Yesterday I stumbled upon an idea that has stuck with me. In what ways has technology influenced the substance and form of television? I have never given this idea much thought. In fact, when I have thought about the evolution of storytelling on TV I have usually linked it to societal changes, politics, the economy, current events and film.
But I'm starting to think that technology has played a larger role than I have given it credit. The switch from black and white to color caused an explosion of sunny, happy shows: Happy Days, Love American Style, The Bob Newhart Show, variety hours with Carol Burnett, Sonny & Cher, Dean Martin, everything filmed in glorious, saturated color. Perhaps this was due to geopolitical concerns: denial of the Vietnam zeitgeist. But it was equally programming that took advantage of the color technology. Sure there were dark shows: Night Gallery, for example, but their shock value was based more on twist endings, than any evocation of mood.
Another innovation in technology was larger and more affordable screens. When the largest TV screens were 13 to 20 inches, closeups were de rigeur. With a 26 to 30 inch screen, establishing shots, traveling shots, panning shots, the language of filmmaking, could be utilized on television. This changed the way television looked and worked. Television had always been closer in essence to radio than film. With larger screens and the employment of cinematic techniques, television became more and more a visual medium.
I anticipate that with the super large screens of today employing High Definition technology, this trend will strengthen rather than diminish. Within two generations cinemas will be rare, home entertainment will stream from a central hub (whatever the internet turns into) and packaging will no longer exist. Intellectual property--anything which is capable of being sold digitally, will be. While it is tempting to consider this negatively, I don't think it will be. Television has improved with the advent of VHS technology. The business model changed, but it still supported higher and higher quality of work.
Where will it ultimately end? Three-dimensional entertainment of course. Total immersion and the assumption of a point of view. Whether that's a holographic "room" or a set of goggles and gloves, or a biomechanical symbiosis of hardware and wetware ala William Gibson.