Evaluating Contemporary Television
Evaluating Contemporary Television SPCM 341
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CHAPTER 3 Television Style The ventures ofdreamland are thine for a day iSilas Weir Mitchell Dreamland INTRODUCTION When we watch television we seldom think about how it is produced yet it is television style created by production techniques that allows us to enjoy the programs we watch When we watch the reality show Survivor we see a group of 16 men and women who appear to be stranded on an island that is miles from camp coping with little or no convenient resources and dangerous elements Yet there are as many as 20 camera people directors producers and others there with them If the 16 people who play the survivor game were really alone on the island there would be no television show about them Because they are the invisible entities behind the show the production professionals are not noticed by the viewers at all As a television critic you do not have to know the technical requirements of producing a television show but it is use Jl to remember that what we see on the screen is the product of many talented people who work in the television industry Knowng something about produc tion techniques may help the critic talk about what is seen and heard and how it came about The following discussion of television style was written for this book in collaboration with Paul Monaco lm and television producer director editor writer and professor of cinema and video He writes from an experience of professional academic and media pro duction of 25 years LENGTH OF SHOT AND FRAMING Motion picture production developed distinctive stylistic approaches during the 50 years of mak ing movies prior to the advent of broadcast television immediately a er the Second World War O en spoken of as lm language the stylistic choices for directors and editors may be sum marized brie y The rst 30 years of filmmaking consisted of silent movies produced without synchronous sound so the fundamental lm aesthetic developed with a strong emphasis on 51 52 PART II FORMAL ASPECTS OF TELEVISION visual communication As such there are several elements of lm language that were estab lished very early in the 20th century Visually all shots that appear on the screen for both mov ies and television may be described as long medium or close Along shot includes an entire human gure from the bottom of the feet to the top of the head creating a full picture A medium shot is framed on a human gure at or near the waist so that the torso and head llthe picture while the legs and feet are below the lower frame line and out of the picture A close up shot shows only the head There area variety of shots that are gradients between these long medium and close shots that use intermediate framing such as the medium long shot the medium close shot or the extreme closeup What we see on television can always be thought of and described as being a long shot a medium shot or a closeup shot with variants of distance from camera to subject All types of material seen on television and all genres of TV production use these shots Compared to motion picture production strong tendencies exist in television toward medium shots Medium shots are prominently used for news commentators for interview ers for talk shows and for sports commentators when they are on air Most live and live ontape productionin these genres favors the medium shot Medium shots moreover are favored in the production of ctional dramas and comedies produced for television The medium shot lends itself to what is considered the most natural framing for conversation The heart ofa great deal of writing for television drama and comedy is talk As more view ers watch television on smaller screens it is recommended that production should shift toward closer coverage Viewing on a computer screen or other digital devices demands more closeups and the elimination of wider visual coverage The newer forms of viewing are thought to be geared to a more intimate relationship of the viewer to the picture Photo 31 A medium shot on House CHAITER 3 Television Style 53 The genres of news talk information programming and commentary in particular remind us that although television production derives in part from the traditions of motion pictures television also derives and some would argue more strongly from the tradi tions of broadcast radio Talk is very important on television Television is every bit as much an audio medium as it is a visual medium Eventually the audio component of a production may prove more de nitive of the aesthetic of the emerging media than the picture that is receding in size Over time the typical style of television production developed a reliance on a medium shot that is actually framed tighter than one that is described as cutting a gure at the waist That standard framing of a shot for television is best described as an quotelbowsquot shot TV directors and camera operators commonly use the term quotelbowsquot Any reference to elbows frames ashot of a gure so that the lower edge of the screenis at roughly the middle point of his or her arms A great deal oftelevision production uses this framing Dramas situation comedies and soap operas nearly always do but the commonality of this framing to pro duction for television spreads more widely as well To say that any particular shot or a frame line is standard or dominant in television pro duction still must be understood to mean that other shots are used as well Long shots are not as common in television production as they are in motion pictures but they exist in all genres of television They often serve to draw the viewer39s engagement out of a comedy or a drama emotionally Hence they are frequently used for transitions into and out of scenes In sports programming by contrast long shots are absolutely vital to portraying the action of the game which can orle be shown with a long wideangle shot MULTlCAMERA PRODUCTION Live and liveontape television is normally multicamera production meaning several cameras are in use simultaneously Fourcamera production schemes have been common in television historically for the production of both dramatic and comedy programming Such multicamera production schemes allow for a good deal of coverage and have been particularly useful in the con ned interior settings common in much of dramatic and comedy production for television Multicamera production in these circumstances has been considered especially amenable to episodic programming Traditionally television favored such production as economical and effective however budgetary considerations have createda trend toward singlecamera production REACTION SHOTS Early in the development of motion picture production filmmakers discovered the power of the reaction shot in which a facial expression or the gesture of a person who is not talking in a scene is revealed This capacity to ll the screen with the reaction of a figure in a scene to another character s action became more sophisticated in feature lm producr tion after the coming of synchronous sound to the movies in 1927 Production for main stream Hollywood feature lms standardized the reverse angle shot so that an editor 54 PART II FORMAL ASPECTS OF TELEVISION could choose to show a single shot on either the speaker or the listener in a conversation This ability to cut to a reaction shot is definitive of one of the primary aesthetic devices available to any filmmaker Television has made coverage of reactions even more pro nounced and prominent than in the movies Part of this is because production for televi sion usually is more intimate than the visual coverage provided in movies made for exhibition in theaters on the big screen Live coverage in speci c television genresuch as the talk show quiz show public affairs programming featuring experts with differing opinions and sports broadcastinglends itself so well to revealing the reactions of people being interviewed pondering a question arguing or responding to a play in a game In television comedy and drama reaction shots have taken on increasing importance as production styles have evolved over the half century since the 19505 Situation comedies are models of using reaction shots to emphasize the humor of a line Because successful television is episodic regular viewers are familiar with the characters and their relationships in a particular show This familiarity facilitates the viewer39s understanding and appreciation of these sorts of reactions The same is true for episodic drama and nowhere is this more evident than in the daily daytime television soap operas Primetime drama relies heavily on reaction shots to convey realization discovery and a character39s coming to terms with troubling or devastating feelings or events MadMen Grey39s Anatomy House Parenthood and NCIS are typical of exceptionally popular dramatic programsin which coverage on shots of a character39s reaction to other characters and the episode39s story line is vital to the style Multicamera production of live talk shows quiz shows and sporting events of course lends itself to the coverage of reactions This is true for comedy and dramatic production as well but television production with asingle camera also utilizes reaction shots Although several directors guide the making of different episodes of Mad Men for exampl e every episode is heavy on reaction shots and their importance to the development of the story line and the revealing of a character39s feelings is vital This style of utilizing reaction shots so much meshes with the fact that the characters in the seriesmost prominently Don Draper Peggy Olson Roger Sterling and joan Harris are strong and wellestablished for the viewers LIGHTING quotIf you can39t light it you can39t lm or tape it This simplistic maxim is the heart of all motion picture and television production Once any gure or object is adequately lit so that it can be seen a vast array of aesthetic and stylistic choices confronts the maker of lm or television The look of television production tends toward balanced lighting that avoids extremes of light and shadow and treats all gures in a scene equally The source of light in such traditional television production has been treated as comparatively incon sequential Lights in a television production studio hang from a grid above the action and these lights are set to produce a common look so that generally all portions of the space are lit similarly This mode of lighting is very different from what is used historically in single camera lm production The use ofa single camera in motion picture production CHAITER 3 Television Style 55 requires much more time because there are far more setups Motion picture lighting since the early 19705 has used lower light and permitted greater latitude in allowing light and shadow to push or pull toward greater extremes of brightness or darkness There has even been a stylistic tendency in motion picture production toward the use of quotavailable ligh with minimal addition of lighting in certain locations