Haven’t you heard? We’re living in the golden age of television. And for the rest of this week, there’s a whole festival dedicated to figuring out how TV is making America great again (sorry, not sorry). Through June 8, the Split Screens Festival will celebrate the art and craft of the small screen at the IFC center with talks and screenings featuring everything from cult favorites like “Mr. Robot” to finer fare like “The Man In The High Castle.”
Matt Zoller Seitz, beloved TV critic and Editor-in-Chief of RobertEbert.com helmed the festival as Creative Director, putting his magic touch on the many, many events spread throughout seven days. We chatted with Seitz about what he’s most looking forward to, what makes for good television,and whether or not he indulges in the guilty pleasure of reality TV.
What parts of the Split Screen Festival are you most looking forward to?
Honest to god, this is a geek fest. It is a very granular, off beat way to look at television. We’re peeling back the layers on how television is made. That’s really what this festival is about: We’re showing how art is not something that magically appears in front of you. It’s the product of work and intellectual choices that these artists make.
It’s important to dissect those things, especially because television has just become an accepted art form in the last fiteen or so years.
I have been a film critic and a television critic simultaneously since 1997 — wow, it’s my 20th year. When i first started out in the late 90s, my film critic colleagues used to give me grief about being a television critic, because it was considered a lesser art form. One of them would say, ‘Oh you’ve got to catch up on your stories?’ And it’s like dude, “Buffy,” “Oz,” “The Sopranos” are not my stories. Eventually they saw what I meant.
What, in your opinion, makes for good television?
The kinds of shows that tend to champion are ones that are audacious in some way. I had tremendous affection for “The Get Down” in the first half of its run. Even though they hadn’t found their voice yet, it was such an unusual series. I like shows that create their own reality.
How can television be a place of hope when your president is drunk tweeting made up words and acting like climate change isn’t real?
I’m drawn away from things that take my mind off of what’s happening in the world. I don’t want to waste my time with those shows.
Everybody is a hell of a lot more serious than they were six months ago, collectively. [We’re] increasingly preoccupied with the big issues and entertainment can, and should, illuminate that. Television is best equipped to unite us emotionally and intellectually as an art form.
Availability and streaming has really changed the way we watch TV. Are you for or against binge watching?
All things considered, I prefer to have things spaced out. It gives me time to think about what I’ve seen and it gives me time to grapple with my feelings about the work.
One last very important question. Do you ever watch reality TV?
Not so much. I’m almost entirely concentrated on scripted programming right now and that’s just because I don’t have the bandwidth.
So no “Bachelorette” for you.
Not at the moment. Although i gotta admit, I love recaps of “The Real Housewives” shows. I don’t watch the shows, but I read the recaps because I want to be watching the shows, but I can’t. It’s going to consume me. I can’t deny how entertaining it is.