Films “made for T.V.” are a fascinating entity in terms of the way the medium has developed since its inception. If we take the American film and television industry as an example, the promotion of ‘feature’ length programmes emerged at a time when Hollywood was experiencing a dramatic decrease in cinema admissions and increasing financial trouble in the early 1960s. The television industry sought to capitalise on the decreasing cinema market and assumed a strategy that would convince audiences to stay at home and watch programmes that looked like films. From this moment television films have evolved into a credible and often enjoyable genre.

The television movie has often been a touchy subject within the film community, mostly because it’s seen as an industry that nearly brought the downfall of cinema, but also because of its use of low budget effects or the fact that some are merely an hour-long extension of television episodes. However, the genre has developed to such an extent that even the most established film directors and crews are trying their hand. An interesting example is Spike Lee who has often used television to air either his politically driven documentaries such as When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts, or a powerful feature length film such as A Huey P. Newton Story. Television is certainly a great way of reaching a mass audience, yet it is surprising how far television films have gone in giving themselves a bad reputation. One of the most recent examples being the atrocious re-hashing of the Alfred Hitchcock classic The 39 Steps. This is not to say that all television films are woeful in their attempts to create a cinematic feel for television, in some cases the genre can be much more valuable to us than it is sometimes given credit for. Mike Nichols, Academy Award winner for The Graduate, returned to television with a wonderful production named Wit in 2001 and achieved great success with nominations at the Golden Globes and Satellite Awards, ceremonies that both celebrate the best television films of the year. Such television films prove they can be engaging and original and certainly shouldn’t be ignored just because they’re on the small screen.

One of my favourites among the television film genre is the pilot ‘episode’ of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a fantastically low budget film that has the aesthetics of a straight to DVD production, but was successful in kick starting a brand new strand of a well known franchise. What this pilot did was bypass the financial risk of a theatrical release and establish a narrative from which a series could possibly be born. This is an example of what can be produced for television, a truly enjoyable film that you can watch without leaving the comfort of your home. What the genre doesn’t need is a continuation of film adaptations that were meant for the screen and the screen alone.

Jack Jones

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10 Comments

  1. Michael
    May 8, 2010 at 18:23 — Reply

    There were actually a lot of television films before the 1960’s. Perhaps you should research more carefully next time. Also, I don’t think you can legitimately claim that “even the most established film directors and crews” make television films. I don’t see Spielberg, Jackson, Ridley Scott, Nolan, Pierre Morel or Michael Bay coming out with any.
    Another problem with your article is where you attempt to say how television films often give themselves a bad name, and cite one example to prove this. Well, congratulations! yes there are some bad television films, and there are also some bad films for cinema as well, and then there are also some good television films and some good cinema films. That’s how it works!
    Also, the example you use of The Thirty Nine Steps television movie is very misjudged, as you describe it as a re-hashing, when in actual FACT it is a far closer adaptation of the novel than Hitchcock’s “re-hashed” film was. Perhaps you should read the book next time before making snap criticisms. Why you would deem the book as meant to be adapted for “the screen and the screen alone” I have no idea, and I suspect neither do you.
    Finally, the Star Trek Next Generation episode I assume you are referring to was not a pilot, it was just an extended edition to kick off the new series. I don’t know what you are talking about in terms of it being a non-risk way of restarting the brand. The series had already been commisioned, the next episode was shown a week later, just like every other TV show. Hence, it wasn’t a TV film.
    At the end of the day, perhaps people who don’t know much about films shouldn’t be writing articles about them.

  2. May 9, 2010 at 17:47 — Reply

    Michael, to respond to your criticism I will encourage you to read the final sentence of your response and apply it to yourself.
    If you take a look at TV movie history, a tiny proportion was made before the 60’s and moving into the early 1970’s there was a massive boom. To pull Jack up on that is merely nitpicking.
    For me, you response was entirely invalidated when you claimed that Spielberg had never made a TV movie. May I point you towards Duel (1971), perhaps you would like to apologise to Jack for your foolishness?
    The general jist of this article is aimed towards the history of the TV movie. I suggest you do your homework before you criticise in the future.

  3. Chris Jones
    May 10, 2010 at 11:03 — Reply

    I am even more confused about what Movies on Tv means, I thought it was going to be about films actually being on TV, but the article makes no sense. If the article is trying to say how films ended up being tv shows then it doesn’t really come across very clearly.

