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----------------------------Original message----------------------------
 
Matt McAllister writes:
"I hope David Desser doesn't mind me spinning off a related issue from his
initial post about the quality of movies vis a vis TV.  I've been noticing
for awhile now, in my opinion, that comedy is much better on TV than at the
movies.  It seems like I get many more laughs in a good half hour of The
Simpsons, or Seinfeld, or Fraiser, or Roseanne, than in an hour and a half
of any movie I've seen in the past three years.
 
Is this because (1) It's easier to sustain comedy in a half hour format
than in a longer format?; (2) Because characters are already established in
a half hour series format its easier to use these characters and their
relationships for humor?; (3) Given the plot driven/action orientation of
films these days, writing has been devalued in films over the last 20
years, and because TV is more of a conversational medium it has
concentrated on dialogue more than film has, thus attracting better comedy
writers?; (4) My expectations for film comedy are higher than TV because I
have to shell out $6 for the films, or $2 for the video?"
 
It may partly have to do with audiences and expectations.  JUNIOR was the
last "funny" film I've seen, and it was saved mainly by Schwarznegger's
restraint (!)  and Emma Thompson's abandon rather than by the material
itself.  In contrast, even in its somewhat waning days, NORTHERN EXPOSURE
is simply funnier than most of ten film comedies put together.  In the case
of NE, I think there are two reasons:
1. A growing familiarity with the individual characters and their
idiosyncracies (true of just about all TV series, comedy and drama)
 
2. An ability to appeal to a more select audience (strange as it may sound)
than most films, which aim wide and low for maximum box-office return.
Given the range of multicultural reference points in NE, it's remarkable
to find a show that can cite Dante, Native American traditions, Jung and
rabbinical analyses and not talk down to its audience.  Of course, NE had
to struggle a while to find its audience and succeed.  This relates to
point 3 of the original post above.
 
A related aspect I think lies in the nature of tv performance.  While a
few tv actors have crossed successfully into film, fewer do so in comedies
(I think).  NE aside, most tv comedy seems to allow a broader range of
comic expression than is typical in film.  Also some types of film
comedy feed upon the nature of viewing the medium itself, that works very
well in short segments but has trouble in longer storylines and big
screen.  Think of the sporadic or faltering film careers of most of the
alumni of such shows as SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and SCTV.  I would propose
that *not one film* by any of these performers matches the wit and
energy of their tv work (and, yes, that includes Eddie Murphy).  The best
movie news of the last year was the decision not to release PAT: THE MOVIE,
the most-doomed-to-failure concept I've heard of in some time!
 
--Don Larsson, Mankato State U., MN