Film directors look to make it big in television

The worlds of film and television are set to collide with TV series featuring big names and even bigger budgets

Over the coming months, television audiences are set to witness a period gangster saga from Martin Scorsese, a chilling horror serial by the director of The Shawshank Redemption and the small-screen follow-up to the Bafta winner This is England - marking the most exciting collision of film and TV since David Lynch's Twin Peaks first aired, 20 years ago.

After a summer that saw the number of cinema-goers in the US fall to a 13-year low - blamed on a string of high-profile flops - and similar declines taking place around the world, many entertainment junkies will be looking elsewhere for their next hit. With the 2010/11 television season now underway, during which the latest batch of shows will compete to become the next Mad Men or Glee! - those deprived of excitement may not have to leave their living rooms to find it. As well as having big budgets and bigger expectations, many of the most promising new programmes are being helmed by directors best known for their work on the silver screen.

"The main thing that attracts people from the world of film into television is the longer form, the ability to tell a story over a number of weeks and spread out your ambition," says Mark Duguid, a senior curator at the British Film Institute's national archive. He claims that it is common for writers and directors of features to migrate to the small screen when parts of the film industry are faltering.

"There's always been a bit of movement between film and TV. In the 1950s when [the UK's] Ealing Studios closed, there was a pouring of film talent into telly and lots of great shows such as The Avengers were created." Expectations are particularly high for Scorsese's first major foray into TV drama, Boardwalk Empire - set in New Jersey's disreputable gambling enclave, Atlantic City. Made by HBO, the subscription channel responsible for the seminal contemporary mafia drama The Sopranos, the series is set during the golden age of organised crime - the prohibition years of the 1920s and 1930s. Add to this already enticing proposition, the director of Goodfellas and Casino, one of the Emmy-winning writers of The Sopranos and the beloved Italian-American actor, Steve Buscemi (as the story's racketeering protagonist) and the result is a perfect storm of mobster cool.

"What's happening now, in the past nine or 10 years, particularly at HBO, is what we had hoped for in the mid-1960s. We hoped that there would be this kind of freedom, the ability to create another world and develop character in a long-form story and narrative," Scorsese told the entertainment website, "I've been tempted, over the years, to be involved in one of them because of the nature of the long-form and the development of character and plot. So many of its other series that have been made are thoughtful, intelligent and brilliantly put together. It's a new opportunity for storytelling, which is very different from television in the past. This was my inroad."

As well as directing Boardwalk Empire's pilot and establishing its Roaring Twenties aesthetic, Scorsese plans to shepherd the show through its ensuing seasons as the executive producer. After the first episode made its debut in the US last week to rapturous applause, HBO instantly signed up for a second season. From the wealth and excess of yesterday to the hardship of tomorrow, Frank Darabont's forthcoming series The Walking Dead will tell a very different story. The director of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption has spent the past five years trying to bring the no-jokes zombie comic created by Robert Kirkman to television. The show will finally premiere on October 31 on the cable channel AMC, home to Mad Men and the similarly uncompromising Breaking Bad.

Darabont, whose most recent big-screen venture was the 2007 Stephen King adaptation, The Mist, will direct the British actor Andrew Lincoln (This Life, Love Actually) in the series. The story follows Rick Grimes, a small-town policeman who wakes from a coma to find his world ravaged by the living dead, society destroyed and his family missing. Although the show's initial six-episode run has yet to be broadcast, AMC has also already ordered a second season. "Technology means the barriers are now coming down in terms of aesthetics; a TV show can now look like a feature film by being shot in HD on digital cameras," says Duguid. "In fact, some worry that this has made TV too expensive and that it could limit innovation."

Shane Meadows' first TV show, This is England '86, is the small-screen follow-up to his 2006 movie, This is England, about white nationalists in 1980s Britain. The four-part drama, produced by Warp Films and currently screening on Channel 4 in the UK, picks-up the characters' lives during the 1986 Mexico World Cup. The main character Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) is no longer a skinhead, but the country is deep in a recession and many of his friends are struggling with unemployment.

"Not only did I want to take the story of the gang broader and deeper, I also saw in the experiences of the young in 1986 many resonances to now - recession, lack of jobs, sense of the world at a turning point. Whereas the film told part of the story, the TV serial will tell the rest," Meadows told The Guardian newspaper. As well as the flow of talent from film to television, the forthcoming season in the US is also set to include a number of recycled movie ideas. The NBC comedy Outsourced is the story of a US white collar worker who moves to Mumbai to oversee his company's new call centre - there he struggles to explain American pop-cultural references to his new colleagues. If the show sounds familiar, that's because it is based on the 2006 independent movie of the same name. Likewise, The CW's new thriller Nikita is a TV adaptation of the 1990 French film, La Femme Nikita. The series is set to star the movie actress Maggie Q (M:i:III) as the eponymous rogue spy and is executive produced by McG, of Terminator Salvation and Charlie's Angels fame. This is the second small-screen retelling of the rogue spy story, after the 1997 Canadian show La Femme Nikita.

It also seems that the 2010/11 season will not be the last to feature shows masterminded by big Hollywood names. Stephen Spielberg is currently prepping the sci-fi drama Terra Nova, which is expected to have a budget of $4 million (Dh15 million) per episode and will make its debut in autumn 2011. The story begins in 2149 when all life on planet Earth is being threatened with extinction, and follows a group of scientists who devise a way to send people back to the time of the dinosaurs. The filmmaker has history when it comes to big-budget TV serials - his Second World War dramas Band of Brothers and The Pacific each cost more that $125 million a season.

With funding for TV shows reaching levels that were previously unheard of, and some of the movie world's best acting, writing and directing talent becoming increasingly at home on the small screen, could the future of movies be on television? Stay tuned.

The first episode of Boardwalk Empire is currently available to download for Orbit Showtime On-Demand subscribers