Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Boob Tube: On Television, Movies, and TV Movies

1. Last time I wrote about TV I talked about how I was a fan of the original CSI and its star William Petersen. This time I'm going to talk about another long running crime franchise, the venerable Law & Order, or to be more specific, Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Now I was a long time fan of the original Law & Order show, it was gritty, realistic, had clever twists, and tackled controversial subjects in a manner that was far more intellectually honest than most Hollywood fare. Then it started to change. A few years ago it dispensed with the gritty realism I enjoyed and somehow half the crime in New York somehow involved the Iraq War, and the other half were being committed by "creepy Christians." It became dull, grating, and worst of all, easily predictable. I tuned out, and judging by the ratings, so did a lot of other people.

Law & Order: CI also fell victim to this on occasion, and its ratings suffered accordingly, but it wasn't as militant as its parent show because it was a bit of a throwback, a more classical style murder mystery program about smart detectives tackling smart criminals.

Recently Chris Noth departed the show, and is being replaced by veteran actor Jeff Goldblum, last seen, at least by me, in the unjustifiably short-lived defective/detective drama
Raines. They also hired new executive producers to run the show, among them veteran writer/producer Walon Green, who wrote some pretty good episodes of the original show. I wish it luck, it could use it, some of the melodrama involving the characters took away from the cases, which are supposed to be the core of the show.

2. An interesting tid-bit, Guillermo Del Toro is developing a remake of the 1973 TV terror tale Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. The original film was part of what I consider the one pop-culture facet of the 70s worth reviving, the scary TV movie. Most of you young folks don't remember this, but through the 1970s and into the early 80s TV movies provided some of the best horror and suspense going.

You see Barry Diller, then an ABC exec, invented the TV movie as a weekly feature, and soon every network was producing their own stand-alone movies. They needed content, and horror and suspense was a guaranteed ratings grabber.

Now these films had tiny budgets, and were bound by codes of what could and couldn't be shown on TV that were much tighter than today, so the easy shock tactics of violence, gore, and aberrant sex, were out. This meant that filmmakers had to rely on
filmmaking to get the job done, and a surprising number of these films were pretty damn effective. Some like The Night Stalker, became cult classics, and Duel became a theatrical hit in Europe and bumped its neophyte director Stephen Spielberg into directing theatrical features, some of them doing very well.

Recently the 1981 TV movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow, which came near the end of the cycle recently replayed on a rainy afternoon. I had seen it when I was 11 years old and it scared the royal bejibbers out of me, and I was expecting to debunk its power watching it as a jaded adult, but I have to admit, it was still a damn well done scary movie. It reeked atmosphere, and despite its small budget, and lack of gore or elaborate special effects, it still worked.

Sadly, all good things come to an end. TV movies went on the wane in the 1980s, replaced by the miniseries era, adapting big soap-operaesque novels, with large casts, and long stories. But then even the miniseries faded from view, sunk by its own weight, and now, you'd be hard pressed to find any original stand alone movies on network TV.

Which is a shame. I think those films from that "golden era" of TV terror should be required viewing for any aspiring horror filmmaker. To let them know that you don't need to go disgusting to be scary, you just need a good scary story, and some skill.

Maybe Del Toro's film will spark a rebirth of the TV shocker, but I figure it will only lead to more remakes.

Dibs on Dark Night of the Scarecrow!

No comments:

Post a Comment