you’ll see popular actors gravitate toward a career in TV, as the negative connotation normally associated with television continues to dissipate. 

Why does TV have an advantage over other mediums? Basically, it comes down to the episodes themselves. TV can present a chapter a week (much like the old serial novels released in magazines), and continually hook the viewer. This ultimately lets a skilled writer draw in the viewer for much longer than a movie or even most novels.

So while TV is definitely a flourishing medium for narrative, it has flaws that have not quite been overcome yet. The Wire came close, but the 5th season was not quite up to the standard set by the first four (especially the 4th). It, perhaps, would have benefited from having another season so as to not rush the last new storyline it introduced.

There will be, maybe soon, a perfect show, that is strong for an extended run. The seeds have been planted for television to flourish.  Only time will tell if writers can truly achieve the possibilities the medium presents.

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