Connected TV dramas as the new novel

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, a dramatic production seldom lasts much more than two hours, about the limit of human endurance sitting in one place.  Thus, plays, movies, and TV shows tend to be relatively short.  Novels, though, can take weeks to read.  That means that novels can take up stories of greater length, complexity, and depth than the typical play or film.  (Not that those forms don’t have their own complexity and depth–I mean, think of Shakespeare–but there can’t be as much story as in a novel.)  When a novel is made into a film, we generally say, “The book is better than the movie,” but that’s to be expected.   How can you compress the incidents in a 350 page book into the two hours of a movie?

But now it’s possible to develop a filmed story that can go on for hours, days, weeks, even years.  Dramatic series on television are no longer self-contained one-hour tales.  Rather, the episodes are connected with each other to tell a bigger and bigger and longer and longer story.  Now filmed versions of novels can be quite faithful to the original.  And now TV series can constitute creative long-form fiction in the same way that a novel does.

Film scholar Thomas Doherty comments, proposing to call the new series “Arc TV”:

Long top dog in the media hierarchy, the Hollywood feature film—the star-studded best in show that garnered the respectful monographs, the critical cachet, and a secure place on the university curriculum—is being challenged by the lure of long-form, episodic television. Let’s call the breed Arc TV, a moniker that underscores the dramatic curvature of the finely crafted, adult-minded serials built around arcs of interconnected action unfolding over the life span of the series. Shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Homeland, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, and Game of Thrones—the highest-profile entrees in a gourmet menu of premium programming—are where the talent, the prestige, and the cultural buzz now swirl. Fess up: Are you more jazzed about the release of the new Abraham Lincoln biopic by Steven Spielberg or the season premiere of Homeland (September 30, 10 p.m., on Showtime)? The lineup hasn’t quite yet dethroned the theatrical feature film as the preferred canvas for moving-image artistry, but Hollywood moviemakers are watching their backs.

This being from the medium that inspired the wisecrack “Imitation is the sincerest form of television,” Arc TV has antecedents aplenty. The format owes obvious debts to a swath of small-screen influences—the mid-70s explosion in quality TV, the BBC’s Masterpiece Theater imports on PBS, Steven Bochco’s Hill Street Blues (NBC, 1981-87) and L.A. Law (NBC, 1986-94), and especially Stephen J. Cannell’s Wiseguy (CBS, 1987-90), the show usually credited with bringing the multi-episode arc to serial American television.

Yet its real kinship is literary, not televisual. Like the bulky tomes of Dickens and Dreiser, Trollope and Wharton, the series are thick on character and dense in plot line, spanning generations and tribal networks and crisscrossing the currents of personal life and professional duty. Episode per episode, in milieux that stretch from the ruthless geopolitics of a medieval off-world to the gender dynamics of a post-zombie apocalypse, the tide of action ebbs and flows in a meandering but forward direction, gaining momentum over the course of a season (now likely to be a mere 13 episodes), before congealing and erupting in a go-for-broke season finale.Traditionally, even late into the age of cable, television thrived on two durable genres, the weekly 30-minute sitcom and the hourlong drama. Play the theme song, rack up the signature montage, and a virgin viewer has no trouble following along. Each episode was discrete and self-contained, wrapped up on schedule, with no overarching Ur-plot, designed to be digested full at one sitting, and meant to spiral autonomously ever after in syndication: Gilligan stranded forever on his island, Columbo freeze-framed in his trench coat.

The dramatis personae existed in a realm that was picaresque, a pre-novel mode in which a one-dimensional protagonist is hit by one damn thing after another. A viewer could spend years, maybe decades, with the likes of Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke or Steve McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O and not know a whit about the hero’s psychic interior or personal history. Many of the surviving remnants of network television follow that time-worn template. The repetition compulsion of Homer Simpson—always the same, never learning from experience—is an ironic homage to the picaresque legacy: “D’oh! D’oh! D’oh!”

By contrast, Arc TV is all about back story and evolution. Again like the novel, the aesthetic payoff comes from prolonged, deep involvement in the fictional universe and, like a serious play or film, the stagecraft demands close attention. For the show to cast its magic, the viewer must leap full body into the video slipstream. Watch, hour by hour, the slow-burn descent into the home-cooked hell of the high-school-chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-kingpin Walter White in Breaking Bad, or the unraveling by degrees of the bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison, falling off her meds and cracking to pieces in Homeland.

