Sunday, 8 August 2010

TV

When I was young I watched conspicuous amounts of TV. It's fair to say my life was organised around my school schedule and the TV schedule. But at some point, in my late teens, I just stopped. My interest in cinema took over, and if I watched anything on TV it was movies. Also I didn't really feel that TV was dignified enough for someone such as myself. Weirdly enough all that changed in the summer of 1997, because the movie Fools Rush In (1997) opened, and as its male star it had Matthew Perry. When I saw the trailer with a friend she said "Oh, it's the guy from Friends!" I had no idea what she was talking about and suddenly I felt left out, even though it was a movie we were talking about. So I decided that I had to watch TV again. This was at a time when sitcoms ruled the roost, the likes of Friends* (1994-2004), Spin City (1996-2002), Frasier (1993-2004), Dharma and Greg (1997-2002) and important series such as ER (1994-2009) and Ally McBeal (1997-2004). And in 1998 Sex and the City (1998-2004) appeared, followed the next year by The West Wing (1999-2006) and The Sopranos (1999-2007) and many other series. It could be argued that in 1998 we entered a whole new era, the age of HBO (even though HBO had already been around for some time).

But the development of modern TV is to be a subject for further blog posts. The point now is that TV suddenly became culturally acceptable, not only for me but in general, in a way it hadn't really been before. Part of the reason for this is probably that TV got better, in the sense that a lot more complex and intelligent TV-series than was the norm appeared. And another reason is probably a generational thing.

One example of this is that when Friends began no "real" stars wanted to to be seen in it, but in later seasons stars were lining up to appear, either playing themselves or just doing bit parts.

If you want to study cinema properly, you need to study TV as well. They crossbreed and influence one another, and actors, writers and directors move from one media to another. It used to be that directors began doing TV and once they left it for the cinema they didn't move back, or that movie stars ended their careers doing TV-shows. It's not like that any more. Of course, TV has always had a huge influence on TV, not least in the sense that in the 1950s, when TV had its big breakthrough, it took away large parts of the audience from the cinema, and cinema had to develop new technical novelties in order to compete, such as CinemaScope, Cinerama, 3D and Smell-O-Vision (which admittedly never really caught on). TV also lead to changes in narrative patterns and the use of colour. (It also coincided with the "birth" of the teenager, but that's another story.) And cinema has of course influenced TV as well over the years, but I would still say that things are different today. And if you want to understand what's going on in the world of moving images, and perhaps also to understand what's going on in the world in general, studying TV is vital.

However, when people today are writing and talking about TV, they often talk as if good TV was born at the beginning of this century. That's of course bonkers. One of the most important TV-series ever is Hill Street Blues (1981-1987), created by Steven Bochco, who in the 1980s had a standing similar to HBO's today, as a source of brilliance. And there are a number of other great and ground breaking shows and series, and of course not only from the US. Britain for example also has a long tradition of doing good, solid and challenging TV. Z-Cars (1962-1978) is an example of a cop show, and there's also the many adapted books, such as Brideshead Revisited (1981) and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979). And of course the magnificent Fawlty Towers (1975-1979). Other countries with which I'm less familiar probably did good work as well.

But, as I said, the development of TV history will be discussed later, this post was only meant as a rallying cry for giving the study of TV and TV-history an equal footing with cinema studies in the academic world, and as a starting point for writing about TV here, at Fredrik on Film.

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*It's debatable whether Friends qualifies as a sitcom, or if it should be regarded as something else, a cross between a soap and a sitcom, a soapcom perhaps. But now, enjoy this classic scene from Fawlty Towers.

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