In this sense television productions have almost always been quotbetterquot lit than movies because production for television uses more standardized and brighter lighting as a rule Manipulation of the lighting strongly affects the tone of a scene and the emotional mood that is conveyed by that scene to viewers Television production however historically has been very modest in the use of lighting to in uence tone and mood Such a use of lighting is far more a convention of modern motion picture production Dramatic features pro duced for theatrical release tend toward favoring low light accepting what is called natural available light for scenes permitting the wide use of extremes of brightness and darkness and light and shadow to create mood and emotional responses While television produc tion has steered away from extreme and artistic lighting schemes the aesthetic choices about lighting are still essential to production Cynthia Pusheck director of photography for Brothers and Sisters said the challenge of lighting eight or more actors in a scene is a challenge quotYou must devise an economical way that will allow you to light it get the cover age and maybe limit some of the angles all while trying to create a style or mood and tell a story that the audience will graspquot Pusheck 2010 49 Because the producers wanted more intimacy between the characters for the second season of the television series House and to give the audience the impression that they were witnessing reality Roy Wagner the cinematographer had the number of lights pulled down and the line producer Gerrit van der Meer redesigned the sets They put ceilings on all interior sets including hallways offices the lobby waiting room and operating rooms The ceilings enclose the spaces and uorescent fixtures built into the sets are the only source of light with beams of light that can be controlled As wagner said quotThat39s impor tant because the eye automatically goes to the brightest light in the frame We want the audience looking at the actors quotHow Roy Wagner Revealsquot 2005 p 2 The new lighting setup gave the directors the freedom to shoot in any direction including looking up toward ceilings It also trimmed the budget and the time it takes to light the scenes PRODUCTION 0N FILM VERSUS DIGITAL VIDEO For a great many years people in the television industry talked about entertainment shows for television being quottapedquot but many of the episodic dramas and comedies on TV were actually lmed The use of celluloid lm produces a quotlookquot in which colors are more deeply saturated detail is more precise and the foregrounding of gures and objects is sharp It was only in the late 19905 that any appreciable number of major episodic dramas and comedies made for network television began to be produced using digital video cameras rather than lm and lm cameras The production crews did not necessarily welcome this change and a number of long running shows continued using film 56 PART II FORMAL ASPECTS OF TELEVISION The industrywide changeover to digital cameras and production had almost nothing to do with aesthetic choices or with production style Like many producers39 decisions it was driven by economics Film had two areas of extra cost that digital video production did not have First the use of lm required larger camera crews so that a fourcamera production normally required a minimum of 12 camera professionals 3 on each camera Second the costs of lm stock and the processing of lm were thought to be considerably higher than the cost of taping even using the highestend and most expensive digital cameras Not surprisingly for a while professional production personnel debated the use of the new digital technologies in the camera department As for the preferred look in terms of color saturation light and shadow and detail most professionals preferred the look of film Many craftspeople in the industry also argued that the economic arguments for conversion to digital video production were misleading andor mistaken This argument advanced the notion that the hourly rental of time for digital editing was so expensive that conversion to digital production might save little or no money Gradually digital cameras prevailed The de nitive in uence in the nal choice of digital cameras over motion picture cameras and the use of lm in production for televi sion was that digital postproduction for editing and sound swept away the technologies and practices of motion picture editing and doubletrack system sound Motion picture and television craftspeople are famously capable of adapting to technological changes and the use of new equipment What constituted a digital revolution in television production from the late 1990s into the early let century was absorbed and mastered quickly and well Viewers did not notice when and if their favorite entertaimnent shows changed from production in lm to production with digital cameras Although the shift from tradi tional editing and sound technologies and practices to digital ones affected the profes sional workplace in television considerably what the viewers see and hear in their homes was not necessarily changed in any perceptible way until the arrival and spread of high definition television HDTV The picture quality of HDTV provides a delineation to the viewer s eye of a vastly improved perception of depth and a wider picture that exists in an elongated rectangular shape as opposed to the square boxlike picture of traditional tele vision This wider frame provides challenges to the creators of television with regard to the visual information contained in the picture and the composition within the frame that conveys that information STYLE RECEPTION AND DIGITAL VIDEO PRACTICES Among the ironies and complexities of television style is that all the formal characteristics of picture and sound nally may dependless on what went into the television production and more on the equipment on which you view it The goal of improving what the viewer sees and hears at home is behind the conversion from analog television to high definition digital television in the United States that was mandated in the Telecommunications Act passed by the US Congress in 1996 Proponents of the conversion to high definition tele vision believe that the costs and dif culties have proven to be worth it because viewers now see a considerably sharper and clearer picture the sound quality is vastly improved and CHAPTER 3 Television Style 57 Photo 32 H DTV is ideal for a wide long shot of a baseball game to be shown Sun rte 39 istockphotocomRBFried the elongation of the screen39s width delivers programming in a vastly more impressive pictorial frame It has not taken media production professionals long at all to adapt to this new more sharply de ned and wider picture of HD While digital production on tape has grown quickly and steadily there are some notable holdouts in areas of production in which lm is still largely preferred for image capture put simply the picture on lm still always looks better and more nuanced visually Once captured on celluloid with the lm look such footage must then be transferred to a digital tape format for editing Highend commercials for many products promoted nationwide for example still are often shot on lm Here the preference for the lm look in glossy national advertising campaigns prevails Nonetheless television producers have widely accepted that it is the use of camera lenses that more fully determines the quotlookquot of any picture than whether it is recorded digitally or on celluloid Moreover while the introduction of HDTV in the rst several years of the let century has promoted the utilization of 24 p and digital video camera use for dramatic and com edy production at the same time there is a shift away from multicamera production to single camera production While the use of digital cameras saves production money at one end by replacing more expensive equipment the choice to follow singlecamera pro duction practices increases the length of all productions and their costs Singlecamera production is atechnique developed in and associated with the movies The preference 58 PART II FORMAL ASPECTS OF TELEVISION for it however may be questionable when the production in question is for television In the late 1990s the shift to singlecamera production techniques found HBO at its van guard Signature HBO successes like The Sopranos Sex and the City and Six Feet Under were singlecamera productions and there is little doubt that these successes in uenced other productions to tend toward singlecamera direction and production To the question quotCan the average viewer recognize when he or she is seeing a single camera production or a multicamera production on television the general answer is no Studio productions such as talk shows and newscasts nearly always are multicamera pro ductions even though they are shot entirely with digital video cameras Multicamera tech niques lend themselves to quick cutting from shot to shot audience coverage including an array of immediate audience reactions shots and the ability to pull out wide on a shot in a blink of the eye Singlecamera techniques permit directors and actors more time to work through the material of a scene because there are more camera setups and because anum ber of takes are required to provide adequate coverage of any scene The singlecamera tech nique tends to slow the dramatic action and development and provides coverage so that a character39s reactions tend to be given greater attention Nonetheless singlecamera produc tion had come into vogue during the rst decade of the 21st century although no specific aesthetic intention was connected to that development MODES OF PRESENTATION Historically most television production for drama and comedy has aimed at a mode of pre sentation like that of classic Hollywood lm Movements and focusing of the camera lens were intended to be unobtrusive Editing generally followed patterns of continuity and the editing formulas for achieving that appearance Disruption in the ow of the story was minimizedin favor of clear and distinct break points Television production in principle has had to follow strict points of division in order to accommodate breaks for commercials Again HBO a cable network without commercial sponsorship of speci c program segments led the way toward a new form of narrative integrity and wholeness in its typical dramatic and comedy production Here again however television style is diverse and multifaceted Sports coverage presents an example of production decisions that are determined by the discrete nature of the game or competition itself News coverage on television has a strong tendency toward a stylistic emphasis on immediacy underscored by handheld camera work and a visual involvement in the developing action of any scene With handheld cam era movements the viewer39s eye follows the movements irregularities and pacing of the camera39s lens Handheld camera styles draw the viewer to the image make emphatic the viewer39s identification with the point