Just three years after Steven Spielberg had helped to recreate one of the most vividly accurate recollections of the horrors of WWII in 1998s Saving Private Ryan, the influential director would once again step back in time for one of the most significant television series ever made. Linked to the project only by the means of producing, Speilberg gave a sense of cinematic gravitas to HBO’s Band of Brothers, a project well known for its unprecedented budget and scope.
Costing over $100 million to create, Band of Brothers was an epic WWII story spread out over ten episodes, with each one detailing the advancements of a singular paratrooper company making its way through Europe. Dwarfing the production sizes of other TV dramas of the early noughties with an unprecedented meticulous focus on cast, visual effects, costumes and props, Spielberg and HBO helped to create one of the finest WWII dramas ever made.
Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by the prolific American historian Stephen E. Ambrose, the story is compiled from extensive interviews with veterans of the ‘Easy Company’, the Airborne’s 506th Regiment. Such gave the series a backbone of legitimacy that followed suit in the acting department, with a majority of the leading cast contacting the individuals they were portraying before they started filming. Tom Hanks, the original creator of the series, discussed the challenges of filming to such historical accuracy in an interview with The New York Times, stating: “We’ve made history fit onto our screens”.
Continuing, he notes: “We had to condense down a vast number of characters, fold other people’s experiences into 10 or 15 people, have people saying and doing things others said or did…But I still think it is three or four times more accurate than most films like this”.
Such accuracy was approved by WWII veterans who saw previews of the series and checked for the validity of the episodes ahead of their release on HBO. Giving such grand consideration to a television series was, before the 21st century, unheard of, with the film industry the focal point for spectacle and big budgets. Together with The Sopranos, which also carried a generous budget, Band of Brothers would change the fabric of the entertainment industry forever, blurring the lines between the meaning of the ‘small screen’ and the ‘big screen’.
Where television was once looked down on as an inferior form of entertainment, reserved for sitcoms and frivolous daytime shows, Spielberg’s production had shown that it could carry the same spectacular qualities as cinema, if the subject matter was properly cared for. Shortly after Band of Brothers came HBO’s critically acclaimed The Wire, followed by Lost from ABC that would help to spark a roaring fire of TV popularity.
Fueling a domino effect that would later lead to high-profile television series Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Stranger Things, Band of Brothers inspired the concept of high-budget small-screen entertainment. Whilst it may have been a concept championed by the six seasons of Lost, without the existence of HBO’s WWII series, the fabric of the entertainment industry may not have looked the same as it does today.