I have been hearing the term Long-form television a lot recently. It is a term I had never heard of a few years ago. There doesn’t appear to be a single definitive definition of the term, for the purposes of this article I will take it to describe a TV show with a story arc that runs across multiple episodes. In some cases this can run over an whole season, or the run of an entire show.
Although most of the shows I grew up with were made up of single plot episodes there were a few that would fall into what we now call long-form. These days every other show seems to be long-form, they aren’t limited to any particular genre. The Wire and the Danish show The Killing, cover crime drama, Homeland is a spy thriller; House of Cards a political drama, Battlestar Galactica, Sci-Fi, The Walking Dead, Horror; Game of Thrones, fantasy.
I was initially skeptical about talk of television being better than films. However I am beginning to see the benefit of some of the best examples. It would be impossible make a film with the characters and plot strands seen in Game of Thrones, even if it was a Peter Jackson length film. I am not however a total convert, the limitations of length of feature films can promote creativity and result in the true art. There is also something appealing about watching a complete story, and that is what prompted me to write this. I recently watched all eight episodes of True Detective in two sittings. It struck me that not only was I watching it like a film, but this was the best way to watch it. When I thought about it isn’t the first time I have binged on TV shows, I am actually watching Boardwalk Empire as I write this.
It appears I am not alone, listening to the Rotten Tomatoes podcast, they talk of television as cinemas equal and are as interested in the new shows as they are in new film releases. In the latest episode the main topic of conversation was season two of Orange Is the New Black and how they intended to binge watch it. This is possible thanks to Netflix releasing the whole season in one go and not showing it over three months the way it would be on TV. We are watching TV shows as (long) films, this is interesting as films are becoming more like TV with franchises and book series adaptations.
Cinema is still my first love, television is not cinema and will never be cinema, it is a very different beast. I am however happy to enjoy televisions renaissance and the quality shows that it is delivering. But more importantly the way the internet has given us a new, easier and more flexible way of enjoying it. Whatever happens, I am sure people will look back on this time as a time of change in media, hopefully it will continue to be a change for the better.