The Blur: Is it TV or movie? Does it matter anymore?


The way we watch movies and TV keeps changing. “Lawrence of Arabia” appears on our mobile phones. ESPN’s 7 ½-hour O.J. docu-series premieres at the multiplex. Then there’s that comedy webisode you catch between meetings on your office laptop. So what do we call these talkies on our screens? Movies? TV shows? Please, not “content.” In The Blur, a Los Angeles Times special series, we examine why the medium is no longer the message.

The trigger? ESPN’s 7 ½-hour documentary “O.J.: Made in America.” It premieres Friday in theaters for filmgoers who want to experience all 464 minutes in one sitting. On June 11, the first of five episodes debuts on ABC. Is it a movie or TV? Will it win an Emmy? An Oscar? Both? To help sort out the viewing experiences, we asked TV critic MARY McNAMARA and film critic KENNETH TURAN to review “Made in America” from their different perspectives.

And with the once-clear lines between movies and TV getting ever-fuzzier, TURAN, McNAMARA, ROBERT LLOYD, STEVEN ZEITCHIK, JOSH ROTTENBERG and TODD MARTENS weigh in on The Blur.

ESPN wants viewers to binge on its series by streaming online

ESPN’s “O.J.: Made in America” is putting the sports cable channel in the TV binge-watching business.

The final three parts of the five-part film directed by Ezra Edelman are being made available for streaming online before they air on ESPN, a significant first for the channel.

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May all video become home video

Here’s why home video and Don Hertzfeldt are underrated, and virtual reality isn’t all that revolutionary.

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John Turturro and Steve Zallian are just two of the latest film guys to make the jump to TV

The upcoming crime drama “The Night Of” would seem like a prototypical cable show — commissioned by HBO, airing for eight episodes, designed as summer appointment viewing.

Yet look beneath and a film beast stirs. “The Night Of” was co-written by Steven Zallian, an Oscar winner, and stars John Turturro; neither has ever been a key figure on a TV series. Every episode was directed by Zallian — highly atypical for a TV show. The scripts were also all finished before a single moment was shot — unlike much of television, in which writers often stay just an episode or two ahead of production.

If any doubts existed about the project’s film nature, they were wiped away during a visit to “The Night Of’s” post-production facilities in New York. Zallian was about to celebrate his anniversary working on the piece, all before the public has even caught the first glimpse of what he was doing. That’s creeping into auteur territory.

It’s far from the only project that dances across the film-television line. A documentary about O.J. Simpson, a nonfiction take on the celibate Laker A.C. Green from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, and Chloe Sevigny’s more fictional story (one hopes) of a girl who turns into a cat -- all are examples of projects you couldn’t, for all the jewels in Blake Lively’s closet, slap with a traditional definition.

The Sevigny piece would seem to be a film -- it’s made by veteran movie producers and debuting at the Cannes Film Festival. But it’s a short, almost like a mini-TV episode.‎ And it will receive its commercial debut on the women’s news-and-lifestyle website Refinery29 -- a space not known for cinema

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Netflix’s Ted Sarandos sees streaming at the heart of film’s future

As Netflix continues its aggressive push into the movie business — bringing A-listers like Will Smith, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie onboard the streaming bandwagon and spending big money to acquire films at festivals like Sundance and Cannes — Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos lays out his ideas for how the Internet can save Hollywood.

We have no desire to disrupt the movie business for the sake of disruption — or to preserve it for the sake of nostalgia.

— Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer

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Is ‘O.J.: Made in America’ a TV show or a movie?

"O.J.: Made in America" blurs the line between movies and TV.
(Jonathan Bartlett / For The Times)

Is ESPN’s 71/2-hour documentary “O.J.: Made in America” a movie or TV? It premieres Friday in theaters for filmgoers who want to experience all 464 minutes in one sitting. On June 11, the first of five episodes debuts on ABC.

Will it win an Emmy? An Oscar? Both?

With the once-clear lines between movies and TV getting ever-fuzzier, we asked film critic Kenneth Turan and TV critic Mary McNamara to review “Made in America” from their different perspectives.

Read Mary McNamara’s review: Why ‘O.J.: Made in America’ might be the first television show to win an Oscar

Read Kenneth Turan’s review: ‘O.J.: Made in America’ is a movie so compelling you want it never to end ... even at 7-plus hours

Watch Kenneth Turan’s review of the documentary:

Kenneth Turan reviews “O.J.: Made in America,” a 7 ½-hour documentary from ESPN’s “30 for 30.”

