TV and Film cross over into 2020

Wednesday, December 4, 2019 - 5:17pm

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Comedians Tina Fey and Amy Poehler began their night as hosts of the 2015 Golden Globes with a joke that would define popular media in the 2010s: “Only at the Golden Globes do the beautiful people of film rub shoulders with the rat-faced people of television.” 

This line, while intended to poke fun at the persistent belief that film is a higher and more prestigious art form than television, actually exposes a recent trend that has made this belief obsolete. The Golden Globes aren’t the only place where faces from both film and TV cross paths; in fact, the worlds of the two mediums have become so enmeshed that the distinction between movie star and TV actor is no longer clear-cut. 

In a decade where streaming services like Netflix and Hulu dominate cable television, the idea that TV has no artistic value has faded away almost entirely. When sitcoms and procedurals were the most popular shows on television, it was easy to say that the medium may not be as impactful or meaningful as cinema. However, with billions of dollars spent every year on original content for streaming services, television has evolved far beyond its small-time roots. 

While bitingly funny, Fey and Poehler’s suggestion that the worlds of film and TV are overlapping fails to acknowledge that, in the past ten years, these worlds have become nearly identical. Rather than pushing “serious” actors to film, renowned television series have pulled top-billed names into the TV industry and made the careers of countless new stars. With the stigma towards TV as a lower-budget medium effectively erased, talent has sprawled across its native platforms. 

In fact, the Golden Globes are the perfect representation of how the film and TV industries have intersected. The award show, which has categories for film and TV productions, has seen steady ratings in a time where more niche award shows like the Emmys and the Oscars have experienced a significant decrease in ratings over the past few years. The Golden Globes have also been lauded for their commitment to coming through on promises of diversity on-screen and on-stage.

The blurring of lines between TV and film has opened doors for new stars and new representation that was previously unseen in the nearly all-white films and shows before the 2010s. While minorities and women are still underrepresented in pop culture, the push for more varied stories and faces to tell those stories has intensely affected both industries. By acknowledging the growing similarities between the forms of media, the quality of TV shows and films has responded to the other’s respective success with more thought for the consumer. As the demand for representation has increased, each platform has raced to make that goal a reality.

While there is still much work to be done in improving the entertainment industry as a whole, it is undeniable that the reactions of TV and film producers will be similar. With content and public interest becoming more closely aligned, the two formats will continue to merge as reflections of the calls for social change in popular media. Soon, it won’t be just the Golden Globes where TV and film are in the same room together. It’ll be in every aspect of their production and use.

— Anya Soller, Daily Arts Writer

In sum: The 2010s have been a decade of convergence for television and movies. “Movies,” here, means specifically the Scorsese-would-spit-on-their-graves type, all the “Potters”and Marvels, and “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Parks.” The “television” I’m referencing is not the latest CBS sitcom — not “God Friended Me,” not “Man with a Plan.”

The convergence of movies and television has been brought on by that other class of TV, those script-driven-dramas that aim to rise to a higher artistic occasion, reckoning themselves serious and important, and receiving crucial praise that would validate them as such. High-brow television has, as Richard Brody put it in his recent New Yorker article on the 27 best movies of the decade, taken the place of the “so-called mid-range drama for adults,” filling the niche in entertainment for script-driven narratives, often “(subtracting out any) discernable directorial originality or inventiveness.”

At the same time, movies have stolen a core tenet of the television show: the serialization. Every single one of the top twenty movies in the box office this decade, as well as the most profitable film from each year this decade (minus 2014’s ticket-stub crown going to “American Sniper”), has been a remake or a franchise film. If it’s true that there’s been a resurgence of box office numbers, if it’s true that people are getting back to the theaters, it’s cinematic, extended universes and nostalgia trips that are putting butts into seats.