At its best, the world of Arc TV is as exquisitely calibrated as the social matrix of a Henry James novel.

via Cable Is the New Novel – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I would argue that the novel still has advantages over what can be portrayed visually on television.  A novel can present a character’s thoughts and feelings and experiences directly and completely, right into the reader’s imagination. Some of that can be hinted by good acting and clever filmmaking, but it isn’t the same, just watching everything on a screen.  Reading has huge advantages over watching.  (I agree with Charles Lamb that it’s better to read Shakespeare than to watch a production of Shakespeare, that his plays work best performed in the “theatre of the mind.”)

Still, we don’t always want to give our imaginations a workout, so it can be pleasant and relaxing to let  someone else imagine the stories for us.  So I pay tribute to the fictional possibilities of this new artform.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    ¡Viva la telenovela!

  • SKPeterson

    ¡Viva la telenovela!

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    You can cite the revival of this with the X files and Babylon 5. And I for one love it. It demands continuity and development, not to mention that when it’s done in the scifi realm it makes for great stuff!

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    You can cite the revival of this with the X files and Babylon 5. And I for one love it. It demands continuity and development, not to mention that when it’s done in the scifi realm it makes for great stuff!

  • Eric Brown

    This was one of the things that attracted me to Anime back in the 90s — this was how they handled their series. You would have these sweeping, grand stories that were epic in scope. Of course, you also had some American shows that did that — a lot of the Sci-fi series would have meta-plots that would span through the season (Babylon 5 or Deep Space Nine really started to pull that forward, and there’s the background of the X-Files) – although there was a lot of an episodic nature to them.

    What we are getting now is almost an expansion of the mini-series — while a mini-series was expected to be one continuous story, regular series were expected to be self-contained episodes, or maybe two parters. I like the change, the expansion of the meta-plot myself.

  • Eric Brown

    This was one of the things that attracted me to Anime back in the 90s — this was how they handled their series. You would have these sweeping, grand stories that were epic in scope. Of course, you also had some American shows that did that — a lot of the Sci-fi series would have meta-plots that would span through the season (Babylon 5 or Deep Space Nine really started to pull that forward, and there’s the background of the X-Files) – although there was a lot of an episodic nature to them.

    What we are getting now is almost an expansion of the mini-series — while a mini-series was expected to be one continuous story, regular series were expected to be self-contained episodes, or maybe two parters. I like the change, the expansion of the meta-plot myself.

  • Tom Hering

    Story arcs and character development. Hmm. The first examples of this that I remember are the explosion of miniseries in the 1970s, and the rise of primetime soap operas in the 1980s. Since then, the only real change in long-form TV has been to give it the trappings of one genre or another (sci-fi, crime drama, etc.). I suppose you could argue TV writing has become more sophisticated, but this usually comes down to using bad language, showing sex and/or gore and/or violence, and giving the characters more-or-less abnormal psychologies. Meh.

  • Tom Hering

    Story arcs and character development. Hmm. The first examples of this that I remember are the explosion of miniseries in the 1970s, and the rise of primetime soap operas in the 1980s. Since then, the only real change in long-form TV has been to give it the trappings of one genre or another (sci-fi, crime drama, etc.). I suppose you could argue TV writing has become more sophisticated, but this usually comes down to using bad language, showing sex and/or gore and/or violence, and giving the characters more-or-less abnormal psychologies. Meh.

  • Dan Kempin

    I, too, appreciate the further development of of the artistic capacity of storytelling in episodes, (chapters?), and we are in a bit of a golden age for this art form. “Lost” was surprisingly excellent storytelling and it thoroughly drew me in, even though it was on “tv.”

    I balk a little at the idea that this is a new medium of expression, though. Or at least I think that the development of serial drama is more a fruit of the market and technology than ars gratia artis. (No offense to stagecraft and multi dimensional protagonists.)

    Sure, television episodes used to be self contained. They were also broadcast over the air to consumers who did not have the ability to go back and catch up on anything they missed. Coincidentally, this artistic “influence” began to make inroads at about the same time people started buying VCRs. (In my personal experience, it was the x-files that really introduced this concept successfully. Still had a lot of stand-alone episodes for syndication, though.)

    Now, this form is really finding its stride in the age of tivo and streaming. Go figure. The business model is changing, and the broadcasters need a product that will draw comsumers in with story. Good story is a great product, and technology enables them to pursue it now in ways that they could not previously do cost effectively.

