I’ve been working on a top-secret potential network project these last few weeks – one I hopefully should be able to reveal soon. And as part of my work I’ve been collaborating with a seasoned producer who is a fascinating source of stories and insight (I love working with talented people who’ve really earned their experience in the industry. Makes a refreshing change from the numerous BS artists out there!)

Anyway, we had a discussion the other day about the current state of TV and the ‘flatness’ of networks shows like Under The Dome and Siberia, which have the look and feel of TV movies. Meanwhile cable series like American Horror Story and The Walking Dead feel far more filmic than their bigger budget counterparts. Yet network shows invariably try to be ‘bigger and better’ – and almost always fall short!

My new colleague said something that definitely resonated with me. TV needs to stop trying to compete with the movies – because that’s not their competition. Their REAL competition is other TV shows.

Sounds simple, but it’s so true. This Fall sees many big budget, high concept TV series with a cinematic feel. There’s ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the TV spin off from the Avengers; Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, like the old Tim Burton movie but set in the present day; and the human / robot cop series Almost Human, which sounds like a Will Smith movie. But isn’t.

Now I have no doubt that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will launch to absolutely huge numbers for ABC and I totally understand why they would commission the series in the first place. But ultimately isn’t this show going to feel like an incredibly watered down version of The Avengers? When audiences figure out that they’re not going to see amazing effects and their favorite superheroes week after week will they really stick around? Personally I can see S.H.I.E.L.D. opening big and then falling off fast.

Remember ABC’s No Ordinary Family from a couple of seasons back? It was essentially The Incredibles – the TV series – and again Family launched big and then fell fast. What worked as a film just didn’t translate into a series.

Ditto Terra Nova which was essentially Jurassic Park on TV. Nova cost a fortune and took forever to produce due to all its complex effects work and yet audiences didn’t really care. No matter how the show was framed it felt Jurassic-lite!

Terra Nova

The movie industry is suffering from a lot of problems at the moment, many of which I’ve discussed here on this site. But the one thing the movies can do is amazing spectacle. And TV can’t. And shouldn’t try to.

The fact is TV is a different medium. TV allows you to explore characters in a way you just can’t on the big screen (which is why it’s become so appealing to actors in recent years). You can stretch out complex plots and explore intricate twists and turns – think 24 and Scandal. You can feature huge sprawling casts like Game Of Thrones. But what you can’t do is big budget spectacle week after week.

There’s a reason audiences lay down their money at the box office every week in the summer. They want to see big budget blockbusters like Iron Man 3, Man of Steel and World War Z. All three of these movies did things that TV just couldn’t do. And that’s fine.

The fact that TV is so great these days is why the mid-level adult dramas of yesteryear are so rarely seen on the big screen these days. It’s unfortunate for fans of adult cinema but for me it’s a simple migration. The quality is there – it’s just in a different medium. Perhaps we need to start accepting what the movies can and can’t do – and the same with TV.

But of course that’s not going to stop the desperate broadcast networks who can see their audiences slipping year after year. Already the networks are starting to adopt some smarter strategies – like more limited run series in the summer and less interruptions for serialized shows in the Fall. Now if they could just shake this obsession with trying to ape the movies it would be another step in the right direction…