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.