TV and movies have done a mind meld

Tentpole movies are just old-fashioned series airing in slow motion

The “Mad Men” season five contract flap somehow put me in mind of the original “Star Trek,” and how, after surviving one cancellation, it wheezed to its swan song after three seasons.

In that ghastly last episode a woman switches bodies with Captain Kirk. It goes without saying she failed as captain. At the end, the body-switching was undone and the men of the Enterprise strode shoulder to shoulder into cancellation.

I think TV and movies have done a kind of body-switch of their own since “Star Trek” left NBC. Today’s movies resemble the TV of my childhood, while TV series like “Mad Men” look more like movies used to.

For that, the credit (or blame) goes to changing technology.

Having grown up in the ’60s and ’70s, far from a major city, the media landscape I remember looked like this: Television was three free over-the-air channels (Or four, if you had public TV). So a hit show was a mass experience. There was no way to record it, and reruns were at the discretion of the network, so TV was also ephemeral. You either watched when it aired, or you missed it altogether.

TV then couldn’t be niche-y. “Star Trek’s” passionate following was too small for NBC.

On the movie side, all releases were platformed until the mid-’70s, when wide releases started. Movies also played a lot longer; I think “The Godfather” was in theaters in my area for around a year.

Movies were less ephemeral than TV in those days, because they’d occasionally play on TV. There were revival houses, and schools would rent prints and screen them.

The shift to wide movie openings and shorter windows roughly paralleled two tech revolutions: cable TV, with its multitude of channel options; and homevideo, including time-shifted TV.  As they caught on, the TV audience splintered. The promise of cable was “narrowcasting,” and sure enough, TV got more niche-y. “Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Dexter” little resemble the skeins of my childhood.

Meanwhile, as studio movies shifted to wide openings, movie attendance became more front-loaded. Auds are pressed to show up the first weekend. As a result, wide-opening movies are the mass cultural experience TV used to be. Instead of “Did you see ‘MASH’?” it’s “Did you see ‘Harry Potter’?”

It’s no wonder, then, that this summer’s release schedule feels like a TV lineup from the 1960s, or that movie studios are being run by people with a TV background. Tentpole movies are really just old-fashioned TV series airing in slow motion. Marvel superheroes and the Transformers, once TV staples, will be on movie screens in 2011. “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” with its mix of action, comedy and general weirdness, is a distant cousin to “The Wild, Wild West.”

Not airing this year, but coming soon, will be episode two of one of Paramount’s hit series, er, franchises: “Star Trek.”

No wonder it’s hard to get originals made nowadays. Big-budget originals are pilots at heart. And most pilots still fail.

By the way, the whole filmed-entertainment biz might be in the middle of its next body-switch. It’s taking on the personality of a Web retailer, where we browse for shows on streaming sites just like we shop Amazon for books or iTunes Store for music.

So Matt Weiner and AMC: Hurry up and get that deal done. If you wait too long, the media landscape you’re thriving in may be a thing of the past, like painfully sexist “Star Trek” scripts and Don Draper’s three-martini lunches.


Bits & Bytes: Broadcast tech company Ionoco has established a permanent office in Los Angeles. Company’s managing director Simon Ingram has been appointed prexy and he will recruit a local staff and work with head of production Holly Carter to set up the U.S. office. Ionoco clients include Fremantle Media, Endemol USA and Mark Burnett Productions. … The growth of 3D is also driving adoption of 7.1 audio. There have been 1300 global installations of Dolby 7.1 since June 2010. Among studio pics to use the audio format are: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Cars 2” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” … Xpand and Panasonic have created a new standard for active-shutter 3D glasses for TV, 3D projectors and cinema. The M-3DI standard will be available for licensing next month. A universal standard for active-shutter glasses like Xpand’s would let consumers bring their own 3D glasses to Xpand-equipped theaters or bring them along to watch 3D events at friends’ homes. Today M-3DI uses infrared to sync the active glasses with the picture, so it interferes with most remote controls, but Xpand and Panasonic expect radio sync to be the next step. … Kerner Technologies has inked a deal to provide two Kernercam 3D rigs to Panavision Canada. Kerner will show off its new Kernercam 3D rigs at NAB. … Sensio has expanded its 3D Live network, pacting with CGR Cinemas in France to bring 3D live content to 34 screens. First event programmed to the French screens was rugby’s RBS 6 Nations Championship on March 19. … Dolby has introduced its next-generation 3D glasses. New glasses are compatible with existing Dolby installations. Dolby says they’re lighter, more comfortable, more durable and deliver better performance. They’re also $12/pair, far less than the rollout price for the original Dolby glasses, and have RFID tags to help cut down theft… Verizon FIOS TV will add ESPN 3D next week, in times for the net’s coverage of the Masters golf tournament and the NBA playoffs. … Grizzly Adams Productions is releasing docu special “the Fabric of Time,” about the Shroud of Turin, on 3D Blu-ray in time for Easter. Company is working with Passmore Labs to convert 500 of its 700 features, TV shows and docus to 3D. …

AMC Cinemas is going with Cinedigm’s Exhibitor Management Solution for revenue auditing and consolidation, film rental settlements and payments for its sites in North America. … DLP Cinema reports very strong growth in 2010, with the number of DLP d-cinema projectors deployed nearly doubling. Dave Duncan, who manages DLP Cinema for Texas Instruments, predicted “nearly one-half of the world’s theater screens will be converted to DLP Cinema by the end of 2011.” … Wehrenberg Theatres has selected NEC d-cinema projectors for 210 screens in the Midwest. … SMPTE has announced a series of workshops on implementing file-based workflows. Events are skedded for Montreal May 12; Toronto May 14; Atlanta May 24; and the Boston area May 26.

Software maker GenArts has added Amir Malin to its board of directors. Malin is a former CEO of Artisan Entertainment. … Vancouver-based CG animation studio Rainmaker Entertainment is launching its own YouTube Channel with the animated short feature “Zapped!.” Pic features two animated characters, Ting and Juma, developed as mascots for the company. It will also be available on the company’s website. … Gravity (formerly RhinoFX) created the main and end titles for Universal’s “The Adjustment Bureau” and was lead vfx shop on the picture. Gravity has also added Mette Werdelin-Walter as staff producer. She will be based in New York and focus mainly on commercials, while crossing over to features and digital where needed. … LOOK Effects’ New York facility contributed visual effects for “Limitless.” Dan Schrecker was vfx supervisor … The International Colorist Society will hold its 50th class April 4-7 in Chennai, India.

Want to comment or suggest a column topic? Email david.cohen@variety.com

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