Film TV

TV shows now – character vs. action

2014: Have you watched and good TV shows lately?
1995: Have you seen any good movies lately?

Justified - a character driven TV show
Justified – a character driven TV show

Sounds familiar? The last decade has been a great one for TV-shows. Looking at a list of shows that have been successful over the last 10-15 years, it´s hard to argue with this. You might not be a fan of all the shows on this list (I´m not), but they have nevertheless been at the forefront of a resurrection in TV-entertainment:

Boardwalk Empire
Game of Thrones
Breaking Bad
The Shield
Mad Men
Sons of Anarchy
The Wire
The Walking Dead
True Blood

These are just a few of the shows that have drawn millions of viewers to the screen week after week. Let´s also not forget House of Cards, the Netflix produced TV show featuring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.

House of Cards - another highly popular TV show
House of Cards – another highly popular TV show


Big Names

One factor in the success might be attributed to the way TV shows have managed to lure big name actors to its cast. Kevin Spacey being an obvious example, but let´s not forget Glenn Close (Damages), Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) and Jim Caviezel (Person of Interest). Anjelica Huston said it herself:

“A few years ago, a TV show might have been unthinkable to me”. She is now a regular on… you guessed it, a TV show.

Martin Scorsese directed the first episode of ‘Boardwalk Empire’, a TV show which also has Mark Wahlberg listed as an executive producer. Maybe one of the first cases of a really big name linked to a TV show came when Martin Sheen was casted as the President in ‘The West Wing’. He wasn´t supposed to be a full-time regular on the show, but his character was very well received, and he was there for the full 7 seasons.


The Characters

It seems to me that the TV shows of the last 10-15 years has been much more focused on characters then that of the 90s. ‘The Sopranos’ was one of the first ones to really go deeper into the characters (Tony Soprano even visited a psychiatrist), but TV shows like ‘The Wire’ showed a whole new way of telling a story. Instead of just doing good vs. bad, it showed us both sides of a story, or in the case of ‘The Wire’, all sides of a lot of stories. It went further then most TV shows in trying to not only show the characters, but explain the characters. Who is the character? Why is he/she doing what he/she is doing? What will the consequences be for the character? What are the consequences for the persons surrounding the character? Does it change the character?

The TV shows are, in my opinion, not longer action-driven. They are character-driven. A lot of emphasis is placed on making the characters of the show not only just a vessel for bringing the action forward. The characters are meticulously planned, and very often brilliantly casted. Who better to play Don Draper then Jon Hamm? Could anyone have pulled off a better Walt then Bryan Cranston? (The Emmy Awards would definitely say no to that one). To support my theory of the importance of characters vs. the action for a TV show, consider this fact:

Aaron Paul (who playes Jesse on Breaking Bad), was only cast for the first season. However, Vince Gilligan (creator of the show), liked his performance so much that he decided to keep him on. Needless to say, the show would have been a completely different show without Jesse´s character for the remaining 4 seasons. Character trumps action.

Aaron Paul in 'Breaking Bad'
Aaron Paul in ‘Breaking Bad’

Writer and creator of Sons of Anarchy (and co-writer on The Shield) Kurt Sutter is also one who is not afraid to let his characters decide where he goes next in his writing. He has said that the way the show will end is pretty much how he pictured it, but the road he went to get there is going to be different from what he imagined. “Characters, characters, characters” is the “location, location, location” of the 21st Century. And that could well be one of the reasons why so many people tune in every week. And why people ask their friends about TV shows instead of the movies.

Obviously, people still watch movies. And I don´t mean people never asked about TV shows 15-20 years ago. However, I do think that the entertainment generation of today are a lot more into both TV and Film. TV shows are no longer necessarily looked upon as the “poor man´s film”. The budgets are too huge for that. The stars are too big. And the quality is simply too high.

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