The Golden Age of TV: How Is It Affecting Films?

The Castle of Zafra in Guadalajara, Spain; a filming location for season 6 of Game of Thrones

The Castle of Zafra in Guadalajara, Spain; a filming location for season 6 of Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is back on TV, and with it legions of fans (myself included) have posted up on the couch each Sunday night to take in the glorious spectacle, and engaging, sinister storytelling of this incredible show.

We are currently in what many have called "the golden age of television" --  with shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Dexter, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot, The Americans, (and many, many others) being released to the masses throughout the past 25 years, more people have flocked to their television screens, supposedly leaving the silver screen behind.

So how has this affected films? Has it affected films? Is there still a divide between television and film in terms of quality and experience?

The answer is yes, though that gap is being bridged more and more with each show that springs up. The Sopranos was the first show to truly rival the cinematic quality of films, both in terms of narrative scope and visuals. Since that show ended, way back in 2007, we have had a plethora of newer shows that have continued the legacy Tony Soprano started. Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones are perhaps the most popular (especially this newest season of the latter show, which has boasted some of the most impressive fantasy visuals ever), there are other shows -- like FX's The Americans, or Neflix's House of Cards, which have pushed the envelope in terms of narrative scope, characterization, and precise plotting that we generally expect in the theater.

Kevin Spacey entertains a Governor on the set of House of Cards.

Kevin Spacey entertains a Governor on the set of House of Cards.

Films still have an edge -- they are able to boast bigger budgets, and utilize more cutting edge special effects. However, this financial benefit is hurting them just as much as it's helping. Audiences are growing tired of the large, CGI based spectacle that is so prevalent in modern blockbusters. Many viewers are pining for practical effects, yearning for a sense of realism in their escapism. In this way, television is becoming smarter. Small, bottle episodes, like Breaking Bad's "Fly", are showcasing how simple storytelling will always win over pure spectacle.

This is not to say that shows aren't bridging the gap in terms of their budget, though. HBO's Game of Thrones reportedly had a $10 million budget for each episode in season six (making the season's budget roughly $100 million). To put that in perspective, that's just $49 million less than the budget of 2017's Wonder Woman. With the show's success, it would not be ludicrous to infer that we will see more fantasy shows in the future (Game of Thrones related or otherwise), and that their budgets will increase as long as their popularity continues to grow.

In terms of quality, television has the added benefit of time. While some films generally can push two-and-a-half hours before audiences start to become annoyed, shows can run on for as long as they need to. South Park is on its 21st season; The Walking Dead is on its eighth. Both shows are still just as popular (if not more so) as they were when they started, and there is no sign that they are going to slow down anytime soon. While films are rather disposable (with exception to the classics that truly transcend time), shows stick around. By doing so, we spend more time with characters, become more attached to the story, and feel more connected to the universe.

A still from South Park.

A still from South Park.

Ultimately, though, I don't think any filmmaker should be worried about film going anywhere anytime soon. With the popularity of the independent scene on the rise again, and with blockbusters still making billions of dollars worldwide, it's extremely unlikely we're going to see production companies being forced to rethink their strategy anytime in the next century,  regardless of how many incredible shows come out. What will be interesting to see, though, is if the rise of serious television will offer filmmakers a different perspective on constructing narratives, building characters, and utilizing pacing.