I recently saw the premiere of a new show on a streaming platform. In places it was sloppy, smug, junky. But it ended on an enticing cliffhanger. Against my better knowledge, I became addicted. Then I navigated back to the menu to see how much engagement I would make if I stuck with it. I knew it was a limited series: surely it couldn’t be more than three episodes – four at most. You don’t have to imagine my shock and horror when I found out there were seven. You, dear reader, have probably had this experience yourself as more and more TV platforms have entered your life, each one crammed full of new shows vying for your limited time and attention. And you probably have Also I’ve had the experience of finishing a season of a television show — five or eight or 13 episodes — and I thought, Those five or eight or 13 mediocre episodes might have made a pretty tight movie.
These days, the savvy agent is likely to tell his clients that their feature film script ideas would be easier to sell as a series, and the math backs it up. In 2021, viewers potentially had access to 559 scripted original series — a new record — compared to 403 films, according to FX Content Research. The film count is less than half the 2018 peak of 873 and has of course been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic thanks to production challenges as well as caution about audiences’ willingness to see films in theaters (although the last Times I checked, streaming platforms also had exclusive movie releases).
But agents have agendas, and I have mine. And as an avid viewer, I can report that many of the ideas that made it to my TV felt like two hours of solid story had been painfully stretched into 10. And it has to stop. With that goal in mind, I’ve created a checklist that developers can use as a guide during the development process: How to know if your show should actually be a movie.
(Slight spoilers ahead for the guardian, the doom, and severance pay)
1. It’s a genre your audience has seen many times… in movies.
Last week one of the top TV titles on Netflix was a new limited series called The Observer. It’s a fictional setting inspired by a true story about a New Jersey family who bought a century-old house and before they even moved in received disturbing letters from an apparent stalker. Psycho Turns Family’s Dream Home into a Nightmare is a reliably unsettling quasi-horror enactment in movies Pacific Heights to panic room to Terrace with lake view. Dennis Quaid was even on screen on both sides of this conflict, in Cold Creek Manor and The Intruder; and The Observeris own Naomi Watts previously starred in 2011 Dream house.
But! The Observer Also, my film often falls under a different genre: it’s about a long hoax. The Brannock family in focus The Observer is surrounded by devious strangers trying to sell fantastic stories (literally surrounded, since many of them are their nearest neighbors). It’s clear someone is trying to get the Brannocks to move out of the house, but they don’t know who or why; All we know as viewers is that they probably shouldn’t trust everyone They didn’t know before they bought the house.
Both genres work in films because they promise catharsis – the family will triumph over their antagonists; The details of the con will be revealed, and viewers will either marvel at its complexity or congratulate themselves for already figuring it out. Movies generally deliver. The Observer is based on an unsolved case, so there isn’t one real to have resolution. However, since the show deviates from true events in many cases, series creators Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan could came up with one, but they didn’t do it. Instead, they left at least one viewer feeling offended at being wanked around for seven hours.
And so it doesn’t look like I’m just hacking around The Observer (although I’m not quite done with that yet), HBO’s The doom also falls into this category. A woman was killed. thriller? There is one very obvious suspect, but as the series stretches over six episodes, more and more possible culprits are presented, only for the killer to be eventually revealed exactly who you probably thought in the pilot. This is entertainment abuse.
2. You filled up your running time with action that goes nowhere.
Another knock The Observer: As I wrote above, this is a scam, so any viewers who have seen movies before will be wary of absorbing any shocking new details or seemingly empathetic new friend at face value. The Observer quickly jumps into the absurd: In the second episode, homeowner Dean (Bobby Cannavale) is led by his private detective Theodora (Noma Dumezweni) to meet Andrew (Seth Fork) who owned the house before Dean. Andrew’s story quickly escalates with the strange occurrences that Dean has also witnessed – receiving spooky letters; Music mysteriously played over the home’s intercom – to his young son reporting a ceremonial blood sacrifice by pensioners across the street. If Dean does Not believe that aging neighbors Mitch and Mo (Richard Art and Margo Martindale) routinely consume youthful blood for the adrenochrome, a theory that is seriously presented, then he should probably question it all Andrew told him; If he does believe and continue to live in the house, then how can we take care of everything else that happens to him later?