CONQUERING THE BEAST

The Coen brothers are the next auteur filmmakers to defect to the small screen

Obsession
Glass
Obsession
Glass

The Coen brothers, like many filmmakers before them, are heading into the TV fray. The duo behind cinema classics like Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, and the remake of True Grit are making their first foray into TV this year with a new Western anthology that they will write and direct.

The upcoming show, called The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, is reportedly being planned as a mini-series that would be released both on TV and in theaters. It’s unclear what that would look like. But, according to Variety, it’s because the project was too challenging to fit into a feature film.

Joel and Ethan Coen have dabbled in TV before. They developed a comedy for Fox in 2011 that never materialized. And were listed as executive producers on the Fargo TV series, but were reportedly not involved in the development or production of the show. This new project would be their first real run at the genre.

Other big-name auteur filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Ridley Scott have also turned to TV in recent years, as an influx of Hollywood blockbusters have turned movie making into a tentpole business, prompting some directors to declare that cinema is dead.

TV, on the other hand, has given filmmakers a chance to experiment with longer, more complex stories as of late, while bringing cinema-quality production and storytelling to the small screen.

But television is an entirely different beast than film and even the best of filmmakers have failed to conquer it. Woody Allen’s Amazon series, Crisis in Six Scenes, was a critical disappointment (paywall). Baz Luhrmann’s hip-hop drama The Get Down, is stunning at times, but was over-budget, met with mixed reactions from critics, and seemingly failed to attract a broad audience. Martin Scorsese’s rock drama Vinyl, created for HBO, also gloriously flopped last year and was canceled after its first season.

That’s not to say filmmakers can’t make great TV shows. Aaron Sorkin is something of a master in this arena, seamlessly shifting back and forth over the years between films like A Few Good Men, Moneyball, and The Social Network and TV shows like Sports Night, The West Wing, and The Newsroom. Steven Spielberg, along with Tom Hanks, brought Band of Brothers to life in an 2001 mini-series. David Fincher directed the first episode and produced Netflix’s smash hit, House of Cards.

Alfred Hitchcock pivoted to TV in the 1950s with his anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which remains a classic to this day. And there’s David Lynch’s bizarre sci-fi mystery series Twin Peaks, which lost its way during its second, final season, but built up a cult following in the years since and is being revived, 25 years later, by Showtime and is set to debut in May.

But the good is often offset by the bad. Season two of True Detective was a train wreck. Spielberg also produced mediocre shows like Terra Nova and Under the Dome. And Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip only lasted one season.

The Coen brothers project, which has yet to find a network or streaming service, is an experiment for both the filmmakers and Annapurna Television, which is co-producing the film. The newly launched TV arm of Annapurna Pictures is being led by producer Megan Ellison and former HBO executive Sue Naegle. One of its first productions will be a limited series based on the Maria Semple novel Today Will Be Different, which will star Julia Roberts.

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