    There are downsides, too. Networks do not have the flexibility to shuffle episodes when they build a plot, and dabbling with the design of the story can kill a whole show. (Firefly, anyone?) A good show can also take time for people to notice, and the plug is sometimes pulled before it hits its stride. Pushing Daisies was a thoroughly enjoyable and creative idea, which did have the decency to provide a crash closure episode when it was cancelled, but which nevertheless died a premature death with no pie-maker to bring it back. Alas.

  • Dan Kempin

    I, too, appreciate the further development of of the artistic capacity of storytelling in episodes, (chapters?), and we are in a bit of a golden age for this art form. “Lost” was surprisingly excellent storytelling and it thoroughly drew me in, even though it was on “tv.”

    I balk a little at the idea that this is a new medium of expression, though. Or at least I think that the development of serial drama is more a fruit of the market and technology than ars gratia artis. (No offense to stagecraft and multi dimensional protagonists.)

    Sure, television episodes used to be self contained. They were also broadcast over the air to consumers who did not have the ability to go back and catch up on anything they missed. Coincidentally, this artistic “influence” began to make inroads at about the same time people started buying VCRs. (In my personal experience, it was the x-files that really introduced this concept successfully. Still had a lot of stand-alone episodes for syndication, though.)

    Now, this form is really finding its stride in the age of tivo and streaming. Go figure. The business model is changing, and the broadcasters need a product that will draw comsumers in with story. Good story is a great product, and technology enables them to pursue it now in ways that they could not previously do cost effectively.

    There are downsides, too. Networks do not have the flexibility to shuffle episodes when they build a plot, and dabbling with the design of the story can kill a whole show. (Firefly, anyone?) A good show can also take time for people to notice, and the plug is sometimes pulled before it hits its stride. Pushing Daisies was a thoroughly enjoyable and creative idea, which did have the decency to provide a crash closure episode when it was cancelled, but which nevertheless died a premature death with no pie-maker to bring it back. Alas.

  • Jeremiah

    Probably would be helpful to consider advances in technology too in discussing long form narrative television or Arc TV. 24 sparked the popularity of releasing TV shows on DVD at the end of a season. Now with the rise of streaming with and companies such as Hulu and Netflix the options for following many of these shows like a novel rather than relying on catching a weekly broadcast or remembering to set a VCR is becoming much easier. I’ve been through seasons of “24,” “The Soporanos,” the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot, “Firefly” and now working through HBO’s “Treme” on discs, and “Breaking Bad,” “Damages,” “Farscape,” “The Walking Dead,” and “LOST.” The technology is much more readily available to make shows like these “hard to put down” just like a novel (anyone watched an entire season over a few days?), and easier to get into if you happen to miss a season or a shows entire run. As a result viewers get a better chance to fully appreciate character and narrative arcs and re-occurring themes and images.

  • Jeremiah

    Probably would be helpful to consider advances in technology too in discussing long form narrative television or Arc TV. 24 sparked the popularity of releasing TV shows on DVD at the end of a season. Now with the rise of streaming with and companies such as Hulu and Netflix the options for following many of these shows like a novel rather than relying on catching a weekly broadcast or remembering to set a VCR is becoming much easier. I’ve been through seasons of “24,” “The Soporanos,” the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot, “Firefly” and now working through HBO’s “Treme” on discs, and “Breaking Bad,” “Damages,” “Farscape,” “The Walking Dead,” and “LOST.” The technology is much more readily available to make shows like these “hard to put down” just like a novel (anyone watched an entire season over a few days?), and easier to get into if you happen to miss a season or a shows entire run. As a result viewers get a better chance to fully appreciate character and narrative arcs and re-occurring themes and images.

  • Tom Hering

    Dan @ 5, good point about the way technology has made long-form TV (or rather open-ended long-form TV) viewer friendly.

    Sometimes the plug is pulled after a show hits its stride, because the network messed with success. Compare season two of Human Target with season one. (Too much of a guy’s show? Why else add a mommy and baby sister?)

  • Tom Hering

    Dan @ 5, good point about the way technology has made long-form TV (or rather open-ended long-form TV) viewer friendly.

    Sometimes the plug is pulled after a show hits its stride, because the network messed with success. Compare season two of Human Target with season one. (Too much of a guy’s show? Why else add a mommy and baby sister?)

  • Joe

    Of course the downside of this is the commitment to the show. The nice thing about the traditional sitcom is that it is self-contained. My children have just discovered the Cosby Show and I’ve really enjoyed watching the old episodes with them.

