After discussion in class today, I started to wonder…we’ve read all of these articles about the production process of television. The Thompson, Staiger, and Newman readings have especially enlightened me as to how not only does advertising shape the scheduling and disrupt the structure of television, but it also shapes it. The Newman article in particular was extremely interesting, since it basically claimed that the success of television shows comes from this industrial process in the first place.
I feel like I’ve been used. I mean, I’ve always known that networks look to bring in high ratings and advertisings over anything else, as well as willingly manipulate the writing process of the show to achieve this goal. But to think that the very structure of an episode of a show is highly dependent upon these network goals is kind of disturbing. I now feel as if whenever I watch a show, I’m not seeing it in its “true” context. Watching Homicide in a way is weird because of this, as well as all of the other shows I’ve been. Of course they’re still enjoyable, but know that I’m watching them commercial and network free, I’m not sure if I can evaluate a show in its “true” form anymore.
Maybe I’m just exaggerating…But does anyone else wonder about the manipulation of networks? Is there something we should do about it, or is it something to just accept in whatever way we find to be fit? Is it even really an issue?
As I mentioned once in a previous post, my good friend, Brooklyn director Tim Fiore recently made a pilot for an internet TV show. It is about a production team in the 70’s making a sci-fi show–it’s a show within a show. I have a small role in it. It’s pretty funny and quite pertinent to a lot of what we’ve discussed in class. Tim put a lot of thought into the writing end of it. I recommend checking it out, and you can probably all make fun of me too.
The rest of the pilot is available at this website. Hope you lol.
After reading Michael Newman’s article “From Beats to Arcs: Toward a Poetics of Television Narrative” I was left with the feeling that his text was little more than a thinly veiled attempt to justify the market-function narrative design of television through proving that corporate constraints actually push writers to create more gratifying shows for viewers and that audiences are more satisfied because of it. Or as Newman himself puts it, “…I contend that within this industrial context network television flourishes artistically, that it rewards its audience and its advertisers at the same time.” He goes on to state that TV doesn’t have the high-brow intentions of challenging its audiences, rather, “mass art strives for accessibility and ease of comprehension”–i.e. gratification.
I felt like Newman’s entire premise was a cop-out. Yes, audiences do get enjoyment out of their programming and advertisers certainly make profits, but that still doesn’t address the fundamental truth that the narrative structure of TV programs are built to sell people things. I believe television viewers accept that the medium has to make its bread somehow and therefore this will effect the very structure of the genre. However, I reject the idea that certain constraints actually make for a more satisfying experience–I don’t squirm with glee every time a plot element or character trait is recapped in one clever way or another. Likewise, while I think writer’s creativity may flourish despite constraints and that ever-evolving corporate demands certainly push them to find creative ways to deliver quality story lines, I’m not sold on the idea that the industrial nature of TV produces better programming. I find it hard to believe that if television was restructured to feature commercials only between each program, that shows would retain many of the same nuances that come as a result of constantly having to pause for a word from the sponsors.
Though I found Newman’s article “From Beats to Arc” interesting, I couldn’t help but conclude that, though informative about the structure of television, and the relationship between commercialism and entertainment in television, it really serves no greater purpose. Much like I felt after the Mittell articles, I am beginning to feel more and more distanced from the content of television, as we continue to read essays that concentrate solely on the construct. I have slowly begun to realize that the biggest problem with television analysis is that the few who do it, such as MIttell and Newman, constantly feel a need to justify the medium, often causing them to spend a majority of their time doing so, and thus failing to offer any type of insight.
First, let me address my irritation with this constant justification of television: After giving an excruciating long list of vocabulary in his essay “Telling Television Stories,” Mittell explains that this vocabulary is useful because “understanding television’s form can increase your appreciation of the nuances of the medium, and make clear how programs can be engaging or boring, artful or manipulative” (p.266). However, I have a serious problem with the notion that we need to be taught how to appreciate television. Like books, or even film, an appreciation of television as an art form ought to be assumed. One does not need to read hundreds of pages of text and vocabulary to appreciate F Scott Fitzgerald – they do so because the novels he writes are pleasurable to read. Where did the assumption that the same is not true for television, come from? Why does Newman feel that we cannot truly appreciate the Prime-time serials he describes, until we understand what beats, episodes and arcs are?
