A 1944 editorial in the industry magazine Televiser questioned whether a motion picture director could approach a new medium like television without "cynicism." The article warned that film people have been overtly critical of television production without any appreciation the technique and aesthetics of the small screen. The tension between film and television has been a constant for over fifty years, but both art forms have been enriched by the often contentious dialogue.

Motion picture executives were acutely aware of the economic threat posed by an entertainment medium in the home and drew up strategies to challenge this incursion by the broadcast industry. Paramount first considered owning a chain of television stations and then tested a system of pay television. Twentieth Century-Fox and Warner Brothers collaborated on plans to develop theater television in the early fifties. In 1949 Columbia, under the leadership of Ralph Cohn, a former B movie producer, organized Screen Gems to produce television commercials. All the while, moguls tried to make movie-going a spectacular experience, exploiting widescreen and stereophonic technologies. But it was the "eager and imaginative minds" of television who would create a dramatic form and then have a major impact on the motion pictures.

Television first defined its identity with the production of live dramas on such anthology series as Studio One, Kraft Television Theatre, and Playhouse 90. Critics felt that the immediacy of television brought forth a special relationship between the spectator and the play. The productions were orchestrated by a generation of young directors with some training in theater and film, who wedded the character studies of writers such as Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling, to the inward method-trained acting styles of Paul Newman, Kim Hunter, James Dean and the many other disciples of Stanislavski. When Marty received the Academy Award in 1955, it was the first time a script that originated on television was adapted by the large screen; in both instances, the partnership of Chayevsky and director Delbert Mann brought the material to life. Television talent was now welcome with open arms in Hollywood, and such TV-originated productions as The Miracle Worker and Days of Wine and Roses became award-winning films. The most prominent of the television directors journeyed to film, bringing the same psychological realism to the large screen. Among the key directors (with their signature movies in parentheses) whose work defined the new maturity of 1960s Hollywood were John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May; George Roy Hill (The World of Henry Orient , Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid); Sidney Lumet (The Pawnbroker, Long Day's Journey into Night); Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird; Baby, the Rain Must Fall); Arthur Penn (The Miracle Worker, which he also directed on television; Bonnie and Clyde); and Franklin Schaffner (The Best Man, Patton). These directors, once again melding text and performance but with a larger budget, constituted the first wave of new talent that rejuvenated American cinema after the studio system had broken down.

As live television received critical legitimacy on the East Coast, independent companies on the West, including Jerry Fairbanks Productions, the Hal Roach Studios, and Ziv Television Programs, produced films for television, reels that could be cycled from one local station to another in the earliest version of "syndicated" TV. These budget-conscious producers often employed forgotten Hollywood veterans to give luster to their equivalent of the B movie. Fairbanks, a freelance cameraman and producer of an Academy Award-winning short, hired an established Hollywood name, Edmund Lowe, the suave silent film star of What Price Glory for his DuMont series Front Page Detective. Hal Roach, Jr., a former Laurel and Hardy director, asked Charles Barton, the Universal director of Abbott and Costello comedies, to oversee the translation of Amos 'n' Andy to a visual medium. For television's biggest hit of the 1950s, I Love Lucy, producers Desi Arnaz and Jess Oppenheimer requested Fritz Lang's cinematographer, Karl Freund, to devise a technique for filming with three cameras before a live audience.

Film studios and guilds took immediate notice of the employment possibilities of television. Members of the Directors Guild of America received their name in the title for the 1955 series Screen Directors Playhouse. Many Hollywood legends, including John Ford, Leo McCarey, and George Stevens, made half hour dramas for the Playhouse. Newly appointed president of ABC, Leonard Goldenson, former head of the United Paramount Theaters, and executives at Warner Brothers determined how to financially recycle popular film genres each week on television and employed unsung directors to oversee production. Richard Bare, who had directed such forgettable movies as Smart Girls Don't Talk and Flaxy Martin was in part responsible for the resurgence of the Western on television with the success of his Cheyenne. By the mid-1950s more that 40% of Hollywood's directors, actors, editors, and cameraman worked on television projects. Even cult directors, including Ida Lupino, Phil Karlson, and Jacques Tourneur, brought their offbeat sensiblilities to television.

