Movie people should watch TV

I t's not easy being a movie these days.


As the Los Angeles Times reported last month, movie-theater attendance is down 20 percent this year compared with 2010.

Two industry executives gave the same reason for the downturn: lack of "quality" films and "compelling" content.

Anecdotal evidence suggests old-fashioned television -- steady march toward another season of Jersey Shore notwithstanding -- continues to build on the foundation set by groundbreakers such as The Sopranos and The Wire .

This makes it difficult for a movie columnist to stay focused on the big screen, especially when the tube is plenty big and hi-def itself.

After Big Love , which had a dizzying and powerful final season on HBO, and Showtime's Shameless and Californication , the latest series to keep me glued to my couch and far from the theater is AMC's The Killing .

It's a murder mystery, so nothing new there, but more Twin Peaks than CSI , and the beautifully drawn characters complement the methodical pace and captivating plot. Just five episodes in, it's not too late to catch up online and join the fun.

Or maybe you'd rather see Scream 4 .

The Killing is yet another success for AMC -- the network originally known as American Movie Classics, dedicated to showing old movies.

Now it's known for such series as Mad Men , Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead , all of which are more worthy of your free time than, say, Battle: Los Angeles or Fast Five .

AMC isn't the only cable channel dedicating itself to excellent content. FX has carved out a nice middle-brow niche, with series including Justified , Rescue Me and the hilarious It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Louie .

In subscription-TV land, HBO has slowed somewhat, but Boardwalk Empire will return soon, and on Saturday the channel debuted a full-length feature (Cinema Verite ) starring Diane Lane, Tim Robbins and James Gandolfini, top-notch actors all.

Even in network-ville, NBC, an institution so incompetent you'd expect it to have difficulty tying its shoes, somehow manages to air three of the four best-written comedies on television.

One of those comedies, 30 Rock , celebrated its 100th episode last week. A gag at the end of the hourlong special said there is nothing more embarrassing for a movie actor than being on television.

Maybe in Hollywood social circles that's still true. But out here in viewing land, it seems much more humiliating to be part of Arthur or Take Me Home Tonight than Community or Parks and Recreation .

The argument that TV has caught up to or even surpassed movies has been made before, and the caveat that there is still more garbage per capita on the idiot box is well taken.

Still, quality has caught on and appears to be contagious. Furthermore, the failure of cheap imitations of successful series (e.g., FlashForward 's attempt to ride the Lost train) should confirm the obvious conclusion.

One doesn't need to reinvent television with every show. But tell stories in an original and creative way, and an audience and critical praise won't be too far behind.

Although it's unlikely that Hollywood works this way, perhaps movie folks will start to peek over their cubicle wall to see what the television people are doing, and start taking notes.



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