The New Book: Television Entertainment
I wanted to let readers know of my new book, Television Entertainment. It’s out from Routledge and costs $33.76 at Amazon, $33.95 direct from Routledge.
Though it may be changed by the time you read this, Amazon (or Routledge) seem to have made an error, since their review of it currently reads:
Deepen your understanding of your patients, your partner, and your own process by giving yourself the wisdom of Robert Lee’s The Secret Language of Intimacy. I’ve been learning from Robert for years; welcome to the group. – Gordon Wheeler, Ph.D.
Hey, whether it’s about The Simpsons, paratexts, or how to snuggle, I aim to illuminate and inform
If you want to know more (not advice on intimacy, but about the real book, that is), I waffle on a bit below the fold.
While I respect the utility of the old industry-text-audience tripartite structure of media studies, and while I occasionally ape it, it has bugged me a lot. And let’s be honest, there’s no shortage of “intro to television”-style books. So, instead I decided to structure the book thematically. As a result, this is the table of contents:
Introduction: What Is Television Entertainment?
Chapter 1 – Art with Strings Attached: Creativity, Innovation, and Industry
Chapter 2 – Broadcasting Identities: Affect, Fantasy, and Meaning
Chapter 3 – Television Unboxed: Expansion, Overflow, and Synergy
Chapter 4 – Keeping it Real: Reality and Representation
Chapter 5 – Plugging In: Politics and Citizenship
Chapter 6 – Channel Interference: Television and Power
The two very flattering “puff” quotations on the back cover are from two scholars for whom I have immense respect and admiration (and to whom I now clearly owe multiple pints of good beer!):
Even as media research internationalizes and digital convergence shifts earlier assumptions, US television remains a crucial reference-point. In this elegantly written book, Jonathan Gray confirms he is one of our most sure-footed guides through television’s complex intersections between politics and entertainment, economics and signification, pleasure and power. Highly recommended!
- Nick Couldry, Goldsmiths College, University of London, and author of Listening Beyond the Echoes: Media, Ethics, and Agency in an Uncertain World, Media Rituals: A Critical Approach, The Place of Media Power: Pilgrims and Witnesses of the Media Age, and Inside Culture: Re-Imagining the Method of Cultural Studies
Television Entertainment is masterful in both its breadth and detail. Gray compellingly and accessibly weaves together the current thinking on television entertainment and skillfully engages an extraordinary range of the most recent literature. The book provides an essential starting point for understanding the past and present of many key topics in television studies.
- Amanda Lotz, University of Michigan, and author of The Television Will Be Revolutionized and Redesigning Women: Television After the Network Era
The book began when James Curran and I met for lunch on a wonderful Berkeley day. I was teaching at Berkeley, James was visiting at Stanford, and since we’d known each other during my PhD at Goldsmiths College, University of London, we met up. If you know James, it’s because of his work as one of England’s premier political economists, as an editor of a massive number of books, and/or because he’s a charming guy. He primarily studies news and politic, but a semester teaching undergrads at Stanford had him convinced that media entertainment needed to be discussed more. James edits the Communication and Society series for Routledge, and he asked if I’d write a book on media entertainment, primarily for classroom use.
He wanted it to be readable, interesting, maybe even amusing at points, but to cover a wide range of issues to do with entertainment. A tweak or two later, it became a book specifically about television entertainment (media entertainment as a whole seemed too large a topic, and would have required me stepping well out of my comfort zone). But both of us felt that entertainment is a category that while salient to audiences, programmers, and analysts, isn’t treated as a distinct category all that often in academic work. Rather, a lot of stuff either looks at a specific series or genre, or else there’s the cottage industry of work that invokes entertainment as not what is currently under analysis (not news or not educational in particular) yet doesn’t bother to spend the time to work out what entertainment is, and hence offers crude and silly binaries (important news vs. frivolous entertainment; socially meaningful education vs. the Devil’s entertainment; etc.). It deserves its own book, and so we made it happen.
As said, it’s aimed for classroom use. That means that it doesn’t represent stunning new research, but instead it attempts to bring together and synthesize some of the smart things that others have said, and to direct and apply this to numerous cases.
Most of the examples are taken from American television, though since James and his series are English, and since I’m part English, part Canadian, I wrote it with the hope that it could be used by non-Americans too. Ultimately, though, American television travels as does little else, and thus if I was to use examples with which a broad range of students, instructors, and researchers could interact, and with which they’d be familiar, I needed to stick mostly to American shows. The book aims to start discussion, not end it, so I felt it important that its examples be ones that readers could discuss. At the same time, it’s the ideas behind the examples that matter, not the definitive understanding of the series in question per se. Shows used include The Sopranos, The Simpsons, Lost, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, The West Wing, The Daily Show, and The Wire.
It was really hard to write at first, partly since it wasn’t drawing heavily on my research, and so I felt unoriginal. But eventually I got over that hump and really enjoyed writing it. I also workshopped every chapter with my students at Fordham, and had some wonderful colleagues read draft chapters (immense thanks for this go to Jason Mittell, Derek Johnson, Allison Perlman, Jeffrey Jones, Avi Santo, Will Brooker, Matt Hills, and James himself). So I like to think it’s quite useable. It’s best suited to an Intro to Television class, to an Intro to Media class (with non-TV, non-entertainment stuff used too), or to an upper level television course.
That said, let me recommend that if you’re planning on using it, since I went for the thematics, it will work best with another book that covers specifics much better. I used it this last semester with Amanda Lotz’s The Television Will Be Revolutionized and was very happy, though since neither Amanda nor I are huge policy wonks, I’d also recommend supplementing it with a few readings there.
Such is the nature of publishing classroom books that they may get your name out there but they’re unlikely to give you a reputation for being a brilliant scholar. Which isn’t to say they necessarily give you a bad reputation (or at least I hope they don’t!). But I worked on this because I want it to work in classrooms. So if you’re interested in it, let me know, and I can give you more info, or if your class size is rockin’, I can try to hook you up with a freebie. Routledge proudly told me that they exhibited it face-out at ICA, but they also forgot to bring it to SCMS (advance copies had just been published, yet not even the proofs were there), and it was off the Routledge desk by day 3 of ICA (cool: did someone steal my book?), so they’re not leaping out of their seats to market it, meaning I’ll pick up their slack if need be.
If you use it, let me know how it worked, or didn’t.
And hey, though I’m pitching it for classrooms, please read it yourself. Maybe there are some ideas you’ll like too?Tags: television, television entertainment