Maybe it's the fog of cigarette smoke or midday martinis, but "Mad Men" looks different than other TV shows.

York College adjunct film professor Justin Harlacher has analyzed and written about TV. And he also uses it as a common denominator when talking to film students. It's rare that an entire class will have seen one particular movie, he explained. Chances are better that they watch similar TV shows.

While organizing tonight's screening, Harlacher decided to focus on cable programs, since they've gotten pop culture attention and scholarly praise. He originally selected two episodes of "Mad Men" for the screening. But, late last week, he opted to screen the pilot of "Boardwalk Empire."

The public is invited to the screening, which will be followed by a discussion of TV programs that have adopted visual and narrative techniques from the movies. The event will be one of the first in the college's ongoing Humanities Film Series to touch on TV.

Despite hype for shows like "Mad Men," Harlacher didn't tune in until the second season.

"I was sort of resistant," he admitted. "It was AMC's first foray into drama. (The network) didn't have the reputation."

Now, almost six years later, Harlacher's a loyal "Mad Men" viewer and has grown to love other AMC programming, including "Breaking Bad."

More cable networks, which formerly broadcast movies or syndicated content, have started to produce shows that resemble film. As a result, scholars have started calling this "the golden age in television," Harlacher added.


Advertisement

The trend can be traced back to the HBO series "Oz," which premiered a decade before "Mad Men" hit the small screen. Harlacher said "Oz" attempted to be a serious drama while pushing the boundaries for explicit content and offering social commentary on America's prison system. Other shows, including "The Sopranos," followed.

The advent of these scripted dramas might stem from a new

writing cycle. Most major networks still order shows in 22-episode blocks. That, Harlacher said, makes it difficult to develop strong narrative arcs.

Seasons for most cable series are about half as long and can be written tighter. Producers can spend more time on each episode and experiment with cinematic lighting and camera techniques. The acting game has changed, too, with more film actors - Glenn Close, Kevin Bacon, Steve Buscemi - transitioning to TV. One reason is that TV allows for evolving storylines and complex characters that audience can form relationships with, Harlacher said.

"Overall, there is a sense that television is important and has value," he said, adding that, for decades, the medium was considered far less superior than film.

Still, for some shows, including "Mad Men," critical praise has not led to record viewership. The show's nuanced approach might not appeal to the masses, Harlacher said. Another explanation is that some viewers lack patience and would rather watch a show all at once on DVD.

"A problem you're seeing with that is you have to have eyeballs on the TV for (shows) to exist," Harlacher said. But AMC seems to be putting more stock in its original series. "The Walking Dead," for example, delivers more viewers and might carry other AMC shows.

 

The discussion will continue tonight at York College. The public is invited to bring questions and comments. No prior knowledge of shows like "Mad Men" and "Boardwalk Empire" is required.

- ERIN McCRACKEN,
FlipSide staff

 

If you go

The York College Humanities Film Series will screen the pilot episode of "Boardwalk Empire." A discussion will follow. The free event is slated to start at 7 tonight in the Humanities Center Room 218 on campus, 441 Country Club Road, Spring Garden Township. The show contains violence and adult situations. For details, visit ycp.edu.

The shows

 

'Boardwalk Empire' The series, set amid the corruption and crime in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, premiered in 2010.

The pilot was written by Terence Winter and directed by Martin Scorsese. Both also serve as executive producers. The show has earned multiple Emmys, a Golden Globe and a Grammy for its soundtrack.

Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, Gretchen Mol, Kelly Macdonald and Michael Pitt star. The fourth season is slated to start this fall. For details, visit www.hbo.com/boardwalk-empire.

'Mad Men'

 

 

The show debuted in 2007 and made history as the first basic cable series ever to win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series in four consecutive years.

Matthew Weiner created the series and serves as executive producer.

It's set in a 1960s New York City advertising firm and stars Jon Hamm, January Jones, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks and John Slattery. Season 6 premieres with a two-hour episode April 7 on AMC. For details, visit www.amctv.com/shows/mad-men.