  • Joe

    Of course the downside of this is the commitment to the show. The nice thing about the traditional sitcom is that it is self-contained. My children have just discovered the Cosby Show and I’ve really enjoyed watching the old episodes with them.

  • Tom Hering

    Personally, I miss anthology shows. Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Amazing Stories, Ray Bradbury Theater, Tales From The Crypt. (The short story, by the way, is the literary form at which sci-fi and weird tales always excelled.) I also miss variety shows, which brought us lots of new and different entertainment every week. The taste now seems to be for big portions of TV comfort food. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, really. But it’s just about all we get. I miss multicourse meals.

  • Tom Hering

    Personally, I miss anthology shows. Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Amazing Stories, Ray Bradbury Theater, Tales From The Crypt. (The short story, by the way, is the literary form at which sci-fi and weird tales always excelled.) I also miss variety shows, which brought us lots of new and different entertainment every week. The taste now seems to be for big portions of TV comfort food. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, really. But it’s just about all we get. I miss multicourse meals.

  • Cincinnatus

    I’ve said this here before, and I’ll say it again: The Wire, Breaking Bad, and a select few other contemporary shows are perhaps the best television shows ever made. While I do have personal aesthetic preferences at work here, I am making what Kant would call a subjective-objective aesthetic judgment: it is a subjective evaluation that ought to be shared by everyone.

    I would not claim that these “telenovelas” equal the novel in potential, but the complex character development and reflection on the human condition embodied in these particular shows approaches what I believe to be the upper limits of the genre.

  • Cincinnatus

    I’ve said this here before, and I’ll say it again: The Wire, Breaking Bad, and a select few other contemporary shows are perhaps the best television shows ever made. While I do have personal aesthetic preferences at work here, I am making what Kant would call a subjective-objective aesthetic judgment: it is a subjective evaluation that ought to be shared by everyone.

    I would not claim that these “telenovelas” equal the novel in potential, but the complex character development and reflection on the human condition embodied in these particular shows approaches what I believe to be the upper limits of the genre.

  • Cincinnatus

    And Tom, speak for yourself: Breaking Bad is not comfort food, and if you thought it were, I would be worried for your psychological health.

    But you note a curious phenomenon: it seems that some of the best television shows ever produced share airspace with many of the worst shows ever produced: American Idol (and its infinite clones), Dancing with the Stars, Two and a Half Men, etc.

  • Cincinnatus

    And Tom, speak for yourself: Breaking Bad is not comfort food, and if you thought it were, I would be worried for your psychological health.

    But you note a curious phenomenon: it seems that some of the best television shows ever produced share airspace with many of the worst shows ever produced: American Idol (and its infinite clones), Dancing with the Stars, Two and a Half Men, etc.

  • SKPeterson

    I think American Idol is the greatest show ever. In fact, it is so great that I’ve never seen it, as that would diminish its greatness.

    On a more serious note, I wonder how many of the these long-form stories are pitched with the actual arc and plot trajectory mapped out. How many are simply done like a sit-com, where each episode continues a story, but the overall plot is not yet determined; stories in this vein could go on forever, like M*A*S*H, and then face the prospect of an untidy ending or an abrupt and unsatisfying end as the network pulls the plug. It would seem that a series like Breaking Bad was one that had a clear plot trajectory and definite knowledge that it was designed to wrap up in a given period of time. Perhaps its success will allow for other shows to be delivered that are meant to last only a few seasons – to tell the story and then end and allow another story to be told.

  • SKPeterson

    I think American Idol is the greatest show ever. In fact, it is so great that I’ve never seen it, as that would diminish its greatness.

    On a more serious note, I wonder how many of the these long-form stories are pitched with the actual arc and plot trajectory mapped out. How many are simply done like a sit-com, where each episode continues a story, but the overall plot is not yet determined; stories in this vein could go on forever, like M*A*S*H, and then face the prospect of an untidy ending or an abrupt and unsatisfying end as the network pulls the plug. It would seem that a series like Breaking Bad was one that had a clear plot trajectory and definite knowledge that it was designed to wrap up in a given period of time. Perhaps its success will allow for other shows to be delivered that are meant to last only a few seasons – to tell the story and then end and allow another story to be told.

