Peter Aspden remembers when TV wasn’t art, and certainly wasn’t something to talk about seriously:
When I was growing up in the 1970s, the lowliest form of cultural consumption was to stay home and watch television. All other art forms, any other art forms, were fine. To have made the effort to leave the house, travel to a temple of culture and see a performance or exhibition was proof of a refined engagement with the arts. To slouch on a sofa and be in thrall to a grotesque diet of cop shows, quizzes and soap operas was to opt out of culture altogether. […]
How different things are today. At the beginning of the 21st century, there is nothing sharper in the cultural firmament than American television writing. You don’t have to brave the multiplex or pay exorbitant theatre ticket prices to watch the most compelling drama, the most scabrous satire, the most committed actors. […] The ultimate act of cultural immersion used to involve going to see a Polish mime troupe in a downtown warehouse that couldn’t afford its heating bills. Today, it is to sink into a DVD box set for an evening of home-comfort transcendence.
It’s an oft-made point, but: the main reason you don’t find many big-budget feature dramas — or even breakout indie dramas — is that cable television has sucked away that audience. It’s a vicious circle: feature dramas tank, which makes studios even more reluctant to greenlight them, so the audience who would see them stays home and enjoys another excellent season of Mad Men.
But for writers, it’s not altogether bad. If you wanted to make a story like The Godfather today, would you do it as a feature or an HBO series?
Sure, I’d love for Hollywood to make more serious feature dramas, but I wouldn’t give them up for the outstanding series we have on TV right now.