TV has never been better. #HBO, #Netflix, Amazon, AMC, FX — every network is creating diverse, quality content that is being watched by millions of people, and it's changing the way we consume and relate to TV and film.
In the last couple of years, a fair few of Hollywood's biggest stars look to be jumping ship in favor of the small screen faster than you can say #Westworld. What was once seen as a sign of an actors waning popularity and desperation for work, is now considered a great career move — and has rekindled the popularity of movie stars such as Winona Ryder, Antony Hopkins and Jessica Lange for a whole new audience.
TV shows casting Hollywood A-listers is nothing new, but this practice has certainly been on the increase in recent years. When True Detective cast Matthew McConaughey and House of Cards bagged Kevin Spacey, it was seen as a bit of a novelty, but now it's expected that #GameOfThrones, American Crime Story and American Horror Story will introduce big names year after year — but why is that? What is it about #TV right now that makes it so appealing to Hollywood's biggest stars?
Wait, Haven't I Seen This Movie Before?
Look, I enjoy a good romp into the MCU, DCEU and Star Wars universe from time to time, but when we take a quick look at the ten highest grossing movies of the last 12 months, there's an obvious lack of original storytelling:
Big budget blockbusters are pretty much where it's at right now, and where it has been for a while — explosions, blasé storylines, obscure comic book bad guys and more explosions. We see the same faces, the same roles and the same scripts churned out of the Hollywood conveyor belt year after year. Like I said, I'm not opposed to another Mummy movie or an Independence Day sequel, but how many more Spider-Man movies do we really need in one lifetime?
Reboots, sequels and adaptions are almost always guaranteed to turn a profit — even if they're critically panned — so studios are less likely to risk their sweet dollar on something that they can't spoon feed to the masses with relative ease.
That's not to say 2016 was all reboots and sequels — horror had a great year; Don't Breathe, The Neon Demon, The Witch and 31 performed well at the box office, but they all came from indie companies on comparatively minuscule budgets. The sci-fi game-changer #Arrival also did well, mainly thanks to word of mouth and a good critical response, but none of these even tickled the success of Deadpool, Finding Dory or Captain America.
Having said that, cinema has a much harder job these days. It can't be easy to persuade people to part with 10 bucks when you can sit your butt down at home for free and enjoy quality storytelling from the comfort of your living room. As an audience, it's up to us to seek out fresh, new cinema — but why would we when TV is so damn good?
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Better Scrips, Bigger Budgets, More Talent
At the end of the day, better scripts equal bigger audiences. It's no surprise that Scandal, House of Cards and Stranger Things attracted Hollywood's A-list when the writing on these shows is so engaging. Westworld was a prime example of what TV is now capable of, and was more exciting than any Hollywood blockbuster I've sat though in the last few years.
Networks tend to seek out fresh blood in the writers room, meaning that storylines can evolve thanks to new perspectives and emerging talent. Good scripts also attract great casts — HBO have a plethora of upcoming original content with big names like James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jude Law attached.
Another factor is money. Thanks to subscription services and streaming fees, networks have the dosh to afford the A-list. When Netflix banks a monthly estimate of $204 million in the US alone, you can easily afford six seasons of Kevin Spacey.
Diverse Roles Require Diverse Casts
The final nail in the coffin is Hollywood's increasing lack of LGBT representation and diverse, challenging roles for women and people of color. Back in January, #OscarsSoWhite trended worldwide after the Academy Awards failed to recognise any non-white actors. Less than half of the top grossing movies barely scraped a pass on the Bechdel test and not since Carol have LGBT characters been put front and centre.
While TV still has a long way to go in terms of diversifying, it does offer something more to actors beyond roles such as the sidekick, or hot (yet talented) love interest. Evan Rachel Wood said it best when discussing her character, Dolores Abernathy, on HBO's Westworld. Speaking of a scene from the show when her character takes down five men, Wood said:
The first take we did, I ran — I’m not supposed to run. [laughs] Everyone was kind of looking around, confused, and then I slowly crept back onto set and they asked, “What happened?” And I said, “I’m so used to running. I’ve never been asked to stay and save the day.” I got a little teary-eyed and a couple of women on the set got a little teary-eyed, and I thought, “Wow. This character is really important.”
Viola Davis echoed Wood's sentiment when she spoke to IndieWire about the powerful, bisexual black woman she plays on Showtime drama How To Get Away With Murder:
"Television is experiencing a renaissance. You have so many different channels on television now. There’s so many different narratives and so many writers willing to write for actors and actresses who otherwise would be relegated to those five days of work on a movie. And now they’re leading the charge on television. Who’s writing like that for Robin Wright, or Glenn Close, or Julianna Margulies in movies? But in television, they get wonderful narratives."
TV is experiencing a renaissance, and Hollywood knows it. With Daniel Craig increasingly unlikely to return as James Bond, he's instead signed on for a starring role in Showtime's Purity miniseries. Will Smith is also venturing back into the small screen, as an executive producer on Fox's upcoming series based on Smith's 2005 comedy Hitch. While neither of these will affect how much money Hollywood makes in any way, it does prove that both actors and audiences are branching out.
TV offers something that currently Hollywood does not — originality, and while nothing beats an evening at the movies, it's hard to top binge-watching your favorite show either. From Game of Thrones Season 7 and #StrangerThings Season 2, to your next favorite TV show — the small screen has never looked so good.