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The Contemporary Television Series

The Contemporary Television Series

Michael Hammond
Lucy Mazdon
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Contemporary Television Series
    Book Description:

    An engaging and provocative study of the contemporary prime-time ‘quality’ serial television format, this book gives a timely account of prominent programmes such as 24, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ER, The Sopranos and The West Wing and explores their influential position within the television industry. Divided into the areas of history, aesthetics and reception, the text provides an illuminating overview of an increasingly hybrid television studies discipline. Chapters consider the formal and aesthetic elements in the contemporary television serial through approaches ranging from those concerned with issues of gender and sexuality, national identity, and reception to industry history and textual analysis. The book also includes British examples of ‘quality’ serial television emphasizing not only their cultural specificity but also the transnational context in which these programmes operate. Features*Section introductions provide student-friendly explanations of the various approaches and methodologies employed in the book*Chapters are written by an international team of experts in the field of television studies*Ideal for use as a textbook on courses in contemporary television taught at undergraduate level

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-7964-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. v-v)
  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. vi-ix)
  5. Preface
    (pp. x-xii)
    Lucy Mazdon

    • Introduction: Histories
      (pp. 3-10)
      Lucy Mazdon

      For a number of years I have taught an introductory course on Television Studies to groups of undergraduate students here at the University of Southampton. An important element of the unit is time spent watching television, notepad and pen in hand, and I am always somewhat amused to discover my students’ surprise at the revelation that I too indulge in a fair amount of television viewing. There seems to be an assumption among many that television is unlikely to hold much appeal for the academics who teach them and they often seem delighted, even relieved, to hear that we too...

    • CHAPTER 1 The Writer/Producer in American Television
      (pp. 11-26)
      Roberta Pearson

      The television producer ‘prefers to turn the publicity spotlight away from himself so that it may shine fully on the program or the series he produces. He welcomes a secondary role and would embrace even anonymity if that would help his program achieve a higher Nielsen rating’, said Frank La Tourette in his foreword to Muriel Cantor’s 1971 book, The Hollywood TV Producer: His Work and His Audience (Cantor 1971: vii). In a 2001 interview with The Los Angeles Times, United Paramount Network President Dean Valentine shone the publicity spotlight on Joss Whedon, the creator and executive producer of the...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Lack of Influence of thirtysomething
      (pp. 27-36)
      Jane Feuer

      When I made thirtysomething (1987–91) my main example in Seeing through the Eighties, it was not because it was my favorite show but rather because I thought it was typical of ‘something’. What that something was seems much clearer to me in retrospect: it used what this book calls ‘prime-time serial television’ to explore the inner lives of a particular class fraction otherwise not ‘realistically’ represented on American TV: what Barbara Ehrenreich calls the professional–managerial class and what I called ‘yuppies’. The term ‘prime-time serial drama’ is no longer specific enough to account for the range of programmes...

    • CHAPTER 3 Twin Peaks: David Lynch and the Serial-Thriller Soap
      (pp. 37-56)
      Linda Ruth Williams

      There is a moment in episode 4 of Twin Peaks,² David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surreal/erotic detective/soap, when ditzy police receptionist Lucy (Kimmy Robertson), who has been watching Invitation to Love – the fictional soap much loved by Twin Peaks’ citizens – is asked ‘what’s going on?’ by her cop-boss Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean). Lucy replies:

      Thanks to Jade Jared decided not to kill himself and he’s changed his will leaving the Towers to Jade instead of Emerald. But Emerald found out about it, and now she’s trying to seduce Chet to give her the new will so that...

    • CHAPTER 4 Quality/Cult Television: The X-Files and Television History
      (pp. 57-72)
      Catherine Johnson

      The X-Files (Fox, 1993–2002) appeared on our screens at a crucial moment in the history of US television, as the industry gradually adjusted to the increased market fragmentation brought about by the expansion of new services (satellite, cable, pay-TV) and the deregulation of the communications sector. In this chapter I will argue that an understanding of The X-Files’ place within the historical development of US television can enable us to tackle the diverse and conflicting academic analyses that circulate around the series. Such a historical perspective is particularly important in analysing The X-Files, because the series has frequently been...


    • Introduction: The Series/Serial Form
      (pp. 75-82)
      Michael Hammond

      At the time of writing this introduction I have, in the interests of research of course, been confronted with a dilemma; the satellite system to which I subscribe has channels that run episodes of the series/serials Deadwood (HBO/Roscoe Productions, David Milch, 2004), The West Wing (Warner Bros./John Wells Productions, Aaron Sorkin 1999–present) and The Sopranos (HBO/David Chase Prod./Brad Grey Prod, David Chase, 1999–present) , in such an order that I cannot watch all of them (due to a peculiarity in my system I can only record the programme I am watching). I can of course choose to catch...

    • CHAPTER 5 Television and the Neo-Baroque
      (pp. 83-101)
      Angela Ndalianis

      Writing an article about television, the series and seriality, the temptation was too great: I simply had to begin by retelling the events that occurred in that infamous final episode of The Colbys (1985–7). The Colbys’ narrative premise centred on the exploits, loves, hates and intrigues of the wealthy Colby family and other characters that entered their story space. Week after week, audiences watched as characters fell in love, fell out of love, fell into comas, were kidnapped, blackmailed, and murdered. A labyrinthine web of stories unravelled at a pace that left the daytime soap storylines miles behind in...

