Posts Tagged ‘television’

The New Book: Television Entertainment

July 23rd, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

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.
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50 Best TV Characters

June 2nd, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

List fever continues, as I now try to sort through the best characters in television history. Inevitably, some make the cut because of superb writing, some need the actor to do all the work, while others find a more perfect union. The complete list after the fold, this time in reverse order, from 50 to 1.

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My Tour aboard the Enterprise

February 5th, 2008 | Derek Johnson

I was in LA last month to do some research for my dissertation on media franchises.  In addition to my time in the archives and my interviews with executives and producers, I decided that as a part of my “research”, my last stop before heading back to Wisconsin would be to go with my friends Scott and Holly to the Queen Mary Dome in Long Beach to visit the first leg of Star Trek: The Tour, the exhibit currently making its way across the US.  You know, one of those sacrifices you make for your work. 

Okay, so I was looking forward to it all week.  But at the same time, I was really apprehensive about the whole thing, convinced that the hour or so I thought we’d spend there would be no where’s worth the ridiculously high ticket price (even with the student discount).  

 Captain on the bridge!

But four hours – and several awkward yet kinda awesome pictures – later, I found that I’d actually seen a number of pretty interesting things…

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Extratextuals’ 2007 Awards Extraordinaire, Pt. 1

January 9th, 2008 | Derek Johnson

Franchising, Merchandising, and Licensing: Sleekest and Weakest of the Geekest

2007 is over, and organizations like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science must now look back in judgment at a year’s worth of media production.  Unlike those august institutions, however, we here at The Extratextuals want to look for craftsmanship, innovation, and experimentation (and lack thereof!) not just in films and television programs themselves, but also in the networks of additional, extra texts that increasingly surround one another in our media-saturated experiences. 

So without further ado, we present to you our 2007 Awards Extraordinaire, highlighting the products and productions of the last year that demand recognition in our dense, overlapping, and cross-pollinated media landscape.  We’ll call attention to those that we think worked extremely well, but we’ll also point to some stinkers too—those that just didn’t seem to get it.  Of course, if you think we’ve got it all wrong, the real fun might happen in the comments section, where our picks can be interrogated, amended, and enhanced.  

To start off this series, we’ll explore Franchising, Merchandising, and Licensing.  A far cry from the austere nominees of the Golden Globes and Oscars, these are the categories in which the media industries and their creative personnel have worked tirelessly and without pause to extend intellectual properties to their maximum potential, multiplying them across product lines and across platforms.  As my terrible subtitle implies, these categories tend to involve appeals to those audiences (like myself) that will intensely follow properties from one market to another.  So for comics, toys, games, and other things you might expect to find in The Android’s Dungeon, read more below the fold…

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Surviving the Strike: TV Comics

November 12th, 2007 | Derek Johnson

Buffy Season 8 #1       BSG #12

Need new narrative television content, but not sure where you’re going to get it if, come January, the strike is still on and the tap runs dry?  You might try your local comic book shop-where you can find illustrated versions of such shows including Battlestar Galactica, 24, Heroes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Star Trek, and CSI.  So I thought I’d offer a strike survival guide and introduce Extratextual readers to a couple of these tie-in titles–perhaps soon the only place where new “television” is being written, though not without its own set of constraints. 

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Bees and Donuts: Hyping Bee Movie and The Simpsons Game

October 31st, 2007 | Jonathan Gray

Bee Movie


Through much of the nineties, two television programs sustained me: The Simpsons and Seinfeld. Others came and went, but not only did those two shows consistently hold my interest, but their many repeats would too. One of my roommates would even record the evening reruns of Seinfeld while watching them, and watch them again first thing the next morning, and I’d often join him. So Jerry and Homer are close to me. I don’t spend as much time with them now as I used to, but I like to check in on them every once in a while, since they are old friends.

