Recently Kevin Spacey gave a speech where he argued that television has eclipsed movies in terms of quality entertainment. He argued that TV series were “willing to take risks, experiment, be prepared to fail by aiming higher rather than playing it safe… We need to surprise, break boundaries, and take viewers to new places.”
It’s hard not to say there’s been some great series going on in television. Since the 90s, when shows like The Simpsons changed the field of the medium entirely, TV has had a long-lived renaissance. You can argue about the quality of such dismal reality TV shows that play on MTV or TLC, but there’s such great series coming out. Breaking Bad and Mad Men are the best character driven dramas on air, Parks and Recreation and Louie deliver plenty of laughs each week, and The Daily Show and Colbert Report give the goods every night. Film is a harder market for quality entertainment by comparison. That’s not to say there aren’t great recent films but there aren’t many these days.
Still, comparing the two isn’t exactly fair. TV and film have as much in common as typing and calling. They exist on a similar format but have an entirely different structure. Films rely on a continuous singular narrative while TV series exist to give slow, episodic structures. In other words, television needs a successful formula to keep it fresh to prevent repetitive episodes. While The Godfather and GoodFellas share many of the same themes as The Sopranos, they exist on too different mediums to compare to. Even comparing TV to their movie spins (such as South Park to South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut) is a stretch.
That’s not to say movies and television are dissimilar. Both have gone through rapid changes in the last few years in their formats. Films can now be shown in 3-D or offered at home on V. O. D. The way TV can be seen has adapted to new consumer products as well; people can watch their favorite shows online or with DVR and now even sites like Netflix are getting into the industry, with heavy hitting shows like Arrested Development, Orange is the New Black, and Spacey’s own House of Cards.
It’ll be interesting to see where both TV and film goes. There will certainly be some more rapid changes in the next ten years or so.