    • CHAPTER 6 Serial Narrative and Guest Stars: Ally McBeal’s Eccentrics
      (pp. 102-122)
      Greg Smith

      A prime-time serial narrative elaborates the continuing ebb-and-flow of relations among a core group of characters. Although individual characters may come and go (as the series exhausts its need for them, or as actors move on to other opportunities), the primary group of characters remains fairly stable. By using the network of familiar characters, the makers of the series rely on the emotional power of our connections to those characters, thus enacting the thematic tensions of the series in their most dramatically weighted form. Events on a serial have power because they happen to characters in whom we have invested...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Representation of Youth and the Twenty-Something Serial
      (pp. 123-138)
      Sarah Cardwell

      In a sense, the underlying purpose of this chapter is to posit a television category or genre that is not yet officially recognised: the twenty-something serial. This will be achieved through exploring the connections and developments visible in three of its most notable examples: This Life (BBC2, 1996–7), Queer as Folk (Ch4, 1999–2000) and Teachers (Ch4, 2001–present). I shall argue that the twenty-something drama is one that can be defined by its possessing a combination of textual features – thematic, stylistic and tonal – as well as by its intended and actual audience of ‘twenty-somethings’. Interestingly, these...

    • CHAPTER 8 Violence and Therapy in The Sopranos
      (pp. 139-158)
      Jason Jacobs

      The first scene of The Sopranos episode ‘Amour Fou’ shows Carmela (Edie Falco) and Meadow Soprano (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), wife and daughter of New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) looking at paintings in the Brooklyn Museum of Art.³ The first shot after the title sequence shows a close-up of Carmela’s hand holding a handbag, with a large ring prominent on her finger. The camera pulls back revealing the open space of the gallery as Carmela walks between black sculptures towards her daughter. We can hear music that is not part of this world, but appropriate to the rarefied setting;...

    • CHAPTER 9 Television, Horror and Everyday Life in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
      (pp. 159-180)
      Eric Freedman

      Television introduced the conflicted nature of domestic space as at once private and public in the 1950s, as the television industry invested itself in (and profited from) the very anxieties that were directed towards the new technology. These anxieties were linked both to the role the new medium might play in shaping everyday domestic life and with external situations and reactions along broader cultural indices. One obvious source of this anxiety was the ease with which the new medium could bring global and national news events into domestic space. Consequently it is not surprising that science fiction and horror found...


    • Introduction: Receptions
      (pp. 183-189)
      Michael Hammond

      As we left off in the last section we drew comparisons between the industry’s approach to the structure and seriality of the series/serial with the academic study of texts. Where formal textual analysis can reveal how the stories are told, the industry in general looks to ways that will ensure the appropriate response or affect. Both are concerned with how the text will provide narrative information. In the case of formalist textual analysis the concern is with how the visual and aural elements provide ‘cues’ to relay story information. Although they are talking about film here, David Bordwell and Kristin...

    • CHAPTER 10 Cult TV, Quality and the Role of the Episode/Programme Guide
      (pp. 190-206)
      Matt Hills

      The pleasures of television viewing have often been academically recorded as pleasures of seriality, familiarity, order and repetition, ‘Television is very much part of the taken for granted seriality . . . of everyday life. Broadcast schedules reproduce (or define) the structure of the household day’ (Silverstone 1994: 20; see also Ellis 2000; Fiske 1987). As well as this ‘ontological security’ of TV’s soothing, ritualised seriality and everydayness (Silverstone 1994: 5), the pleasure of narrative knowledge – being developed over time by dedicated audiences – has been posited as a crucial element in appreciating that most serialised of TV forms,...

    • CHAPTER 11 Creating ‘Quality’ Audiences for ER on Channel Four
      (pp. 207-223)
      Janet McCabe

      Despite Channel 4’s past success with imported American programming, Steve Clarke wondered how viewers would react to its new acquisition, ER (NBC, 1994–present), when first transmitted on British terrestrial television in February 1995:

      The problem was that while ER (Emergency Room) was obviously the more original of the two [Chicago Hope (CBS, 1994–2000) being the other], it was so different that viewers might be put off by its frantic pace. (Clarke 1995: 3)

      Even at the beginning of series seven, shown first on Channel 4’s new pay-TV entertainment digital channel E4 in January 2001, reviewers still expressed concerns...

    • CHAPTER 12 The Bartlet Administration and Contemporary Populism in NBC’s The West Wing
      (pp. 224-243)
      J. Elizabeth Clark

      One of the only things that has made life worth living for left-leaning liberals in the United States since George W. Bush became president is the small fact that, for one hour on Wednesday evenings, he is not the president. That honour belongs instead to the fictitious Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlet – a three-term US Congressman and two-term governor from New Hampshire who holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the London School of Economics and a Nobel Prize in Economics – who presides over the country’s fate on NBC’s The West Wing. This president, whose American roots, he claims, can be...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 244-252)
  10. Filmography
    (pp. 253-255)
  11. Index
    (pp. 256-260)