    Which leads me to wonder why is there an article about it, as there is no real point to it. And if there is one, its not very well argued.

  4. Jack Jones
    May 11, 2010 at 09:09 — Reply

    Firstly my apologies for prompting such contemptuous responses from such a seemingly banal article about television feature films. Maybe next time I should deny the holocaust actually happened or claim that Chris Moyles is in fact quite a talented bloke and is just misrepresented as a fat, ignorant git, to see what the reaction would be.
    I have previously made it a rule not to reply to forums or comment boards, mainly on the basis that is becomes a tedious back and forth argument with often anonymous people who are too cowardly to even invent a last name, but also because any normal human being who hasn’t been lobotomised by facebook will see that there are plenty more valuable things to do with your time.
    To my fault perhaps I wasn’t quite clear enough about television movies in the article. Essentially what I was exploring was the concept of television films and how the genre has emerged as a consequence of making something for television that looks like a film, but is in fact a lot cheaper to make, therefore eliminating much of the risk of making a full theatrical release. The article is not about motion pictures that are exhibited on television, because quite frankly that would be as boring and unnecessary as the adverts that interrupt them. I am merely suggesting that TV films have progressed and if they are not simply remaking something that was a popular cinema hit.
    I am sorry Michael that you are unfortunate enough to have been deprived of a surname and that I have offended you to the point of upper casing. I would however question your criticisms of the article. Yes, TV films had been around before the 1960s, but not until the very late 50s had the dramatic increase of television sets occurred, so in fact the correlation of rising TV films does follow the rise in TV sets purchased and the decline of cinema in the 1960s. It is interesting that Scott raises Spielberg’s Duel, as we are both FILM students who have been studying this TV FILM in our FILM classes for our FILM degrees for the last three years. FACT! (You see Michael every keyboard has a caps lock you know, not just yours)
    You also claim I cannot legitimise my article because you don’t personally see some of the most established directors making TV films. Well if you would like me to suggest a number to you, I do in fact have a slightly better knowledge of the film industry than you give me credit for. For example Francis Ford Coppola made The Haunting for TV with Roger Corman, Michael Mann made L.A. Takedown, Danny Boyle made two TV films for the BBC, Strumpet and Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise, Clint Eastwood made a documentary film for TV named Piano Blues, which was also produced by Martin Scorcese, Sidney Lumet made Strip Search for HBO and of course Spielberg made the aforementioned Duel. Hopefully these directors and filmmakers are established enough for your liking.
    I suppose I could now list a few examples of poor TV films, considering one just isn’t enough for you. The BBC/HBO two part remake of The Day of the Triffids, which totalled 3 hours of quite tiresome watching, the 1996 Doctor Who film starring Paul McGann that killed off hope of a new series for another nine years and of course Peter Bogdanovich’s woeful sports drama Hustle. I could continue but I wouldn’t like to sound too facetious.
    Your argument about Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps seems quite futile considering it is widely known that Hitchcock’s adaptation of John Buchan novel is a seminal British film and is among the elite of the BFI’s British film poll. I was simply stating that the 2008 version is of grave insignificance in comparison to a cinematic classic. On another note, I have read the original text and in fact saw a theatre adaptation in which my uncle played a leading role, but I wouldn’t like to start name dropping in case of sounding like someone who clearly has too much time on their hands. To assume I have no knowledge of the novel is extremely ignorant, you are no doubt one of Chris Moyles’ biggest fans. But to suggest that Hitchcock “re-hashed” the original novel is quite astounding and that despite claiming that the recent BBC production was closer to the book, what difference does that make when it still results in load of nonsense.
    On the issue of Star Trek: The Next Generation I have particular issues with your criticism. Creator Gene Rodenberry considered Encounter at Farpoint a pilot, as he was anxious about making a new theatrical release on the basis that the recent Kirk and crew features had underwhelmed. Thus Rodenberry sought to make a TV film where he could launch his new creation on the back of received popularity. As a consequence The Next Generation became a highly successful syndicate programme, without any network affiliation, thus to claim the series had been “commissioned” is in fact incorrect when the series was privately distributed among a number of channels. It is indeed correct that there were subsequent episodes in the coming weeks, but had the film been a flop it would have almost certainly been cancelled.
    In fact in its original airing, the main cast were credited only with their names and not alongside their character’s credits as they were during the run of the series (as in “Starring Patrick Stewart” instead of “Starring Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard”, etc.) This was done because on its original airing, it was billed as a television movie, therefore your summary that Encounter at Farpoint “wasn’t a TV film” is invalid.
    To say “At the end of the day, perhaps people who don’t know much about films shouldn’t be writing articles about them” was a little hasty considering every point you have put forward is complete drivel. Perhaps the next time you consider commenting so wisely, you should remain in your alcohol and porn induced coma.

