Browsing iTunes this weekend, I realized there were no recent movies that I wanted to watch, only televison shows.
This was weird for me. For most of my life, movies were better than television. If you had a choice between watching a movie or watching a TV show, you chose the movie. But these days, more and more I find I’m either not interested in the movies that are being released, or that they’ve gotten such bad reviews that I’m not willing to risk the money on them. Instead, I find myself firing up Hulu or Netflix to pick from the plethora of television shows that I’ve been wanting to try.
I think this is a sign of something deeper: television has replaced movies as film’s long-form narrative. Where it used to be each TV episode was a short story, now they’re a chapter in the longer narrative arc of the season. Television is the novel of film, and movies – with less screen time, plus the need to be a complete story within one viewing – are looking more and more like short stories.
And just as the novel is now the dominant form of written fiction – it pays writers better, and it gives readers a longer sustained narrative – I think television will become the dominant form of film.
I think one sign that it’s already happening is that both Amazon and Netflix chose to make TV shows, rather than movies, when they wanted to become studios that generated their own content. Presumably they ran the numbers and decided a long-running television series would make the best return on their investment.
Another is that we’re already seeing both actors and writers talking about working for TV as preferable because of the steadiness of the paycheck and the ability it gives them to explore or inhabit characters longer.
When the people making the art come to prefer working in one medium rather than the other – for whatever reason – you’re going to see most of the new, exciting art come out in that medium.