Commenting on the critics with Simon Columb...
Jane Mulkerrins interviewed Dustin Hoffman for The Telegraph, regarding his new television series, Luck...
"This transfer of some of film's greatest talents to the small screen – Martin Scorsese directing HBO's Boardwalk Empire; the likes of Al Pacino, Julianne Moore, and now Hoffman taking on TV roles – is part of a process that is seeing television eclipsing film as the home of quality drama. The likes of The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men have set a trend that looks likely to continue ... Hoffman gives a lucid explanation of why this is happening: 'You cannot get a shot of doing your best work in [film's] studio system. There's committees. There's meetings. They're on the set. They get involved in a kind of quasi – at least I think it is – creative way, but they buck heads with people that they shouldn't be bucking heads with. And with HBO, once they give a 'go', there is no committee. These guys are allowed to try to do their best work, and they then give it to us. And I think that for some years now, the first rate writers have all been going to television, not films.'"
I have recently finished watching Boardwalk Empire and, considering the TV series mentioned in the article, I can equally support the argument that The Sopranos (I have watched in its entirety twice now), The Wire (flawless throughout - especially the fourth season) and Mad Men (looking forward to the hotly-anticipated fifth series...) are rivals up against anything in the cinema.
But these are four TV series amongst the hundreds available to watch. The problem always lies in the amount of time you devote to a TV series. I was sold on Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire due to the connections it had to The Sopranos (and Scorsese in the latter), whilst any interest I had in Generation Kill and Treme is purely down to The Wire. Fact is, I have seen neither of those two because I know from the outset that I will be committing X amount of hours to each series and that is a huge amount of time lost on merely 'another' TV series.
Don't get me wrong, you will find plenty of people singing the praises of the latest TV series. In many cases, if you don't jump on the bandwagon early on, then the series will be cancelled anyway and it hardly seems worth the time. Some examples include Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Joss Whedon's Dollhouse and Carnivàle. All of these series I have heard lots of praise about - but all end with teases to potentially fascinating future seasons, only to be cut short. Then again, you always have friends who strongly advise a TV series which, when you view yourself, you simply do not see the attraction. Personally, I would argue that after watching 12 or 24 episodes of a series, it is tough to suddenly decide to stop watching - you have got to know the characters and a bum episode here and there is hardly much considering how much time you have already given the show. As a teenager, I watched Dawson's Creek, but I know that due to a strong series-and-a-half (and my age), I stuck with it for six seasons! Entire seasons seemed to just drag on (season four) and I only watched it because I knew the characters so well. This is why, with Lost and The West Wing I watched the first season only... before realising what was going on. With Lost I could see all the "questions" it wanted me to be desperately know an "answer" to - I wasn't going to fall for that trick. With The West Wing, alcoholism, racism and prostitutes are the type of plot devices thrown into soap operas - just because it is set within the White House doesn't make it highbrow. In fairness, I am told that the later seasons are "much better". But the fans always say that.
I have a funny feeling that, for cast and crew, TV series are the key to success now - consistently garnering publicity and press during the show's run whilst guaranteeing a steady income for each series commissioned - hence Hoffman's attitude towards writers. But, as a whole, TV series are a tough sell to audiences... popping down the cinema to see that film "everyone’s talking about" is much easier than catching up with the hours of TV watching necessary to join in a conversation about Mad Men at the water-cooler.