  • Jeremiah

    Much of a show’s run has to do with the business of TV as well as the storytelling. If I remember correctly The Sopranos was originally to wrap after about 4 or 5 seasons, but due to its popularity was extend for a 6+ run. Other shows, such as “LOST” or “BSG” have worked well in advance to secure finale dates (three years in advance in LOST’s case) to help drive the momentum of their narratives. David Simon has always maintained that he has a four season arc intended for “Treme,” and HBO has mostly supported that decision despite the shows less than impressive numbers. Others, such as “24,” have worked to keep stories going as long as they remain financially successful. Some of this may also be influenced by the difference between network and cable business models. Of course the business aspect of TV can also help sustain or muck up these long form shows. “Firefly” is a good example of how the business/marketing end of television can deter successful narrative storytelling.

  • Jeremiah

    Much of a show’s run has to do with the business of TV as well as the storytelling. If I remember correctly The Sopranos was originally to wrap after about 4 or 5 seasons, but due to its popularity was extend for a 6+ run. Other shows, such as “LOST” or “BSG” have worked well in advance to secure finale dates (three years in advance in LOST’s case) to help drive the momentum of their narratives. David Simon has always maintained that he has a four season arc intended for “Treme,” and HBO has mostly supported that decision despite the shows less than impressive numbers. Others, such as “24,” have worked to keep stories going as long as they remain financially successful. Some of this may also be influenced by the difference between network and cable business models. Of course the business aspect of TV can also help sustain or muck up these long form shows. “Firefly” is a good example of how the business/marketing end of television can deter successful narrative storytelling.

  • Tom Hering

    I can see the difference in content, but I don’t see what these new shows are doing differently with form that Dallas didn’t do in the 1970s and ’80s, or for that matter, Peyton Place in the ’60s. And as for planning a limited number of seasons ahead of time, the Brits have been doing TV that way since the 1950s.

  • Tom Hering

    I can see the difference in content, but I don’t see what these new shows are doing differently with form that Dallas didn’t do in the 1970s and ’80s, or for that matter, Peyton Place in the ’60s. And as for planning a limited number of seasons ahead of time, the Brits have been doing TV that way since the 1950s.

  • Julian

    I think TV does have the same potential as the modern novel, but we still have a long way to go to mine the depths of this potential. Think of the brilliant turns of phrase, puns, extended metaphors and nontraditional structures employed by some of the very best authors (I’m thinking of Faulkner, Pynchon, Percy and Delillo right now, and Alan Moore’s graphic novels also display extreme mastery of their genre). When will TV produce anything close to the experience of reading The Sound and the Fury? Certainly the linearity of film is one way books have an advantage (and how paper books have an advantage over Kindle!), but I believe film as a whole has a long way to go before we really explore its limits.

  • Julian

    I think TV does have the same potential as the modern novel, but we still have a long way to go to mine the depths of this potential. Think of the brilliant turns of phrase, puns, extended metaphors and nontraditional structures employed by some of the very best authors (I’m thinking of Faulkner, Pynchon, Percy and Delillo right now, and Alan Moore’s graphic novels also display extreme mastery of their genre). When will TV produce anything close to the experience of reading The Sound and the Fury? Certainly the linearity of film is one way books have an advantage (and how paper books have an advantage over Kindle!), but I believe film as a whole has a long way to go before we really explore its limits.

  • Cincinnatus

    Julian@15:

    I think it’s a bit simplistic to conclude that television has the “same” potential as the novel. Frankly, I disagree, for two reasons:

    1) First, as Neil Postman suggests, the medium is the message. As a conduit of limited time-frames, flashing images, etc., television is a medium that is inescapably conducive to most of the tripe we see on television. Even my favorite shows (currently, Breaking Bad) can’t attain to the depth and extension of a novel like, say, War and Peace. Case in point: you will always hear about movies and television serials “leaving out” something from books they are adapting. “Leaving out” elements from plot, characterization, or simple description is inevitable due to the limitations of visual media. But when was the last time you heard about a book leaving out something that could be better portrayed by a movie or television show?

    2) Even if you don’t buy my first claim, it’s simply the case that television and novels are fundamentally different media. They cannot have the “same” potential. The capabilities of television and books are distinct, even if they overlap sometimes, and even if the former attempts to ape the latter. In short, there could be no satisfying television adaptation of War and Peace.

