For those of you that haven’t been aware, for the past five years Breaking Bad has been screening on AMC and finished its fifth and final season last Sunday. The show ran for five seasons, following Walter White, a brilliant chemist stuck teaching chemistry at High School and suffering from money problems as his wife expects their second child. Walter is diagnosed with lung cancer and his chances doesn’t look good. Afraid that he’ll bankrupt his family during treatment for his cancer and leave them with nothing but debt, Walter begins cooking Crystal Meth with an old school pupil Jessie Pinkman. Slowly Walter builds a drug empire which clouds his original intentions for entering the business.
So now that you’re all fully caught up with the basic premise of Breaking Bad (though you must have been living under a rock to not at least be aware of it), I can continue with this blog. Breaking Bad has been a moment in television where you can clearly see why filmmakers are leaning more towards TV than the film studios. Over the past few years television has become far more ambitious where as film studios have retracted back to less original content, not willing to risk a loss in the current economic climate. Some television networks have always produced interesting content, and certainly helped make some amazing films, notably Film 4 has been a strand of Channel 4 for thirty one years and helped make some of the most ground-breaking British films. Likewise BBC Films have helped develop British talent. These examples could however be considered film studios in their own right and not truly a television network. So I jump across the pond to salute HBO. A subscription cable channel in America, it has produced many films which other networks may consider a ‘made for TV movie’ but screened them at festivals and distributed them on various home platforms as well as broadcasting them. Gus Van Sant was able to produce his ‘Death’ trilogy (Elephant, Last Days and Paranoid Park) through HBO and more recently Steven Soderbergh’s critically acclaimed Behind The Candelabra was made through funding from HBO.
Aside from television networks aiding filmmakers to make films, television as a platform has been pushing the boundaries further and further, creating more original and artistic content. Shows now look and feel like a film, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Game Of Thrones, Broadwalk Empire, to name but a few. They are dealing with issues or content which normally was reserved for the cinema, simply because it was far too ambitious for television. Now however cinema is steering clear of this kind of content. Why, I hear you ask. Money. Plain and simple. Yes these shows attract millions of viewers a week, and they have great DVD/Blu-ray sales, but if it were released as a film, how many people would actually go and see it? A key reason why these shows do so well is simply because the viewer doesn’t have to leave their own house. They can continue to be a slob on their sofa and haven’t got to put up with annoying shits at the cinema screening.
So naturally when discussing the rise in quality of television shows available you must delve into the V.O.D. format. V.O.D. (Video On Demand) has risen greatly within the past few years, especially with services such as Netfilx and LoveFIlm. That online pharmacy in combination with what is now available for home entertainment (60 inch flat screen television, that was just a quick google with ‘large flatscreen TV’), more and more people are wanting to stay at home and enjoy films without the hassle of moving. Therefore studios are aiming more and more for the ‘event’ film. Something which will create such as large buzz that it will draw people away from the sofas and flat screen TVs. The running length of summer blockbusters is simply reflected in this. A few years ago the average mainstream film would be between 90 mins to 2 hours. Now however most summer blockbusters clock in well over 2 hours, look at The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Man Of Steel. This now ties into the benefit of making a television show over a film.
A television show will span over at least a few weeks (providing it’s picked up after the pilot), which means that there’s more running time than for a single film. Breaking Bad for example had 7 episodes in the first season, 13 in the second, third and forth seasons and 16 in the final season, with each episode running for 45 minutes, that’s 46 and a half hours running time in total. All this time means that further character development can happen so that you can manipulate and twist the viewer into believing certain things. Walter White becomes an evil man, plain and simple, however due to the progression of the story and how he can be portrayed due to the running length of the show the audience sympathise with him. It’s this scale that’s attainable that makes television so attractive nowadays. Who can blame film directors throwing in the towel for cinemas when they can make more engrossing content quicker for television. Steven Soderbergh couldn’t get funding for Behind The Candelabra from the studios but did from the television networks now he has ‘retired’ from directing feature films, even Kevin Smith is writing is swansong with Clerks III before claiming to move onto television. Film directors such as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Ridley Scott have all directed for television shows in recent years.
Obviously the money is still with films, and when you want to do something highly ambitious normally you need the money to achieve it. However, cinema I feel is not a dying art. With more and more festivals around than ever studios are seeing the talents and capabilities of young filmmakers, and low budget independent films are still being made. The emphasis has simply shifted more to the artistic side than the wealthy side (as it should always be anyway); filmmakers aren’t entering the business for fortune and fame and instead under artistic and creative merits. To tell a single story which doesn’t have to drag on for weeks on end.
Of course this is American television I’m talking about. Unfortunately British television is full of shite. It has become over saturated with immature, brat comedy like Phone Shop and Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show, and reality/semi-reality shows like Made In Chelsea and The Only Way Is Essex. I do often feel embarrassed to be British when faced with this shit content being broadcast on a regular basis. Why can’t us Brits just beat the crap viewing out of us and get on with some proper dramas or thrillers. The answer, any decent writer, director, producer etc. moves to American television where they can more than likely secure the funding needed for their projects. C’est la vie.