of view of the camera and thus are assumed to visu ally engage the Viewer39s emotions more Some reality programming such as the early real ity show Cops abides by this style Such an approach to camera work emphasizes engagement handheld techniques and the following of action Reaction footage is mini mized in the nal cutting and may not have been lmed at all because the attention of the camera work is the action as it happens in front of the police of cers NYPD Blue the for mer weekly drama about police detectives in New York City tended to establish a visual CHAITER 3 Television Style 59 style based on handheld camera work and abrupt camera movements including swish pans where the camera lurched in one direction or the other but usually left to right creat ing a particular quotlookquot that became characteristic for creating transitions within a sequence Cinematographer Roy Wagner who employs a blend of handheld Steadicam a camera strapped to the body of the camera person and dolly a camera mounted on moving wheels shots on the series House said quotWhen the story becomes chaotic and out of control we39ll handhold the camera to create visual tension so the audience subliminally feels a sense of urgency quotHow Roy Wagner Reveals 2005 p 3 From this reality style of handheld cam era work television news live coverage and other forms of informational programming display a strong affinity for the use of editing wipes and the blending of pictures A moving camera handheld footage and swish pans fast camera lateral movements across the screen have become more common in television production since NYPD Blue TELEVISION SOUND AND EDITING There is very little silence on TV The production style for all genres and types of program ming requires a sound design that is dense and unrelenting A common term for this practice in the industry calls such sound in a production quotwalltowall Talk predominates on television hearkening back to the medium39s traditions which are derived from radio Even when there is relatively less talk music sound effects or what is heard as naturalise tic ambient sound lls the track Directionalmicrophones on booms are utilized to record sound on dramatic and comedy productions Documentaries interviews for news cover age and talk shows may use small lavalieretype microphones worn on the clothing although wireless microphones that are carried in a pocket or attached to a belt to permit greater movement have become more common Compared to motion picture sound tele vision sound is far less sweetened manipulated and edited Sound effects in television production are vastly fewer and always inferior in quality to those used in motion picture production for theatrical distribution Another factor is that the systems in the typical television sets in the early 21st century still consist of smaller and vastly inferior speakers mounted within the television set itself To compensate home theater setups with stereo speakers amplify television sound What appears most de nitive and distinctive of television style is a tendency toward accelerated pacing in nearly all genres Quick cutting is anorrn although there are excep tions to this guideline Multicamera production in particular favors quicker cutting with shot lengths typically 3 to 5 seconds in duration Longer takes are less common in televi sion When long takes do occur they frequently are instances of a Steadicam a camera equipped with a special springloaded rigging that combines the freedom of a handheld camera with the stability of a dollied tracking shot moving normally with a subject This creates the smooth owing appearance of the shot as the cameraman walks along During the 1950s and 1960s television programming was decidedly slowerpaced and more clearly based on principles of continuity than it is today In the 1970s cutting ratios quickened so that shorter shots tended to be edited more quickly As a general principle the pace ofediting has increased in all genres and types of television However as television 60 PART II FORMAL ASPECTS OF TELEVISION programming has become as vast and as diverse as it did by the 1990s generalizations about television style and the prevailing aesthetic in the medium must always be viewed cautiously Since 2000 with digital television production in full force the pacing and look of television programs has generally become quicker more disjointed edgier and adven turesome HBO productions such as True Blood and Showtimes s Dexter are prime exam ples of this but so are series developed by the major broadcast networks such as CS NCIS and NCIS Los Angees Madefortelevision movies followed a slower pace of development and editing than dramatic and comedic television programming Movies are longer com plete works Most feature lms that are shown on television are an hour and a half to two and a half hours in length Music videos and commercials tend toward fast cutting with pacing that often may be describedas frenetic As television producers in all genres manage an 391 time a 1 is de nitive of television it is widely observed that generational tastes appear to dictate much about editing choices and pacing Programming that is presumedto appeal to younger viewers especially to teenage and young adult audiences is more fastpaced than shows programs and types of television aimed at a middleaged or older demographic that Lie clipLi cl PRODUCTION STYLES Industry professionals often say that motion pictures are a director39s and cinematogra pher 39s medium while television is a producer39s and writer39s medium This generalization points to a perception that de nes the differences in production styles Traditionally fea ture lms made for theatrical release explore a wider range of visual looks camera setups and movements and engage physical space in ways that are more ambitious aesthetically Television production is far more cautious economical and standardized being dependent upon turning out material on a regular basis in a uniform way Drama and comedy pro duced for TV have been intended for episodic series and that intention drives their style News information and talk programming have to be regularized to repeat daily Sports on television is an event although the proliferation of sports channels in the late 1990s the lengthy seasons of many professional sports Major League Baseball MLB especially but also the National Basketball Association NBA the National Football League NFL and the National Hockey League NHL and the increased coverage of major college athletics have transformed the truism of quoteven programming into the programming concept of covering a different event every three hours or so ART DIRECTION Television series encourage art direction also known as production design Studio produc tion occurs in a de ned space Typical sets have three walls on a sound stage usually decorated to look like familiar rooms in houses hospitals or of ces that the characters return to over the life of a series The fourth wall is left open for the camera equipment lights microphones and a liveaudienceifone isin the studio Cameras are basically aimed CHtPTEH 3 Tfdevision Slyle 61 in a forward direction lile the eyes ofthe audience facing astage with side shots and close ups as needed The sets have open ceilings with rafters and lights House is an exception to 1his norm flllh irs four hardwalled closed celling sets constructed w look like real hospi tals That is why viewers sometimes sec the ceilings and overhead lights in the shots or follow the Steadicam strapped to the camera operator39s body down the hallvays Situation comedies have nearly always been taped In from of a llve audlence even though the program that is shown is extensively edited after the actual taping and normally does not air until several weeks later The audience sits on raised bleachers on one side of the set which normally conslsts of rhree slages built and dressed as lhe normal living work and lciswc spaces of the characters These arc the places where the btlllt of the shovvs action occtlrs with another set built and added fr speci c scenes in a bar or a restatlrant for example These stages all ofwhich open to the camera personnel are arranged in a llne like railroad cars with the performance and its camera worl most normally proceeding from left to right Typically these stages have scenery painted on backdrops to offer vievs out of win dows from rhe set llself For situation comedles lhe decor and color combinations are brighter and lighter39 for dramas the look of the furnishings the paint on the walls and the costuming are more subdued More reds and yellows are used in situation comedies browns grays blues and similar subdued colors are used for drama The laborarories of CSJ Crime Scene Investigation are colored in blue and bluegreen title to gels on the lights Sets are detailed and dressed with props that look quotnatttralquot for the era and place and for age and gender as well as the econom 1c or social sratus of lhe characrers In a comedy or drama The set created by Stephan Olson for How Met Your Mother is done in shades of rust red and orange with the character Ttd39s camera collection posters and signs in full view It39s cluttered and conveys a mascullne domain The set for rhe advertising agency on Mac Men designed by Bob Shaw conveys the Madison Avenue era of the 1960s There aJe typevriters but no computers on the desks the phones have dials and there are Dictaphones Set decorator Amy Vells found print ads for Zippo lighters and Arrow shins for lhe of ce walls Production designer Dan Bishop said the budget constraints caused them to shoot Mad Men s restaurant scenes in existing venw39s like Musso ampFran in downtown Los Angeles He said quotIt would be a challenge to replicare rhar They look great on lm Roberts ZOCYT p 63 Prop masters are in charge of selecting appropriate properties on the sets and makeup artists and costume designers decorate the actors for their parts The actors in Mad Men are authenrically dressed 1n 1960s style wllh the women in crinolines sheath dresses angora sweaters and pearls while the men have hair sliclwd with Brylcrccrn and wear sldnny tics vvhite shirts and cuff links 139luch attention is paid to details Whether it is a foamy cocltail or a plastlc rypewrlrer cover and everyone smokes On Glee set In contemporary rlmes Jane L3mch who plays Sue Sylvestet averages nine track suits that are pttrchased in mall stores per episode The production designer or an direcror works hard ar balancing any number of consid crations The driving aesthetic for such choices is naturalism with a strong emphasis on creating spaces that the viewer will take as appropriate to and believable for the partictllar characters and episodes Successful comedies and dramas run for years and then go into syndication when they may be telecast daily The distinct spaces where these dramas and comedies occttr are very detailed parts of their overall aesthetic value 62 P1Rf lT FORMAL ASPECTS OF TELEVISION To save on production costs and to avoid problems that arise from shooting otJtdoors