#television

Benedict Evans:

The really big question here is how TV viewing would change if you did move from the current model of TV as a largely undirected, passive experience, to one that required (/’allowed’) you to make choices. If you come home and turn on a random piece of generic light entertainment you’ll watch it, but you might never choose to watch it, much less search for it. So is that a bundling problem or a recommendation problem? Should we think of TV viewing hours as propped up by filler shows in the same way that CD albums were full of filler tracks, and that if we go to a fluid on-demand environment people might just stop watching that filler? Or would the right passive programming system - ‘Pandora for TV’ replace one passive experience with another, more tailored and targeted one, with the greater accessibility of long-tail content taking up the slack? Of course, a lot of TV channel branding and programming is about just this - in effect a lot of TV is ‘Pandora for TV’. Either way, this is really about unbundling shows from TV channels, not unbundling channels (or on-demand channel brands) from cable TV subscriptions. And (looking back to Netflix) how would that cascade back though the TV production system? How many fewer shows might be made? How would they be funded? And what would happen to the ‘golden age of TV’?

These are all good questions that likely point to the reason why television hasn’t been disrupted yet. In many ways, television (largely meaning cable television) stumbled into the perfect system to placate the bored/lazy/etc masses. And now that there’s actually great content on as well, it’s serving to stimulate the other side.

Netflix and the like are slowly changing the equation, but until you have a system that offers both better content and replicates the “turn on, tune out” mode, cable television is here to stay.

"Choice" is sometimes a curse disguising itself as a blessing. 

Adam Whitehead on HBO’s plan for Game of Thrones versus the publishing schedule for the final two books:

At the moment, however, it appears that Game of Thrones will end in June 2017 after seven seasons and 70 episodes, which puts book author George R.R. Martin and fans of the books in an awkward situation.

As of now, five of seven planned novels in the Song of Ice and Fire series (which Game of Thrones is adapting) have been published. The sixth book, The Winds of Winter, is underway with George’s publishers hoping to bring it out before the end of 2015. However, that still leaves the final book, A Dream of Spring, some way off. Bringing it out in less than two years given the time spent on the previous books (at least four and a half years for Winds, over five and a half for A Dance with Dragons and just over five years for A Feast for Crows) would seem unlikely. In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, George suggested that he might still be able to do it - although it would be a “tight,” - but this was in the same article where Benioff and Weiss indicated that eight seasons was still doable. Dropping it to seven would appear to make it almost impossible for Martin to stay ahead of the series without a dramatic (and unprecedented in this series) increase in writing speed.

Things could get awkward in early 2017. I could also see HBO pulling an AMC and stretching the final season into “two” seasons (which they’ve also done in the past with The Sopranos), to push the finale into 2018. But realistically, the final book probably still won’t be done even by then.

Justin Williams on True Detective:

As I read up on the show I learned that the entire eight episode season was written by a sole writer (show creator Nic Pizzolatto) and directed by a single director (Cary Fukunaga). Traditionally TV shows are helmed by a cast of behind the scenes folks who take turns at writing and directing different episodes. With True Detective, a true auteur theory was allowed to play out on screen.

One writer. One director. Eight hours of the best television I’ve seen in a long time.

Great point, and I also don’t think that’s a coincidence. Sadly, it sounds like season 2 may not keep that exact formula — from Kate Aurthur’s sit down with Pizzolatto:

Aurthur: Do you imagine working with one director again, and plot aside, can you give us any hints about a changed aesthetic?

Pizzolatto: We don’t have any plans to work with one director again. It would be impossible to do this yearly as we need to be able to do post while we’re still filming, like any other show. There’s some great guys I’ve consulted, and we’re all confident we can achieve the same consistency. Going forward, I want the show’s aesthetic to remain determinedly naturalistic, with room for silences and vastness, and an emphasis on landscape and culture. And I hope a story that presents new characters in a new place with authenticity and resonance and an authorial voice consistent with this season. Dominant colors will change. South Louisiana was green and burnished gold.

The Cutting Up Of Content

Regular readers will know my fascination with True Detective. It’s not just that it’s a great television show; it’s great content, period. I think it stacks up against the best films in the genre that I’ve seen.1 And, in fact, in some ways it’s better because it’s essentially a seven hour film, broken up into more easily digestible pieces.

That last part is the key. True Detective as a seven hour film would be just as amazing as the television show is, but it would be very hard to watch. Attention spans aside, it’s hard to sit through anything for seven hours straight. The genius of True Detective is using the traditional television format of “episodes” to break up the content into easier-to-consume pieces. The sum of those parts is equal to — or perhaps even greater than — the whole if it were one continuous entity.

Of course, none of this is particularly new. But the difference in my mind is that the television content is now equalling — or even surpassing — that of film. House of Cards. Game of Thrones. Etc.2 These are like great films, cut up, and extended. The format isn’t new. But the end result is.

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David Carr:

The growing intellectual currency of television has altered the cultural conversation in fundamental ways. Water cooler chatter is now a high-minded pursuit, not just a way to pass the time at work. The three-camera sitcom with a laugh track has been replaced by television shows that are much more like books — intricate narratives full of text, subtext and clues.

Or like really good films — that happen to be seven, or ten, or fifteen hours long!

It really is pretty amazing that television has gone from utter garbage to one of the better forms of visual art in a relatively short amount of time. And that speaks well to the resurgence of other left-for-dead mediums.