Some people say that the difference between film and television are commercials. The argument generally goes that because television shows are made to get people to watch advertisements, they are less “artistic” than movies. Movies intent on the other hand is… well for argument’s sake let’s just say it is to be artistic. We are putting aside Tyler Perry’s entire portfolio, the intent of which seems to be to get me to watch innumerable advertisements for Tyler Perry’s portfolio. We are also putting aside product placement, like in Twister when Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton (and even Philip Seymour Hoffman!) collect all the aluminum cans they can find from a the decimated exurb subdivision so their sensors can fly, and all the cans happen to be Pepsi cans. The cans were in perfect shape too, I mean a tornado just hit her crappy little street! I guess all the Pepsi cans make sense of why Aunt May is so fat when she seems to eat natural foods. Maybe the whole town worked at a bottling plant. But where is the neighbor that drinks a 12 pack of Budweiser a day? So with all that off to the side, we have the real difference between television and film: longevity.
Movies are usually one-off events that an audience goes to for a few hours, and then digests. Television shows are on weekly for months at a time. Television shows have an opportunity to allow people to connect with characters, ponder problems, and speculate about next week. Of course there are crossovers to each type. Miniseries are uniformly bad, but are supposed to be similar to movie experiences I guess, while the Harry Potter movies are another beast entirely. But I still refuse to count the last 23 Land Before Time as actual movies. Anyway, while television shows are at their base level meant to create an audience for ads, the side effect of this is that it has allowed writers to create rich storylines and characters precisely to get us to come back each week (to watch more ads). Movies (at least the best ones) are stand alone affairs. We see them once (on average) and the best sequels can even be watched on their own.
That’s the main difference as I see it. Television is meant to be a part of our daily routines, while film is meant to stand out. That is not to say one is better than the other, merely to say that they are quite different.