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Sunday, November 06, 2005

They don't do television like this anymore

Yesterday Lisa was flicking across stations on the TV and came across the Hallmark Channel, which all day yesterday up 'til 11 PM was showing the entire miniseries The Thorn Birds. I'd heard about it but until now have never seen it before. Well, it came as big a surprise to me as it probably will anyone else that I started watching it with her and found myself thoroughly captivated by this series. Guess it's because I'm a big fan of the multi-generational genre (hence my love of the Star Wars saga). The Thorn Birds covers about 60 years history of a family in Australia. The story centers on this lady who falls in love with a priest, who obviously is forbidden from returning her love. The priest is played by Richard Chamberlain, who back in the day was in just about every miniseries being made.

It's a powerful, moving story. And it made me think about how it is that for the most part, there is no more television of this caliber being made anymore. I'm talking about the mini-series, which actually should have been called "mega-series" because most of them racked up running times of 8 to 10 hours... or more. I think The Winds of War was 12 hours, and its sequel War and Remembrance something like 24 hours. Two decades ago this kind of television was considered a high art form. Now, the most recent one that really springs to mind is Lonesome Dove, and that was all the way back in 1989.

I have to wonder if today's television programmers would have the patience to allow for something so sweeping and grandiose. Could something like Shogun, or The Winds of War, or The Blue and the Gray or even Lonesome Dove be broadcast nowadays? Unless it's on a specialty channel like Hallmark, or perhaps HBO, I don't think so. Today's television is like most everything else: it caters to fleeting attention spans. Modern entertainment allows for the convenience of not having to be patient, and that's a real shame because for those who do have the patience, these way-long movies provide a great deal of entertainment and enlightenment. Today it's get-it-shown then get-it-done: fercryingoutloud CBS not long ago took Helter Skelter (which thirty years later is still THE most shocking true-life crime story ever done for television) and boiled it down into a two-hour remake that was... well, mediocre to put it mildly. What would they do with The Thorn Birds, or The Winds of War: probably show about two minutes of the Germans bombing Pearl Harbor out of two-hours running time tops.

Anyway, I enjoyed The Thorn Birds, or what I was able to see of it (prior engagements made us miss quite a bit of it). Enough that I'll probably find a DVD of it sometime soon and watch the entire thing at my leisure. Wonder if I could fill out the bookshelf with any more good movies like that...