Whilst 2013 has seen some brilliant original drama on both the small screen and the big, several key announcements, most notably from Disney/Marvel, have seen the line between TV and film blur more than ever before. This of course isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. In the past we’ve seen movies like Terminator and Stargate spawn TV shows (The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Stargate:SG1 etc…) that expand the universe, or spin-off shows like Parenthood or Teen Wolf, that ‘re-imagine’ the movie’s premise.
We’ve also seen TV shows that spin out into movies, such as our beloved Firefly rounding up the story with Serenity, or Channel 4’s The Inbetweeners, which created a massively popular movie version. What tends to happen is these shows are either there to extend the life of a tv show brand after they are off air, or take a popular film, and milk it for a tv audience, with no direct relation back to the movie from whence it spawned. What we’re seeing with the Disney/Marvel deal is something rather different…
Late last year it was announced that there would be a Marvel TV series based around the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with Clark Gregg reprising his role as Phil Coulson from the various Marvel movies. However, unlike other spin-offs, this show exists within the ongoing existing film franchise, with story-lines blurring across from tv to film, and back. They have now also announced a deal with Netflix to bring 4 new live action TV shows – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage – to the small screen, who can then be fed back into the movie franchise. In this case the definitive separation of the small and big screen has become extremely blurred, and I think there are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, the technology. It’s easier now than it’s ever been to create mind-blowing special effects on a tv budget than it ever has been before, meaning you can attain a level of quality much closer to it’s movie counterpart. Secondly, there has been a marked shift in how movies are made in the USA. Over recent years, Hollywood has changed from being a film town to a tv town. This is partly to do with the massive tax breaks movies get from filming outside L.A., which happens less with TV shows. But also to do with the growing number of US states with ‘right to work’ laws, meaning their is less red tape in having to deal with writing and acting unions. L.A. however, does still have some of the best studio facilities in the world, and an awful lot of actors, writers and production staff are based there. It’s become a balancing act for people trying to finance TV and film projects between the convenience of shooting in Hollywood verses the financial benefit of shooting somewhere else.
Whilst this isn’t great news for L.A., it does mean you’ve got a lot of extremely talented California based writers and actors who no longer see TV as the poor relation to movies. High quality writing is attracting bigger named stars, with movie actors happy to make the move into TV. Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Robin Williams, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Spacey & Don Cheadle are all established movie actors that have recently made the shift into TV. We’ve always seen TV stars make the shift the other way into movies, but that seems to be happening far quicker these days, and they also seem perfectly happy bouncing back and forth between small and big screens.
It’s not just the actors and writers happily working both sides of the tv/film fence. J.J. Abrams regularly has 2 or 3 TV pilots each year whilst also handling the Star Trek (and now Star Wars) franchises. Spielberg (Band of Brothers, Falling Skies, SMASH), Neil Jordan (The Borgias), and Martin Scorsese (Boardwalk Empire) have all bounce between the 2 mediums in recent years. Now, even the shows themselves are doing it. Unless you have a 3DTV at home (if your looking to buy one for Christmas, there are some voucher codes here), the only place to watch The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special in 3D was your local cinema, which pushed it to number 3 in the UK movie box office! As cinemas look for inventive ways to draw people in, it would surprise me to see more and more of this sort of crossover.
I think it’s fair to say, there is less and less distinction between the small and big screen, and it’s a trend that looks to continue.