No Cover Image

Beautiful TV

GREG M. SMITH
Copyright Date: 2007
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/716421
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Beautiful TV
    Book Description:

    During its five-year run from 1997 to 2002, the popular TV showAlly McBealengaged viewers in debates over what it means to be a woman or a man in the modern workplace; how romance factors into the therapeutic understanding of relationships; what value eccentricity has and how much oddity society should tolerate; and what utility fantasy has in the pragmatic world. In addition to these social concerns, however,Ally McBealstood out for being well-constructed, narratively complex, and stylistically rich-in short, beautiful TV.

    Starting from the premise that much of television today is "drop-dead gorgeous" and that TV should be studied for its formal qualities as well as its social impact, Greg M. Smith analyzesAlly McBealin terms of its aesthetic principles and narrative construction. He explores howAlly's innovative use of music, special effects, fantasy sequences, voiceovers, and flashbacks structures a distinctive fictional universe, while it also opens up new possibilities for televisual expression. Smith also discusses the complex narrative strategies thatAlly's creator David E. Kelley used to develop a long-running storyline and shows how these serial narrative practices can help us understand a wide range of prime-time TV serials.

    By taking seriously the art and argument ofAlly McBeal,Beautiful TVconclusively demonstrates that aesthetic and narrative analysis is an indispensable key for unlocking the richness of contemporary television.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79508-2
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. INTRODUCTION: Why Ally?
    (pp. 1-16)

    Why read a book about a television series that is no longer being aired? Pop culture, by its very nature, moves on to the next hot item, feeding the hunger for the new. But eventually some television series become so old that they are “new” again and can be reclaimed as “classic,” gaining a second life as retro-hip artifacts replayed on TV Land¹ or as nostalgic bulletins from simpler times for a more harried society (the widespread syndication ofThe Andy Griffith Show, for instance). Occasionally some shows catch fire with a cult audience that recirculates and repurposes the original...

  4. Aesthetics
    • ONE Practical Music, Personal Fantasy: Creating a Community of Song in Ally McBeal
      (pp. 19-46)

      More than any other contemporary American primetime television series,Ally McBealexperiments with the way music intersects with narrative.Ally’s music toys with the boundaries between diegetic and nondiegetic,¹ interior and exterior, real and imaginary; andAllyserves as a virtual catalog of musical functions. Here I articulate the various ways this music is used, demonstrating the expanding range of lyrical devices used in contemporary television. Specifically, I examine several key questions aboutAlly’s many distinctive musical tactics. Why does the music play with the relationship between the sound track and the characters’ thoughts? What is the purpose of foregrounding...

    • TWO Getting into Ally’s Head: Special Effects, Imagination, and the Voice of Doubt
      (pp. 47-70)

      Ally McBealuses a remarkable range of subjective techniques, some that are familiar, such as voiceover and flashback, and some that innovatively repurpose devices developed in other genres, such as special effects. The combined use of all these techniques givesAlly McBeala distinctive construction. Unlike most shows with ensemble casts,Allyis remarkably centered on its protagonist (as the title would indicate). There is little attempt to portray a “real” world that is equally shared by all the characters. The deployment of formal devices makes it possible to create this distinctive world, populated by a community but shaped around...

  5. Narration and Argument
    • THREE Redeeming Ally: Seriality and the Character Network
      (pp. 73-144)

      A long-running serial television narrative must maintain a precarious balance. It is difficult enough for the producers of a new television series to create a set of compelling new character relations that can capture a sizable viewing audience in its opening season.¹ Once these relations are established, the serial must somehow undo them, because by definition the series must move forward. Stuff happens, and in a serial narrative, events matter because a serial has a memory.² Narrative incidents alter old relations, and characters become complicated as they accrue experiences.

      How can we examine the complex balance of characters across a...

    • FOUR “Is It Possible to Love Somebody Only Two Days?”: Guest Stars and Eccentricity
      (pp. 145-176)

      The makers of a television show rely on the emotional power of viewers’ connections to a network of familiar characters, thus enacting the thematic tensions of the series in their most dramatically weighted form. Events in a serial have power because they happen to characters in whom we have invested considerable time.

      But the primetime serial cannot take care of all of its narrative business by staying solely within the bounded world of core characters. It needs guest stars.Ally McBealprovides a case study of the narrative function of guest actors. Here I demonstrate that guest appearances provide conflict...

    • FIVE Victim of Love: Ally McBeal and the Politics of Protection
      (pp. 177-192)

      Early in the first season ofAlly McBealthe law firm of Cage and Fish begins to gain a high profile in sexual harassment cases, and it maintains this specialty throughout the series. This narrow focus allows former lawyer and series creator David Kelley to explore fully the potential uses and misuses of the concept of sexual harassment, staging a public debate with himself between his liberal orientation and his fears about the expanding sphere of the law. The debate itself covers a remarkable range of positions from pro-sex feminism to pro-business laissez-faire policy, virtually assuring that everyone will be...

  6. Afterword
    (pp. 193-200)

    Throughout this book I have pointed out the difficulty of performing the balancing act thatAlly McBealattempts—telling a continuing story using an ensemble cast so that primetime audiences find both individual episodes and the overall narrative involving. As I finish writing this book, it appears that changes in the economics of the American television industry are making this task increasingly challenging.

    Given the continued rise of cable networks and the concomitant smaller share of broadcast networks’ overall television audience, there is even more pressure for a television series to capture an audience quickly. This has resulted in the...

  7. Episode List
    (pp. 201-204)
  8. Notes
    (pp. 205-252)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-266)
  10. Index
    (pp. 267-276)