  5. Jack Jones
    May 11, 2010 at 16:46 — Reply

    PS
    Anyone who uses Michael Bay in any form of argument or as an example of a credible filmmaker, clearly is without any knowledge of cinema or even the most basic level of human intelligence

  6. Adam
    May 11, 2010 at 17:35 — Reply

    Whoa! Firstly: Jack — nice article, interesting points and a definate whiff of the New Hollywood about it, always good to see study in practice. Secondly: Michael. There are words to describe you which I am sure would mean this could never be read – so I leave the imagining to you. Put simply: you are an arrogant and self-important fool.

  7. Adam
    May 11, 2010 at 17:41 — Reply

    P.S — I was going to make some points about how wrong Michael was but I see everything has been neatly dealt with. Good work. Could also mention that Steven Spielberg is produced Band of Brothers and Pacific.

  8. Michael
    May 15, 2010 at 19:21 — Reply

    In response to these comments:
    In your article Master Jones, you said about TV films
    “the genre has developed to such an extent that even the MOST ESTABLISHED film directors and crews are trying their hand.”
    Francis Ford Coppola made The Haunting for TV with Roger Corman, BEFORE HE WAS ONE OF THE MOST ESTABLISHED FILM DIRECTORS.
    Spielberg made the aforementioned Duel in 1971 BEFORE HE WAS ONE OF THE MOST ESTABLISHED FILM DIRECTORS.
    Michael Mann made L.A. Takedown in 1989 BEFORE HE WAS ONE OF THE MOST ESTABLISHED FILM DIRECTORS.
    Also, Sidney Lumet made Strip-Search in 2004 after a string of slated flops with his career virtually over, so hardly a good example. Once again, your research has been very poor and almost all your examples are wrong.
    (Adam, Band of Brothers and Pacific are TV series, not films. Like Chris Jones, clearly you didn’t understand Master Jones’s article; it must have been written even more badly than I originally thought.)
    I decided to make the point about the 1950’s TV films as your article misleadingly suggests that the genre started in the 1960’s.
    Also, in your article you discussed “the atrocious re-hashing of the Alfred Hitchcock classic The 39 Steps.” The definition of rehashing is “to rework, or make over (old or already used material).” My point is that Hitchcock’s film was the rehash as he was the one to change elements of the book, unlike the TV film which adhered more closely to the original text. Next time, why don’t you consult a dictionary before using terms you obviously don’t understand. At no point did I make any comment regarding the respective quality of either production, although the TV film is nowhere near as bad as you say.
    Also, congratulations once again, you have listed some more examples of poor TV films, and there are other examples of poor TV films. and there are also some examples of good TV films, and there are also some examples of bad cinema films, and there are also some examples of good cinema films. THAT’S HOW IT WORKS. Clearly you didn’t understand my sarcasm. I wasn’t suggesting there weren’t other examples, I was suggesting you were stating the obvious. Hopefully you understand now.
    Finally, regarding Star Trek The Next Generation. I’m glad to see you refer to it as “a series”, undermining your whole point, and by the way, even syndicated TV series have to be commissioned, i.e. by the production company that makes them. To say that the series was “launched on the back” of a successful TV film is misleading as the other episodes had already been filmed, as usually happens with TV series. THEREFORE IT WASN’T A TV FILM.
    You talk of doing film studies as if that were anything other than a reason to be tremendously ashamed. When you study psychoneuroimmunology like I do, you’ll realise that writing articles about TV films is essentially a waste of time.
    It’s a shame you felt the need to resort to mindless abuse in the face of fair criticism. Perhaps a more mature attitude would help you in future.

  9. May 15, 2010 at 21:35 — Reply

    All of this started going a little bit over my head when Jack mentioned the holocaust and Chris Moyles in the same sentence, but I would just like to say that Michael Bay is a wonderful filmmaker, and should not be used as a disparaging punchline!

  10. Albert Wallace
    May 16, 2010 at 22:03 — Reply

    Dave, we’ve been over this. You don’t interfere with Michael Bay related issues! Your obvious homoerotic bias for the man has no place in normal, everyday discussions!

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