Yesterday, someone shared with me this epic TV Guide oral history of ER’s groundbreaking episode “Love’s Labor Lost.” In it, Bradley Whitford (who brilliantly guest starred on said episode) commented on the silent and harrowing moments of that hour. He said,
“It is so much better and powerful in silence from the back, pulling away. It’s so much better because the audience fills in the specifics of it. It’s not as strong if you hear what Tony says compared to when you just see what I responded to and see me burst into tears. I think about that choice all the time. It drives me nuts as an actor now. I’m so lucky to have been able to do the stuff I’ve done, but if I have one minor quibble, there’s way too much coverage in television. That infects the writing process, the shooting process, the editing process. No one trusts the audience now. You watch powerful film structures in the ’50s, it’s incredible how much everything is allowed to just play. That’s partly why I love Birdman, although that became a little, “Oh, Jesus! They’re never gonna cut!” I think psychologically what happens every time you cut, for the audience, there’s a little stroke. It’s a jarring thing. I think there’s way too much choppy chop now. You don’t need it. ER didn’t do that. This was filmed perfectly.”
Which is sad but true.
Today rarely do we witness in network television (save The Good Wife and Luther perhaps) those quiet, contemplative moments that allows the audience to interpret and think and really feel for their characters. Perhaps I need to tune in to the likes of “event series” like Gracepoint, The Slap, and American Crime, but off the top of my head, network dramas just don’t hold up to those early seasons of “ER.”