Is TV better than movies?

Matt: I get the impression that maybe HBO doesn’t indulge showrunners in the way that they did during the heyday of the Davids, in the aughts. 

Alan: No, I don’t think they do. I think the approach has been codified now, and the stakes are higher, and if you’re doing a show, you sort of have to propose many more things going in. I know Milch is still developing shows with HBO. But even on something like Luck, eventually [co-executive producer] Michael Mann stepped in and said, “No, you can’t do this anymore. You can’t be on the set anymore, and you have to give me scripts in advance.”

So I think there are many more rules in place, because there is a lot more money at stake. HBO, once upon a time, was the little indie film company.  Now they’re more like Miramax, when Miramax started winning every Oscar ever.

Matt: It occurs to me that the rise of Miramax as a dominant force in mainstream American theatrical film came right around the same time that HBO became the dominant force in television. Not in terms of viewership, necessarily, but in terms of cultural influence. In a lot of ways, HBO was the Miramax of television, and Miramax was the HBO of mainstream theatrical cinema. 

Alan: There was definitely something in the water around that time. Plus, many of the things that we think of as being ‘independent film’ are now much more mainstream. There are not a lot of genuine independent films finding their way into non-arthouse theaters anymore, either.

Matt: Over the last five years, there have been a million thinkpieces claiming that TV right now is better than movies. Even some of the people who make television have been so bold as to make that claim. What do you think about that?

Alan: When I originally thought of the concept for this book, the subtitle was going to be, “How Tony, Buffy and Stringer Made TV Better than the Movies.” Then I thought about it and realized, no—I can name so many great movies I’ve seen over the last 10 or 15 years. They weren’t the big hits. They weren’t playing on fifteen hundred screens. But they were the equivalent of a lot of the shows in this book.

I think TV has filled a role that American movies have largely given up on trying to fill, which is the middle-class drama for adults. Movie studios still do some of those, but not as many as they used to before, and the few they do are blatantly positioned as "our Oscar film of the year, which we’re going to release around Christmas.”