The new series Parade's End is testing viewers' appetites for highbrow fare at a time when HBO and other networks are snapping up literary rights.
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I don't know why the thought had never crossed my mind before. One of our favorite past times is to wait until a TV series with big buzz has released the most recent season's episodes on Netflix streaming and then we do a Boardwalk Empire marathon watching the entire series 5-6 episodes at a time over the course of 2-3 days. Though we're always a season behind, the advantages are many. There are no commericials, no worrying about whether or not our schedules clash with the "first run" viewing schedule (yes, we have DVR, though we don't have HBO or other premium stations), and best of all we don't have to wait a week to see the outcome of those "every-episode-has-a-cliff-hanger-ending" endings that have been perfected by the producers of these well-written series. I'm not a fan of TV cliff hanger endings, finding them generally an annoying practice designed not so much to create a "can't-put-it-down" forward momentum as they do in books, but to create some sort of week long addiction-widthdrawal like agitation between fixes.
When chapters in a book end in a cliff-hanger, I want to know! immediately! and I keep reading. No one is withholding the next chapter for a week. Imagine if while reading you weren't allowed to read the next chapter after a cliff-hanging preceding chapter really ramped up your interest in the story's plot line. That's not exciting. It's aggravating.
But, of course with a book, I've paid the full price ahead of time. It's mine. The publishing industry's business plan does not require that I subscribe to the story in order to generate ongoing income for the book's sponsors. The very purpose of cliff-hangers in books is to get us to NOT put the book down, while the same cliff-hangers between episodes of a telvision series are designed to create that addiction draw ensuring the sponsors that I'll be back next week to see their ads or to ensure HBO that I'll continue my Level-300 subscription.
It only works for me though because I've never really cared much for how up to date my contributions to "the next day's water cooler conversations"would be. What I've cared about was the depth and breadth and the ins and outs and... well, in the quality of a well-crafted story. You, know, like reading a book you just can't put down.
But, not being current at the cooler aside, the story telling in many of the more notable series and mini-series on the cable stations has become pretty darned incredible. And, telling stories that take 8-12 episodes provides a venue for depth and character and theme development that can create a rich experience similar to that of reading a well-written book. These stories become, like books, experiences deep enough to enjoy dwelling within for days.
Unlike their predecessors they are more than sophisticated nighttime soap operas because they are, or at least are perceived as, a single story with a continuous plotline and themes that weave themselves through a "longer story."
Sure, we each do need to decide where our current story telling comfort boundaries are since many of these series include language of concern and have significantly more graphic sexual or violent content than the traditional network offerings. I can't and don't particularly believe it is my place to impose my viewing or reading tastes upon other adults. I'm happy to share opinions, but because I don't happen to draw my line regarding tolerable violence-levels or other traditionally at-the-edge/over-the-edge" content where others do doesn't mean that my lesser-tolerance for extremely visual violence is "the rubric" by which other adults should determine their interest in a series' value.
So, anyway, my point is that some extremely well-done story telling is happening in television land, much of which is truly competitive in quality to some of the best storytelling in print, paper-based or otherwise. And, now that there is an adequate audience for the well-written visual story teller, we see better and better writers, even many of our revered authors, turning towards that appreciative audience.
Is it all great? Of course not. But, the trajectory is clearly on an upward curve worthy of either reconsidering our views about TV drama or at least our keeping one ear tuned to the buzz lest we miss an opportunity to appreciate great story telling presented in a venue for which we may have not recently enough revisited our opinions.
Well, I began by directing my comments towards the downside of that forced break in the story as the broadcast scheduled series are released in weekly doses. I'm tuning in to the new paradigm being offered by NetFlix in its first series, Lilyhammer starring Steven van Zandt, famous to some for his role as Silvio Dante in The Sopranos and more famous to others as looooong-time guitar-playing band member alongside Bruce Springsteen all the way back to before the e-street band days.
Both Lilyhammer and Netflix's new House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey were released in a new "entire season all at once" paradigm. And viewing them in as small or large a bite as you wish, just as is the case when we read an enthralling book seriously closes the gap between chapter cliff-hangers' "can't put it down" enjoyment and episode cliff-hangers' "forced put it down" annoyance.
I dunno... I love to read. I love to listen to great literature on my iPhone while doing the dreaded yardwork. I just love great story telling. And, there's some pretty great story telling going on out there right now.
No, it's not all great, but has it ever been all great or all trash for that matter in any story telling medium?