many television shmvs the green screens that is actors are placed in front ofa blank green screen and realisric backgrounds are superimposed ln postproduction Stud los creaxe vlnual thrccclimcnsional exteriors using highdctlnition footage shot in distant locations Green screen digital special efhcts recreate historical scenes such as castles and fantasy locales Nonerheless Ahenrhlnking about rhe styles ln televlslon production and ax some point commenting on a few of the differences between the production look of movies as com pared to television a very basic and historic fact stands in the Way of reaching any simple conclusion about television style Because of rheir fundamemal phowgraphic nature motion pictures and television aesthetically arc considered to be strongly quotnaturalisticquot From the inception of each of these media until the mid1960s however prodthtion and presemation in rhem Was in black and Vlhite UuJe seems less natural than a visual world perceived and seen only in black and white but many of the most highly regarded movies in motion picture history and all the classic television productions of the 1950s and early 1960s were in black and leite Vloreover reruns of1Love Uuy and Gun0mol7e for example still entertain television audiences into the early 21st century The telecasting of blackand white classic featttre lms and signi cant historical documentaries on television has only grown vdththe proliferation of cable and satellite television and their many neN channels The norms of spatial production design in drama and comedy produced for television tend to be stagelike commonly With the action opened ttp toward the imaginary fmtrth wall of a set rhere the anion occurs The cast essentially plays to the cameras much the Way stage actors play to their audiences Lighting for depth perspective and the usc of film ing techniques such as selective focus or deep focus have traditionally been minimized in production for relevision Again by the late 1990s and into the early years ofr he 21st cen tury HBO productions notably series lile The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire as well as special productions like HBltYsJohn Adams and The Pacific pushed production for televi sion roward morion picture artisrry and irs visual and performance aesthetic So much of what is on television is news information intctview and talk programming and in these genres the stylistic conventions are standard The set itself is generally tUnc tlonaL relatively unembellished and the commentawrs hosts andguesrs are foregrounded This means that their gures are prominently lit and that the bad39grounds do not detract or draw attention away from their prominence in the frame Such programming typically nds a satisfactory look and stays with it There are differences of course The Late Show tVith David Letterman is produced in an older theater owned by CBS and not coinciden tally located on Broadway in New York City The Tonight Show on NBC with Jay Leno is produced in a large studio ln Burbank California and rhe production sryle ls distinguished by beginning each show with shots revealing the entire studio sometimes showing camera operations and always zooming in to the host With a sweeping crane shot as he emerges on stage ore serious talk formats such as The Charlie Rose Show on PBS utilize more minimal spatial and set design Rose39s intcrvievvs talw place against a minimalist blacl baclground Serious interview shows and political and informational talk on television do not use an audience Dayrime talk shows and various similar genres where ralkls primarily with celebrities and entertainers nearly always feawre the atKlience in some way typically taking the show39s host into the audience at some point to interact with selected audience members in a great many of the shows CHAITER 3 Television Style 63 THE SPLIT SCREEN By the late 1990s television news and informational programming on television in the United States discovered the split screen Sometimes this is used purposefully for example to have a reporter at a location in one box discussing an event with the anchorin the studio who is in the rest of the pictures Other uses of the split screen appear more arbitrary or capricious Splitting the screen is easy with the technology and frequently seems done for no other reason than that it can be done A simple informational scroll of information in a line across the bottom of the screen typically with stock prices or the local weather is a modest gesture that does not really split the screen Split screen use appears most effective on informational shows in which adversaries are discussing a public issue in debate style and the screen is split betvveenthem for the con duct of what constitutes their debate Perhaps even more so because they are separated physically and joined from different locations only as avisual convention on the TV screen this visual format lends itself to the style of crosstalking and escalating exchanges that often seem to turn angry Any consideration of the style and aesthetics of television must keep in mind that the antecedents of television come as much or more from broadcast radio as they do from motion picture production Sound is continuous in all types and genres of television Silence is dead air and even quotnaturalquot pauses in speech or response whether in interviews commentary or delivering ctional lines are to be minimized Part of the aesthetic of tele vision is the constancy of sound which in some instances such as news coverage or reality shows like Cups demands a prominent track of ambient location sound DIRECTORS In motion picture production successful directors gain recognition and fame Their names appear prominently in the credits of a movie and on the marquees of the movie theaters Such attention is not granted to television directors If their productions are multi camera their work may be even more intense and demanding than directing for the single camera Directors of sports television must be utterly engaged in what is going on in the game quickwitted and make instantaneous decisions Their work is facilitated by the ensemble of veteran professionals around them This is a slick business whose positions are reserved for the best and the most reliable Simultaneously the director in live sports gives camera operators directions quotpan to the right quotget tight on the manager in the dugout quothold a shot on the back eld and so forth while following the game and calling for the technical director who works at a control board called a switcher to take the correct shot and trans mit it out to the audience Allthis happens in a relative ash The director also needs to be able to spot good reactions from fans in the stands or at least amusing ones for example someonewho has fallen asleep in the late innings at aboring Major League Baseball game Studio multicamera direction for talk shows or game shows is similar but far less stress ful The action is predictable Audience members at a show s taping most likely have been selected and seated by a production assistant well before the taping begins Directing a 64 PART II FORMAL ASPECTS OF TELEVISION newscast is even more predictable unless breaking news interrupts the planned broadcast and the director must make an immediate decision about when to interrupt the newscast how long to stay with the incident occurring in real time and how to instruct the editor to use whatever camera coverage of it is available When there is multicamera dramatic and comedy production for television the director must watch alarge television screen with the pictures from each of the four cameras on that screen at once called a quadsplit while simultaneously being engaged with what is going on with the characters Directing is about camera setups movements and angles but it more deeply must be about what is going on with the characters and where each char acter39s arc is in the story Thus directing most clearly for television drama and comedy comes down to being about capturing people and what is going on with them to t the purposes and goals of the particular show Television situation comedy directors must develop an uncanny feeling for a joke and also have a sensitive feel for catching a reaction shot from one of the other characters For drama something similar is the challenge but the director watches for expressions of feeling and tension and is sure to cover those while also having made certain that appropriate reaction shots are covered for another character ACTORS Television actors often have theater acting backgrounds but acting for television is alto gether different from acting in the theater There are fewer rehearsals with many last minute changes and often little time to memorize lines In the rst few rehearsals before the camera crews arrive actors may be relatively free to move about on the sound stage in accordance with where they feel they need to be If the camera cannot make an adjust ment the actors change their movements to help out the camera operators Often the floors of the sets are marked with quarterinch paper tape that shows an actor where to stand and which way to angle his or her body but the tape is removed before the cameras shoot The directors block the actors to the furniture in situation comedies so that they do not look down when performing Also the blocking is for the director of photography so he or she lights where the actors will be The actors and the production staff and crew for dramas put in extremely long hours as many as 16 in one day with many starts and stops while keeping consistency of character They have to return to the set bringing themselves back into character with the same voice movement and gestures SUMMARY The stylistic commonalities in television are many The genres of production for television however are vastly diverse Whatever is made for television and shown on television always is seen in a circumstance that varies greatly depending on the quality of the particular set on which the viewer is watching Has the horizontally expanded screen of HDTV and the brighter more numerous pixels and more crisp resolution of the picture promised by digital television vastly changed the viewing experience At a simple surface level the answer is yes But at a more complex depth of analysis the question remains open CHAITER 3 Television Style 65 Television is about story and character Any director of television understands that his or her job is less setting the cameras framing the shots and composing them than it is in understanding and conveying to viewers the sense of the story and what is going on with the characters in it This is true for all television drama and comedy but also for the news informational reporting celebrity coverage talk shows and whatever reality television may claim to be recording and portraying EXERCISES 1 Select examples from several types of programming a situation comedy a drama a national or local news broadcast a talk show a game show andor a sports event and tum off the picture and listen to ashow