After "Game of Thrones", can television become big again?

In the spring of 2019, as “Game of Thrones” aired its final season, TV industry experts were saying that the Age of Dragons was not the ...


In the spring of 2019, as “Game of Thrones” aired its final season, TV industry experts were saying that the Age of Dragons was not the only era that was drawing to a close. “Thrones,” they thought, might just be the last great tv series: That is to say, the latest blockbuster-level juggernaut that would dazzle and focus the obsession of a mass audience.

I don’t know if anyone told you this, but a lot has changed since spring 2019.

The pandemic, of course, has strengthened television’s status as a virtual arena. “Tiger King” was a televised event, as were “Hamilton” and “Godzilla Vs. Kong.” If theaters are power to bring audiences together, television’s power is to bring together, to separate audiences. And as with the shift to working from home, it’s unclear how much of that floor-standing TV will give up, now that we know how much it is possible to do without leaving your couch. “Dune,” when it releases this fall, will also be part of an event. televised, via HBO Max, although theaters have reopened.

But if we focus solely on the televised portion of television – that is, series designed for home and device distribution rather than theaters – the post-“Thrones” question remains: is- what a single program, in the era of frenzy, and thousands of choices, unite a mass audience?

This fall and beyond, several high-profile genre shows – from sci-fi to fantasy to dystopian fiction – are betting on the yes. On September 24, Apple TV + presents “Foundation”, based on the novels of Isaac Asimov on the attempt to use “psychohistory” to shape the future of a galactic empire. Next week, FX unveils the ambitious and long-gestating “Y: The last man”, About an apocalypse that kills all humans with a Y chromosome except one.

Later in the Fall: Amazon’s “The Wheel of Time,” another long-standing epic, based on Robert Jordan’s sprawling fantasy series. Next year: also from Amazon, a series based on one of the rare megamythologies not to have a mass adaptation, “The Lord of the Rings”; plus HBO’s “Thrones” prequel, “Dragon houseAbout Westeros’ messiest platinum blondes, the Targaryens family.

If the era of TV blockbusters is over, the upcoming season has not been notified.

And event TV is proven not to be dead, even though “events” don’t make us all congregate around our TVs at 9pm on Sundays anymore. Since the end of “Thrones,” we’ve seen the rise of the next generation of streaming platforms, which have delivered a pipeline direct from the biggest mega-entertainment companies to the screens in your living room and your pocket.

Disney in particular was behind this change. Its engulfment of the Star Wars and Marvel franchises put two of the biggest film universes into one, and Disney + quickly began to turn them into television. Not so long ago, the appearance of a Star Wars or superhero entertainment was a rare treat; now it’s a Wednesday. (Still coming this year: a series built around Boba Fett from Star Wars and one about Hawkeye from the Avengers.)

The platform has shown that even in the hard-to-quantify world of streaming, the right TV series can elicit mass audience chatter. But Disney + shows got big by aiming small. That is, they performed best when they incorporated their big-screen worlds into packages that worked for serial TV – intimate, conversational, or (relatively) silent – rather than two hours of movie pyrotechnics.

So “WandaVision“moved an” Avengers “peripheral story onto a classic TV series, recreating half-century period sitcoms to tell a grieving story. (It was less effective, in fact, when it did. built up to an action climax – that is, when it tried to be a Marvel movie.) “The Mandalorian”Built on the western element of yesteryear already present in Star Wars to make a bromance of gunslinger and sidekick. “Loki” spread the overkill ham of Tom Hiddleston’s cinematic performance in a playful sci-fi story that prioritized discussions of effects.

Of course, Disney had the advantage of making a great television out of already significant intellectual property that it owned. It is now unnecessary to distinguish whether Marvel and Star Wars are cinematic universes that extend to television or vice versa; shows and films are just tributaries of a giant network of content, each promoting the other.

The downside to the new TV blockbusters, then, is perhaps that they are doomed to become more like movie blockbusters: dragon scale, mouse creative ambition, less when it comes to anything that doesn’t involve an established brand. The efforts of other outlets to create original genre franchises, such as HBO’s labyrinthine steampunk series “Nevers, were less successful.

On the one hand, the fact that the next “Lord of the Rings” expansion is coming to your living room rather than your local multiplex is a sign of a more TV-centric entertainment future. On the flip side, that future, at least for high-profile television, increasingly resembles the recent past of movies: big-budget but cautious interpretations of stories with built-in follow-ups, endless property revisits. business that you already have Like.

If we’re stuck with old stories told at a great price, the hope is that they at least have something to say at a new time. From what we know of the new season’s genre epics (most of which, at press time, critics have yet to see), it’s nothing cheerful.

If there is a common thread running through many of them, it is catastrophe that changes the world. Granted, it’s often a no-brainer in high fantasy and sci-fi, but the catastrophes at the heart of these series – nature’s revenge, self-destruction through pride – could speak loudly now (if you can them. hear during extreme weather alerts).

Even series that aren’t prequels are often preludes to a fall. The films “The Lord of the Rings”, for example, arrived by accident of time as a kind of rallying call after the attacks of September 11th. The new series takes place thousands of years before the events of the films, in the Second Age of Middle-earth – which, if you know your Tolkien, ended with the legendary kingdom of Númenor being engulfed by the sea in a cataclysm he himself caused.

Likewise, “Foundation,” telling the story of a man-made disaster that cannot be stopped, only mitigated, might have a lot to say to a company that has been through and is considering [gestures at everything]. We have a royal house condemned to “Dragon”; in “Y”, a pandemic story that combines an apocalyptic political intrigue with a more gender-specific version of “The Walking Dead”.

And “The Wheel of Time,” already renewed for a second season ahead of the premiere, is built on a mythology that involves a repeated cycle of renewal and destruction. This theme may reflect not only an anxious world, but the rise and fall of media trends that produced this series and its peers.

The epic televised event, the most elusive and awe-inspiring of fabulous beasts, may well have been declared dead. But that doesn’t mean he can’t get up again, even if it’s in an all too familiar form.

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Newsrust - US Top News: After "Game of Thrones", can television become big again?
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