South by Southwest gives due respect to quality television

Courtesy of Showtime

The South by Southwest media festival released its 2014 lineup on Jan. 30. With its Austin party atmosphere and the diverse array of film screenings, SXSW is always a bit off the beaten track. The event includes new features from established brands, such as the upcoming “Veronica Mars” movie adaptation, and rising names in the world of independent film.

One new element that will set the festival even further apart from others is its introduction of the new screening section “Episodic,” which will showcase creative pieces set for smaller screens, such as webisodes and serialized television.

SXSW programmers have previously aired television shows at their annual festival — they premiered the first three episodes of “Girls” in 2012 and the pilot of “Bates Motel” in 2013. The Sundance Film Festival employed a similar tactic by screening the television miniseries “Top of the Lake” at last year’s event in Park City, Utah.

However, “Episodic” marks the first time that SXSW, or any film festival, has dedicated an entire section to digital works and television. The section will premiere the first episode of “Halt and Catch Fire” from AMC, “Silicon Valley” from HBO, “Penny Dreadful” from Showtime, “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” from El Rey Network, “Deadbeat” from Hulu and episodes of “Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey” from Fox.

The shows, made up of a mix of original material, documentary and series remakes of films, are all highly anticipated. Yet even more intriguing than their content is what their inclusion in the festival means for both television and film. The platform of television has steadily improved over the last 10 to 15 years, with many critics calling the present a golden age for the industry with the likes of “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Boardwalk Empire” and more. These series are some of the best television shows ever produced, and also the most engrossing and well-crafted storytelling across any medium in a long time.

While television has always been considered inferior to cinema, this new development could thoroughly change how the public views television. “Episodic” could lead to more shows debuting at festivals, as well as more exclusive television viewing for the film festival and art-house crowd. Viewers may even begin to see episodes and marathons of television shows in theaters in the near future.

As the medium expands to online and other platforms, television shows are taking over today’s entertainment and media culture in a way that can no longer be ignored or dismissed as inferior. These trends signal television’s shift from kitsch entertainment to high art, as SXSW is giving new and exciting material the treatment it deserves alongside innovative storytelling in film. Time will tell if others follow suit.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Feb. 5 print edition. Ife Olujobi is film editor. Email her at iolujobi@nyunews.com.

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