Watch the “O.J.: Made in America” trailer:


Movie or TV? It’s a question as old as ‘The T.A.M.I. Show’

What is a film? The question is not a new one. Not by a long shot.

Though the question seems especially pertinent right at this moment — with ESPN debuting its 7 1/2-hour documentary “O.J.: Made In America” in theaters, doing whatever it takes to qualify the series for the Oscars, film’s greatest honor — in fact, this kind of platform fluidity is really nothing new.

There’s the case of 1964’s “The T.A.M.I Show,” short for Teen Age Music International, the filmed record of a once-in-a-lifetime concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium that was released into theaters.

I said to them, ‘If it plays on a screen and you can sell popcorn, it’s a movie.’

— Bill Sargent, “The T.A.M.I. Show” producer

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What erased the last blurred line between movies and television?

For a long while I have had what felt like a workable definition of television, one adaptable to a changing world of proliferating platforms. It was generous — including everything from Vine videos to decade-long network dramas — and it was also fundamentally exclusive: Television, to my mind, was everything that wasn’t the movies.

That definition has become less workable of late. It may, in fact, be on the verge of becoming useless.

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What are ‘The Wire’s’ Lance Reddick and Aidan Gillen doing inside a video game called ‘Quantum Break’?

‘Quantum Break’ asks what happens when you meld gunplay with a network-style TV series. 

Video games have long found inspiration in films. The reckless carnage in the “Call of Duty” franchise, for instance, has regularly been justified as turning a summer blockbuster into something more playable, more interactive.

It goes both ways.

The popularity of digital effects has lent many films a game-like sheen. Critics of the action-first plots of so many superhero films could argue the works often look more fun to play than watch. Think of, say, the cartoonish set pieces of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

But another player has interrupted the love affair between games and film.

Now it’s television, specifically our on-demand, binge-watching age, where many recent games have found motivation.

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Will virtual reality make communal viewing around the television and in movie theaters obsolete?

We can discuss the blur between movies and TV, but what about the medium of virtual reality. What to make of that? High-profile directors and early adopters are hailing its immersive possibilities as a new cinematic language. Yet VR is watched in short bursts, far from a movie theater. Some studios even group VR under home entertainment — the same division as the bargain-DVD bin. These are categorizations that flummox even people in Silicon Valley. And when Silicon Valley is flummoxed, it’s time to worry.

VR could change not just the material but how we watch it. Because by viewing virtual content, we can also watch virtually. The idea of gathering around a television screen at home and the notion of meeting friends at a theater have been the two methods of consuming entertainment socially, our yin and yang of escaping the mundane.

But VR means we’ll be able to do both without doing either. Apps already exist that allow friends and family members across an ocean to watch together, and these are going to get more common as VR becomes more popular. (If you have a teenager in your life, you’ve likely already seen how this can work with video games.) The notion of a distribution platform like film or television commanding a certain type of viewing will evaporate with VR. The iPhone has given us entertainment any time. VR will provide entertainment anywhere with anyone.

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Why ‘Captain America: Civil War’ is like ‘The Good Wife’ and how the blur is changing storytelling

As this generation of children experience the episodic Harry Potter series on their TVs or personal devices, are they watching television or film?

— Mary McNamara

It used to be easy: Movies were smart, and television was dumb.

Movies were a special communal event, and television was part of humdrum home life. Television had commercials, and movies did not; television was episodic and open-ended, while movies told a single story. Movies could be entertaining but also high art; television might be groundbreaking or provocative, but art never entered the conversation.

No one watched television on a first date or majored in television studies, and the only movies you could watch while ironing were long gone from the theaters.

Now it’s not so easy. Televised series often have just as much artistry and significance as any film, and both forms come in so many shapes and sizes — and are available on so many different sorts of screens — that it is increasingly difficult to tell them apart.

The high-grossing “Captain America: Civil War,” for example, is now considered one of the most successful movies ever.

Yet while I was watching it the day after it opened, I saw a television show.

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To stream or not to stream: Filmmakers face a tough choice

Is it better to have your movie in a theater or to stream it on Amazon, Netflix or other services? For filmmakers, it’s a tough decision these days.

When it comes to actually getting a movie in front of an audience, filmmakers face an array of choices that can seem both thrilling and confounding, as deep-pocketed Internet services like Netflix and Amazon and other digital players have aggressively pushed into the movie business and upended long-held ways of doing business.

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Five films that faced the theatrical/streaming choice

Here are five prominent films that showcase the choices filmmakers face about how to distribute their work.

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