I did coverage notes for a script a few days ago and caught myself starting to write, "This would be fine for TV but it just isn't quite a movie." I immediately switched courses but it got me to thinking about why I might consider something to be fine for one medium and not for the other. (The script was well written, it just didn't have the emotional depth or plot to justify a $15 ticket.)
Why are our standards lower for TV than the movies? Or aren't they? “Airwolf” vs. “Firebirds” is a dead heat and “MacGyver” copied movie plots for the first season (even using movie footage).
There is clearly a difference in production quality and the amount of money spent per hour. And, until recently, when a movie was finished the story was finished too, whereas with TV it just sort of kept going as long as advertisers would still pay for it. And if you were a film actor you didn't do TV -- until about 1998. So if film is so much better, why even bother with TV?
You could argue availability -- even with videotapes there wasn't exactly an endless supply of new content. But now there is. I could log into Netflix and watch a different movie every night for the rest of my life. Most of them are awful, but I could. Which brings up the question, if those movies really are awful, why bother with them at all instead of just watching…TV?
I've been reading pundits who argue that TV is now the superior format because you can address more characters with more depth and run a longer plot arc -- (“24”, “Lost”, and “Breaking Bad” all support this thesis). Others point to CGI tentpoles like “Ironman 3” and say, "As good as ‘Agents of Shield’ is, it's still television.”
I think it depends on the show and the movie. Any Bruce Lee movie is going to be better than an episode of “The Master.” By the same token, any episode of “Arrested Development” is going to be funnier than a movie with John Candy in it. And it won't take nearly as long to get there.
But maybe not. Maybe what we see is that there are two different ways to tell stories. “Firefly” was a popular show, but not popular enough. Yet the movie “Serenity” was a huge hit for a larger audience. It was a story better suited to film. Most folks are done with zombies by the end of “Last Man Standing”, but they'll tune in season after season for “The Walking Dead.”
I guess it comes down to the fact that if you pick the right format, you've got a winner. Pick the wrong one and my Netflix slush pile expands with content that sounds good, but isn’t ever quite good enough for me to get to.