BIG SCREEN GETTING SMALLER: It’s a perennial subject in TV circles – I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve written this story over the course of nearly 650 columns – but Newsweek drew the short straw and published a fresh essay on just why TV is so awesome these days while movies just plain suck.
Devin Gordon’s piece begins with actor/comedian Denis Leary recalling the moment when he realized that TV was cleaning the movies’ clock – a season one episode of The Sopranos where Tony spots an informer living under witness protection while driving his daughter to college; he drops Meadow off for her admission interview, then doubles back, finds the snitch and strangles him to death. This, I suppose, is the moment that Rescue Me was born, sparing Leary the ignominious fate of being remembered for Two If By Sea and Operation Dumbo Drop.
The article focuses on quality, critically-adored TV dramas, most of which appear on cable after 10 at night, all of which are big sellers on DVD, where they can be consumed in one, greedy weekend binge. This simply underlines what everybody already knows – that the appeal of a show like The Sopranos is that it’s like watching the director’s cut of Goodfellas that was never made; TV has succeeded, in Gordon’s words, in “transforming shows from disposable weekly units into 8-, 12-, sometimes 22-hour movies.”
The real problem is that nobody’s making Goodfellas these days – not even Martin Scorsese, whose latest, Oscar-nominated mob feature, The Departed, plays like a film made by a far less talented director who’s been watching a lot of The Sopranos. Even when there’s some crossover between movies and TV, the small screen will end up beating its more glamorous sibling. Gordon singles out NBC’s Friday Night Lights, “a superb show that's only incidentally about football,” he writes. “The series actually surpasses the 2004 film because the long form of TV has given its writers leeway to explore an entire small-town orbit. Freed from the need to sell tickets, the TV show doesn't have to swell to a crowd-pleasing gridiron drive.”
“(H)ow many recent Hollywood comedies have been as lacerating as NBC's The Office or Comedy Central's taboo-blasting Sarah Silverman Program? (OK, Borat—a movie based on a character created for ... television.)”
Glamour still clings to movies, but it’s looking increasingly frayed these days, as big stars lose no status by doing TV, which is often shot in widescreen and broadcast in HD, increasingly to living rooms whose picture and sound quality is as good as any mall theatre – minus the sticky floor, ringing cell phones, babbling fellow patrons and overpriced snacks. From where they’re sitting on the couch, remote in hand, most viewers have already decided that they’re getting better value from broadcast TV than almost anything in the theatres; Hollywood, clinging to the shreds of its antique prestige, will be the last one to notice.