Is TV better than film?

TCS Film & TV 14 May 2012

Film has spent decades as television's far superior counterpart. In the past, television studios' tiny budgets simply haven't been able to keep up. However, in the last eight or nine years, things have radically, and deservedly, changed. People have been raising questions about film's dominance over television for quite a while now, and this year so far has certainly raised the stakes.

Television in 2012 has been fantastic, a superb pick ‘n' mix of fantasy, history and drama. Little gems from Scandinavia – Borgen and The Bridge – have successfully made their way onto British television sets, whilst Mad Men and Game of Thrones have returned to great acclaim. CGI is no longer the preserve of wealthy film studios, and many screenwriters now prefer to flex their narrative muscles over ten hours' worth of footage, rather than two plot-restricting rounds of the clock. We have entered an era where studios shell out tens of millions for the filming of TV epics (The Borgias; The Tudors) and key Hollywood figures set out to produce polished TV dramas, such as Martin Scorsese with Boardwalk Empire.

Of course, people aren't trying to set up some kind of comparison between Eastenders and Indiana Jones, here. But there's no denying that when it comes to good story-telling and high-end cinematography, film now has serious competition. As James Wolcott wrote in Vanity Fair: "Does anyone think The Artist is better than Mad Men?"

Admittedly, a multi-episode series can't always carry off a narrative with as much panache as a feature-length film; elegance can always be achieved through brevity. One need only compare James Cameron's seemingly untouchable Titanic with ITV's atrocious three-part series of the same title – those critics who, in 1997, had expected Cameron's film to flop, finally got to use all their ship-sinking metaphors after all. In this instance, film definitely came out on top.

Still, as Mad Men protagonist Don Draper continues to fascinate far more than James Bond, and viewing figures become as scrutinised as box office takings, the film industry should watch out. TV is no longer its puny little sidekick – it's a rival, and more than enough talented writers and actors are happy to migrate from the big screen to make a name for themselves in television instead.

TCS Film & TV