How Is Technology Changing TV Narrative?

There is a joke that started a month or two ago about how HBO subscriptions were going to cease once Game of Thrones concluded. The implication is that despite a long history of high-quality TV shows – Oz, The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Flight of the Concords, Banshee*, and Strikeback** – the station will suddenly have nothing to offer audiences.

This argument reminded me of a PBS Ideas Channel video I shared on how technology is changing TV shows.

It raises an interesting point about how there appear to be more complex narratives in TV shows now. And in light of the conclusion of Game of Thrones, audiences are expecting more from networks that they doubt can be provided.

Of course, there are several problems with this idea. The first is perception. For every Breaking Bad and Justified we have CSI Whatever and the banality of reality TV. So without some hard data on the number of shows and relative audiences, it is really hard to say how real that perception is.

The second problem is that TV shows run a continuum from pure episodic shows, where everything is wrapped up in an episode and the next episode has little to no changes evident to the characters or larger show, through to serials, which have more complex plot lines that often take at least a season to develop and resolve with character arcs building over the course of the entire series. The key word is continuum, as most shows have some aspects of the serial and episodic about them. Again, without breaking down each show on this continuum, and then comparing shows now versus the past, we don’t have any idea of what has changed, if anything has changed.

The third problem is the good old sample or selection bias, especially as it relates to our favourite shows and the shows we remember. E.g. Survivor has been running since 2000 (or 1997 if you are in the UK), yet without looking that up I’d have had no idea when the show started, let alone whether it is still running. I don’t remember it because I’m not a fan. But I will still complain bitterly about the cancellation of Firefly. My frame of reference is biased, so I’m going to remember some shows more than others and think more favourably of some of the ones I remember than others.

The final problem I see is assigning time shift technologies and marathon watching as the driver of a change in our demands for more complex narratives. The idea itself is sound, as I can’t think of thing less interesting than watching the same episode with minor changes in a marathon. That would be like watching 9 hours of hobbits walking. The recording, DVD buying, streaming and subsequent marathon TV show watching would indeed favour shows that have more to them, that more complex narrative that will keep you pressing play on the next episode.

I don’t know that the time shifting, or recording, or DVD buying, or other methods of marathon watching, is driving demand for more complex narratives. As I said above, I think the more complex shows lend themselves more to the marathon than other shows. But if we assume there are more of these shows worth grabbing a blanket and a couch dent, then I still think there are other things at play. I think we’ve seen more avenues for creativity come to the fore, such as Youtube channels, computer games, and the like that didn’t exist a decade ago as they do now. As a result, entertainment such as TV shows has a need to engage the audience on a deeper level. So while episodic shows like CSI Whatever are still huge, they don’t attract the same devotion and fan adoration as a good serialised show. Plus, the advantage of the more complex narratives is that it allows for more interesting characters, plot lines, etc, which in turn allows for better acting, direction, writing, etc, which creates a feedback loop that may one day cause fandom to implode due to awesome achieving gravitational singularity. I’m assuming this will happen when Netflix reboots Firefly.

NB: I hate the term binge-watching and as such haven’t used it in this article. Binge implies that there is something wrong with what you are doing. There is nothing wrong with watching a TV show or movie series you enjoy, so we should stop implying there is something wrong.

* Banshee is criminally underappreciated.

** I stand by including this on the list. Show me another TV show that managed to do more in one episode than most entire action movies with 10x the budget.

Advertisements

Book vs Movie: The Little Mermaid – What’s the Difference?

2230-medium

This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix looks at the classic children’s story that became a(nother) Disney movie.

My memory of The Little Mermaid story is what you would call hazy. The Hans Christian Andersen tales, from my recollection of them, were a lot darker and nastier than would generally be acceptable for young children these days.

The movie is much easier for me to recall, as my daughter has recently taken a liking to the tale. Except for the bits with Ursula in them, which are far too scary. Fortunately, I’m usually on hand for hugs during those scenes.

The thing that has struck me the most about The Little Mermaid, and Disney kids films in general, is how much they have progressed in the last 30 years as compared to the 30 years prior. Several of the Disney films released in the 70s and 80s (The Little Mermaid, The Fox and the Hound, The Aristocats, Winnie the Pooh) bear a lot of similarities to earlier films (101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, Bambi*). The leap that was made after Toy Story is profound, such that newer films are just in a whole other league (Tangled, Frozen, Zootopia).

Almost as big of a leap as children’s book have made since Hans Christian Anderson was writing.

The source material behind Disney’s animated classic, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, is a surprisingly metal fairy tale. Let’s take a look at all the ways the filmmakers changed the source material, talking crabs and all! It’s time to ask What’s the Difference?

* But not Dumbo. That film has aged badly. There is a lot to cringe at in Dumbo and the film itself climaxes with a very short scene, so it feels a little underdone.