for 10 minutes How much have you lost in your experience without the picture 2 Record some situation comedies and dramas or watch them online then view them a couple of times to carefully determine and write down the use of close medium and long shots in the productions What differences do you perceive between comedy and drama with regard to the use of close medium and long shots 5 Analyze the same shows that you used for exercise No 2 and time the individual shots in the show What do you perceive as the differences between comedy and drama in terms of the length of shots and the pacing with which the show is put together 5 Again using the same situation comedies and dram as look carefully through them for the reaction shots How frequently are reaction shots used What patterns do you perceive in situation comedies and dramas How are they different V Watch a talk show to see how many reaction shots there are of the host of the guests of the audience Watch a public affairs show on which guests or a panel representing different points of view are featured See how many shots are reactions of someone when another person is talking Watch asports event throughout such as a complete baseball or football game and see how much coverage there is on players coaches or managers and fans in the stands 6 Select an episode ofa situation comedy with which you are familiar and watch it concentrating on the number of reaction shots used on a character who is not talking Do the same for an episodic drama gt1 What is the look of a particular show on television Is the lighting bright or dark Can you clearly see the characters at all times or do the characters move into shadows where their features are obscured 8 How would you describe the production design of any particular show on television What do the sets locations or costumes suggest to you What informationis conveyed to you by the design elements If it is a comedy or a drama do the sets mesh with the mood or the theme of the program Ifitis anonfiction show do the sets convey a sense of seriousness authority andor objectivity 66 PART II FORMAL ASPECTS OF TELEVISION 9 When you are aware of a camera movement either in toward a subject or out and away from it or movement that follows a character from left to right or from right to left can you explain what appears to be the motivation and intention of the camera being put into motion Does this movement serve to reveal something in the scene to the viewer or does the camera movementappear to be about mood and feeling Select a show with which you are familiar and have watched many times Select one actor from the show and comInent on the consistency of character appearance voice movement gestures and attitude over time H 0 SUGGESTED READINGS Caldwell John T 2008 Production Culture Industrial Re exivity and CriticalPractice in Film and Television Durham NC Duke University Press Kingdon Tom 2004 TotalDirecting Integrating Camera and Performance in Film and Television Los Angeles CA SilmanJames Press Musberger Robert B 2010 Single Camera Video Production Boston MA Focal Press Shelton S Martin 2004 Communicating Ideas With Film Video and Multimedia A Practical Guide to Information MotionMedia Carbondale IL Southern Illinois Press Ward Peter 2003 Picture Composition for Film and Television 2nd ed Boston MA Focal Zettl Herbert 2011 Television Production Handbook 11th ed Belmont CA Wadsworth CHAPTER 1 The Work of the Critic Oh gentle lady do not put me to t Forlam nothing i39fnot critical flago to Desdemona Shakespeare Othello Act 2 Scene I INTRODUCTION What is the advantage of knowing how to perform television criticism if you are not going to be a professional television critic The advantage to you as a television viewer is that you will not only be able to make informed judgment about the television programs you watch but also you will better understand your reaction and the reactions of others who share the experience of watching Critical acuity enables you to move from casual enjoyment of a television program to a fuller and richer understanding Aviewer who does not possess critical viewing skills may enjoy watching a television program and experience various responses to it such as laughter relief fright shock tension or relaxation These are fun damental sensations that people may get from watching television and for the most part viewers who are not critics remain at this level Critical awareness however enables you to move to a higher level that illuminates production practices and enhances your under standing of cultured human nature and interpretation Students studying television production with ambitions to write direct edit produce andor become camera operators will nd knowledge of television criticism necessary and useful as well Television criticism is about the evaluation of content its context organiza tion story and characterization style genreq and audience desire Knowledge of these concepts is the foundation of successful production THE ENDS 0F CRITICISM Just as critics of books evaluate works of ction and non ction by holding them to estab lished standards television critics utilize methodology and theory to comprehend analyze interpret and evaluate television programs As a critic you can gain greater understanding 9 10 PART I ORIENTJITION and appreciation about television programming as well as about your own culture and the social forces within it You may also be able to demystify the meaning of a television pro gram and create new perceptions for other viewers by communicating the criticism to them As a critic you become a quottransformerquot capable of generating new understanding and new awareness in the minds of other television viewers Your comprehension of the importance of producing writing directing camera work sound sets costumes and other production values opens up your understanding and appreciation of the aesthetic pleasures of good television and provides speci c reasons for the displeasure caused by what some regard as poor television As a critic you will engage with the essential organization of television programs context timespace manipulation the use of images and language conventions and variations of genre narrative patterns character development and the episodic nature of television You will appreciate the recurrence of enduring myths legends and character types as they reappear both in ction and reality programs You will also examine social and cultural values ideology possible meanings codes and the representation of gender race sexuality age ethnicity employment and nationality As a critic you must also under stand the nature of the business of television and the viewing audience its expectations desires participation and satisfaction Criticism also goes beyond understanding of the program itself and asks what conceptual or theoretical implications have resulted JOURNALISTIC TELEVISION CRITICISM Journalists began writing television criticism in 1946 when Jack Gould of The New York Times and John Crosby of the New York Herad Tribunebegan reviewing television program content From that time and into the 1950s television critics had to wait to see the programs when they were aired in order to write about them because television was broadcast live After more television programswere made on lm beginning Witl ove Lucy critics could preview the shows and have their columns published before the shows were on the air The critics39 reviews were in uential becausetelevision executives and producers monitoredtheir evaluations of programs thus the importance of professional television criticism increased Yet the programs that the critics praisedeg Studio One which broadcast modern plays and adaptations of Shakespeare and Playhouse 90 a televised anthology of 90minute original and adapted playswere often not as well liked by the public which appeared to prefer the classic sitcoms such as The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason Art Carney Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph andLove Lucy with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz In later years print television criticism became less important as an in uence on program decision making although government agency personnel read television criticism in trade publications in order to examine responses to possible government policies Todaythere is a decline in newspaper readership and revenue starved newspapers have let their television reviewers go or have given them other assignments Consequently many former newspaper critics have turned to the Web to continue their work David Bianculli former critic for New York39s Daily News founded TV Worth Watching httpwwwdavid biancullicom where he posts his daily reviews The site has several contributors some of Whom post lengthy critiques ofvarious programs There is also a list of other websites for CHAITER t The Work of the Cn39tic 11 episodes segments and information Another website httpwww metacriticcom lists television shows by title with links to TV critic reviews The critics rate programs with scores on a hundredpoint scale Viewers also enter their ratings on a 10point scale Journalist quotcriticismsquot typically range from mere listings of current programs and their broadcast times to descriptive vignettes of upcoming programs However critics such as Tom Shales of T he Washington Post Robert Bianco of USA Today and Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times write about television39s style and taste The Television Critics Association TCA represents more than 200 journalists who write about television for print and online outlets in the United States and Canada There are links to them on the TCA website httptvcriticsorg Many newspapers now rely on copy supplied by wire services such as the Associated Press As James A Brown explains in Newcomb s Encyclopedia of Television journalistic television criticism is part of the publisher39s larger purpose to gain readers for the newspaper or magazine thus it puts a premium on relevance clarity brevity cleverness and attractive style The TV column is meant to attract readers primarily by entertaining them while also informing them about how the system works The critic serves as a guide offering standards of criteria for judgment along with factual data so readers can make up their own minds The criticreviewer39s role grows in usefulness as video channels proliferate viewers inundated by dozens of cable and overair channels can ensure optimum use of leisure viewing time by following critics39 tips about what is worth tuning in and what to avoid Brown in Newcomb 1997 p 1643 Brown lists the criteria for good journalistic television criticism as quotsensitivity and rea soned judgment a renaissance knowledge coupled with exposure to a broad range of art culture technology business law economics ethics and social studies all fused with an incisive writing style causing commentary to leap off the page into the reader s conscious ness Brown in Newcomb 1997 pp 16431644 These criteria would serve the academic television critic