  • Cincinnatus

    Julian@15:

    I think it’s a bit simplistic to conclude that television has the “same” potential as the novel. Frankly, I disagree, for two reasons:

    1) First, as Neil Postman suggests, the medium is the message. As a conduit of limited time-frames, flashing images, etc., television is a medium that is inescapably conducive to most of the tripe we see on television. Even my favorite shows (currently, Breaking Bad) can’t attain to the depth and extension of a novel like, say, War and Peace. Case in point: you will always hear about movies and television serials “leaving out” something from books they are adapting. “Leaving out” elements from plot, characterization, or simple description is inevitable due to the limitations of visual media. But when was the last time you heard about a book leaving out something that could be better portrayed by a movie or television show?

    2) Even if you don’t buy my first claim, it’s simply the case that television and novels are fundamentally different media. They cannot have the “same” potential. The capabilities of television and books are distinct, even if they overlap sometimes, and even if the former attempts to ape the latter. In short, there could be no satisfying television adaptation of War and Peace.

  • SKPeterson

    Cinn @ 16 – I don’t think it is necessarily a given that visual media are not as rich as a novel, although the internal motivations of characters do face a largely insurmountable challenge in many instances. Anyhow, the reason many movies or series “leave out” important parts of novels probably has more to do with limitations imposed by costs and time than anything inherent limiting factors. A novel is often a solitary affair with the costs almost entirely borne by the author, with limited financial commitment to printing and distribution (made very low cost through electronic media), and you can turn out many, many novels. The same cost structure and risk profile is much different for movies and tv, and therefore hard decisions must be made.

  • SKPeterson

    Cinn @ 16 – I don’t think it is necessarily a given that visual media are not as rich as a novel, although the internal motivations of characters do face a largely insurmountable challenge in many instances. Anyhow, the reason many movies or series “leave out” important parts of novels probably has more to do with limitations imposed by costs and time than anything inherent limiting factors. A novel is often a solitary affair with the costs almost entirely borne by the author, with limited financial commitment to printing and distribution (made very low cost through electronic media), and you can turn out many, many novels. The same cost structure and risk profile is much different for movies and tv, and therefore hard decisions must be made.

  • Cincinnatus

    SKPeterson:

    Counterpoint: it is difficult, not to say impossible, to display someone’s inner thoughts (or the “contents” of a character’s consciousness) on screen.

    Example: Filming a Faulkner novel would be impossible.

  • Cincinnatus

    SKPeterson:

    Counterpoint: it is difficult, not to say impossible, to display someone’s inner thoughts (or the “contents” of a character’s consciousness) on screen.

    Example: Filming a Faulkner novel would be impossible.

  • Julian

    @ Cinncinatus
    You say ” But when was the last time you heard about a book leaving out something that could be better portrayed by a movie or television show? ”

    But what about a picture being worth a thousand words? Why do you think we have such a rush to produce film if nobody thought there were things it could do better than print media?

    You may be right in saying that print and film do not have the “same” potential but please, let’s not play semantics here. I could say they have “equivalent” potential. Does that suit you?

    If you want, I could easily point out ways a picture can do things words can’t do. It doesn’t take much imagination to think about what film can do that words can’t.

    Also it’s bad form to criticize a medium by reducing it to its lowest common denominator. Do we really want to start talking about 50 Shades and the like?

    SKP makes an interesting point about the limiting factor of artistic integrity in film vs. print.

  • Julian

    @ Cinncinatus
    You say ” But when was the last time you heard about a book leaving out something that could be better portrayed by a movie or television show? ”

    But what about a picture being worth a thousand words? Why do you think we have such a rush to produce film if nobody thought there were things it could do better than print media?

    You may be right in saying that print and film do not have the “same” potential but please, let’s not play semantics here. I could say they have “equivalent” potential. Does that suit you?

    If you want, I could easily point out ways a picture can do things words can’t do. It doesn’t take much imagination to think about what film can do that words can’t.

    Also it’s bad form to criticize a medium by reducing it to its lowest common denominator. Do we really want to start talking about 50 Shades and the like?

    SKP makes an interesting point about the limiting factor of artistic integrity in film vs. print.

  • Cincinnatus

    Julian@19:

    It appears that we are having something of a heated agreement. What I said–and what you have repeated–is that pictures/images can do things words cannot, and vice versa. The potential of film (television or movies) and the potential of novels are not equivalent. They do different things. As I noted with the Faulkner comparison, there are elements of the human experience that simply can’t be effectively depicted on film. But, as you note with pictures being worth a thousand words, there are arguably elements of the human condition that can be captured on film that simply can’t be articulated in words. A novelization of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for example, would be surpassingly weird and probably unreadable.