Television became genuinely respectable for the film industry when the most recognizable director of all time, Alfred Hitchcock, hosted an anthology series for ten years, beginning in 1955. Hitchcock's agent, Lew Wasserman, who would later run Universal, masterminded Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which featured a droll introduction by the "Master of Suspense" and then a macabre tale evocative of the director's dark spirit. Hitchcock directed eighteen episodes for Presents and two programs for other series. Working three days with an efficient supporting team, Hitchcock was able to explore his familiar themes of duplicity and murder and employed most of his TV crew to produce his cinema masterpiece, Psycho.

Dramatic series, produced by Hollywood studios, afforded young talent the means to helm their own productions and, occasionally, develop personal themes. Robert Altman directed for a variety of genres for television, including westerns (Bonanza), detective (Hawaiian Eye), and war (Combat). Later, he would subvert the formulaic rules he learned in these respective genres when he made the following films in the seventies: McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, and M*A*S*H. Other well-known directors who learned generic conventions that would come in handy in their film careers include Sam Peckinpah, who directed episodes Route 66 as well as of the westerns Have Gun, Will Travel; Gunsmoke, and The Westerner, which he also created; Blake Edwards, who created the pilots for Richard Diamond and Peter Gunn, which he later brought to the large screen; and Michael Ritchie, whose quirky adventures for Run for Your Life and The Outsider laid a groundwork for The Candidate and Smile.

In the mid-1960s the studios worked with the networks to develop movies made especially for television. The first proposed television movie, The Killers, was directed by Don Siegel and starred Ronald Reagan and Angie Dickinson, but was deemed too violent for television and was first released theatrically. Two network executives, Barry Diller and Michael Eisner refined the scope and concerns of the television movie, and later became two of the most powerful moguls in Hollywood. Directors were able to impart a distinctive vision on the TV movie, which often yielded assignments to the large screen. Steven Spielberg, who had directed episodes of Columbo and Owen Marshall, received acclaim for the visual audacity of Duel. Michael Mann, after stints as a writer on Police Story and Vega$, first attracted notice as writer and director of the prison drama The Jericho Mile, which led to his 1983 feature Thief. Many directors have shuttled back and forth between movies and television and have delivered their most personal work on the small screen, including Buzz Kulik (Brian's Song); John Korty (The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman), Joseph Sargent (Amber Waves) and, most especially, Lamont Johnson (That Certain Summer, The Execution of Private Slovik, and Off the Minnesota Strip).

The man most responsible for adult comedy on television, Norman Lear, had left television in the late 1950s to become a film director. His film work, including Come Blow Your Horn, The Night They Raided Minsky's, and Cold Turkey, never matched his satirical temperament, which found its perfect outlet in the comedy All in the Family. Lear did not return to film, but two influential comedy producers, James Brooks and Garry Marshall, have found creative success in both media. The same mixture of drama and comedy that Brooks brought to The Mary Tyler Moore Show was evident in his films Starting Over, Terms of Endearment, and Broadcast News. The mismatched pairs of Marshall exemplified by Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple and Ritchie and the Fonz in Happy Days has been explored in such films as Nothing in Common and Pretty Woman. Lear and Marshall also mentored other directorial careers. Their comic rhythms have also been brought to the screen by their leading actors, Rob Reiner of All in the Family, Ron Howard of Happy Days, and Penny Marshall of Laverne & Shirley.

Feature film directors have had a presence in other TV genres. Several of television's most exemplary musical programs were crafted by directors who afterwards rarely ventured into that genre again. Jack Smight, known for his mysteries Harper and No Way to Treat a Lady, directed two of the definitive jazz programs, the smoky The Sound of Jazz with Billie Holiday and the very cool The Sound of Miles Davis. Norman Jewison, who began his career in British and Canadian television, directed Judy Garland's only duet with Barbra Streisand. Fred De Cordova, who earlier had directed Bedtime for Bonzo with Ronald Reagan and then TV series for George Burns and Jack Benny, produced the most popular talk show of all time for twenty years, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

As live television affected Hollywood in the 1950s, so too did MTV in the 1980s. The music video disrupted the linear narrative and put a primacy on the visual, making the video creator a new hero in Hollywood. British director Julien Temple journeyed from videos for Culture Club and the Rolling Stones to his first feature Absolute Beginners. David Fincher used Fritz Lang's film Metropolis as the source of inspiration for his Madonna's video "Express Yourself," and later reworked the noir genre in his textured Seven. Videos have borne the established director's imprint as well, including John Landis and Martin Scorcese's extended narratives for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and "Bad"; John Sayles and Brian De Palma's different deconstructions of the Bruce Springsteen phenomenon, as working class hero and lumbering icon respectively; and Spike Lee's energetic "Hip Hop Hooray" video for Naughty By Nature. Quick cuts and eye-grabbing visuals have also been the domain of the TV commercials, and three graduates of British advertising--Ridley Scott, Alan Parker, and Adrian Lyne--have invigorated the look of popular film.

