PhD thoughts

Basic idea:

I’m interested in popular entertainment television since the mid 1990s. How it is being watched differently, how it is being paid for differently, and how it is being made/programmed/commissioned/written differently. All of these seem to be fairly well agreed upon, but my suggestion is that they are all deeply interrelated, and that none of the changes could or would have happened without the others.


I had been struggling for quite a while as to how this project would flow. In the end, I have decided to settle on 2 major programming changes that have risen to prominence within the period – reality TV & cult TV (I’m also having some internal discussions as to whether this is cult TV, or quality TV in the McCabe/Akass understanding, or whether what we have actually seen is some combination of aspects of both). 2 case studies have been selected for each programming shift, and a chapter on each will be devoted to teasing out how each of these programmes dealt with, or engaged with, changing audience and economic models.

Case studies (chronologically):

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
American Idol

What will be important:

Obviously there have been massive technological changes that have affected the ways that audiences access and engage with programming. But I am also interested in how technological changes have allowed changes in the nature and depth of fandom. A growing audience awareness of the economics of television also comes into play, along with ideas such as Jenkins’ affective economics. Narrative complexity has increased across many forms of television – can this be tied back to the ways that audiences are now accessing their content, allowing them to rewatch, to not miss episodes (is series link/season pass to thank for narrative complexity)? Brooker’s idea of overflow is becoming more and more apparently, to the point where with some programming, it is almost essential (I pity the fool who watches Lost without some reference to the Lostpedia at least, in order not only to understand and be reminded of salient facts, but also to pick up on anything missed within the wide world of overflow it creates). Product placement seems to be rising in prominence again, perhaps to combat a loss in revenue changing audience models might have on the thirty-second commercial.

Problems I’m wrestling with:

Franchise television. It seems to be another trend that has become a dominant force in the appropriate period – the rise of franchise-style replication of television, from the sale of formats, through to the replication of programming by producers (CSI, L&O, NCIS etc). But yet, not a lot seems to have been written about this phenomenon. Should I be trying to highlight the format nature of Survivor & Idol, should there be a chapter dedicated to it, should it just be flagged up as an interesting phenomenon to be followed up in post-doc?

I’ve had several comments that four case studies seems too many, but on the other hand, fewer may not give enough of an overview of the industry – one early suggestion was that I just look at Idol, but in that scenario, I can probably only make claims about Idol at the end, not the industry at large.

My case studies are entirely drawn from US television – which may not be entirely surprising, apart from the fact that I am writing from New Zealand. My inclination is that industry changes tend to be passed down from the US for the most part, but that seems to be a little culturally imperialistic. I also wonder at times whether there are key insights I miss by not being a part of the initial target audience, by not being able to experience Hulu or Netflix, by not being directly surrounded by the networks, by the cable channels, and instead experiencing the programming mediated in different ways.

This is a very brief/shallow snapshot of my PhD (6 months in tomorrow) – but I wanted to get something up so that I might hopefully start getting a little feedback. I aim to keep updating, and may try to post the full 3000-ish word proposal once I finish re-working it. Aim to.


3 thoughts on “PhD thoughts

  1. Elisa

    I will probably post another reply here when I have had a bit of time to think about your entire post. In regard to industry changes being passed down from the US: The idol series, I would argue, originated out of the reality show ‘popstar’ series’ phenomenon that started out in little ol’ NZ. That was then sold to Australia and then Europe. Similarly with “Survivor”, which was preceded by “Expedition Robinson.” It is like that episode of the Simpsons where the network execs all pull out their televisions to brainstorm ideas for their reality show.
    The US seems to have put these ideas through their big corporate wringer and come up with a better product, that they then sell back to the originators of the product.

    • televisionftw

      I 100% agree that a large number of recent programming changes have come to the US from overseas, and also that they somehow seem to create a new product which is again resaleable.

      I guess when I was thinking of industrial changes, I was thinking more on a technological and economic level. A lot of new televisual technology seems to debut in the US first (although not exclusively eg use of cellphone for TV reception in S. Korea), as does the use of existing technology as a means of television distribution (eg Hulu). I’d also suggest that several of the economic models that are currently gaining traction have begun with the US network system – their diffusion into other countries almost seems to come perforce, given the sheer quantity of US content on screens in the majority of countries of the world, but especially English-speaking countries.

      Thanks for the comments – hugely appreciated, and if you have time to think and post again, there may even be a coffee in it for you…

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