What did you watch last night? Where did you watch it? Chances are it was in the comfort of your home, on your couch or in your bed – and, increasingly, on your computer. As the quality of shows broadcast free-to-air continues to grow, more and more viewers are turning the telly on for longer. And saving their 18 bucks (plus price of popcorn).
Why is this happening?
Cable TV has given us well-crafted gems like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Sex and the City (to name an obvious few). These shows revolutionised what it is possible to achieve in television. They were thoroughly written and produced, but what made them so celebrated wasn’t just the storylines: it was the characters. Television can let us fall in love with a fictional figure and continue that relationship for years.
Increasingly over the last 15 years, narratives and characters have been explored and pulled apart until they’ve been thoroughly used up. So individual and story arcs, allowing audiences to fall in love over dozens of hours and several years, mean characters become friends. That world is a way to escape. It’s a comfortable refuge to retreat into where the formula of the medium is reassuringly predictable.
That’s not to say there is no innovation in TV- the opposite. Many shows have pioneered technological advances (like shooting on digital formats), creative processes (like cliff-hangers that last a summer), and indulged in genre-bending acrobatics like (ghastly) musicals, ‘what if’ episodes and scenes from alternate realities.
Pirating and streaming the latest ‘eps’ of True Blood or Gossip Girl onto a hard-drive and passing it to friends (while totally illegal) creates a community. Shows are conversation topics. While I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, I could probably write down the whole story right here (don’t worry, I wont) just from overheard, breathlessly related exchanges. My boyfriend and I would exchange texts throughout the day- eagerly awaiting the time we could watch Battlestar Gallactica at home together (granted, we were huge geeks). Sneaking an episode behind the other’s back was tantamount to cheating, a betrayal. More than one slammed door and blubbered tear was caused as a consequence of such transgressions.
So modern television has cut film’s lunch. The reasons for loving narrative visual storytelling have been made wholly more accessible and cheaper. There’s so much more of it! Entire channels dedicated to your genre of choice. But there are some drawbacks. Arguably, the golden age of comedy in TV has passed (Two and a Half Men still actually exists). There are but a handful of really funny sitcoms, the ol’ big screen can at least notch comedy up on its headboard.
But perhaps most importantly, the experience of going to the movies can’t be reproduced. Sitting in front of the TV in your underwear hugging a family-sized packet of Doritos (while awesome) doesn’t quite cut it. There is still something magical about settling into a plush seat, tucking your bags and food around you, whispering as the lights go dim. Much like the immediacy of live theatre, live cinema has something TV doesn’t. Perhaps a sense of occasion.
So film hasn’t (and will never) really die. Epic, uber-big budget movies will always get made. People will always go see them. Smaller scale, self-contained stories should only be told in a shorter medium that filmmakers will continue to explore. For these reasons (and many others) we’ll keep going to the movies, and feature films will never die. A bit like Two and a Half Men.