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For so long, the film industry has been seen as the pinnacle of screen acting, the place where every on-screen actor wants to be before their career can be considered a true success. The rise to Hollywood stardom comes easier for some, but for a lot of actors it’s years of baby steps before they finally get their big break, if they ever do.
One particular career stepping stone that so many actors have and continue to use is television, a practice that not only allows an actor to show off their talent, but gain public awareness through the millions that tune in to watch. Many big name actors made their name in television first: Denzel Washington, George Clooney, Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman all used TV as a springboard to hit the big time.
But with the rise of services like Netflix, less people then ever are actually going to the cinema, the film industry is shrinking and the small screen is becoming prestigious in its own right.
The extraordinary standard of TV dramas in recent years has arguably gotten people more excited than any big budget film that’s been released within the same time frame. Lots of different genres of series, from Breaking Bad to Downtown Abby, have a huge and increasing fan base as well as being widely praised by critics.
Actors are now looking at TV in a different light, with huge film actors taking roles on the small screen thanks to the quality of programme being produced. High calibre actors such as Oscar-winners Kevin Spacey and Al Pacino would probably never have considered TV roles a few years ago, but now both head amazingly well made shows. Matthew McConnaughey is even using TV to continue his remarkable career transformation by staring in the incredible HBO show True Detective.
This rise in TV standards clearly has a direct link with financial implications and the investment put into British and American series throughout the last few years. Whilst the film industry continues to have cuts, money is being invested into making high quality shows on both sides of the pond.
This has also lead to a positive domino effect; TV companies are taking more creative risks with their programming due to the successes of certain programs, meaning that money is being invested in quality rather than the “safe” programmes we’ve become accustomed too. The critically acclaimed Breaking Bad is a prime example – it was rejected by the big networks in America before a smaller company within AMC took a big risk that led to big rewards. Breaking Bad was also a leading example of taking risks in terms of casting, Bryan Cranston being an inspired choice despite him being widely known for his comedic turn as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle.
One of the reasons for the successes of TV is that programme makers have mastered the art of the long narrative. The one advantage TV always has over film is time; films are forced to tell an entire story in the confines of a two hour screening, whilst a TV series can use up to 20+ episodes during a series to build characters, tension and let the events unravel slowly. By progressing a story slowly and putting the foundations in place before coming to a series conclusion, TV writers are currently utilising the main advantage they have over film.
So has TV taken over film in terms of quality and success? Not quite. Despite all television’s triumphs over the last few years, for the forseeable future film will still be seen as the ultimate art form for actors and directors. However, the gap is somewhat smaller than it once was and if the success of television continues, perhaps one day they will be considered as equals.