  • Cincinnatus

    Julian@19:

    It appears that we are having something of a heated agreement. What I said–and what you have repeated–is that pictures/images can do things words cannot, and vice versa. The potential of film (television or movies) and the potential of novels are not equivalent. They do different things. As I noted with the Faulkner comparison, there are elements of the human experience that simply can’t be effectively depicted on film. But, as you note with pictures being worth a thousand words, there are arguably elements of the human condition that can be captured on film that simply can’t be articulated in words. A novelization of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for example, would be surpassingly weird and probably unreadable.

  • Julian

    @ Cincinnatus

    I don’t mean to sound heated; I guess all my questions come off as interrogating you under a dimly lit bulb. I’m sorry.

    But I think our tradition of making movies from books and books from movies is obscuring the point I’m trying to make here. I agree that War and Peace shouldn’t be made into a miniseries, just like I think Watchmen was impossible to make into a movie. They tried to do it anyway, and failed.

    But the ability to crossover from one medium to another is not the definition of equivalence to me.

    Equivalence between mediums is about how or how much the consumer is affected by the medium in terms of ideas communicated, senses engaged, mind stirred, etc. I argue that film and print can equally engage their consumers. That all I’m saying.

  • Julian

    @ Cincinnatus

    I don’t mean to sound heated; I guess all my questions come off as interrogating you under a dimly lit bulb. I’m sorry.

    But I think our tradition of making movies from books and books from movies is obscuring the point I’m trying to make here. I agree that War and Peace shouldn’t be made into a miniseries, just like I think Watchmen was impossible to make into a movie. They tried to do it anyway, and failed.

    But the ability to crossover from one medium to another is not the definition of equivalence to me.

    Equivalence between mediums is about how or how much the consumer is affected by the medium in terms of ideas communicated, senses engaged, mind stirred, etc. I argue that film and print can equally engage their consumers. That all I’m saying.

  • Cincinnatus

    Julian:

    No apology necessary. I agree–provisionally, anyway–that visual media can probably communicate ideas, engage the senses, and stir the mind at least as much as a text.

    What I’m arguing is that the ideas communicated, the sensed engaged, and the stirrings of the mind by television are, of necessity, very different from those excited by a book. Books and television are not equivalent; one is not a substitute for the other. TV dramas are not the new novel; they represent a genre unto themselves with a new and different potential to communicate ideas, engage the senses, and stir the mind. Thus, while I embrace these new television dramas with more or less zeal, it would be an irreplaceable loss if the popularity of television rendered the novel obsolete in practice. They do different things.

    /and I still cling to the notion that books are superior to television.

  • Cincinnatus

    Julian:

    No apology necessary. I agree–provisionally, anyway–that visual media can probably communicate ideas, engage the senses, and stir the mind at least as much as a text.

    What I’m arguing is that the ideas communicated, the sensed engaged, and the stirrings of the mind by television are, of necessity, very different from those excited by a book. Books and television are not equivalent; one is not a substitute for the other. TV dramas are not the new novel; they represent a genre unto themselves with a new and different potential to communicate ideas, engage the senses, and stir the mind. Thus, while I embrace these new television dramas with more or less zeal, it would be an irreplaceable loss if the popularity of television rendered the novel obsolete in practice. They do different things.

    /and I still cling to the notion that books are superior to television.

  • Tom Hering

    Dare I admit that since childhood, I’ve found the storytelling done on television more engaging than the storytelling done in books? I dare! I dare! Perhaps I’m visually oriented. When it comes to my favorite theatrical films, for example, the art direction and cinematography entertain me as much as anything – more than anything in some of my favorite movies.

  • Tom Hering

    Dare I admit that since childhood, I’ve found the storytelling done on television more engaging than the storytelling done in books? I dare! I dare! Perhaps I’m visually oriented. When it comes to my favorite theatrical films, for example, the art direction and cinematography entertain me as much as anything – more than anything in some of my favorite movies.

  • Julian

    @ Cincinnatus

    I think we’re more or less in agreement. In my original comment I spent most of the space praising literature. I don’t even have a TV. I’ll drink to that last sentence of yours.

    But I think TV has a fighting chance. It’ll be a while before we see it come around.

  • Julian

    @ Cincinnatus

    I think we’re more or less in agreement. In my original comment I spent most of the space praising literature. I don’t even have a TV. I’ll drink to that last sentence of yours.

    But I think TV has a fighting chance. It’ll be a while before we see it come around.

