PARK CITY, Utah — “For me, television is actually, meaningfully, much more important as a narrative medium than movies.”
Those words may sound like heresy at Sundance — especially coming from producer Brian Grazer, an Oscar nominee for his work on “Frost/Nixon” and “Apollo 13” and a winner for “A Beautiful Mind.”
But he’s had nearly as much success on television with the likes of “24,” “Empire,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Arrested Development.” His latest series, “Shots Fired,” premiered at Sundance ahead of its March 22 debut on Fox as part of the film festival’s growing emphasis on television.
There’s just something so interesting and curious about audiences numbering in the hundreds who are willing to pay $20 to $25, the same price as every movie here, to see something they can watch for free on TV — in some cases in a matter of days.
“I Love Dick,” from “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway, follows a married couple who become obsessed with a charismatic artist named Dick (Kevin Bacon). Its first three episodes were screened as an event — despite the fact that the pilot has been available on Amazon for free since Aug. 18.
Jay Z turned up to support “Time: The Kalief Browder Story,” Spike’s upcoming six-part documentary series he executive-produced about a 16-year-old from the Bronx who spent three years on Rikers Island without having been convicted of a crime.
ABC showcased four episodes of its summer series “Downward Dog,” the story of a struggling millennial (“Fargo’s” Allison Tolman) that’s told from the point of view of her dog, Martin.
Showtime’s “TRUMPED: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time” is debuting Friday, exactly one week before it airs on the premium channel. The first two episodes of “The History of Comedy” were screened in advance of the series’ Feb. 9 debut on CNN. Viceland’s documentary series “Rise” premiered three episodes of its timely exploration of indigenous resistance.
There was even a grouping of three “independent pilots” — series that hadn’t yet been sold.
As for “Shots Fired,” the series has a definite cinematic feel, and not just because I saw it in a movie theater. (Well, a basketball gym that had been converted into a movie theater.)
The event series tells the story of racial unrest in a North Carolina town when far more attention is paid to the shooting of a white youth by a black cop than the murder of a black teenager just weeks before.
The screening was a Sundance reunion for Sanaa Lathan, who stars as a Justice Department investigator, and co-creator Gina Prince-Bythewood, both of whom drew praise here back in 2000 for the writer-director’s feature debut, “Love &Basketball.”
“Shots Fired” is a timely look at how quickly a town can implode after a racially charged shooting. But it’s rooted in the experiences of the characters who are living through it.
“Given that I started my career in the ’70s making movies,” Grazer said, “the films that I’d seen and the filmmakers that I kind of idolized and sort of got me into caring about movies that had meaning … the thematics were sort of driven by characters.
“And I’ve seen recently, and I think we’ve all seen, that that role has changed, where character-driven pieces such as this are now replacing or sublimating what was going on in movies at that time. And that sensibility has now been transported to television.”