Modern audiences gravitate to television storytelling format

Have we reached a point where television is more influential to popular culture than film?

Family ties · Bates Motel, staring Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore, left) and his mother, Norma Louise Bates (Vera Farmiga, right), delves deeper into the backstory of how Norman became an infamous serial killer.  - Courtesy of A&E

Family ties · Bates Motel, staring Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore, left) and his mother, Norma Louise Bates (Vera Farmiga, right), delves deeper into the backstory of how Norman became an infamous serial killer. – Courtesy of A&E


That’s what Vanity Fair seems to argue, at least. The lifestyle magazine made a point to say that television, rather than film, “enriches the iconography and collective lore of pop culture,” as culture critic James Wolcott was quoted as saying in the April 3 edition of Vanity Fair.

It’s true — a Friday-night trip to the movies doesn’t hold the same appeal it used to; rather, we seem to be gravitating more toward television, which is available all day, every day, allowing viewers to watch a variety of shows easily.

More and more, cinema that was once intended for the movies seems to be moving to the television screen. The new show Bates Motel is one example, designed to give a modern introduction to the historic Psycho horror film.

The whole Psycho film franchise, originally created by Alfred Hitchcock, centers on a horror story that depicts the encounter between a secretary and disturbed motel owner Norman Bates. It’s a part of cinematic history, considered by some to be the “mother” of modern slasher films. Today, the motel’s set is still part of Universal Studio’s Studio Tour.

The creators of Bates Motel clearly could have taken the traditional route and created a new movie based off the Psycho film franchise, but instead, they chose the medium of television.

This is all despite the fact that a Psycho TV spinoff had been attempted once before and failed.

Perhaps this tells us something about society: our generation has a constant need for more and more information. A continuing weekly storyline gives viewers more information, more suspense, more romance, more drama than what can be packed into a two-hour film. Perhaps television’s week-by-week nature feeds into our media-centric, “I want it now,” mentality.

Wolcott’s opinion in Vanity Fair brings up a sort of elephant in the room — that we would rather watch a show with a continuing storyline that can evolve into a more nuanced plot instead of a terminative two-hour affair.

Bates Motel, which premiered in late March, is able to explore more issues than the films ever did. It’s a series that explores more about the characters and delves deeper into the mindset of the infamous serial killer Norman. Moreover, despite Norman’s inevitable destiny, each episode is able to string the audience along with cliffhangers, leaving the audience with more of a sense of mystery — and more of a reason to watch — than a film which has a conclusive ending.

There are issues that television allows you to explore on a deeper level than a movie might. Often, there are depictions of murderers portrayed onscreen, but with Bates Motel, television producers have more time to draw from the characters’ earlier days and look at the causes of these kinds of issues.

In an Entertainment Weekly interview, executive producers Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse commented on Norman’s future and this ensuing mental illness.

“This is a little more of a slow burn,” Ehrin said. “Like any mental illness, it’s erratic. It doesn’t necessarily have a predictable progression to it. And I think it’s going to act out in certain places and then I think it can be dormant for a space of time.”

Ultimately, this is one of the most compelling aspects of the show. It asks how insanity come about, and when it starts? And what are some early signs or possible contributors?

Cuse explored different factors from Norman’s past that might have contributed to his precarious mental state.

“I started thinking about what if Norman Bates has a brother, or this weird drug town,” Cuse said.

The producers are clearly looking at the extent and origin of Norman’s craziness in an original and captivating way.

In the third episode -— the most recent, which aired April 1 –— Freddie Highmore, who plays Norman, creates a powerful portrayal of a young boy haunted by pornographic pictures and stories of mystery women from a sketchbook. After he faints in his classroom, he needs to be hospitalized. What’s fascinating, though, is watching the secrecy and obsession take a toll on Norman, pushing him one step closer to the character that fans of the film franchise are familiar with.

Perhaps, with all of this intrigue and drama, TV shows such as Bates Motel are lessening the cultural impact of film as time goes by. However, that does not necessarily have to be alarming. As long as producers, such as Ehrin and Cuse, are at the helm creating alluring, cliffhanging episodes dealing with bigger societal issues at hand, the world might be ready for more television.


Mollie Berg is a freshman majoring in communication. Her column “Mollie Tunes In” runs Mondays.