well but they are general and have no speci c reference to standards of judgment and methodology THE CRITICAL STANCE The word quotcriticismquot tends to have a negative connotation because we often associate it with nding something wrong with objects and people If a person nds fault with some thing or someone we are likely to say quotHe or she is too critical lfyour parents do not like your hairstyle or the way you dress you might say quotDon39t criticize me so much We see the judges on American Idol or Dancing With the Stars criticizing the contestants usually by drawing attention to positive and negative attributes of the performances Yet we de ne criticism differently when we check the newspaper or a website to nd out what a television or lm critic wrote about a television show or lm before deciding what to watch In this context the critic usually writes about the quality of a television show or lm the story the acting the visual and sound aspects and special effects A critic may CHAITER t The Work of the Critic 13 P1Rf I Ol39UENTPJ39lON praise or pan a television program or lm thus telling the reader what is good anclTor bad about it For several years lvrote lm criticism in the local newspaper for the Bozeman Film Festival rhat feamred independent and internaxional lms If I thought a lm had good quali es Ivvould urge my readers to be sure to sec it Sometimes tllmgocrs would disagree with my jtJdgment telling me quotIdid not like the lm ltwas too long and moved too levly Others vmuld r hank me for alertlng them about a lm rhey mighr not otherwise have gone to see had they not read my review This illustrates two points 1 criticism is subjective and 2 criticism can be perstJasive Criticism is subjective Ae brlng to crlrlclsm our llfe experiences our beliefs attitudes and valtJes Thus we observe the critical object through our own perceptual lters Perception is the process of extracting information from the world outside us as well as from Vithin ourselves Each individual has a perceptual eld thal is unique to thal person and shaped by many in uences and this eld forms the lters through which we perceive tltYDonnell amp Kable 1982 Our perceptions are based on our values beliefs attitudes and experiences Thus as a criric you are llkely to have a perspecTive that includes biases and past experi ences You are also apt to select certain parts ofa program to criticize Thus in addition to being subjective criticism is also partiaL Because most dramas and comedies on television are episodic it is nor llkely lhat you would rake on an entire season of a series to criticize tlnless yotl were writing a doctoral dissertation or a boo about a series The tlsual selection is a single episode althotlgh you are advised to be avvare of the other episodes in a series A television program is not a reality that can be examined or proven in a complerely obj etgt tive manner Therefore you shotlld not be concerned with nding the single correct inter pretation for there may be many possible ones There may be a dominant meaning inscribed vdthin lhe scripL but different Vieflers can give alternative or multiple meanings to the same script Nany of my students lile The Bachelor because they thin it is glamor ous and stlspenseftlIvvhereas I think it is banal and arti ciaL Some academics have criti cized its representation as too quotAhite A television performance is porentially open to alternative interpretations However a competent critic Vho applies systematic analysis based on sound principles is not only more likely to evaluate fairly btlt also to ilhlrninate Readers of good criricism may have their appreciaxion of the critical object enhanced and thus may be moved to watch it Criticism can be persuasive A television critic often functions as an advocate on behalf of a program or even a network urging viewers w rune in toiL Further a criric may construe a persuasive argument offerlng good reasons and evidence to support the evaluation of a program Criticism is capable not only of afh39cting mlr choices to watch a television pro gram but more important ir can alter our perceptions enabllng us to see and hear more details LO dnLicipaLe certain moments LO ponder cerLdin questions and LO recognize special qualities Ylost students who take lm and television criticism courses tell me that they see so much more rhan rhey did before raking lhe course and funhennore rhey are eager to ralk about what they see On the other hand their friends who have not studled critical methodologies report that they do not like to vvatch lms or television with their critic friencb because they interpret too much and then talk about it during the screening CHAITER t The Work of the Critic 13 Since television is so pervasive and together with the Internet is the most significant form of communication in the world it is important to be sensitive to and understand what is communicated Television is a cultural mirror but it is also a twoway mirror in that it not only re ects our culture but also illuminates and in uences how we see our selves and others Social science researchers have produced hundreds ofstudies regarding the in uence of television on viewers Whether viewers behavior andfor attitudes are changed is not the primary concem of the television critic however the critic is an impor tant observer of the content of television programs who can help us understandwhy such in uence may occur Cultivation studies claim that people who watch television view the world as more violent than it actually is causing them to be fearful insecure and dependent on authority as the result of seeing violence on television The researchers concluded after their long range study of heavy television viewing that quotone correlate of television viewing is a height ened and unequal sense of danger and risk in a mean and sel sh world Gerbner Gross Signorellli Morgan ampJacksonBeeck 1979 p 191 A television critic may note that while physical violence is depicted in some television programming notably historical dramas like Game of Thrones and vampire shows like True Blood characters dealing with the con sequences of violence are a more recent trend on shows such as NCS NCS Los Angees CSI Crime Soenenvestigation Criminal Minds and Hawaii FiveO Fashions body image and hairstyles are also copied from actors on television Critics can note that imitations occur from show to show or appear in magazines and other pub lications Subtle attitudes toward gender race ethnicity age sexual preference and occu pation as represented on television may or may not shape or reshape viewers perceptions of reality but you as a critic can observe changes in television programming itself Cultural studies researchers use audienceresponse studies wherein viewers are interviewed in depth to determine how television programs affect viewers Morley 1988 Television situ ation comedies such as The Cosby Show and Will amp Grace appear to have made programs with African Americans or gays in leading roles more acceptable to the viewing public but they probably did not resolve the actual tensions experienced by the general public con cerning racial issues or homosexuality Dow 2001 Television viewers tend to make what they watch t their own lives and experiences therefore the television critic can note other aspects of these programs For example according to John Marcus writer for The Cosby Show Bill Cosby insisted that the parents on the show be smarter than their children and that the characters behavior be true to reallife behavior The viewers would therefore comfortably identify with Cosby as a parent but not necessarily with his race Since audi ence identification with television characters is a major key to audience enjoyment approval or disapproval of controversial issues may not be the most important factor CRITICISM AND CULTURE Television programs re ect a society39s values norms and practices as well as its fads inter ests and trends Because of this your awareness and understanding of your own society give you insight into the meanings generated in television 39s ctional stories coverage of PART I ORIENTJITION reallife stories reality shows and other types of programming Here you must use your own interpretative resources to make inferences about social relationships and configura tions of value Television programming its structure timing and commercialism appropri ate the structure and priorities of society the distribution of goods and power values and motives for behavior and systems of reward and punishment Its focus is tempocentric that is the time we live in is the most important time Although television programs re ect the nation 39s cultural pluralism and may presenta multiplicity of meanings television pro gramming in general re ects majority preferences because its commerce needs to appeal to the largest possible target audience This is especially true for network television but also for cable and satellite programs with their specialized target audiences One can even say that television not only re ects culture but that it also creates culture As David Marc pointed out Culture today is produced and distributed by a very few corporations which through their many divisions and subsidiaries make decisions about what culture all members of society will consume from the top of the social ladder to the bottom The success of the system is dependent on its ability to persuade the public to collaborate with it in the creation of a social product Marc 1995 pp 53 56 While the networks such as ABC CB S Fox and NBC try to appeal to viewers between 18 and 49 years old cable stations such as MTV Lifetime ESPN El Food Network Disney Discovery Animal Planet History Channel Home Shopping Network SOAPnet and Syfy appeal to very speci c interests This is known as quotbrand identityquot because speci c chan nels appeal to target audiences For example Lifetime appeals to adult women with stories featuring strong women and their relationships while FXhas introduced charismatic but deeply awed men in various professions plastic surgery re ghting law enforcement This speci city too may be a re ection of culture in that it suggests that we live in an era of individualized culture what Walt Whitman characterized as an America of quotcontradic tory multitudesquot We have so many choices and we have television sets in different rooms as well as television reception on computers and telephones that each member of a fam ily can watch selected channels according to individual interests Because television programming is a reasonably good mirror of American culture tele vision criticism can go beyond description and evaluation of a television program or series to alevel of deeper cultural diagnosis NARRATIVE AND CONTEXTUAL REALITY Several television programs represent actual news events in ctional stories In this way television echoes reallife drama and reinforces its credibility by presenting familiar and truetolife stories that appeal to viewers39 interests Three months after the mine explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia