Mad about TV

Does the increasing popularity of TV shows mean a decline for Hollywood films?

Hani Taha August 06, 2011


You know that film has moved to the back-burner as a major player in the modern pop culture when songs get increased popularity by being part of the score for “Glee”, when young men want to ‘suit up’ ala Barney (“How I Met Your Mother”), when aspiring fashion icons are Blaire Cornelia Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen (“Gossip Girl”), and designer Donatella Versace describes January Jones from “Mad Men” as “a perfect Versace woman for the 21st century”.

With a wide spectrum of shows from the geeky fun “Big Bang Theory” to the more classical “The Tudors”, television series have taken over much of viewers’ interest. “Audiences now are more series mad,” confesses radio jockey Khalid Malik. “Conversation is centred on, ‘Are you following this series?’ I was never into these series but for the sake of fitting in I went and got season one of ‘Spartacus’ since I like period stories.”

As with everything in popular culture, the ‘cool’ factor determines how strong an influence a show has to be classified as a reigning trend. When “Gossip Girl” debuted a few years ago, the media was rife with stories of how critical the show has become to the fashion and retail industry, not only dominating but also predicting trends. The same can be said for “Mad Men” that inspired Prada’s look for autumn/winter last year and compelled fashion’s bible Vogue to publish an entire shoot on the same theme. Even in a third world country like the Philippines, a major retail brand Penshoppe roped in Ed Westwick — better known as Chuck Bass for his super slick role in “Gossip Girl” — for their spring/summer campaign on what was rumoured to be an atrocious sum.

“I love ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘One Tree Hill’,” says 20-year-old Larishka. “It has teenage drama, fashion and it connects to the real life of the teenagers. The boyfriend issues, love, college, parents and most importantly, which teenager isn’t fascinated by clothes and shoes?” In this sense, a TV show may take on the role of a counsellor as the viewers connect to a character and then closely observe how their icons face trials in their fictitious lives.

As a young lawyer Mehwish aptly points out that “a long term familiarity with the characters in TV series encourages audiences to follow a continuing storyline rather than watch 90 minutes films on new plots and characters”. The sustained drama and character development keeps the audiences hooked onto ‘what will happen next’, how that character will react and then often replicate the course for their own issues. “Since series don’t end in just 90 to 120 minutes, there is a greater commitment to the shows,” says stylist Redah Misbah.

The lack of a meaningful trajectory in drama, plot or character development, in many big-budget films like Transformers, has opened up a lacuna for more stylised and glamorous shows like “Game of Thrones” to take over. “TV series provide continuous drama and the kind of character relation that is identifiable and carefully constructed through series rather than a film which is over in 90 minutes,” says an avid TV show buff Teepu.

When one has to wait for the official release of films, access to the shows is much easier via the internet, with new episodes being launched every week for a myriad of shows. “The day an episode is on air, it comes online,” claims young Ayesha. However, Mehwish believes that “series do tend to lose audiences over the seasons if producers keep stretching the storylines and don’t know when to bring the series to a natural end” — a fate that “The O.C.” succumbed to.

However, at the end of the day, despite becoming an important agent of popular culture, the television show cannot compare to the whole experience of watching a movie: The red carpet, the popcorn and the large silver screen. While the ratings of TV shows may keep escalating, it will by no means push films out of business.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2011.

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