Recently, the Jerry Seinfeld and Simpsons franchises have been doing interesting transmedia jigs. Seinfeld’s Bee Movie is coming out on Friday, and television is all abuzz with cross-promotion: Seinfeld appeared on 30 Rock (and through that episode, he appeared on most other NBC shows too), he has an HP ad that refers to the movie, and he’s filmed a seemingly endless number of shorts that are filling ad breaks. He’s ubiquitous, so much so that I’m sure I’m missing about 453 other venues where he’s hawking his movie (I could’ve sworn the dude behind the counter at McDonalds looked familiar today), and in the time it takes me to type this, Seinfeld will have appeared in 58 more venues. The Simpsons meanwhile have a forthcoming video game, based on the film (so, yes, it’s the game of the film of the television show), with some ads on television, and a particularly innovative and fun official website. In case it’s not evident yet, I find the Seinfeld transmedia jig annoying, and the Simpsons one exemplary. More below the fold…

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The Television Will Be Revolutionized, by Amanda D. Lotz

October 25th, 2007 | Jonathan Gray

Lotz.jpgIn a few days, New York University Press will be releasing Amanda D. Lotz’s The Television Will Be Revolutionized, and I wanted to give it a healthy plug here, since it really is a fantastic book. I was lucky enough to be asked to review it for NYU when it was a manuscript. At the time, I was struggling to piece together, from endless trade journal articles, recent academic journal articles, and conference papers, a picture of exactly how American television worked today, not five, ten, or twenty years ago. I felt sort of like the doctor at the beginning of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, who must study his patient through a small tear in a sheet, each day seeing just a tiny part of the whole. Then along came Lotz’s manuscript and did away with the sheet. Anyone who has read Lotz’s work (in seemingly every journal in the field by now) knows her remarkable capacity to explain how the system works, and this book offers an embarrassment of riches. It is the best book on the state of contemporary television that I know of, and a wonderful resource for teachers, students, or non-academics alike.

She carefully charts a variety of changes to television as we knew it, and, in an encompassing manner, discusses the ramifications of these changes, on advertising models, patterns of audience reception, production cultures, distribution practices, etc. The book covers a large and complex territory, but does so with deft skill, written in an accessible style: even when the material would appear dry and procedural by necessity, Lotz manages to present it in a way that reads well.

Furthermore (and important to those of us who love extratextuals), it has a very attractive cover, its colors screaming out at you, ironically mimicking the television test screens that are a product of a bygone, pre-revolutionized era when television actually stopped at the end of the day. But I must warn that the interior of the book will likely become quite ugly quite quickly following purchase, as you’ll find yourself underlining, highlighting, and jotting notes everywhere, till you make her book look something more akin to the crazed journals of Kevin Spacey’s serial killer in Se7en.

For those of you who still use Inside Prime Time, even though you know it’s woefully out of date by now, The Television Will Be Revolutionized will finally give you a chance to put Gitlin on the shelf. While there is less direct quotation from television production personnel than Gitlin offered, Lotz nevertheless offers just as much of an inside look, providing access to those of us who have little or none.

Quite refreshingly, though, Lotz clearly watches television, and hasn’t just consigned it to the trashcan. Thus her considerable knowledge of the industry is balanced by her familiarity with specific programs, and her examples and case studies often defy television studies’ “received wisdom” precisely because she’s able to get into the trenches and see how things work on an everyday level. I appreciate how it never reads as though the writer is sitting on a culture critic’s distant throne, eating grapes while pontificating without close analysis. It’s written by someone involved with television, for others involved with television, whether that mean researchers, producers, or viewers.

I just checked my initial review of the book for NYU Press, and see that I ended by writing:

The book serves as both a bible of television in the here-and-now, and as provocation for and contribution to a whole new wave of debates on television in the future. I will recommend it to colleagues, and assign it to students with swift resolve upon its release. Bravo

‘Nuff said. At $22 it’s a great deal.

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Free Wine, Free Cheese, No Ads: Watching the Fall Previews

September 11th, 2007 | Jonathan Gray

For the third year in a row now, I attended the 2007-2008 season fall preview screenings at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio) in New York City. Over a course of two weeks, ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, and NBC each get an evening to show four pilots for their new shows. First they give you a modicum of food and free drinks, then cue the shows. In the days to come, I’ll blog about my reactions to these pilots, with my predictions and reactions, but I want to start by reflecting upon how this isn’t television watching in the traditional sense.

