Saturday, June 05, 2004


TV is just such a good source of minor irritation that it would be foolish to stop now. Let's talk about widescreen.

The Sopranos is filmed and broadcast in widescreen.

Ladies and gentlemen - the Sopranos is a fine show, but you are being fucked with. There is no reason to film a TV show in widescreen and air it that way. Your TV has its own aspect ratio and all your other shows dutifully conform to it. The Sopranos on the other hand, (as well as the occasional episode of other shows, like the West Wing) deliberately chooses to fill only 85% of that space.

Now let's be clear: if a *movie* with a *theatrical run* is filmed in the widescreen aspect ratio, then by all means preserve that format for the DVD or TV broadcast. Nothing is worse than having a great movie butchered by pan and scan editing.

But we're talking about TV shows that never had a theatrical run. Shows that were made explicitly for your TV screen. Why make these shows in a format that your medium wasn't meant to support? You might hear a couple of BS reasons.

First reason: it's done as a service to those forward-looking individuals who have bought widescreen-TVs.

Bullshit. There's no way a show with a national audience would decide to pander to the truly miniscule number of people who own these TVs at the expense of everyone else. It doesn't make sense.

Second reason: The widescreen aspect ratio is more pleasing visually, as it better approximates the natural human field of vision, which is more rectangular than square.

Bullshit! Though it may indeed be true that a widescreen format, in some non quantifiable sense, is more visually pleasing, that doesn't mean that there's any excuse for putting black bars on the top and the bottom of the TV screen. Take your beautifully composed rectangular shot, and then instead of those black bars, just put in some more carpeting and ceiling tiles to fill the space. Give me more sky, give me more rug. Show Tony's feet or the chandelier. Keep 100% of the current widescreen sopranos, you don't have to change anything, just add 15% extra Sopranos that I never knew I was missing.

So enough of the bullshit reasons for widescreen-Sopranos. Are you ready to hear the real reason why the Sopranos is filmed in widescreen? Here's the secret: The decision to air a TV show in widescreen is an attempt to fool you, on a subconscious level, into thinking you are watching a superior piece of entertainment.

When you see something in widescreen on TV, your brain makes a few quick judgments that happen so fast you don't even think about them. In about 3/4 of a second, your brain has thought the following: "Wow, it sure is nice of this network to be airing this movie/show in its original widescreen format. It's always cool when something airs in widescreen, because it shows the networks recognize the vale of the film and they're giving their audience a little bit of credit. Clearly, this movie/show isn't your average TV trash, it's something a little more important."

Now you've thought all this before you even realize what you're watching. So then you sit down and watch the Sopranos. And you think it's great.

Like I said, I think the Sopranos is a great show. But now I have to second guess myself. How much of my respect for the Sopranos was influenced by the widescreen presentation? I've been trained to identify widescreen with a superior work of cinematic art. If a shitty prime time drama was aired in widescreen, would I like it more? Sadly, I think I would. I think we've all been duped.

P.S. In addition to the annoying "It's about" phenomenom in commercials, you can also add sentences that start with "Because" and do not seem to be in response to any question.


Anonymous said...

"I bet you feel like an idiot now" -2014

Anonymous said...