Filed under: Marcus Sakey
When I was in high school, I proudly displayed a “Kill Your Television” bumper sticker on the back of my ’86 LeBaron. It was an honest sentiment–I’d been in love with books my whole life, and most television was such formulaic dreck that I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed to stop someone stealing mine. For years the only reason I turned on my TV was to watch movies.
Man oh man, how things have changed.
I’m not a scholar on the subject. I don’t know if it was the rise of HBO, the advent of Tivo, or the diversification brought by cable. But somewhere along the way, the Gods of Television noticed that if they treated their audience as intelligent people, ratings went up.
Now we’re in a Golden Age where there is a significant amount of television that is arguably as literary as books. And for the first time, I don’t feel dirty watching two hours of TV instead of reading.
My new love–and I realize I’m late to the party on this one–is The Wire, created by David Simon, writer of the brilliant HOMICIDE, the finest book I’ve read on the daily reality of cops. The show is basically the book brought to motion and given a narrative arc, and it’s fucking brilliant. Rich, textured, uncompromising, dramatic without being melodramatic, honest, brutal, and addictive as hell. It is, frankly, so good that it tops a number of the books I’ve read this year. And as a novelist, those aren’t words that tumble easily out of my mouth.
Or look at Battlestar Galactica, which could have been a one-season cheesefest, but instead distinguished itself as one of the savviest, most morally complicated shows ever aired–while still being entertaining as hell. We have space battles and operatic heroism, but also subtle explorations of politics, religion, and the durability of our principles when tested in a brutal enough crucible. After all, this is a show that reframes our current political situation with us, humanity, as the insurgents, overwhelmed by a vastly more powerful force that claims to be there for our benefit.
When was the last time Everybody Loves Raymond helped you relate to the mentality of a terrorist?
The Shield. Rome. 24. The West Wing. Firefly. Deadwood.
Which leads to an interesting question. Books are obviously having an impact on television. The Wire, for instance, is written not only by David Simon, but also by Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, and Richard Price. The result has been intelligent, challenging television that remains entertaining as hell.
So the question is, what impact will television of this caliber have on books?
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