First, tickets are free, but one must line up beforehand, and since the food is sparse, if one hopes for some vittles, arriving early is a must. Then the doors open, bags are searched, and you scramble for food and/or drink, mill around, then find a seat. A network exec introduces the shows, then they begin, with approximately 80-120 other people watching with you. No remote control. No ad breaks. The resulting experience is a bizarre mélange of television, cinema or theatre (the lining up, the getting of tickets, the milling around), and a special exhibition or filmfest screening (the introductions by execs, the location).

This forced me to wonder how the new context messed with my expectations. Some of these shows would be fine if I was channel-flipping and landed on them, but as shows that I fought my way through Manhattan rush hour pedestrian traffic for, then lined up to see, the bar is raised higher, and I need more to justify my efforts than I do when simply twitching my thumb on the channel up or down button on my remote. Moreover, the filmfest feel of the event teases me into expecting either high quality or experimental work, and thus numerous shows face added expectations that I’d imagine are not common for television viewership.

The lack of a remote control is disconcerting too. Take the procedurals or reality shows, for instance: I rarely watch an entire episode of either while at home, since I tend to watch them in concert with other shows. And at this level, I find Law and Order, CSI, and their various iterations, or Hell’s Kitchen, America’s Next Top Model, and their various iterations all fairly enjoyable or at least not unenjoyable. But deprived of my magic wand here, many of the procedurals such as Life began to drag, while the reality shows such as Kitchen Nightmares seemed too excessive, in need of watering down. The experience of watching such shows thus rendered clear to me how many television shows are better when watched alongside other shows. Last year, for instance, when Heroes and 24 went toe to toe, their ad breaks rarely matched each other, and I enjoyed watching both at the same time more than watching either by itself: each show’s individual problems bothered me less when part of a viewing miasma.

And speaking of miasmas and of televisual flow, the previews’ lack of ads also changes the nature of the product. When I lived in England, I loved 24, partly because of the sheer adrenaline it demanded, with 45 continuous minutes of action when played on the BBC devoid of advertising. With ads, and while watching in America, the show lost some of its appeal: I could now take a breather, and I could debrief scenes with my wife, rather than hurtle ever forward with the narrative. Watching the fall previews similarly chains one to a moving train, allowing no breaks or breathers. Personally, I found this hurt the reality shows – an excessive genre by nature, reality seemingly requires time for one to take a break, and time to mock the people with one’s fellow viewers. I sense I’d like Kitchen Nightmares on “regular” television, and might find Nashville slightly less offensive (though probably not: it’s really bad in any viewing context), but KM proved too much for a 45 minute block, while Nashville just made me worry for the future of the human race.

The lack of ads similarly causes problems in genre- and mood-switching between shows. Thus, for instance, after watching Pushing Daisies, complete with its magic realist Amelie-esque vibe and its cavalier, comic treatment of death and murder, the early death of Peter Kraus’ father in Dirty Sexy Money felt more like a prelude to comedy than I’m sure its directors intended. As reflected upon in the above paragraph, watching these previews thus allowed me to greater appreciate not advertising per se, but the artistic purpose of an ad break, and of the benefits of inserting little mindless imageplays inbetween shows or segments to allow those shows to grow or simply to sit in a viewer’s mind.

If the juxtaposition and placement of images and texts and segments is important in and around ad breaks, though, it’s also vital (at least to a non-TiVo-owning sod like me) at the level of schedule. Each night I’ve felt handcuffed to evaluate the shows properly until I get home and see what they’re up against. For instance, I was pleased to see that Chuck (a surprise winner of the previews for me) is up against a bunch of shows I can easily miss, and that included no obvious audience-sapping megalith for its obvious demo of young men (it faces off against Dancing with the Stars, the shark-jumping Prison Break, How I Met Your Mother, and Everybody Hates Chris). Pushing Daisies, however, while another pleasant surprise (though I’m a bit dubious about the concept’s longterm viability) faces harder competition in the aggressively-marketed Kid Nation, America’s Next Top Model, Deal or No Deal, and Back to You.

Certainly, one of the reasons I’ve come to the previews for three years (apart from the free food and drink – itself a powerful lure) is to see them away from the distractions and hard choices of “real” television. On one level, it’s odd that to watch television, I feel I need to leave television. But on another, I therefore wonder how accurately I can evaluate the shows when they are not their normal selves.

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