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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

question of the day: If you had to choose between never watching movies again or never watching TV again, which would you choose?

Here’s a new daily feature, just a little something to jumpstart conversation. Today:

If you had to choose between never watching movies again or never watching TV again, which would you choose?

I don’t mean for option 2 to mean no TV ever: I mean no dramatic or comedic fictional stories on TV, so you still to watch the news, weather, sports, and so on, everything other than one-hour dramas, sitcoms, and miniseries. (Films original to TV would fall into a gray area.) So the question, reframed, is, Do you prefer to get your visual narratives in the movies, or on TV?

I’d be loathe to give up either, of course, because both mediums tell different kinds of stories. But if held at gunpoint and compelled to choose, I’d probably dump movies. That probably sounds weird, coming from a film critic, but strictly as a lover of stories, I prefer those that focus more on character (as TV fiction tends to) than those that focus more on plot (as movie fiction tends to).

I don’t want to limit the discussion merely to that dichotomy. You may choose one over the other based on the convenience of TV over having to go out to the movies, or based on the sense of occasion going to the movies has over staying home to watch TV, and so on.



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  • I think I’d have to stop seeing movies. I only manage to get to the theatre about a half-dozen times a year and often wait for films to come to DVD before seeing them.

    I have to say I am more consistently disappointed by films over TV, probably because I expect that for the investment of money and talent poured into a feature that it should be held to a higher standard.

    TV, on the other hand, is easier to forgive a misstep because the episode after might rock your world.

    My preferred entertainment is (in order):
    Books
    TV
    Audio Drama
    Movies

    If I’d have to give them up, I’d do it in reverse order.

  • Jackie

    I’d give up TV – No question. The only reason we have cable is because we needed it for our internet connection.

    I don’t go out to the movies much – hardly at all, actually – because I get them from Netflix.

  • Rob

    I agree with you, MaryAnn. There’s something very compelling to me about a well-done, on-going narrative that is able to develop its characters in the long-term and continually draw on earlier adventures to add further depth to its story. Almost any single episode of “Doctor Who,” for example, is wonderful on its own, but when you take it as part of the structure of its overarching story arcs, the whole becomes a work of true genius. The best shows–like my favorites, “Doctor Who,” “Pushing Daisies,” “Six Feet Under,” and “The West Wing”–feel like a short film each week that is also part of a long serial, and that for me, is the ideal method of storytelling today.

  • I have too many movies in my DVD collection to pretend that I can give up movies all that easily. Plus there’s that whole nostalgia thing involved.

    That said, I find it harder and harder to justify the cost of going to see a movie in the theatre, especially when all too often I end up feeling like I should have brought a book to read during the film.

    To paraphrase a remark MaryAnn made about TV shows, a good movie should demand you pay attention to it. I haven’t seen many like that lately which is why I find myself going to the movies less and less. Granted, I’m no longer in the prime age group for movie-going as far as studios are concerned, but then that’s another problem. The studios are automatically writing off more and more of their potential audience–and they don’t seem to realize it. True, they’re laughing all the way to the bank but for how long?

  • JasonJ

    Dump the movies. I would miss them, but I rarely go to the theater anyway. For a lot of people, the theater is a total experience. For me the theater is driving to town, waiting in line, sitting in an uncomfortable chair, and having to look around a giant head and listening to some dumbass talking. And not being able to pause the movie when I have to go to the bathroom. And the cost, I can buy the DVD for $15 when it comes out and watch it at my house, at my leisure. When we went to Benjamin Button, we killed $30, at a matinee. Most of it was food. No one told us to buy the food, but it is hard to resist. So hard to resist. I watch a lot of tv, especially in the winter, so tv must stay.

  • Hdj

    Sports would still be on tv? Alright, I’d give up tv then easily. Tv shows you have to wait for pay offs, and movies in less then 2 hours or maybe a bit more, you get whole thing rather then waiting 13 episodes for something major to happen.

  • JasonJ

    Tv shows you have to wait for pay offs, and movies in less then 2 hours or maybe a bit more, you get whole thing rather then waiting 13 episodes for something major to happen.