Leverage a TNT show about a team of three men and two women who expose corruption and take revenge on CH1PTER t The Work of dlt Critic 15 perpetrators aired an episode in which the team infiltrated a mine in West Virginia to expose safety violations after a deadly explosion One month later an episode of Leverage feamred the team going after a pharmaceutical CEO who wanled w release under a new name a dangerous drug capable of killing thousands of people The story mirrored numer ous newspaper releases about diet drtlgs that Vere recalled after several people died from raking them The premlse of rhe crltlcally acclalrned shmv The Good Wfe builr on recent scandals involving prominent married elected of cials Who were exposed in relationships with prostittltes Army Wives on Lifetime has many fans among actual army vvives because ills about the spouses and parenls of rnllitary personnel who are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan Scenes often depict these soldiers ghting battles getting wounded or killed but they also feattlre the mutllal support that military spouses receive from one another An article In The Vlashington 1t39Jst revealed how this dramatic series offers an ourlet to lessen stress on military spollses Honan 2010 The most speci c reference to a major news story was on a former FX show that is now on a DirecTV channel Damages in which a highpowered lawyer Patty Hewes played by Glenn Close aJtempts ro recover blllions of dollars for her clients from the family of a Wall Street nancial advisor who was convicted for running a major Ponzi scheme This Was a direct allllsion to Bernard Madoff Who was imprisoned for securities fraud a Ponzi scheme that moved 6i bllllon out of Investors accounts The investors sued to recover their money mostly without success Lawamp Ordo a popular series that was cancelled in 2010 after 20 seasons coined the phrase quotRipped frolll the Headllnes ro introduce episodes aboul familiar events Robert Tholllpson direc tor of Syracuse tnivcrsity39s Center for Popular Television said of these stories that re ect the news quotIt39s gripping and distl lrbing Television is kind of the way that the entire collec rlve subconscious of our culrure plays out r heseissues Remers 2001 CSI Crime Scenenvestigation and CSI Miami utilize acwal forensic science as the basis for their programs Becallse both ctional and reallife crime scene investigators work for the stale and musl leslify In court they have W produce provable evidence based on sciemific procedures Jerry Bruckhcimcr the producer of both shows said on CSI I told them to usc the correct terminology even if the audience doesn39t know it because even if they don39t understand 1r rhey39l knmv it39s real Stein 20Cr5 p 717 Consultants for the CSJ shmvs inc ude a forensic pathologist and a former crime scene analyst CSA as well as science researchers After the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of the Hlorld Trade Center in eW York Ciry rhe Pentagon in Vashlngron DC and lnited Flight 95 televlsion responded with shows about 911 Rescue Me an FXsmrrrncr series that concluded in September 2011 had a longterm commitment to story lines abollt the fallen firefighters of 9 llstorles abollf memorles and grief The lead character Tommy Gavin played by Denis Leary lost his cousin and many friends in the Twin levers The 2010 season had a fire ghter character who became serimlsly ill with cancer apparently callsed by his work at ground zero Leary one of the producer vrirers uses anecdotes he hears from reallife firefighters in the scripts Other series have alluded to the unsettling fear of terrorismin the vvorld with shows about strange deaths and unexpected phenomena The Event Battles tar Galactica and Falling Skies of course not all cultural context plots are so tragic or serious Comedy series also draw from real life for their htlmor Through comic situations at home or at work we 16 PART I ORIENTATION Rescue Mes brave re ghters Black Shawn and Sean depicted as a tribute to the real New York City refighters of 911 Photo 11 can recognize our own fallibility and laugh at itln contextualized situations we experi ence the ctional comedy more intensely because it takes place in a real setting Sometimes the decision to lm in an actual setting is driven by production decisions On March 3 2004 Yes Dear featured the former governor of California Gray Davis in a scene at a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game Tim Conway who played the lead actor s visiting father got into a scripted argument with Davis in the team owner39s spe cial box Conway made a joke that criticized Davis39s handling of the state s budget and threw a glass of water in his face Davis then chased Conway out of the owner39s box through the bleachers and onto the oor during hal irne in front of the game39s real spectators who were unaware that a television show was being lmed jeff Meyer the director of that Yes Dear episode said in a personal interview that the choice to lm at an actual game was made because they wanted to have a live basketball audience in the show O Donnell 2004 Yes Dear like most sitcoms was normally lmed before live studio audiences in order to enhance the actors39 sense of performing To lm the epi sode at a real basketball game was worth it to the producers of the show even though they needed to obtain complicated permissions from the NBA and the Lakers organiza tion Later when Alan Kirschenbaum Yes Dear s co creator and executive producer returned to his seat in the stands after lming he overheard the man next to him saying to his friend who had just returned with their drinks quotYou won t believe itjoe but Tim Conway was just chasing the former governor Gray Davis around the courtquot to which joe replied quotNo way manquot CHAITER t The Work of the Critic 17 CRITICAL CATEGORIES AND CRITICAL CHOICES The narrative of the aforementioned television shows the remarks of Thompson and the reallife context behind the programs are just a few of the items that a television critic would consider Television shows are rich with issues cultural values legal infor mation courtroom ritual psychological subtexts controversy family norms gender racial age and employment representation and ideological hegemony or dominant cultural beliefs Each has a distinctive style a signature look ensemble acting realistic sets and musical themes Viewing audiences are expected to be informed thinking and feeling audiences that actively participate in the program by responding to and grap pling with the issues Critics may choose to deal with one or some of these categories utilizing theoretical background and methodological analysis to appreciate understand and evaluate their observations How then do you as a television critic differ from other television viewers You will analyze a television program in order to understand how it works and the choices its cre ators and producers made You take television seriously and evaluate its expression of ideas values and con icts which give you and your readers deeper insight into our culture You may make observations about what seems to be lacking in a program but subse quently you need to know what possible alternatives there are As a competent critic you know that different viewers derive different meanings from the same television program therefore you can interpret several possible meanings and their importance to those who might determine them Further you will go beyond the program itself and ask what con ceptual or theoretical implications may have resulted Finally you will communicate to others the results of the critical observations in ways that can enrich their understanding These critical observations are based on your informed judgment Different academic tele vision critics do not necessarily agree on what are the best critical methods and theories through which to criticize television but as Horace Newcomb pointed out in the sixth edi tion of Television The Critical View their works are good faith attempts to recognize and understand how social life now dependent on mass media on popular forms of expression and entertainment on the far reaching lines of information afforded by new technologies can best be taught and understood learned and used by all citizens Newcomb 2000 p 6 In order to do the work of a television critic you have to 1 choose a television program to criticize 2 submit yourself to the program and stay alert 3 determine what questions to ask as you watch the program and 4 choose or develop a methodology to answer the questions Thus your work as a television critic is to understand the various elements of a television program from script to performance in order to analyze through critical method ology how the elements make a program what it is to interpret the sundry meanings that the program may have by understanding the nuances of the culture in which it appears and the multiple meanings it may have for different audiences to pass judgment on the quality of the program and nally to communicate that judgment to an audience The chapters that follow will help you decide what questions to ask by presenting both theories and 18 PART I ORIENTJITION methods for analysis as well as necessary information regarding the phenomena that make up a television program Itis also essential to understand that television production and distribution is a business dependent on profits THE BUSINESS OF TELEVISION Because television production is a business that depends on public support measured by the ratings systems and paid subscriptions to cable channels the programming norms tend to appeal to what the public prefers From a business perspective television programming is a product that is funded by advertising andor subscription to cable and satellite services and used by the viewing public The motive of television executives whose networks and cable channels are funded by advertising is simple to deliver viewers to advertisers and advertising to viewers Television commercials cause audiences to be the true medium of exchange What sells products is what supports television programming Therefore the product culture largely determines what cultural models go on the air Advertising is main tained ifviewing levels and pro les support it it is a matter of supply and demand In other words programming is determined by the interests and pro ts of the institution that pro duces and backs it Network decisions also re ect the tastes and political ideologies of the controlling executives and the advertising sponsors Chris Carter creator of the successful television series The X Fies told an audience at Montana State University that every script for his show had to be approved by the Fox network executives and quotcensorsquot In the sec ond season of the show there was a script about a necrophiliac a person who likes to have sex with corpses The script was nally approved when the word quotnecrophiliacquot was changed to quotdeath fetishist Another script for The X Fies that featured a story about incest and inbreeding