If it's crap ... We'll tell you
“If you want to get ahead in this life, read books.” At least that’s what my parents used to tell me. “Don’t watch TV, there is nothing but garbage on it.” was another saying my parents often repeated.
However, I mainly grew up in the 90’s, and television was harder to follow back then. We didn’t have collections of television seasons, or the ability to watch what we wanted to on the internet. It was a completely different entertainment landscape.
Sure you could come across the occasional great episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Frasier, but overall, television of the nineties was dominated by stupid game shows, and sitcoms that are hard to sit through when watched today. Back then, most of the dramatic shows even had to have self contained episodes.
Since the rise of the internet, and the invention of the DVD, television shows can now tell long slow paced stories, and not worry about new audiences being unable to catch up. Look at the TV show 24. When it first came out, it was a huge gamble, they cast and crew didn’t even know that they could get a whole season out of it. But thanks to the ability to go to the internet, and watch the episodes you just missed, the show picked up a large enough fan-base to justify finishing its current season, and starting work on a second one.
But when 24 really took off in popularity, was when the complete first season box set was released. Now fans could watch and own the complete (at the time) story, realizing that it was more than the sum of its parts, and recommend it to their friends.
Other shows started to do the same, and before you knew it, people weren’t just being able to follow shows that remained heavy on continuity, they were demanding them.
HBO raised the bar for quality adult story telling with their hit, The Sopranos. Not only was there now a dark television show that in no way targeted family audience, (well, it depends on what definition of family we’re using,) but it’s one that discouraged drawn out padding, spin-offs, merchandisable characters and other key factors companies usually go for when creating a show.
FX did a similar quality show with their mature series The SHIELD, this was a heavy drama, that was about one man’s rise and fall. Everyone on the show was three dimensional, flawed, and better characterized than what you would see in most books.
Even the more viewer friendly television show LOST, decided to up the narrative storytelling a bit. Not just with its main mystery, but by its use of motifs, symbols, philosophy, and the unknown connections between characters before the timeline of the show even began. Most books wouldn’t even have been able to balance out and describe the characters journey as well as the show did.
Slowly, we’re even seeing failed shows that tell their stories in ways that modern books just aren’t trying to do anymore. Listen to the dialogue and narration in Pushing Daisies, or the oddball pseudo-biblical atmosphere that dominated the show CARNIVALE. Those shows were prematurely ended, and yet, they tell better stories than most the books we have today.
But my parents would tell me that there are a lot of excellent books that I haven’t found yet. And they’d be absolutely right. Most books don’t have the budget or people behind them to get the attention that television shows have. So if you really want to get your work out to the largest potential audience, you’re not going to do it by throwing your novel’s draft to a bunch of independent publishers. You’re going to do it by pitching your idea to a television studio that can act out what you created in your mind.
This brings out another observation: books are becoming more like television.
Many paperback novels have enough information in them to be a one or two part episode of a television show. Sometimes you get a mammoth 2000 page book that holds enough story-lines to create a season around, but it’s getting to the point where books are being paced so that they can be adapted into movies or television shows.
I don’t blame the writers for this, since if you want to make some extra money, you’ll probably have to write something that can be adapted for television or film. Financially, it just makes sense. The problem is that if your final vision of the story is to see it turn into a film, than why should I bother reading about it, when the writer clearly intends for me to see it on acted out.
Hardcover novels, that are promoted by the stores and publisher, are now easier and less challenging to read than ever. The prose have become simpler and dumbed down, and the plots are skimmed so that they could fit into a two and a half hours of screen time.
Slowly, the books on my walls, had become replaced by television shows and mini-series. And now I can argue that I have a much better quality collection. And here’s the kicker…it’s cost me less than my parents old book collection cost them.
If you buy a hardcover book new, it’ll cost you anywhere from $25 to $35 Canadian. Meanwhile, I can buy a DVD set that has been out for a year for under $25 (and that includes tax.)
How about a mini-series? Paperback copies of the book DUNE sell new in stores for $10.99 (CAN) I can buy the whole mini-series retelling of that book new, for $10 at a grocery store.
Plus, if I ever want to resell these, I know I’ll make more money back than if I ever tried to resell any of my books.
So looking at price, quantity, quality, and accessibility of modern day television shows versus modern day books, I’d have to say that the shows have won over. What would my parents think? They’d probably be impressed by the quality of the material than I am currently spending my time enjoying.