When I look at the summer movie season, full of bloated epics and 3-D sellouts, I say to myself no wonder a lot of good actors are turning to TV. Jack Lemmon said it all the time the last couple years of his life, that the quality writing in TV has truly increased.
Is the average movie or DVD rental as satisfying as two episodes of Lost, or Dexter, or The Good Wife, or Breaking Bad? Probably not. Maybe I'm just using good shows as examples, but that's what's been good about the explosion of cable. With so many channels, writers have more freedom to not have to try to please the greatest audience, something that movie producers feel the pressure to do, particularly for tentpoles. It's reverse of what it was 30 year ago. 30 years ago you had three channels and they were aiming to get 40 million people to watch. Now you have 3000 channels, and the networks are thrilled with 10 million viewers. Cable can be thrilled with 3 million viewers.
Meanwhile the arthouse theaters and the drive-ins are dying or dead. (Are there any drive-ins anymore? There were three within fifteen miles of my house when I was a kid.) Movies have multiplexes, and even though there's a 12-screen one here and a 14-screen one there and a 16-screen one there, they all are showing the same ten titles. And how often does a movie get buzz and play months after it opened? I remember I lived in Amarillo TX when E.T. came out, and it played in one theater for over nine months. Your biggest blockbuster these days has already been on DVD for five months at that point. It's not about what is good. It is about what can we market.
I watched the season finale of AMC's Breaking Bad yesterday. The suspense of the last few minutes was palpable, even though in the back of my head, I knew it was renewed for a fourth season. "How is he going to get out of this?" I'm lucky in any given year if I see two movies that make me feel the same way.