    I like having to wait, or earn the payoff. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good movie too, but when I am watching a particularly compelling show, and it cliffhangs at the end of the episode, I like it. Gives me something to look forward to. If life was only instant gratification, we would all shoot ourselves in the head before the age of 30 or become drug addicts because there is nothing left to look forward too…

  • My answer would have been different 3-4 years ago when I was addicted to going to the movie theatre. But now I would miss the TV I get through Netflix (mainly cable and BritTV, including DoktaWhoo) more than I would miss movies. I Love the story development that is available in a mini-series or a series. Of course, I would probably weep not to see something like the newest HP movie. If the LotRs were still in progress, I’d really have a problem with this question. Actually I’ve always thought they should do HP as a TV series, anyway. So TV over movies for me. Whooda thot?

  • My first reaction to this question was, “Good God, TV of course!” because I rarely turn it on and when I do, I regret it as soon as the first commercial blares its way onto the screen and starts screaming at me to buy useless products that no one needs or wants.

    But then I thought…wait a sec, does she mean TV like…Doctor Who? Dead Like Me? Torchwood? I don’t think of those as TV because I watch them on DVD, but if they’re part of the TV I’d have to give up, then I’d be dumping movies.

    If I can make my own dichotomy, between “live” whatever–movies at the theatre, TV being broadcast or cablecast or whatever vs. DVDs no matter the content, then obviously DVDs win. My brother has a TV and DVD player and lives out of antenna range of anything and doesn’t have a cable or satellite connection. He just uses the TV to watch DVDs. If I lived alone, I’d do the same.

  • Jurgan

    I’d keep TV. I don’t watch that many broadcast shows anymore, but I do watch a good bit on DVD. I like long stories. I like getting to know characters and watching them change over time. Over two hours, a character can’t change that much. But when I compare, say, Cordelia in season 1 of Buffy with Cordelia in season 5 of Angel, it’s almost hard to believe they’re the same person (Wesley is equally striking). As for plot, I think well-done television actually has more interesting plots than movies, because it can last longer. Movies can’t offer anything like watching episode 22 of a show and seeing a payoff for something from episode 3. The trick, of course, is to have enough continuity to reward long-term viewers, but not so much that you intimidate new viewers. Most episodes should stand on their own. Gargoyles is probably the best example of that I know, and Buffy, again, is second. I’m actually a little bugged by the over-serialization of TV these days- a new viewer jumping on in midstream should be confused, but not completely lost.

    That said, there is of course a lot of dreck on TV, but I’m pretty picky. I’m not really the type to veg out in front of a screen for hours watching whatever’s on. But the type of shows I watch require enough commitment that I never really run out. DVD, of course, helps a lot with this, as I can watch long-running shows from the beginning rather than have to watch whatever episode’s on.

  • JasonJ

    The invention of the DVR has taken care of that pesky commercial problem for me. I rarely watch live TV. Anything I like is recorded for viewing at my leisure. I am still trying to figure out how society functioned before the DVR.

  • Chris

    Easy answer. TV all the way. Movies are great and all but I dont have to pay $9 everytime I want to see the latest episode of LOST. I have something to watch every night and I have over 300 channels to search through if I have nothing planned for viewing. With movies I cant just change the channel if I’m bored. I have to put up with the director and his terrible script for 2 hours or else I lose money. Best part is I get more bang for my buck when I buy the DVD’s of TV shows as well. 20 hours for $50 compared to 2 hours for $19.99. TV wins based on supply and demand as well as cost efficency.

  • Joey

    Not fair. I need my PBS documentaries, damn it! And which are those?

  • Katie Dvorak

    Would we not be able to watch TV DVDs?

    This is really hard because just off the top of my head I’d say I’d give up TV. But then I think of the few shows that I watch – for all that the TV is always on I have very few must-see shows – and I don’t know if I’d want to go without them.

    But then, while there seem to be so few movies that end up being worth seeing, could I really be ok not having seen ‘Dark Knight’ or rewatching ‘Princess Bride’.

