Tag Archives: tv

The television equivalent of the novel

Wonderland by Steven Johnson

Art is the aftershock of technological plates shifting. Sometimes the aftershock is slow in arriving. It took the novel about three hundred years to evolve into its modern form after the invention of the printing press. The television equivalent of the novel—the complex serialized drama of The Wire or Breaking Bad—took as long as seventy years to develop, depending on where you date its origins.

I’ve often thought about today’s serialized, bingeable, Golden Age of Television as the visual equivalent of the novel. Rich worlds. Deep investment in characters. Time to marinate with relationships and stakes.

Before the Golden Age of Television, I was captivated by trilogies — hell, I still am — namely Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (Extended Editions!) I hadn’t read the books, but I felt an attachment to the characters. Its cohesive production, year-over-year release schedule, and follow-through of Tolkien’s parallel stories and stakes built a world I was able to immerse myself in.

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings runs 9 hours in total, the extended editions running 11 hours — not dissimilar from a Golden Age television series.

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David Benioff on Writing Fiction v. Screenplays

Game of Thrones co-creator David Benioff on Aisha Tyler’s Girl On Guy podcast:

Writing dialogue. I love it. That’s the fun part for me. The hard part for me is writing the descriptions. There’s just something great about writing ‘INT. RESTAURANT. DAY/NIGHT’. A production designer’s going to figure that shit out. I don’t have to worry about it. I’m just going to write what the characters are saying.

I still love writing novels. Writing fiction to me… I still think of it as the highest form of writing, but it’s so fucking hard and it’s torture for me. I don’t have fun doing it. I have fun writing screenplays.

An extremely honest and reassuring quote. What aspiring writer doesn’t want to hear a quote like this from one of the co-creators of the most ambitious show on television?

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Water Coolers, Spoilers, and Serial

On the way to work, my wife and I caught up on Serial. On our commute home, she mentioned that Zach Braff had tweeted about the podcast:

I can’t look through my Twitter feed without seeing a mention of Serial. Everyone’s onboard. Everyone’s got a take. But the extent of sharing is “OMG! WTF! #serial” We are all on par with Laura’s confusion in episode 8.

Serial is great. Definitely not my favorite podcast, but it’s a spectacular display of fine editing and editorial guidance. But more importantly, Serial has brought back the water cooler conversation. Everything about Serial thus far is based on presumption. If you tried to explain what is happening, you’d leave behind mountains of critical detail. Because the questions hurdle by ad nauseam, there aren’t answers big enough to spoil the show. Think LOST, with hatches and polar bears and Dharma, but rooted in the nonfiction investigation of a 1999 homicide case with cell records and reenactments and Jay. This is pre-meditated in the sense that Sarah Keonig and the Serial crew know that answers won’t come easy. There are no spoilers. This is great storytelling and we are along for the ride.

This thought led me to other serialized media. Serialized TV is larger than ever, but the good stuff (Game of Thones) is adapted or released in bulk (House of Cards). I kid, I kid. Admittedly, I have not watched True Detective. But in all seriousness, TiVo culture and binging has struck deep fear in sharing too much about nightly TV. While this sounds like a backwards argument against on-demand podcasts, again, Serial doesn’t offer enough answers to divulge spoilers. Again, this is great storytelling.

This led me to thoughts on film. What was the last (semi-)pre-meditated, non-adapted, serialized film series released? Pirates of the Caribbean (2 & 3)? The Matrix (2 & 3)? Star Wars (5 & 6)? Nearly every (if not all) serialized film series released within the past few years has been adapted. Harry Potter. Hunger Games. Divergent. The answers to these series have been lying around in text years prior to the film’s release. The best we can hope for is that we haven’t read the book or the film is so far off from the source material that it feels like a unique experience.

We need more original, pre-meditated, serialized content. Someone write an original three part film trilogy with segments so good they can stand on their own as solid films. Someone conceptualize a three, four, or five season TV show from start to finish. Calculate the journey or take us along for the ride. Stop adapting. Stop playing by ear. If you do play by ear, root it in nonfiction. Make sure you can’t make stuff up.

I realize this is less a message to creators as it is to producers, with overhead and risk to take into consideration. But if you want to give us story, allow us to risk our time and money. Trust creators.

Tomorrow, my wife and I will listen to episode 10 of Serial and the most we’ll be able to share is “OMG! WTF! #serial”

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Myst TV Drama and Companion Video Game

Deadline:

“Cyan’s goal in working with Legendary is not just to create a compelling TV drama but to develop a true transmedia product that will include a companion video game that extends the story across both media,” the company said. “Seventy percent of tablet owners use their device while watching TV at least several times a week. Cyan sees the potential to push the boundaries of interactive storytelling to a new level.”

Seems like good timing with the return of Twin Peaks and the nostalgia surrounding the LOST 10 year anniversary.

That said, I don’t feel the second-screen experience has been the revolution that hopefuls (HBO, etc.) had cracked it up to be. I have a difficult time pulling myself away from a good story to send an email, text, or surf the web. I have a hard time believe that “70 percent” is enjoying good TV. While a new Myst companion game sounds enticing, I have extreme reservations that I’ll be able to enjoy a world as rich and mysterious as Myst simultaneously on TV and iPad. The best I can picture is a children’s TV-esque situation where the actors on-screen “wait” for you to complete a puzzle before proceeding.

