Lately, I’ve been getting a little worried about my decision to devote my life to screenplay writing. My father and sister are both screenplay writers and I’ve watched them suffer paycheck to paycheck because making movies at this point is near impossible. Many will tell you that film is dying. Now, I know my fear is not irrational. I grew up in LA ,and understanding that Hollywood is a crapshoot is one advantage I have over the many transplants. But maybe not all areas are so frightening.
This past Wednesday, I went to see a television critic of the New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum, speak at Penn. It was one of the first times that I (keep in mind, I went to school for film) had really heard someone speak at length about television, not as an analysis of a specific episode but about the study of television generally. If movies are floundering, television is thriving. It’s cheaper to make with more modes of getting out there and able to take more risks due to its episodic nature and lesser financial risk.
Ms. Nussbaum spoke to the degree that television is changing. An example of this, she pointed out, is that for her to pan (or have the opportunity to pan) a show in a review is its own way of applauding the medium at large. For her to hold it to higher standards means that television has reached the point where it is no longer the junky, guilty-pleasure, sibling of film. Additionally, because it’s a mass-media format it has the potential to be stumbled-upon in a way film can’t. Someone can say to you, you have to check this out, and you can.
This quality is in the vein of Ms. Nussbaum’s assertion that television’s trajectory is influenced by the rise of the Internet. The immediacy of feedback can effect not only who is watching, but what happens with the show. If you miss an episode, you can probably find a way to stream it online. There are entire television shows now that are exclusively viewed online like Netflix and Amazon. There are, I’m sure, many collaborations between television and the internet to come that we are unable to predict. An example of this, is the Fusion channel that’s taking on The Chris Gethard Show from public access TV. According to The Atlantic’s article “Chris Gethard’s Journey From Public Access to Late Night, “Gethard says Fusion seemed much more willing to embrace the show’s online side, live-streaming the tapings and accepting live calls, then editing the show down to something it can broadcast.”
All of this is new and exciting, an untapped frontier. It’s really easy to get down on the state of the industry and feel like I picked the wrong thing. However, it’s important to remind myself that when there stops being a space for one thing, it’s because it’s making room for another. Welcome to the big leagues, TV. Let’s see what you got.