As an aspiring screenwriter I’ve spent a lot of time studying narrative form and characters and style and all that jazz that goes into making a really good production. The thing is, I’ve been studying for far longer than I have called it my area of study, simply because I have always loved media and the many stories we are presented with on a daily basis. When I say on a daily basis I really do mean a daily basis, because some kinds of stories were so closely woven into my life that they actually became a part of me, and this is the root of why I think television has ruined film for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love film. There are many films which I think came to define me — films have defined entire generations. But today we are in the golden era of television, when some of the best writing, acting, directing, and cinematography is found much closer to home. In your living room, actually. They are that close to us. Truly, when we fall in love with a television show it becomes a part of our daily routine. We care about those stories and characters and think about them as if they were physical entities in our lives. And for some people, they are.
I think that author/screenwriter Alex Epstein says it best in his book Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box. He says that while films are like one night stands, television shows are like relationships. I definetely agree. I’ve noticed recently that I just don’t care for movies the way I care about television shows. This has nothing against movies, but the genre has limitations by nature. There are certainly films that I adore, but those that are closest to my heart are usually in serial form (like Harry Potter). The thing about film is that even if the plot is well thought out and the acts are natural, it all happens so fast. We don’t get to spend a lot of time with the characters because we need to move forward with the story. Television delves into the personal lives of each and every character, and asks us as an audience to care about them. When we come back day after day or week after week, that character becomes a friend to us and suddenly they are as important to us as our actual family (and truthfully we probably like them a lot more).
Television also has the added bonus of staying power. If you’re anything like me, when you find a show you love enough to binge, that show is on your mind during almost all waking moments, whether consciously or not. You’re thinking about that show constantly. Shows that span over many seasons mean that you get to keep thinking about them, and they keep giving you new things to think about. I still go to the movies and come out with my mind racing with opinions and feelings about what I just saw, but there’s only an average of 100 minutes of run time worth of content. Some films are ubiquitous enough to stay on people’s minds for years to come, but most are pushed aside after a few months. Films are things which people treat as memories, while television shows are active, present things in their lives.
And really, this is why I prefer television to film. I like movies, I think there are a lot of great ones out there, but I love TV. I love being involved in a show and following the story for years and years. I love growing with the characters and solving problems alongside them. I love watching their relationships unfold at a pace that seems natural. Most romances in film seem rushed to me because I don’t get to see the nuances of their interaction and a stable foundation on which they build their relationship.
This is not to say that long running series are always great, because I do believe some overstay their welcome, but this is really about a cultural shift. People are starting to realize the benefit of being with specific characters and settings and storylines for longer periods of time, and so are the media makers. Big name Hollywood actors, directors, and writers are moving to television because they also understand that TV is where they really get to explore the depth of their craft.
With high-budget streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon now creating their own original programming at cinema-quality levels of production, television is taking on a new look. What remains is the long form style of narrative arc and character building that people love. Television works because it gives people something to love for a long time, and if we’re comparing our media to prospective love interests, we want the one that’s going to last.