Why are TV shows better than movies?

Gavin Polone:

Without doing a scientific survey of the entertainment predilections of the American public, I can still confidently say that there appears to be a preferential shift away from movies and toward television. I would bet that you have noticed that your friends are more excited for new episodes of a favorite show than they are for the release of a super-hyped studio tentpole movie. Sure, some of the reason for there being more good TV shows than movies is arithmetic: There are more networks producing series than ever, and also it is much more convenient to access those shows on your DVR or streaming service. But there’s more to it than just volume and convenience. The most significant reason TV is favored has to be the overall malaise that has taken hold of the movie audience, which is illustrated by the oft-heard phrase, “There is nothing out worth seeing.” Yes, there have been a few successful sequels this year like The Dark Knight Rises, and remakes like The Amazing Spider-Man, and sequel – remakes like Independence Day with Super Heroes a.k.a. The Avengers. But when was the last time you saw a non-animated studio film and thought, “That’s a classic,” something on the level of Goodfellas, Raiders of the Lost Ark, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or Lawrence of Arabia? Of course there have been independent films that may have risen to that level. But when you’re dealing with a mass audience, it is the studio releases that reach the majority of moviegoers, and the studios don’t seem to be delivering the goods as they once had. This explains why in 2012 the number of theater admissions is going to hit a nineteen-year low, while the population during that period has increased from 258 million to 313 million. And I believe that a significant part of the blame for this downward trend can be found in how the studios have changed the process of deciding which movies they will make and distribute.

According to Polone, the problem is twofold. First, movies are largely greenlit by committee. All of the execs involved have to be onboard, and they’ll only be onboard if they’re sure of success, which leads to safer movies being made, rather than interesting passion projects. Second, the decision to make movies is heavily based on financial projections, meaning that only movies that are similar to movies that brought in lots of money will get made, resulting in more derivative movies.

Unfortunately, Polone doesn’t see this changing any time soon.

Sidenote: I suspect that the structure of television, which is largely based around having a season containing a predetermined number of episodes, affords greater creativity because you can develop more ambitious story arcs and deeper character development that are more satisfying for longer periods of time. Movies may offer a higher “high” immediately, but a television series can, in theory, offer a more consistent narrative experience for the long haul. Viewers will come to expect and appreciate that more, as they enjoy long-term rewards from the medium.