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State of play

State of play: Contemporary 'high-end' TV drama

Robin Nelson
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    State of play
    Book Description:

    Robin Nelson's State of play up-dates and develops the arguments of his influential TV Drama In Transition (1997). It is equally distinctive in setting analusis of the aesethetics and compositional principles of texts within a broad conceptual framework (technologies, institutions, economics, cultural trends). Tracing "the great value shift from conduit to content" (Todreas, 1999), Nelson is relatively optimistic about the future quality of TV Drama in a global market-place. But, characteristically taking up questions of worth where others have avoided them, Nelson recognizes that certain types of "quality" are privileged for viewers able to pay, possibly at the expense of viewer preference worldwide for "local" resonances in television. The mix of arts and cultural studies methodologies makes for an unusual and insightful approach.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-182-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. Editorial note
    (pp. ix-x)
  7. Introduction: aims, scope, methods and standpoints
    (pp. 1-6)

    The overall aim of this book is broadly to review the output of “quality” TV drama between the mid-1990s and 2006 (see Chapter 1) and to assess the “state of play” in television cultures at a time of significant technological and market change. Amidst frequent accusations of the “dumbing-down” of television, this book aims to offer a measured, self-reflexive, assessment of “high-end” drama on contemporary television. It seeks also to offer insights into TV drama as a cultural form, both noting how provision has changed and sketching the force-field of influences which has given rise to new product. Evidently, such...

  8. 1 Mapping the territory; blurring the boundaries
    (pp. 7-25)

    This chapter maps out the conceptual framework of the book, introducing the key factors in the force-field of both the production of contemporary TV drama and the relevant core debates in critical analysis of the television medium and its dramatic forms. A key premise to be explored in this book is that a distinctive era of television practice has emerged in the 1996–2006 decade under consideration.

    Historically, various optics have helpfully been used to assist in denoting and understanding changes in television culture across spaces and through time. Kaplan’sRocking Around the Clock(1987), for example, focused synchronically upon...

  9. 2 Distinctive product: three kinds of quality The Sopranos, Shooting the Past, Shameless
    (pp. 26-53)

    To open up – and to begin to ground – this study’s concern with the worth and qualities of distinctive drama recently on television, this chapter takes three very different examples of TV3 drama output and considers them in turn, first from the point of view of their textual features and then in respect of the bases on which they might be valued. Such an approach involves a consideration of the text in terms of its qualities as drama and – in the light of the discussion of medium-specificity in Chapter 1 – also its visual and sonic presentation (even as quasicinema). Though the...

  10. 3 State of play: the TV drama industry – new rules of the game
    (pp. 54-75)

    Those readers primarily interested in the TV dramas themselves might think the industry background to be less compelling. But, properly to understand why we get a particular kind of TV drama to appear on our screens at any given time is not just a matter of creative people coming up with fresh ideas. Moreover, the dramas behind the scenes are just as intricate and fascinating as those on the screen. First, here, I look back at circumstances in the past which have given rise to innovative drama, with a view to establishing any similarities with those which have facilitated the...

  11. 4 Pushing the envelope: “edgy” TV drama Queer as Folk, Sex and the City, Carnivàle
    (pp. 76-108)

    Other than in the domain of art video, television has not traditionally been regarded as an experimental medium. Art video demonstrates that it is not the medium itself which imposes constraints but the social context of broadcast transmission.¹ As observed, the broadcast television industry historically has tended towards norms, and what has passed for innovative has frequently been little more than an established formula with a new twist. I repeat here that I do not wish to imply that mainstream fare is necessarily bad television. The domestic nature of the medium and its perceived prime function to entertain and make...

  12. 5 Techniques, technologies and cultural form
    (pp. 109-129)

    The title of this chapter pays conscious homage to Raymond Williams’s seminal work,Television: Technology and Cultural Form(1974), which established a way of locating the outputs of the television medium in the technological and cultural contexts of production and aimed to understand them in these terms. Though technology is not seen to determine cultural forms, it is one of the main forces in a field which shapes the programmes to appear on the small screen. In TV3, developments in technologies have played a significant part not just in distribution (see discussion of satellite technology, digital compression and encryption in...

  13. 6 Between global and national 24 and Spooks; Buried and Oz
    (pp. 130-160)

    This chapter opens with an outline of contemporary issues concerning the interplay between forces which would transcend national boundaries and those which would resist them, not at the level of regulation and quotas but at the level of residual cultures which prefer texts which speak to them. Following a general introduction, the chapter focuses on two comparisons between American and British product with the aim of bringing out both the textual influence of American television style and the resistances of British cultural product which, whilst it frequently absorbs developments in American industrial practice, nevertheless still refracts its approach through a...

  14. 7 “Quality TV” in context
    (pp. 161-188)

    Contrary to discourses of the “dumbing down” of television, this book has thus far loosely constructed a narrative of improvement, suggesting that TV drama in TV3 may well be as good as, if not better than, drama on television in the past. To summarise, the argument is that, led by key subscription channels making expensive – and at times “edgy” – drama for selected target audiences, contemporary TV drama has both licence and aspirations. In some quarters, it aspires to the production values of cinema and is liberated from the LOP industrial context and regulatory constraints, to be creative in drama production....

  15. 8 Singularity sustained Blackpool, Casanova, State of Play
    (pp. 189-213)

    This final chapter considers three examples of recent British TV drama which reflect, notable strands in British television and develop them for new times. The first,Blackpool(BBC1, 2004), uses the device of popular songs both lip-synched and sung by the characters, as made famous by Dennis Potter. Like Potter, writer Peter Bowker uses pop music not only for its intrinsic attractions but also to add density to the drama, with lyrics commenting upon the action and inviting comparative reflection on the different characters’ perspectives. The second example,Casanova(Red Productions with BBC Wales for BBC3), lies in the tradition...

  16. References
    (pp. 214-218)
  17. Index
    (pp. 219-222)