Don’t get me wrong, I found both writer’s interesting (though, when comparing the two, it is amazing that Newman was able to say in 14 pages what Mittell took over 50 pages to say). Being interesting, however, is not the only thing theorists should be concerned with. They’re supposed to have a point. My question is, what’s their point?
I’d like to explore the differences in characterization and dialogue between Homicde ep. 3 “Night of the Living Dead” and a more successful (in terms of ratings and longevity) show, Law and Order. I think Homicide’s characters are presented in such an intimate, but conflicting way, with a very realistic touch to the way the characters speak with one another. By comparing it to the way “cops” talk to each other on Law and Order, perhaps I can account for Homicide’s decline, or at least touch on why some people just weren’t enticed by it.
The scene I’d like to use runs from…
7:00 – “Maintenance guy said….”
10:00 “Her shift comes on about the time that we’re leaving…”
This scene is great for its use of ensemble cast, overlapping story arcs (including a runner), multiple conversations taking place at the same time, and most importantly each characters own motives within the conversation (making the conversation feel very eclectic, and to me, more real). I’ll also talk about how the camera enables such a conversation to take place, where the same conversation on a show like Law and Order would be impossible.
In Jason Mittell’s, “Policing Genre,” he argues that the narrative content of a television show can be analyzed by genre. I would agree that this is a good jumping off point for analysis. By having a genre to compare a show to, it gives us a foundation to build from. An obvious example is comparing Homicide to other police procedurals such as Dragnet. One main difference is the focal point of Homicide. Whereas most cop dramas, Dragnet included, focus on the investigating and solving of specific crimes, Homicide focuses on the detectives that solve the crimes and the experiences that they have. Without having a backbone for analysis, the only analysis that could be made is based on the narrative. However, television is so much more than just a story. From a genre analysis perspective, it is impossible to ignore the cultural impact of a television show. In other words, people choose a show to watch and have an expectation of what type of show they are about to see. From there they watch the show within the frameworks of their expectations. When shows do something new or unexpected, it falls outside of these expectations, like Homicide’s realistic portrayal of the Baltimore police force. These forays into the unexpected become especially apparent in genre analysis. It is easy to tell what parts of the content fall outside of the genre conventions. From there, it is interesting to see how it is received culturally.
The genre analysis theory for television does not just apply to police procedurals. Jason Mittell also discusses situational comedies. In a situational comedy, the audience expects a constant stream of jokes and ridiculous situations. Shows such as Scrubs have the tendency to insert dramatic elements. As this is happening more and more, the convention for the sitcom is changing. Audiences are starting to expect other elements in their sitcoms than just comedy. This would fall under the cultural analysis of Mittell’s proposal for analysis. Overall, he proposes a structure for television analysis which effectively combines cultural and narrative driven analyses.
While reading Mittell’s articles I couldn’t help but try to apply Homicide to his ideas of TV series structure. Particularly I was thinking about his first article’s idea of Characters and Events being the driving factors on a show. Mittell discusses the importance of the protagonist and antagonist, which he argues exist in every show as a sort of binary opposite. In Homicide however, the two seem almost interchangeable. It would be near impossible to peg one character as the protagonist and one as the antagonist as they all seem to show moments of both. For example, a character such as Munch may be more antagonistic, but then there are scenes where he is also portrayed as an emotional man, dedicated to his work. It is in this way that Homicide is interesting within the realm of television as it twists many of the standard stylistic elements. I also think that this example of the diversity and complexity that can occur in television shows is supportive to Mittell’s second article’s argument that television is a complex discourse and should be taken more seriously in its study. Homicide is a complex show with many aspects present for deconstruction and study and is an excellent example of things that we can learn from studying the discourse of television.