    I honestly don’t know if I could choose. And I know I’m totally wimping out on this.

  • lunarangel01

    I would give up TV, hands down. So much of it is just trash these days. I can’t stand it. There is only one series that I am actually excited to watch from week to week: Mad Men. I also watch Heroes, but only after the DVD has come out. I keep my TV on in the background when I’m doing other things, but for the most part, I don’t have the patience for the nonsense on it. I prefer to surf the internet or read a book for fun when I’m at home.

    Plus, I actually enjoy going out to the movies. I don’t always enjoy some of the people that attend, but I prefer to be immersed in the story without distractions. Some movies are crappy, but because I’m picky about what I go see, I usually try to see things with good stories, writing, acting, etc. It’s hard to find that in TV shows these days.

    Also, TV commercials annoy me.

  • blake

    I’d dump the telly.

    I don’t have the patients for US telly…20 eps. a series zzzzz zzzz zzz z……

    British telly series are short but weak.
    Or just not my cup of tea. Not really a fan of period dramas and I don’t watch the Queens speech on Christmas day.

    Give me films any day.

  • Anne-Kari

    Would we not be able to watch TV DVDs?

    … I honestly don’t know if I could choose. And I know I’m totally wimping out on this.

    I’m right there with you, Katie.

    I would say I’d rather give up TV, but if it meant that I couldn’t watch my old Firefly dvds, I would balk.

    But these days, I NEVER watch TV on an actual television – not even Tivo anymore. I just wait for stuff to come up on Hulu and watch it there.

  • I’d stick with TV, easy. I love movies, but the films I enjoyed most I did not enjoy as much as the tv shows I enjoyed most, if that makes sense. I’m a character man, too — and if you can find even a trilogy of movies that has as much character as stuff like The Wire, Galactica, Firefly, Sopranos, Lost, Deadwood, even the deeper procedurals like the original CSI and sleeper hit Life, on and on and on… if you can find that trilogy I want to see it immediately.

    TV is cheaper too, and more convenient — it’s really the superior medium.

    I don’t have the patients for US telly…20 eps. a series zzzzz zzzz zzz z……

    Blake I think you’re watching the wrong shows. See my list above for more info. :)

  • Kate

    Wait…so give up Firefly.

    OR give up Serenity.

    Cannot. Choose. I. Love. Them. Both.

    I’ll be in my bunk….

  • dgrhm

    Movies are like short stories. They have a lot of action in a short amount of time. They seldom go into characterization as much as a television series can.

    TV can go further into plot and story than a movie can. A good series can be like a novel.

    Looking at the time commitment of each, tv series have more commitment. (Well they did before the advent of boxed sets of tv series and/or DVR-ing episodes.)

    Movies have less commitment and if done right can really be culturally impactful. TV series if done right can be the same, however they have a limited staying power. Some series stay on long after the series has grown stale. Some end at just the right time.

    Tough call. I’d give up tv though. I’d prefer the short commitment of time for entertainment than having to be at the mercy of programming execs and other corporate suits killing a favorite series over the long haul.

    Stories work best if the writers know there will be an ending. Open ended stuff becomes formulaic.

    If the choice was tv v. internet v. movies. I’d keep the internet and get rid of tv and movies in a second. :)

    Great question.

  • eric-jon rössel waugh

    Thing is, I think movies have pretty much been explored for all they’re worth. Although good movies can still be made and there are always new perspectives to experience, the medium has been broken down and exploited just about every way it can be.

    TV, on the other hand, is still developing. It’s not really until about ten years ago that it started to come unto its own as a long-form dramatic medium. The novel to cinema’s short story, if you will. The implications of this shift are only beginning to sink in, and I’m excited to see where the most talented writers and producers take the medium over the next ten to fifteen years.

  • angel

    This might have been easy a few years ago, but that would be before I became hopelessly addicted to British television, Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams, to name just a few.

    Live without Doctor Who? NEVER!

