This is the time of year when the blockbusters go into hibernation and the fall television season takes center stage. As I eagerly anticipate the return of my favorite shows, I gauge my excitement level, and I discover that it is higher for, say, the season premiere of “The Flash” than it is for any movie to be released over the next three months. And then I realize something I had never considered before, a truth that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago:
Could it be that television is now better than the movies?
I remember, 20 years ago, when it was announced that Pierce Brosnan would step into the role of James Bond for 1995’s “Goldeneye.” There was a bit of grousing from the entertainment press that Brosnan was just a TV actor, not a proper movie star, and therefore unsuitable to play Bond. In the old days, there was little or no cross-pollination between film and TV. Actors who made their living on television tended to stay there, and the lucky few who made the leap from the small screen to the big screen viewed the transition as a huge step forward. Returning to TV after movie stardom was perceived as a massive embarrassment, an acceptance of failure, a fall from grace.
That’s no longer the case. Consider Alec Baldwin, a bankable movie star since the ’90s who decided to take a role on the “30 Rock” sitcom in 2006. Not only has that been no impediment to his movie career — watch him give Tom Cruise heartburn in this summer’s “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” — it has actually enhanced his celebrity status, since “30 Rock” is funnier than roughly 73 percent of all comedies released theatrically, by my estimate. Steve Carell had a string of hit movies while he was starring as imbecile boss Michael Scott on NBC’s “The Office,” yet it is the TV role for which he remains beloved.
So what changed? Did TV get better, or did the movies get worse?
I think, actually, that it’s a bit of both. Technology has allowed television to increase its production values to the point where there isn’t much of a visual difference between a TV show and a theatrical movie. This has driven Hollywood to up its ante by making movies bigger, louder and sillier, and they have reached the point where spectacle has become more important than story.
Television, however, allows for the telling of long-form stories over a greater period of time, which means that viewers get a chance to get to know characters in a way that a two-hour movie just can’t accommodate. Television is also allowed to be quirky and experimental, and if they have a bad episode once in a while, audiences are forgiving when a good episode comes along the next week.
But if a movie franchise has a dud — “Fantastic Four,” I’m looking in your direction — it’s all over. No one’s willing to overlook a movie’s missteps when you have to wait two to three years for a sequel.
Then there’s the price and convenience factors to consider. If you want to take your kids out to the theater, it’s going to cost you a fortune in tickets and overpriced popcorn. It’s much easier and less expensive to stay home and catch up on your favorite programs that are piling up on your DVR.
We live in an era that people are calling “the new Golden Age of television,” and the roster of big-name stars who work in both movies and TV is probably too long to list.
Sure, Tom Cruise hasn’t done a sitcom yet, but there’s still time.Like Neon Las Vegas on Facebook: