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TV IS THE NEW CINEMA: 'Breaking Bad' Goes Out with Neat Freak White at the Helm; Do the Suits Smell Blood?

Thompson on Hollywood By David Chute | Thompson on Hollywood September 30, 2013 at 3:35PM

It is now work like "Breaking Bad," rather than the white elephant CGI films that play in theaters, that furnishes our touchstones and defining metaphors. And if this really is the '60s and '70s, we have to thinking about how it might end. If the Third Golden Age of Television began because the suits didn't see any obvious way to "monetize" (lovely word) the wacky things the creators were doing, can the end be far behind now that they've tasted blood?
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Bryan Cranston in "Breaking Bad"
Bryan Cranston in "Breaking Bad"

Almost universally, the GA3 creators quoted in Alan Sepinwall's crucial "The Revolution Was Televised" suggest that they were only able to create their groundbreaking work because no one thought it would work or was paying close attention. This is more or less the story told about the 1970s movie brats in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: That a window of experimentation opened briefly only because a string of expensive flops in established genres, coupled with the surprising success of "Easy Rider," convinced the suits that they didn't know how to reach audiences anymore.

That period ended, the story goes, when "Jaws" and "Star Wars" created formats for new kinds of high-octane blockbusters aimed at a rapidly changing, younger audience. I think we can take it as truth that there are already corporate-minded men and women all over Hollywood working hard trying to figure out how to make GA3 TV without the pesky "difficult men" described by Brett Martin, such aggravating geniuses as David Chase or David Milch.

We may be almost there already. AMC's "The Walking Dead" began its rise to its current status as the medium's highest rated dramatic program by jettisoning the "auteur television" concept, ditching its first two argumentative showrunners and becoming steadily less character driven and more action oriented. (Nobody ever went broke overestimating the appetite of the video game generation for images of exploding heads.) 

If the GA3 began because the suits didn't see any obvious way to "monetize" (lovely word) the wacky things the creators were doing, can the end be far behind now that they've tasted blood?

This article is related to: TV Reviews, TV, TV Features, Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston, Television


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.