I was thinking about what I said Sunday about the difference between TV and movies. A movie made for the big screen is a different kind of experience on television, obviously, because the connection between the audience and the film is so much more intimate.
In the theater, you're aware of the people watching with you, and that colors your reaction to what you're seeing. The most immediate relationship you have is with the person sitting next to you. (Or, if you're short like some of us, it might be with the person sitting in front of you.) It's a unique experience, where everyone is focused on the same lights and shadows.
At home, it's you and the TV screen, one-on-one. But you're in more familiar surroundings, and you're more in control of your environment. You can pay attention to whatever degree the characters engage you. Personally, I feel closer to TV stars than movie stars, because they come right into my home (in some cases, way too often).
The HBO movie Wit that I watched over the weekend is an example of a drama that probably works better on the small screen. It's nearly a one-woman monologue by Emma Thompson, who comes across so eloquently under the direction of Mike Nichols. Nichols and Thompson wrote the script, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Margaret Edson.
The television script takes the stage play and uses some magical editing to bring you into the mind of a woman under treatment for late-stage ovarian cancer. As her body deteriorates, her mind goes through changes as well, and the viewer shares the experience, as closely as one person can feel the suffering of another. It's partly the acting and the direction, but it's also the medium.
This would be a different movie on the big screen. TV has a lot of faults, but an experience like this makes up for a lot of them. As depressing as the plot description sounds, it's an uplifting encounter with a memorable character, and you develop a personal bond with her because she's right there in your living room.
I love going out to the movies. Comedies are funnier when there are dozens of people laughing with you, and the scale of the big screen can make the imposing seem more impressive. But for connecting with real people in real situations, television can make the real seem more real.
If art involves finding different ways to tell the truth, let's not dismiss TV as a mere appliance. In the right hands it can take us so far beyond the trite and mundane fare that gives it such a bad rep.