The decade-long period that started in the mid-2000s and ran through the middle of the 2010s, often called the Golden Age of Television, was headlined by television shows that aimed to reach past what was narratively expected of them, working with literary aspirations, even, in some cases. As Adam Wilson noted in his reflective essay in Harper’s on the many Golden Ages of television earlier this fall, critics aren’t afraid to pass around the idea of the visual medium as a literary one, pulling a quote from writer Brett Martin, who called “The Wire” “one of the greatest literary accomplishments of the early twenty-first century.” If you ask the average, avid fan of television, you’ll hear that it’s TV, not cinema, that’s taken the seat as the rightful artistic heir to the novel, the play, the poetic epic — not that there needs to be a successor, not that it was necessarily going to be cinema in the first place.

What does it say that the evolution of each of these forms — of television and of movies — seems to have come at the hands of the other? More so in the past decade than ever before, industry creativity and talent has been pumped into prestige dramatic television, with every studio, cable channel and streaming service looking for their spiritual successor to “The Sopranos” and “The Wire.” Just so, we’ve seen Hollywood rear its ugly (and obviously profit-driven) head — the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the sequel-storm that followed, making explicitly clear what the industry values: Selling tickets at any cost, even if that means the end product tends toward unoriginal, repetitive, increasingly vapid. Hollywood’s major model to this end has been to franchise everything, to jam anything they can into a cinematic, extended, multi-movie universe. All of a sudden, the slate at your local multi-plex begins to resemble the schedule of a cable television channel. Installment after installment after installment of stories that seem like they’ll never advance, nevermind end.

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Throughout this decade, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime have further blurred the line between television and film, releasing Oscar-contending features directly onto laptops and living room televisions, a type of direct, front-facing access with the content that used to be reserved for TV. Big name directors like Noah Baumbach, Alfonso Cuarón, Bong Joon Ho and Martin Scorsese have turned to Netflix to make movies, in many cases bypassing a theatrical release wholesale.

Just a few weeks ago, the Department of Justice released a statement declaring that they would be terminating the Supreme Court decision from 1948 which broke up vertical integration — the monopolies that studios like Paramount had — in the entertainment industry. The historic Paramount decision prohibited studios from owning their own theaters, creating competition by ensuring that each local theater, maybe the only one in a city or region, wasn’t showing movies made by only one company. The timing of the DOJ’s decision comes with more than a hint of irony.

Just as we come out of a five-year period that has seen many auteurs go the way of Netflix and Amazon to fund and distribute their movies, the DOJ released this decision to do away with regulations that had once benefited and enabled, even, the very same category of artists who have already been enabled by a slightly different form of vertical integration. Netflix and Amazon own their studios’ movies. While there’s often a limited theatrical release for the Oscar hopefuls of the bunch, most of the original programming produced by these companies stays exclusive to their websites. They produce, promote and control exactly where and how anyone can see their movies.

Director Martin Scorsese says that “The Irishman” wouldn’t have gotten made without Netflix. The streaming service has found a niche in the industry as a studio that’s willing to work with and promote directors who want to take risks and tell stories at pinched budgets. Streaming services’ version of monopolized content remains one of the last remaining holdouts of creativity still alive and kicking in the American entertainment industry today.

The version of monopoly that seems only inevitable if the decision to go back on the ’48 Paramount case goes through will be the destructive type. The type that pushes honest artistry farther toward the margins, and farther off the big screen. I have to assume that the decision to revoke ’48 has come about with more than a little encouragement from the Big Five studios. I would specifically recommend checking the current administration’s donor logs for any heaping sums from someone by the name of D-I-S-N-E-Y. I’m struggling to see any other reason such a possibly destructive decision would go through.

As we move into the next decade, I can’t help but believe cinema — in the Scorsese-would-NOT-spit-on-their-graves sense — will be further banished from the studio system. But maybe that’s okay. Production companies outside of the Hollywood system have picked up the slack, creating new avenues that give artists more creative freedom and responsibility over their work. 

 Stephen Satarino, Daily Film Editor