Mittell talks about one of the functions of genre in Television and American Culture, which is to draw upon the popularity, similarity, and familiarity of another show within the same genre to get viewers interested in a new show of that genre, which explains “genre trends.” For the first time in years, I feel as though the genre trend of reality TV has lost its dominance. I get that for awhile, the networks loved reality TV because it was cheap and reliable. There is still a lot of it on the air, but the broadcast networks have seemed to take a few more chances with their programming this year. NBC used to be full of it, but they have made an effort to recapture some comedy audiences. I suppose I say this now, as the new shows haven’t been cancelled yet and replaced by Fear Factor.
This past month has been a busy TV watching month with all the new premieres and new seasons. I’ve watched a lot of new shows that I have really liked and been impressed by the returns of some of my fall favorites. I have to say, I have been surprised by a show that doesn’t normally fall into my “genre tastes.” Glee. I usually shy away from shows set in high school, as I assume they are just aimed at pre-teens and teens and that I’d rather watch things more relevant to my age group. I also do not like musicals. The blending of these two genres has been a trend for awhile now with High School Musical, and I am sure many people are put off by Glee’s premise. Also, the fact that one of the guys who created it also made the classic WB hit, Popular. I admit I liked that show at the time…10 years ago. In keeping with Mittell’s ideas of how our genre expectations are formed by external influences, I guess I associate teen musicals with the glorification of cheerleaders and football players and the alienation of drama kids and band geeks, and prom dates and teen pregnancy and other predictable storylines that never send uplifting messages. Add musical numbers? That’s just embarrassing, like the musical episode of Buffy. Glee defies these conventions by satirizing the genre expectations in a way that draws upon pop culture without being too tongue in cheek or over the top, like all those Wayans brothers parodies. It is definitely an homage to our fame-hungry culture formed by Youtube, My Space, American Idol, etc.
Remember when we discussed the authenticity of David Simon’s report of what he saw while observing Baltimore’s homicide unit? We had discussed whether or not the detectives altered their actions since they knew that Simon was observing them. I would like to bring that same discussion to Dragnet from Mitell’s reading to this post.
Besides the obvious difference in style, casting, and video techniques between Homicide and Dragnet, I think that Dragnet was filtered much more than Homicide. Mitell writes that Web created a system with LAPD Chief William Parker to provide stories for the series. Although the show was suppose to be a realistic interpretation of policemen in the 50’s, the LAPD had control on how they would be presented. Mitell explicitly states that the LAPD would make changes to the script before shopping that would create “positive images” of the LAPD (134). Even after the approval of the scripts, the LAPD continue to mold the series to represent them in the best way possible by having a representative of their field on set during filming. It does seem a bit ridiculous that the LAPD has so much amount for developing the direction and style of Dragnet. While I understand that they do have a right to have some say about their portrayal, all of the edits they are allowed to make diminishes some authenticity to the amount of realism produced in the series. The LAPD was seen in a good manner that they even used Dragnet episodes during their training for new officers. Even though the series is praised for being one of the most realistic portrayals of a police unit, it seems as if the LAPD had too much power to sugar coat the series.
Mitell’s explanation of the amount of power the LAPD had in their relationship with Webb reinforces the notion that Simon broke many boundaries by reporting as truthfully as possible what he had observed in Baltimore. This reading has convinced me to appreciate the guts that the producers and writers of Homicide had to stay true to Simon’s observations.
It’s interesting to see that game shows and reality programmes are narratives as well as series like Homicide and Desperate housewives. I knew the news was a form of narrative, because it happens in the sequence of cause and effect, but adding such effects to game and reality shows, only now gives me a different look on them.
I’ve always noticed how someone always has a fight with someone on Americas Next Top Model, or how someone always sleeps with someone on Big Brother, or how there are always arch rivals in Survivor, but I have always though it was pure coincidence. It was interesting to me to see that the makers of the shows deliberately put people who will potentially have scornful or romantic feelings for each other in the same narrative, so as to form that chain of ’cause and effect’ that Jason Mittell speaks about.
I also like Mittell’s look at genre, at how it’s not as static as it has been made to be, and how “Dragnet works against this formulation in exemplifying an articulation of the police genre with no representations of the system getting bucked.” (Mittell 123)