was originally vetoed but then Carter said it was allowed during Sweeps Week the times in Ianuary May September and November when ratings companies mea sure viewing statistics for local television stations in each television market nationwide to set advertising rates C Carter 2001 This latter example underscores the priority of the need for mass audience support Television executives and producers try to gure out what itis that audiences desire and then satisfy that desire in order to maintain an audience fol lowing Once the formula of desiresatisfaction is embodied in a television program the show is then marketed to the consumers the viewing public Unhindered by advertising and the FCC1 HBO and Showtime cable subscription networks have taken risks by devel oping programs that depict nudity violence and the use of obscene and sexually explicit language Boardwalk Empire Deadwood True Blood Big Love Game of Thrones and other HBO programs have attracted discriminating audiences and have won many awards FX a basic cable channel owned by Fox has included shows that have violence sex foul lan guage and drug use in popular series such as Sons of Anarchy Rescue Me andjusti ed Knowledge of the critical methodology for analysis of television together with an understanding of the business of television enables you to realistically evaluate what you view A competent television critic also knows his or her own culture and recognizes its representation in a television program 39Because access to HBO is by subscriptio n only it is considered a private contractual agreement between Viewers and HBO and notbound by FCC rules CHAITER t The Work of the Critic 19 THE FAMILIAR AND THE UNFAMILIAR IN TELEVISION T 39 r t 39t 39 DVD recorders the DVR cable and digi tal systems HDTV 3D television the Internet and the development of interrelationships between and among different media have given viewers an array of choices and enlarged awareness of the world and its people Television today allows us to view programs from unfamiliar communities and countries sometimes in other languages giving us the experi ence of hearing and seeing different narrative forms and representations of cultural norms other than our own These exposures and the choices they give us also provide opportunities to compare the familiar with the unfamiliar and this requires knowledge of the familiar Critical methodologies enable us to enhance our knowledge of the familiar and equip us to confront the unfamiliar It is also important to recognize that the institutions of United States television are the dominant television industries in the world and that American program ming has become popular around the globe While visiting the Tate Gallery in London I noticed that the woman at the information desk had a picture of George Clooney as the screensaver on her computer She told me that ER is her favorite television show although now it can only be seen in syndication DVD box sets and on NBCcom American program ming has in many cases been adopted as a model for programming in other countries A few years ago my husband and Ichecked into a small hotel in Milan The desk clerk was watch ing Italy39s version of The Dating Game a game show in which men and women choose a date by asking questions of several candidates Except for the language difference the show was nearly identical to America39s The Dating Game Of course it works both ways England39s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire The O iee and Life on Mars were the prototypes for America39s ver sions of these shows Ugly Betty was modeled after a telenovela from Colombia This chapter started off with the notion that critical acuity would give you a fuller and richer appreciation for a television program as well as a better understanding of viewer response to it Each of the chapters of this book is designed to help you become a critic who not only knows how to evaluate a television program but who also can construct a persuasive argument to support that judgment To get started you may be asking some very basic questions such as quotHow do I choose a television program to criticizequot and quotHow do I know what methods to use to criticize it So let us examine some basic critical orientation concepts CRITICAL ORIENTATION First it is perfectly acceptable to choose one of your favorite television programs to criticize Your familiarity with the show will enable you to select critical questions more easily and your resulting critique will help you gain a deeper understanding of why you like it For example Ilike The Good Wife and I often watch it for pure enjoyment as opposed to criticizing it If I were to do a critique of The Good Wife myjob would be somewhat easier because lam familiar with the format and style of the show Iknow most of the characters names and their ctional histories Ihave read articles about the show and watched an Academy of Television Arts and Sciences seminar online with the actors and writerproducers who discussed the characters the plot and the production quotAn Evening with The Good Wife 2011 20 PART I ORIENTJITION SUM Second you may select a television program that grapples with issues that interest you What interests me about The Good Wife are the strong professional women in the show Each one has a different and complex personality but they work as a team together with the male lawyers Each episode has one court case and I enjoy the way they uncover evi dence crossexamine witnesses and interact with the judges Perhaps there are issues that you would like to be involved in and therefore you may select a television program about the law medicine crime children teenagers reality music dance science animals sports or politics Perhaps you are interested in how television presents information about disease or the environment You may wish to observe how certain occupations are por trayed on television or how gender age race and ethnicity are represented Perhaps you would like to compare and contrast the ways in which the news is presented by different networks or by different anchors or you may want to trace the human values that under lie the format and presentation of news stories You may wish to examine certain sports coverage or look at the role of celebrities on television talk shows You may be especially interested in a certain type of television program or a genre whether it is a miniseries or realitybased television Third you may want to attempt the application of a methodology to see what you can learn by applying it You can examine how a narrative is shaped and structured examine the conventions of genre look for the various codes of television and try to extrapolate meaning from them examine the characteristics of quotfamiliesquot and family values look for evidence of the postmodern phenomena andlor observe and evaluate the quotlookquot and style of a television program The following chapters present ways of observing analyzing and evaluating television programs Chapter 9 consolidates those that precede it into a set of critical questions to ask of a television program Fourth you may be interested in the making of a television show Television programs are the result of the work of the creators the executive producers producers writers direc tors actors set designers costumers music directors visual and sound editors camera operators and other staff who may or may not be an independent production company You can enjoy the convenience of the vast amount of information on a program39s website You can usually access character backstories and interviews with the actors producers and other staff Their creative work and the ways in which a television show is initiated and producedis the subject of Chapter 2 quotDemystifying the Business of Television MARY Criticism is the practice of informed judgment through which a person understands evaluates and communicates to others the what how and why something is considered to be of quality The result can illuminate enlighten and bring about appreciation for that which is criticized Television criticism can bring about afuller and richer understanding of people s reactions to a television program Because television is ubiquitous in society it is important to practice sound television criticism Not only will the television critic gain deeper understanding of the production process aesthetics and genre standards but also CHAITER t The Work of the Critic 21 the critic can develop insight into cultural contexts and cultural norms inherent in the narrative and action of programs Television critics choose a program to criticize watch the program in an alert state determine what questions to ask and choose or develop a methodology to answer the questions The subsequent analysis and evaluation are then communicated to an audience Television criticismis subjective in that it subjects a program to interpretation through the critic39s perceptual lters Television criticism can also be persuasive in that it can alter the perceptions of viewers Television production and distribution is a business dependent upon advertising and subscriptions as well as audience support Television production develops a quotlookquot a visual style that should enhance the narrative as well Mainstream representations of race gender sexuality age and occupation re ect societal changes and new norms Narratives on ction and nonfiction television reinforce cultural values Television programs and their scheduling are bound by genres These aspects all ofwhich you should be familiar with as a television critic are explored in each of the parts of this book EXERCISES Think ofa time in your life when you received personal and constructive criticism How did it help you in a positive way Did it change you in any way 2 Make a list of what you can gain from being an informed television critic 3 What does it mean to be a quottransformerquot when you are a television critic 4 Read an example of television criticism online or in a newspaper like The New York Times the Los Angeles Times USA Today or any other major newspaper or go to httpwwwtvcriticsorg and nd the list of critics Read a few critiques What does the journalistic television criticism tell you Do you think it is objective Does it persuade you to watch a particular show 5 What does it mean to say that television criticismis subjective What does it mean to say that television criticism is persuasive 6 Watch both a ction and a nonfiction television program of your choice Analyze your own perceptions of the content Does this reveal your own biases and past experiences 7 Have you ever been in uenced by someone else to watch a particular television program If so did you continue watching the same program 8 Have you ever been persuaded to adopt a hairstyle a type of clothing or an attitude because you observed it in a television program 9 Can you name the quotbrand identity of the television cable station that you watch on a regular basis How do you regard yourself in terms of that brand
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