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Absolutely spot on analysis. So (sadly) true for movie fans.

E.C. Henry

Glad you found something to be happy with, Billy. "Mad Men" looks like an interesting show. Now if NBC would just PURCHASE it so that cheapscates like me can see it for free...

The movies is where it will always be -- for me at least that is. No movies to look forward to? O, I beg to differ. Heard of a little film called "PROMETHEOUS"? We're talking Ridley Scott's return the genre he helped create: dark, sci-fi. Haven't been this geeked about a movie since BEFORE the last "Terminator" movie was released. The visuals in "Prometheous" are stunning. And the viral video promotional campaign is cavalier. So MAYBE the movies still have some bite left in them after all. Guess we'll just hafta wait untill June 8th to know for sure...

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA


While tv has come out with some strong work lately, I still feel like it's the little brother to movies. It might seem like tv is outdistancing movies if you only take the cream of the crop shows and compare them to the average movie... but having tivoed and watched almost every show on the tv landscape, I'd say tv suffers from the same problems as movies, sometimes even more, but just on a smaller budget and with worse actors. People just notice more when movies bomb because of the huge financial implications.

Jeff Takacs

Yes, Billy. Completely agreed. Somehow Robert Harling's career has been well-calibrated: started with theater in the '80s, then movies, now he's running the wittiest show on TV - GCB.

Surely TV's golden age - but the lessons you proclaim here work for either screen. (Or stage, for that matter.)


Chris: Especially for those of us who work in the factories...

EC: Don't get me wrong, I haven't abandoned one form for the other, and sure, there's nearly always one or two pics a year that generate real enthusiasm (I'm with you on the Ridley Scott, and I'm also way looking forward to DARK SHADOWS). What I'm talking about is a perceived general cultural trend.

E: Your point re: the economics is well taken. And I'll own up to an obvious amount of hyperbole and gross generalization in my whole "who won the war" opener (I'm certainly not making a case for the superiority of "Two and a Half Men"). But my real point is that a lot of the culture's adult interest has shifted to that "cream" you refer to, and that there seems to be a lot more cream that's really speaking to this audience on the small screen nowadays than on the big. Studios simply aren't making as many character-driven, adult-oriented movies these days - this is a fact that I can support, as I work at one. And from the writers' POV, TV is generally perceived as the writer's medium now; writers who in say, the 1970s-80s would've been finding steady work as screenwriters are now far more likely to seek gigs in the TV Land of Cream. This, too, seems like an agreed-upon truism, though my evidence is more anecdotal.

Jeff: Thanks for bringing up another example of the trend. I'll have to check GCB out.


We're in agreement on this...and hyperbole is always great for an article---as they grab our attention. Movies are still the glamour who wouldn't want a writer/director movie deal with Sony...but I think what's drawing some of the hot writers to tv to some of the cream of the crop shows is the money and the power. I didn't really think about television until I found out how much they're actually making on some shows. Plus, the writer has immediate power. They can write it, control all aspects of their vision and get it on air within months, sometimes a week. whereas, in movies, I guess maybe because of the financial climate and how skittish studios are these days, a movie script will get developed to death. I've actually read a ton of great movie scripts vs. only a few tv scripts that I consider of that quality...but a lot of the movie scripts are taking years to develop. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think that upper echelon of tv writers are now making more money and have more power than their film brethren?

On a side note, tv does a better job of supporting the writer. Writers are working together, not pitted against one another...and you often have a team of writers brainstorming and coming up with unique angles, while the producer sets a general vision. The only company in movies that I see that really supports their writers in this way is Pixar...they'll make sure that script is really great before they put out the product and will do everything to help their writers to get that vision on the screen.

Rob in L.A.

mernitman, there was a film last year that I was passionate about — but it's an exception that proves your rule: Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life." Over the past 20 years or so, I've been a bit dismayed by the spell-out-everything-for-the-audience-in-no-uncertain-terms approach to Hollywood storytelling.

So, I was more than amazed that Malick was able to pull off (1) letting the audience gradually figure out the backstory, (2) occasionally incomprehensible images on the screen, and (3) a story centered around no real crisis and culminating in no obvious climax (but in a good way). Especially gutsy was the film's detour into the distant past — into the WAY distant past — without an instantly discernible connection to the rest of the story. (I'm guessing that story editors didn't have much say in the script.)

