Welcome to Nick Picks, a regular column by Nick Spake. There are countless important questions regarding the current state of cinema and I’m here to answer them.
There’ no denying that we’re currently in a golden age for a television. Most people would even argue that TV shows are better than most movies nowadays. Of course that’s largely because so many shows strive to have a cinematic touch. That’s not to say there still aren’t numerous procedural police dramas, multi camera sitcoms, and other programs with a more traditional television vide. This generation’s most acclaimed shows, though, look and feel more like mini movies than what television audiences have been used to in the past.
This is the case in almost every type of television program, from dramas like Game of Thrones, to comedies like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, to miniseries like The Honourable Woman, to animated shows like The Legend of Korra. The one facet of television that ironically hasn’t really evolved in recent years, however, is the made-for-TV movie. With so many shows taking on a more cinematic approach, you’d think there would be more quality TV movies out there too. Yet, most TV movies still feel like…well, TV movies. They’re cheesy, forgettable, and not good enough to play in theaters.
Now this isn’t the case will all TV movies. HBO Films produces a couple movies every year that attract major talent in front of and behind the camera. Recount, Temple Grandin, Game Change, Behind the Candelabra, The Normal Heart, all of these films have exceeded the possibilities for what TV movies can accomplish on production and storytelling levels. Even when an HBO film isn’t great, you can at least count on it being well made and well acted.
Bessie was no masterpiece and wouldn’t have been a huge contender if we were talking about the Oscars. However, it had no trouble walking away with the Outstanding TV Movie Emmy this year. It’s only real competition were two other HBO films, Nightingale and Hello Ladies: The Movie. The other three nominees were just lucky to go along for the ride.
HBO is the only network releasing high-quality TV movies. Other networks, primarily Lifetime, only view TV movies as a means to make a quick buck. Most of them are about trendy news stories, such as the Jodi Arias trial. Since most of these stories won’t even be relevant in another couple years, the networks need to rush them out as quickly as possible. Thus, the project rarely has any thought or effort put into it. The network just wants to get it done before the ship sails.
Sometimes a movie premieres on television simply because it was just too horrible for a theatrical release. The Weinstein Company’s Grace of Monaco was panned at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and ultimately ended up on Lifetime. Although the reviews from TV critics weren’t any better, Grace of Monaco was still nominated for an Outstanding TV Movie Emmy alongside Bessie. Why? Because only 38 TV movies appeared on the Emmy ballot this year and it was slim pickings. If they hadn’t gone with Grace of Monaco, they would’ve had to settle for Sharknado 2: The Second One.
The major broadcast networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and the CW) have seemingly given up on TV movies altogether. There’s so little interest in TV movies nowadays that the Outstanding TV Movie category was moved to the Creative Arts Emmy ceremony this year. Where television is peaking in almost every other department, TV movies are constantly taking a step backwards. This is a true shame as HBO has demonstrated time and time again that TV movies don’t have to suck. If anything, they can open our eyes to a lot of important people, historical events, contemporary issues, and new ideas.
There are countless filmmakers out there that have amazing stories they want to share with the world. They’ll never get the chance, however, because they can’t get the funding or support from a major movie studio. This is where more TV networks should come to the rescue. In many respects, TV networks have taken more chances than movie studios in recent years. This has paid off with some of the most ambitious TV shows of all time. If networks would only take chances on TV movies, this television renaissance would finally feel complete.