Series and Films

The study of digital media is intertwined in the study of new media, and also new media consumption patterns. Often is Internet based applications the subject for scrutiny, but also other platforms have seen changes with new media. I want to direct my attention to TV-series as I have an impression of these being particularly popular for the time being. I don’t have any statistics to reinforce this theory, and I do not know whether series has replaced time spent on other media such as full-feature movies or regular television, but I have my ideas. What I do know, however, is that the regular user is to a larger extent accessing series, movies and other audiovisual content through computers, and computer-like devices on the expense of broadcast television. Prime time has become My time as Don Tapscott conveys in his book Grown up digital.

Well, first of all I want to look into some of the terminology we are using to describe these new formats, I also want to define what I mean with format and how this differs from other taxonomical structures such as genre. By format we understand the technical structures, this could be how long time something lasts, where it is shown. This is what we can call the hardware, to use a computer metaphor. For example by film we understand the temporal audio-visual narratives often produced into one session lasting between 1,5 to 3,5 hours. We do also have shorter films, such as short films and some movies are divided into sequels and in some cases more movies are made to tell one narrative, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. These are as I perceive it the exceptions and films are, as I want to define it here, one continuous narrative, consisting of several attributes: There do often have protagonists and characters, and these are introduced in each film. Most films do also have a problem, which creates the action we are viewing. We start each movie getting to know the characters, we follow them throughout the story and it ends with or without a conclusion. The series are however following another format. They are consisting of more simultaneous narratives, which progresses throughout the series, some may be more prominent than others, which characters involved in these narratives may also change. Series does consist of more characters, more problems, and more parallel running narratives than films since they have more time to unravel the narratives. Typically.

The terminologies we are using to describe these formats are widely known and most will understand what a TV-series and a film are using exactly these words. Some will maybe refer to film as movie, which can be understood as an abbreviation of moving pictures. First let us speak about TV-series. This denotation is bound to the prefix TV, which as you most likely know stands for Television, and has close ties to broadcasting. To see thing over distance may be right, but since series in a more often viewed by other means than through broadcast we have to see the series independent from the transmission platform. They are often bought at video shops or downloaded, and these means of transmission is not broadcasting. We could therefore say series, instead of TV-series. Let’s move to the word film. This is also a term coined by the technological means rather than the format of the content. Film is the material of the physical film reel which had a frame of film exposed to light 24 times per second. With digital film recording equipment this term should, to be absolutely correct, be replaced, but connotations today refer by most, I guess, to the content, platform or experience and not to the 18, 35 or 70 mm chemical layered plastic film which used to be inside the camera or in the projector recording or convey the pictures.

Enough of the technical aspect and the terminological details let us speak about the content.
Series has been increasingly popular the last decade, is my thesis; I don’t have any proof except memories from news articles, discussions with friends and my own media consumption habits. We are watching more series, and series as a format has changed. We have some grand series such as the Pacific, Band of Brothers and John Addams telling stories from history and budget competing directly with many Hollywood films. We do also have cult series such as Twin Peaks (a bit older), Carnivale and Boardwalk Empire. Others include Mad Men, Dexter and Sopranos. The big difference is that movies are lasting in longer segments, from Focus features at approximately 1,5 hours to James Cameron’s epic adventures lasting up to 3,5 hours. The latter may seem long, but considering their story start and end within this time span they are considerably shorter than e.g. the Pacific which consist of ten episodes lasting for fifty miuntes, or Sopranos which last for several seasons.
Where the content is viewed also differs, series are watched on DVD, broadcast TV, Pre-recorded from TV, while films are first released on cinema before they are adapted to DVD, Blueray or TV broadcasting format. The PC has become a platform where all content is being watched, and probably also acquired through the Internet either legal or illegal. Another change is that series which has been traditionally a cheaper production has become more expensive and in many ways has this changed the content, better actors, better screenplay and higher quality realization both artistic and technical has lifted the series to the status they have today. The series are also fitting into the schedule more easily than films. Who haven’t rather watched a one-hour episode or even shorter a 25-minutes show instead of a whole movie. It’s also easier. A movie, in my own experience, requires more attention and brain power since you have to be introduced to a whole new set of characters, ideas, aesthetic expressions, time epochs and more.

It may be that I overrate series as one format; series have existed for a long time. They have been the compromise between TV and film; they have been the adoption of the film’s dramatic into the TV. Maybe it’s only the Ben Hurish productions which are new? What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Series and Films”

  1. I agree that series have recently been upgraded to a major cultural product, a fact that creates the need to evaluate this rise. Interestingly, although their genre can probably be traced back in human history (tales, myths or Sherlock Holmes) they have been part of the major NorthAmerican cutlural product along with Hollywood movies over the last 50 years. For the first 50 years of the past century, the population was amused in their local cinema hall. The abundance of film production in this first half of the century (during the start of his carrier, Chaplin was shooting one film per week or so) reveals the need for a continuus flow of narratives for consumtion.

    Although the series are obviously a tool to occupy prime TV time after the 8 o’clock news, and lure the audience, I wonder why they are becoming so popular. Is it an anthropological need toestablish a relationship with the narrative (become friends with the characters of a story) or it is the ease of consumption as you suggest by low requirements of attention?

    Is our time fragmenting in smaller bits?

  2. Hard to say. I think that one of the reasons why the series are getting so good is the money spent on them. Not to say quantity lead to quality, but Band of Brothers with estimated $125 mill budget, or the Pacific’s $120 mill can realize spectaculars not before made in the TV format (but quite like the spectaculars from defining phase for “film cinema”). On the other hand we have series like Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and True Blood are also becoming very popular and is financed through more modest budgets. There are several book written on these HBO productions, and it may seem that they have been the spearhead of this revitalization of the series as a pop culture phenomenon. I think it very likely that the established relationship with the narrative is important, and the ease of a continuous understanding of the “world of the narrative”, but as you point out this has a long tradition. It could be the smaller bits, and the organization of time and life under the post-industrial information regime. The ease of how we can go to HMV and buy a diskset, or download it through the Internet and view it individually of the TV programming may contribute. Interestingly the HBO are now being used as a sales argument for Sky and their new channel Sky Atlantic. It could be the content of the series, the themes and cultural references brought into the series, or maybe just the cultural authority gained from Sopranos. I don’t know, but it is interesting. What about an evening of Boardwalk Empire in Alison House?

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