  • Joanne

    I’d give up movies. Giving up TV would mean giving up Doctor Who, and all the other shows I’ve loved over the years. Where would life be without the tension of a cliffhanger before next week’s episode?

  • I’ll take a slant on this and answer a slightly different question: I’d be much more willing to give up new films than new TV.

    I have big collections of both TV and films, but I’d miss new TV more. It’s pretty rare that a new film comes out that I actually feel enthused about seeing, and I’ve given up going to cinemas completely (if I have to wear earplugs just to be able to hear the dialogue, someone’s doing things wrong). Some TV is actually doing interesting things, perhaps because the budgets are usualy low enough that the thing doesn’t get focus-grouped to death to appeal to as many people as possible.

    Stuff I’ve enjoyed this season on TV (leaving aside the “guilty pleasures” such as CSI): Leverage, Hustle, Eureka, Galactica, Burn Notice, Chuck, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Middleman. And I can come up with that list off the top of my head.

    Stuff I enjoyed last year on film: um. I have to think about that. Wall-E had its moments. Iron Man was pretty decent (and I say that as a non-fan of comics). Death Race was mildly amusing with plenty of friends and beer.

  • MaryAnn

    you get whole thing rather then waiting 13 episodes for something major to happen.

    Good TV shows have good stuff in every episode. What you’re talking about it plot. If you need major plot, you need movies.

    Movies are like short stories.

    Yes. And TV shows — well, the good ones, anyway — are like novels, which I prefer over short fiction.

  • Paul

    I’d have to give up movies. I really like how the serialization of TV shows has let many of them reach depths of character and plot that couldn’t be done in a movie, and most of my favorite non-comedy movies were originally books anyway.

    Am I wrong, or was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” the first TV show to really use serialization on TV properly, aside from soap operas or Sam and Diane on “Cheers” trying to figure out if they had a relationship or not, which was more like a running gag.

  • Paul: Buffy started in 1997; Babylon 5 started in 1994. Then there’s Doctor Who’s series 23 (The Trial of a Time Lord) in 1986.

  • Am I wrong, or was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” the first TV show to really use serialization on TV properly

    You’re totally wrong :) Even if you only go back to the early nineties you have shows like ER and NYPD Blue that utilized long sweeping character arcs throughout their seasons.

    Going back further is harder for me because all I remember of the 80s is MacGyver and Quantum Leap, but think about shows like MASH, which while being kind of a week-to-week show was also hugely driven by characters and significant serialized developments. Someone a few years older than me could probably continue this more informatively, but I’m very confident that while Joss Whedon is certainly a creative genius, he was not the first person to do serialization “correctly”. :)

  • Paul

    Okay. When I was younger I guess I was mostly into watching sitcoms, and after college I only dipped in and out of electronic media.

    It’s actually a little funny that MaryAnn would allow us to keep watching news and such on TV, since news is the aspect of TV I take least seriously. It’s okay for a sudden breaking story, but in the hour someone else spends watching the news on TV you could also read Newsweek and know a heck of a lot more. Watching Fox News might actually count as anti-informative, while the Daily Show’s best humor (for me, anyway) is showing the news in context to show the contradictions in political speech. A lot of the time TV news just seems like reruns anyway.

    So can I keep the TV fiction and movies, and give up the news and sports instead? I mean, the last time someone asked me if I was going to watch the Superbowl, I asked who was playing. He looked at me as if I was an alien from outer space, and actually asked what planet was I from.

  • That’s a tough one. It depends where I am.

    If I’m in the US, and I have cable, I’d dump movies. Choosing between say, Damages and A Few Good Men… well Damages wins effortlessly. Though maybe that’s not a fair comparison.

    If I’m in Africa, it’s no contest. Movies win.

  • I give up movies, without any doubt.
    And I´m a big fan of going out to the cinema, I enjoy to share the experience of watching a movie surrounded by people commenting and laughing.
    But due to the poor quality of movies from one side , and the great variety of characters, stories, and the quality of productions like Mad Men, BSG, Doctor Who, True Blood, Studio 60 and so on, I can stay home and have all the emotions I want.

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