Alfred Hitchcock

Steven Spielberg, directing Joan Crawford

David Lynch

In 1984 Michael Mann returned to television and brought the MTV synthesis of image and music to series television in his stylishly innovative Miami Vice. During the rest of the 1980s a niche was reserved for "designer television," usually series originated by film auteurs. Spielberg produced his own series, Amazing Stories, and enlisted Martin Scorcese, Robert Zemeckis, and Paul Bartel to contribute supernatural tales. Robert Altman also returned, this time to cable television, and satirized American politics with Garry Trudeau in Tanner '88, a project that was conceived in video to match the look of network news. Network executives also went to cult directors for ideas to entice a mainstream audience beginning to turn to cable. John Sayles, a leader in the independent film movement, created a Shannon's Deal, a series focussing on imperfect lawyer who dropped out of corporate practice. The avant-garde David Lynch of Blue Velvet fame unleashed some of the most surreal and unsettling images ever seen on network television in his video noir Twin Peaks. Some of the direction went the other way as quality TV producers strove to make it among cineastes. Ed Zwick, who brought suburban angst to the prime time with thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, directed three epic adventures: Glory, Legends of the Fall, and Courage Under Fire. Gregory Hoblit, who was the directorial eye behind many Steven Bochco productions, was successful with his 1996 urban thriller Primal Fear, no doubt leading the way for other directors of such visually compelling series as ER and NYPD Blue. And in still another move from film toward television, self-proclaimed cultist Quentin Tarrantino directed the 1994 season finale of the mainstream medical melodrama, ER.

Many foreign directors have used television to explore alternative forms of storytelling. Ingmar Bergman of Sweden has been interested in television's ability to weave a narrative over time and in one of his most celebrated works, Scenes from a Marriage, chronicles the emotional upheavals of an ostensibly perfect union over six episodes. Rainer Werner Fassibinder created two works that also utilized television's expansive narrative: a Marxist soap opera, Eight Hours Are Not A Day and his fifteen-hour epic of the Weimar years, Berlin Alexanderplatz, based on Alfred Doblin's novel. One of the fathers of the new wave, Jean Luc-Godard, has created a series of mediative essays on the history of cinema for French television. Roberto Rossellini, one of the pioneers of Italian neo-realism, used television to create a series of stylized historical portraits from Socrates to Louis XIV. Ken Russell produced a series of wildly expressionistic dramatized biographies on such artists as Elgar, Isadora Duncan, and Delius for the BBC in Great Britain that served as a template for his even more more flamboyant films, including The Music Lovers and Lisztomania.

Over the last two decades the lines between television and film have been blurred structurally and aesthetically. Most film studios now own some type of television network, and talent flows freely two the two media. Barry Levinson can extend the tapestry of his cinematic Baltimore trilogy (Diner, Tin Men, and Avalon)to television with the equally visual Homicide: Life on the Street. No longer is film the arena for spectacle, and television the home of the close-up. In fact, films screens have been shrinking in the multiplexes and the television monitor dominates a home's entertainment room. Director John Frankenheimer, who mastered live television in the 1950s, feature film during the 1960s through the 1980s, and the television movie, with the 1990s success of Against the Wall and Andersonville, has proven that both art forms offer the opportunity for creative expression.

-Ron Simon


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See also Anthology Drama; Brooks, James L.; Chayefsky, Paddy; Frankenheimer, John; Golden Age of Television; Johnson, Lamont; Kureshei, Hanif; Lear, Norman; Mann, Delbert; Marshall, Garry; Reagan, Ronald; Rose, Reginald; Serling, Rod; Schaffner, Franklin; Twin Peaks; Warner Brothers. Presents