On the other hand, I love Myst and have very vivid memories of talking through the games with both my step-father at home and father 400 miles away. I enjoyed the game so much that I convinced my grade-school teach to allow me to write a book report based in the strategy guide. Needless to say, I’ll be tuning in.

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2013: The Year of 4K

If CES 2013 has proved one thing, it’s that 2013 will be the year of 4K. SonyLGSamsungSharp, and Panasonic have all announced that they will be releasing 4K TVs in 2013. If you are unfamiliar with 4K, check out Wikipedia. In short, it is a screen resolution 4 times that of your 1080p HD TV. It is also standard that digital cinema is delivered in. When you brought your children (and yourself) to watch Wreck-It-Ralph this fall, chances are it was being delivered to you in 4K. But aside from this, why am I so excited about the advancement?

When Apple released the redesigned iMac line in 2009, it opened my eyes to a greater offering of pro-sumer grade products. I was amazed at the amount of pixels in the iMac’s IPS enabled LCD displays. Apple decided that it’s most popular desktop line would not rest on the laurels the industry set at 1080. Instead, they decided to redesign their all-in-one desktop with a display capable of a native resolution of 2560 x 1440. Thus began my inkling that the time of 1080 would be nearing its end.

In 2010, two key technological advancements hit. In June, Apple released the long awaited iPhone 4. Aside from its gorgeous design and custom A4 processor, it housed a 640 x 960, 326 ppi Retina display; a consumer electronic smartphone with pixels smaller than the naked eye can distinguish at optimal operating distances. I was fortunate enough to take one home the evening of its launch and, to my surprise, I had a hard time falling asleep. I kept waking up to unlock my iPhone as if I had never seen one before. This display was nothing I had ever fathomed. At this point I knew displays would not be getting clearer than this. Only larger. A plateau had been reached followed only by iPad (3rd generation) and now the MacBook Pro with Retina display; bigger displays.

Shortly after, in July of 2010, YouTube released a playlist of 4K streaming videos. While it goes without saying that a majority of the public did not have access to the 4K resolution projectors and/or displays needed to view these natively, these videos did shake the Earth in terms of size. Each video clocked in at roughly 2 minutes and took nearly 10-20 minutes to load, opening our eyes to just how slow our broadband connections really were. While the idea was certainly more appealing than the result, the 4K test footage was another step toward an inevitability.

Over the course of the next few years, TV manufacturers and video game and film studios began to offer gimmicks. Super-high refresh rates that magically turned Star Wars and The Godfather into cable soap operas. In a push to re-invent split screen multiplayer, Sony developed a TV specifically for Playstation 3 that, when wearing special glasses, allowed two players to only see what their character was doing, hiding the other’s from view. Then 3D, the biggest gimmick of them all (and the one loads of us fell for).

As quickly as consumers latched on to those expensive TV’s and weighty, battery powered 3D glasses, they were just as quickly setting them down. It didn’t work in the ’80s, it wasn’t going to work now. Home-bodied consumers didn’t want to worry about having enough glasses for everyone or what angle to sit t0 allow for the most people to see the screen at once (usually 2). Even Nintendo’s glasses-free-3D 3DS couldn’t keep up the hype. Gamers quickly began disabling it’s 3D capabilities in lieu of increased frame-rate and battery life. It seemed that the only venue 3D would work in was the movie theater.

Now, in 2013, we finally have something to truly look forward to. 4K television. What makes 4K different than any other failed gimmick? Increased clarity and size. The same reasons we left VHS for DVD and DVD for Blu-ray. Only now has out technology finally caught up. Most digitally projected film is shot and projected at 4K resolutions. While not being able to release any other 2D technology before reaching cinema quality may make the TV industry shutter, it will provide consumers with huge piece of mind that they can comfortable settle into a medium.

This is all great for consumers in the present, but what does it mean for the the future of the industry? What new gimmick can be sold to us after 4K? 3D 4K? 8K? Roll back to 35mm? How will the TV and cable industry catchup and retool their studios and infrastructure to deliver 4K content? If 2 minutes of 4K footage takes 20 minutes to load over current broadband speeds, could this a step back for streaming content?

Sony has already announced that they will be offering “Mastered in 4K” Blu-ray discs (upscaled 1080 content). With the rights and a cornerstone on Blu-ray, Sony is sure to be first to market with true 4K physical media. I would not be surprised if 4K ends up to be the backbone of the imminent Playstation 4. While the initial prices for these TVs are a bit lofty, we should all be wise enough to realize that prices will begin to fall in the next few years, making these behemoths affordable for the average consumer.

So why am I so excited? The digital cinema standard of 4K will now be in our households. 4K is not a gimmick but a quality of picture and resolution we’ve had to buy a ticket to view. Until I am able to afford an IMAX screen, projector, and reels, I will be content with 4K quality. The gimmicks of yesteryear that were staving off the inevitably of 4K enabled TVs may finally be over! That is until TV manufacturers find the next wave of gimmicks (or until James Cameron decides we need to live in Pandora… oh wait). Wave goodbye to the HD catch-phrase. 4K is here… and here to stay for a long while.

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