Now, Malick isn't to everyone's tastes — and his approach to film isn't ideal (to say the least) for a rom-com — but so few recent movies have exhibited such kinship with the European art films of the '60s (especially Antonioni's) or treated their audiences as thinking people that "Tree of Life" felt like big-screen samizdat culture in the midst of a tinsely dictatorship.

There's also another way in which film has lost and TV has won: industry estimates say that in a few years, "films" will be screened in theatres on video. Sprocket-holed celluloid (and its non-flammable descendants) will be a thing of the past.


- As an ardent fan of romcoms, I considered it a small victory when I saw that bullet forensic 'fuck' scene in the first season of The Wire, recognizing it as an homage (if not ripoff) of the opening scene of Four Weddings and a Funeral.

- TV does the prolonged would-they-might-they sexual tension thing really well b/c of the advantages of time. Ross & Rachel, Bates & Anna, Tim & Daisy, Gavin & Stacey, Xander & Cordelia, etc. Movies' answer to that seems to write very economically or to expand the unit of measurement to a trilogy. In that case you have Jesse & Celine, Han and Leia (digress:the prequels sucked for many reasons but I think mostly because they lacked a humanizing element of romantic comedy: L:"I love you" H:"I know")

- NBC's Community has been supplying my smart romcom fix as of late. The dialog in this scene for example: "So do you try to evolve? Or do you try to know what you are?" (the show also was recently nominated for a Hugo, of all things)

Rob in L.A.

Just for the record, when I began my reply above to this post, I had intended to write something more on point. But my reply took on a life of its own, and when I got done, I had written a panegyric to "Tree of Life." Not what I set out to do, but I posted it anyway. Oh, well, that's the way it crumbles...


E: From my limited knowledge of the TV sphere, your points seem sound. One writer/producer I know is making a very good living working on a show that's relatively under the radar in terms of wide popularity, and she has the power to virtually do what she wants within its basic parameters. I can't think of any analogous situation in current filmmaking (other than the oft-cited Pixar model you mention), in terms of regular, steady employment. And the lack of interference factor is huge...

Rob: The death of celluloid is just sad, period.

Mark: That's intriguing, your "TV can extend foreplay tension" insight. I'm not on the Community bandwagon as yet, but you may be helping to get me on board.

Rob: Happy to be a viable vehicle for your panegyric.



Is the first letter of your friend D and the show on CBS?....then I know who you're talking about.... very interesting article by the way, it got people talking. Any medium where the writer is treated like a Prince in terms of their creativity and not a serf is the ultimate.

Btw, I remember reading on here a while back that you were going to do a Shane Black part deux blog article going over stuff you didn't mention in the first one... but I couldn't find it on a basic scroll down... that must have been a very exciting night.

Kid In The Front Row

You are right, but I disregard this all the time, because my passion has always been the movies.

But yeah. GRRRR! Even Aaron Sorkin, when he writes a movie, it's like he's doing the film community a favor, cause deep down, we know that he's a TV guy.

MaryAn Batchellor

I do not watch much television but when I do, it is because I am a slave to the few programs I DO watch so don't get food out of the fridge or knock on my door or text me or ask me to let you go outside and pee on your favorite tree or disturb me in even the most seemingly minute way. Not happening. You don't exist in my world.


E: It was indeed a hot night in the old UCLA town. And somewhere... in my vast... um, archives is less accurate than like, STUFF... there's a transcription, but it may be some time before it ever gets unearthed.

Kid: Oh that Aaron. Grrr cubed.

MaryAn: I'll try to remember to bear that in mind, the next time I'm contemplating borrowing a cup of sugar.

Kary Rader

What a great post! So true. The character depth on the shows you mentioned is enviable. Pete Cambell is weasel-y, mean and at times pathetic but oh-so watchable. And Game of Thrones - How can a story that keeps killing the heroes be popular? Depth of character. Most of the time you hate them but it's that one moment they become sympathetic or at least understood that is so compelling.


Kary: "Thrones" really does push that boundary, doesn't it? But it's a reflection of reality. Having read four out of the five Martin books thus far, I can confirm that, as Arya put it, "Anyone can be killed." And just as importantly, re: your closing comment, I'd add "Anyone can be understood."

Rob in L.A.

I'm looking forward to "Safety Not Guaranteed"!

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