×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Indie Spirit Stirs Up TV Territory

Smallscreen becomes home for unique visions

If Sundance Channel’s limited series Top of the Lake from director Jane Campion and drama skein Rectify — a deliberately paced character study — signal anything, it’s that the cross-migration of independent film and TV is here to stay.

With studios increasingly focused on tentpole extravaganzas, the indie film market hurting and television in a new golden age, it’s no wonder more arthouse names are creating TV: Lena Dunham, Todd Haynes, Steven Soderbergh, to name a few.

On one level, says Vogue and Fresh Air critic John Powers, it’s the fruition of something that started in the ’80s when visionary David Lynch shocked everyone by making Twin Peaks for broadcast television.

“People watched that and said, ‘Oh, TV can be a lot more interesting,’” says Powers.

Sundance Channel exec veep Sarah Barnett says Rectify embodies the independent approach on television right now because it so completely reflects creator Ray McKinnon’s vision for the series.

“He has a distinct artist’s point of view,” Barnett says. “And some of the best shows we’ve seen in this much vaunted golden age have come from that dogged, persistent, singular perspective.”

The influence of indie film is already apparent. Breaking Bad and its criminal protagonist hit edgy indie territory all the way. A big reason Damian Lewis landed Homeland was his nervy performance in Lodge Kerrigan’s little-seen micro drama Keane. (Kerrigan was ultimately hired to direct a Homeland episode.)

FX, meanwhile, has tapped A Better Life star Demian Bichir and the director of the visually arresting Mexican film Miss Bala for its grim border thriller The Bridge. The network is also turning indie classic Fargo into a limited series, in conjunction with the film’s creators, Joel and Ethan Coen.

Even comedies have broken molds lately with indie-like traits: the documentary feel to The Office, the soulfully idiosyncratic stretches of Louie and the offbeat romantic quirkiness of Girls (from indie darling Dunham) and New Girl (which has occasionally hired director Lynn Shelton for episodes). Indie film writer-director Mark Duplass has been a regular on FX’s The League and recurs on Fox’s The Mindy Project.

FX president John Landgraf — who likes to call many of his network’s series “90-hour movies” — says as long as television continues to shed restraints and foster artistic visions, it’ll be what indie film was in the ’80s and ’90s, what United Artists was in the ’70s and what Broadway was in the ’50s: the place to be for cutting-edge human interest narratives.

“What we’ve always tried to do is, rather than be a factory, is be a sort of artisanal colony where people come and make their particular works,” says Landgraf. “You look at the people who are in our office” — Alexander Payne and Charlie Kaufman each have shows in development at FX — “and that’s a reflection of the fact that filmmakers are going to go where they can get their stories told.”

Rectify and Breaking Bad executive producer Mark Johnson sees success parameters in movies and television draw more indie talent to TV. “A feature, to succeed, has to do big business,” he says. “A TV show can succeed and still only (get) 2 million pairs of eyeballs.”

The upshot, he believes, is that filmmakers won’t view television as an also-ran anymore. Says Johnson: “I think people coming out of film school are as apt to turn to television as to features, and 10 years ago, nobody was doing that.”

More TV

  • Noah CentineoNickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, Show,

    Kids’ Choice Awards 2019: JoJo Siwa, Noah Centineo Take on Bullying

    This year’s Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards was full of positivity and encouragement to be yourself. DJ Khaled, known for his upbeat mantras, hosted the 32nd annual awards ceremony alongside JoJo Siwa at USC’s Galen center. Siwa accepted the award for favorite social music star. Siwa said in her acceptance speech, “I get hated on every [...]

  • Bette Midler, Judith Light Join Netflix's

    Bette Midler and Judith Light Join Ryan Murphy's 'The Politician' on Netflix

    Bette Midler and Judith Light will guest star on “The Politician,” the first series Ryan Murphy will launch on Netflix after he inked a deal with the streamer last year. Murphy made the announcement at the end of Saturday’s PaleyFest panel for his FX series “Pose,” and noted that Midler and Light will both appear [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Billy Porter, Indya MooreFX's

    Patti LuPone Joins FX's 'Pose' as Season 2 Jumps to 1990

    “Pose” co-creator Ryan Murphy revealed that Broadway legend Patti LuPone will guest star on the upcoming second season of the FX drama, and that the series will jump ahead to 1990. Murphy made the announcement while moderating the “Pose” panel at PaleyFest on Saturday, telling lead actress MJ Rodriguez that she will share many scenes [...]

  • The Good Doctor

    Series Mania: Freddie Highmore Talks ‘The Good Doctor,’ Arsenal, Norman Bates

    LILLE, France —  God, Freddie Highmore’s good at crying. There’s a scene in “Neverland,” screened at his Series Mania masterclass, where he’s acting opposite Johnny Depp. His mother has just died. Highmore sits on a park bench, clutching a notebook, which she helped as tears well in his eyes, and he tries to keep in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content