  • SKPeterson

    Cinn – I agree with your notion regarding Faulkner. There are many novels that do not lend themselves to visual depiction outside the human imagination. What I was arguing for, though, was that motion pictures or television series are not inherently limiting in other respects. Often if parts of novels are left out, they aren’t necessarily the sections dealing with character’s inner motivations, they are taken out because filming a movie or a television program requires a much greater capital outlay with greater financial risk to multiple parties than does the creation and distribution of a novel. As a result, finances become the limiting factor in many, if not all, cases of translation of novel to screen. A good contemporary example is the decision to cut out the Tom Bombadil sequence from LOTR, even though the Bombadil character is one of the most beloved characters from the entire series. Peter Jackson excused this as being a financial reason – to add it would make the first movie extraordinarily expensive by adding more film time, etc. as well as impinging on the timing of the movie itself. Jackson was bound in some sense by the three book structure of the novel – even though that was a publisher’s decision, not Tolkien’s – as it was now ensconced in the public mind as a trilogy. Jackson maybe could have done the movie with Bombadil, but it would have been four movies or even five, if all the action was included or given its proper location such as Haldir and the elves never being at Helm’s Deep, etc.

    BTW – All of this is just another way of saying that Tom proves himself the philistine once again with his panegyric to cinema.

  • SKPeterson

    Cinn – I agree with your notion regarding Faulkner. There are many novels that do not lend themselves to visual depiction outside the human imagination. What I was arguing for, though, was that motion pictures or television series are not inherently limiting in other respects. Often if parts of novels are left out, they aren’t necessarily the sections dealing with character’s inner motivations, they are taken out because filming a movie or a television program requires a much greater capital outlay with greater financial risk to multiple parties than does the creation and distribution of a novel. As a result, finances become the limiting factor in many, if not all, cases of translation of novel to screen. A good contemporary example is the decision to cut out the Tom Bombadil sequence from LOTR, even though the Bombadil character is one of the most beloved characters from the entire series. Peter Jackson excused this as being a financial reason – to add it would make the first movie extraordinarily expensive by adding more film time, etc. as well as impinging on the timing of the movie itself. Jackson was bound in some sense by the three book structure of the novel – even though that was a publisher’s decision, not Tolkien’s – as it was now ensconced in the public mind as a trilogy. Jackson maybe could have done the movie with Bombadil, but it would have been four movies or even five, if all the action was included or given its proper location such as Haldir and the elves never being at Helm’s Deep, etc.

    BTW – All of this is just another way of saying that Tom proves himself the philistine once again with his panegyric to cinema.

  • Cincinnatus

    SKP@25:

    But this begs the question: are the funding constraints that limit the capabilities of modern filmmaking merely an accidental property that could be surmounted, or are they intrinsic and “essential,” as it were? That is, can we plausibly imagine a circumstance in which there would be no fiscal or time constraints at all on a given film that would allow a director/screenwriter to film every aspect of an appropriate book? Or is it simply always going to be the case that films are limited by these constraints?

    I tend toward the latter. Arguing that films could theoretically have infinite potential seems a bit of a cop-out. I mean, theoretically, we could establish a colony on Pluto, but that’s not really a meaningful claim. Theoretically, we could eliminate drug addiction, poverty, etc., if we had infinite time and money. But we don’t, and never will.

    Books don’t suffer from these particular constraints, as Proust well demonstrated.

  • Cincinnatus

    SKP@25:

    But this begs the question: are the funding constraints that limit the capabilities of modern filmmaking merely an accidental property that could be surmounted, or are they intrinsic and “essential,” as it were? That is, can we plausibly imagine a circumstance in which there would be no fiscal or time constraints at all on a given film that would allow a director/screenwriter to film every aspect of an appropriate book? Or is it simply always going to be the case that films are limited by these constraints?

    I tend toward the latter. Arguing that films could theoretically have infinite potential seems a bit of a cop-out. I mean, theoretically, we could establish a colony on Pluto, but that’s not really a meaningful claim. Theoretically, we could eliminate drug addiction, poverty, etc., if we had infinite time and money. But we don’t, and never will.

    Books don’t suffer from these particular constraints, as Proust well demonstrated.

  • Tom Hering

    Philistine? We’re talking television, SK. I’m a Philco-ine. And yes, once again, undeniably old.

  • Tom Hering

    Philistine? We’re talking television, SK. I’m a Philco-ine. And yes, once again, undeniably old.

  • Pingback: Never a New Idea – How Hollywood Rips Off the Bible and What That Should Teach Us « Pastor James Hein's Blog

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