Martin introduces the idea of squeezing and stretching narratives. For example, an adaptation of a novel will rarely be a page for page visual transcription, but a distillation of key themes and characters. The essence must be squeezed out for the visual format of cinema. Rosemary's Baby, the 1968 Roman Polanski version, works perfectly at two hours. A four hour 2014 mini-series drained the power from the story. There are many other examples. Stanley Kubrick's The Shining used the Stephen King novel as a starting point, but made a film of his own vision. The more faithful 1997 TV version illustrates the limitations of the TV medium - lower budgets and boxy staging.
Conversely, a stretched narrative will extend the three act structure. For example GLOW, the Netflix series about women's professional wrestling set in the 1980s. The entire first season is devoted to getting the team together, which would typically be the first act of a feature film. Why not do a ten hour origin story? Or jump around in time within a known larger narrative, such as Better Call Saul. Stretching out these concepts can be risky, but when done right can be an enriching experience.
When a movie packs too much plot it can spiral into incoherence. The 1981 Sidney Lumet film Prince of the City crammed so much story and plot into its two and a half hour running time, I could not help thinking a mini-series would've better served the story. For any epic novel the possibilities in the modern TV format are limitless. In the hands of a master filmmaker and a first rate cast, Park Chan-wook's 2018 version of John le Carre's The Little Drummer Girl being an example, television can display its narrative possibilities.
There's also been a push back to long form TV. A taut 90 minute movie made in the classical style, thinking John Carpenter or Howard Hawks, can be very satisfying. Short and dense, every frame and moment adds to the unfolding story. A serialized television show cannot replicate the contained experience of a movie. Even if a movie fails, it's two hours of your life. A lackluster TV season will suck up 10-12 hours. Is it worth the time?
The past few years I've been going through The Rockford Files (74-80), a famous episodic detective show. There's a comfort in the show's lo-fi ambiance often shot at dimly lit 70s bars, sunny beach sides, and rustic dockyards. Like most 70s network TV, each episode introduces a conflict and by the end everything gets resolved. Previous episodes are rarely referenced. While the episodic approach has its limits, there's also something liberating, a sort of defiance against the idea of time moving forward. A great episode will be fondly remembered, but a serialized show is more about the overarching narrative, not the specific experience of an episode.
I don't think it's a matter if TV or movies being better, but a matter of expectations. The character driven/anti-hero style of New Hollywood movies is now the province of television from shows like Breaking Bad or Fleabag. With movies relying more on super blockbusters to keep box office numbers up and people going to theaters, the predictions of a crash Spielberg and Lucas predicted in 2013 could happen in the next decade. With Disney approaching monopoly status, movies are becoming more of a producer's medium at the expense of directors. Many promising directors have found a place in television, but within the confines of the series, while their independent projects go unmade.
Established filmmakers have also migrated to television. Martin Scorsese's The Irishmen had to go through Netflix. The long awaited Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind also became available through Netflix. The fact that Knives Out, a hit film with a middle budget and an A-list cast, can still be a hit is more the exception than the rule these days. A movie will always be a singular experience - unique and maybe in the long run more powerful.
Over the past few years I've neglected TV probably because I'm too impatient to get into too many shows. I believe in the 2020s entertainment will increasingly shift into the television format or maybe evolve into something else entirely. More interactive, or possibly a fragmentation that will make entertainment even more insular. Either way, we're in a transformative era.
Martin, Adrian. "The Challenge of Narrative: Storytelling Mutation between Television and Cinema." Cineaste: Summer 2019 Vol. XLIV, No. 3.