Book vs Movie: BlacKkKlansman – What’s the Difference?

e84ec122-a6f3-49df-ae2e-8c13cc637ec8

This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix covers the amazing Spike Lee film based on the autobiography of the same name: BlacKkKlansman.

I have been reading quite a bit about fascism and racism lately. As someone who got lucky to be living in privileged skin, these are issues I feel we all need to be more aware of and actively standing against.

Instead of my normal comment on the film or book, I suggest watching the Vice coverage of the Charlottesville rally, Philosophy Tube’s videos on racism, Antifa and fascism, and reading the book on how to oppose fascism.

Book vs movie: Pet Cemetary – What’s the Difference?

maxresdefault-2

It was inevitable that someone in Hollywood would try to reanimate the corpse of yet another classic film. So with the upcoming release of the remake of Pet Cemetary, what better time for CineFix to discuss the original book and movie in What’s the Difference?

Pet Cemetary is one of the many books lingering on my shelf in the TBR pile. While I have decided that this year will involve a concerted effort to make a dent in said pile*, it is unlikely I’ll get to read this novel anytime soon. If I’m completely honest, I want to read The Stand first.

What about the movie, I hear you ask. Back when I was a young lad – walking the obligatory 10 miles (whatever a mile is in real measurements) to school through 10 feet of snow (why would there be feet in snow?) after working 10 hours at the coal mine – Stephen King novels and movies were all the rage. Whether it was Needful Things, Carrie, Misery, Lawnmower Man, IT, or Children of the Corn, there always seemed to be someone bringing a Stephen King VHS** to watch. And after my hard lesson learnt with IT, I tried to avoid the obviously scary films – hence I have seen Lawnmower Man and most of Needful Things, but not Children of the Corn.

At this point, I probably sound like a wimp. It is odd that I generally don’t find horror novels that bad, and even movies with horror elements are fine. But movies whose goal is to creep you out or gross you out (think Saw franchise or Hostel) just aren’t for me, particularly the latter. It’s a little hard to be entertained by that sort of thing.

Yes, yes, more excuses as to why I haven’t read or watched something. Don’t worry, plenty of horror in my TBR pile. Stay tuned.

*I’ve managed to read one from the pile and added two more to it this month. That counts as progress, right?

**VHS, that’s right. I am truly that old.

Book vs Movie: Dracula – What’s the Difference?

maxresdefault1

Since the annual American lolly festival is almost upon us, Cinefix is covering one of the classics. Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Francis Coppola’s 1992 Dracula.

Time for some straight talk. I don’t know how you discuss this particular adaptation without mentioning just how bad Keanu Reeves is in this film. Embarrassingly bad.

I actually tried to rewatch Dracula a couple of years ago and just couldn’t bring myself to sit through it all. Despite it being a bit of a who’s who of actors in the cast – and people like Tom Waits – it all feels so camp and silly. Even when I first saw it in high school, I remember Dracula being only average – with possibly the best visual explanation of the link between Dracula and Vlad the Impaler ever.

It is harder for me to talk about the book as I read it so long ago. And, let’s be honest here, I’ve since read way too many Anne Rice novels to not get the details confused. I read Dracula and Frankenstein at roughly the same time; because gothic horror novels are what pre-teen kids should be reading. Neither stood out for me as novels, but it is amazing how influential they have both been to genre fiction.

I wonder if there will be any modern equivalent. A novel that establishes an entire genre that is continuously reimagined, refined, and redefined such that we get analogues ranging from True Blood (coming out of the closet analogy) to Buffy (girl power).

Book vs Movie: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – What’s the Difference?

maxresdefault2

This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix covers Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

This month I’m just sharing.

Yep, that means I’ve neither read the book nor watched the movie.

Feel superior in the comments.

20 years ago a new generation was introduced to the peak of Gonzo Journalism with Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Really great filmmakers have tried and failed to bring the savage journey into the American Dream, so what makes Terry Gilliam’s version so successful? Time to get cracking and ask What’s the Difference?!

Book vs Movie: Ready Player One – What’s the Difference?

maxresdefault

This month’s What’s the Difference? from CineFix covers Ready Player One.

Normally I’d add a few comments here about what I thought about the book and/or the movie, particularly the adaptation. But Ready Player One falls into an odd realm for me. I’d initially had the book on my TBR pile but ended up removing it after a discussion at a writers’ group. The gist was that the book is a great example of the “you’re not a real geek” toxicity that pervades geek culture, exemplified by rating pop culture references.

Then when the movie trailers came out, it too looked like one long list of pop culture references that only true geeks would appreciate… By appreciate, I mean argue and post overanalysed articles and Youtube videos online for weeks after most people have moved on.

Hey look, here’s a video of all the pop culture references:

This is a roundabout way of saying I haven’t read the book nor watched the movie, nor do I feel particularly inspired to do either. Enjoy the video anyway.

Update – This covers Ready Player One from a writer’s perspective:

Further Update – This video expands on my point above about toxic geek culture with reference to GamerGate.