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TV's cool factor overtakes that of movies

For decades, entertainment professionals used television as a steppingstone to the glamour of motion pictures. Now, TV's money, opportunity and cultural heft are drawing directors and others.

November 10, 2013|By Daniel Miller
  • Actress Gwendoline Christie arrives at the premiere of HBO's 'Game Of Thrones' Season 3 at TCL Chinese Theatre.
Actress Gwendoline Christie arrives at the premiere of HBO's 'Game… (Jason Merritt / Getty Images )

Veteran TV director Michael Pressman got a surprising response when he asked students in his film directing class to describe their dream jobs.

“Your job,” he said they told him recently. “We want to be the director in charge of a TV series.”

Pressman, who has directed episodes of “Blue Bloods,” “Law & Order” and many other series, was stunned. This class, at New York's New School, focused on film.

But the students weren't “dreaming of Oscar,” said Pressman, who has also directed several movies, including a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” picture. “They want to make great TV series.”

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For decades, it was mostly a one-way journey. Television was a steppingstone for directors, writers, producers and executives who wanted to break into the film business. In the 1950s and 1960s, Hollywood mainstays including Mel Brooks, Garry Marshall and Carl Reiner all got their starts in television but segued to the film world — and are now best known for their big screen work.

The film business proved a seductive force for many years, and for good reason. Movies had the glamour, perks, press coverage and accolades. Nothing could match the glitter of the Academy Awards.

Now, entertainment professionals are migrating eagerly in the opposite direction.

Many cite HBO's “The Sopranos” as opening the door after it burst onto the scene in 1999, or A-list filmmakers like producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who got into the TV business in the late 1990s.

Others look to film producer Mark Gordon (“Speed,” “The Patriot”), who transitioned into television with hits “Grey's Anatomy” and “Criminal Minds” in the 2000s — or, more recently, “Fight Club” director David Fincher, who made this year's “House of Cards” for Netflix, and “Traffic” director Steven Soderbergh, who was at the helm for HBO's “Behind the Candelabra” TV movie and is directing Clive Owen in the forthcoming Cinemax series “The Knick.”

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The movement undoubtedly started with actors making the leap to television, but that it has spread to the executive, director and producer ranks is astounding to many old-school business operators, who never imagined they'd view TV as more attractive than the movies.

Several producers and filmmakers said they dreamed of working in film but now find themselves in television — drawn to the money, opportunity, cultural heft or creative control.

“Almost exclusively due to ‘The Sopranos,' there's been a resurgence in long-form television,” Soderbergh told The Times this year. “The ability to play out a narrative with a very long arc and explore complicated characters and have the audience be happy about that, it's very enticing.”

Executives can relate.

“What drove me to drive to Los Angeles was a love of movies. Period,” said David Nevins, president of entertainment at Showtime. “But I find myself 20 years into a career and very happy to be making high-end television.”

Others, like reality-TV producer Eli Holzman, say the notion that television is a second-class medium — long widely held in Hollywood — has mostly disappeared. He once dreamed of becoming a film producer and started his career at Miramax, where Harvey Weinsten dubbed him “Darryl Zanuck Jr.”

“In film, the perception is that it is the be-all and end-all, but then I got into TV and there were all sorts of executives who loved what they did,” said Holzman, who created the hit show “Project Runway” and executive-produces “Undercover Boss,” which won an Emmy Award this year for outstanding reality program. “Fifteen years ago, film people would be surprised to hear that, but now they know it.”

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