There is a certain satisfaction from seeing the good guy catch the bad guy. The tropes of genre allow one to anticipate a certain pattern and find joy when those anticipated elements come to pass (Smith, 2010). But what happens when this logic is subverted? In the current programming-dense “peak” of television, the avid postmodern viewer exhausts genre power, asking TV to be more, do more. In this way, not satisfying audience expectations actually produces more satisfaction. In Hannibal (2013-2015), a genre-defying television show developed and produced by Bryan Fuller, this is accomplished by complicating what is good and evil through careful aesthetic subversion that supports, in formal elements, a plot that with a consumerist morality deifies the bad guy, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). In doing so, such a show Continue reading
Music is the first thing one experiences in the pilot episode of The Americans. Quarterflash’s 1981 hit, “Harden My Heart,” plays as we get the show’s setting: Washington D.C. No year is announced, but the song, with it’s era-specific “sexy” saxophone, tells us we are in the ‘80s. We aren’t sure that the music isn’t diegetic as we see Keri Russell sitting at a bar leaning into the conversation she is having with a middle-aged man who has deluded himself into believing that a woman that beautiful is incredibly interested in him.
The opening titles sequence of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful visually invokes genre conventions while using music to connote quality. The first shot is a selective focus close-up of a spider emerging from frame left in low-key light as violin music commences with suspenseful charge, two-thirds of the screen still in darkness. This isn’t any ordinary spider, as the rack focus between parts of its body reveals the markings of a toxic predator. Though it appears ordinary at first glance just like our protagonist, Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), upon further inspection it is revealed as exotic—its body showing neon yellow markings—and perhaps even poisonous. We then get the show’s title alone on screen in a font that evokes knives, then dissolving back to black. Continue reading
Image courtesy of Art of the Title
Halt and Catch Fire is a show more about time and technological progress than characters, and the intro sequence reflects that. Currently airing its fourth and final season on AMC, the show charts the evolution of digital technology from the personal computer boom through to the creation of our current portal to the web, algorithmic search engines. The main “stars” of Halt and Catch Fire’s opening title sequence are the racing Tron-like blips of light that shoot from right to left as if they are racing towards an invisible finish line. The five or so lights cut through glitchy silhouette’s of our three main protagonists, underlining the show’s priority of documenting tech’s evolution over character development. You don’t see the characters clearly at any point in the opening, which suggests they don’t matter. After watching the show, one realizes this is largely true. The characters exist mostly to drive the story forward, to play tech archetypes. They are as models are to clothes in a fashion show. The timeline tracking tech’s evolution is the main character. Continue reading
After seeing a fan mash-up of Sherlock with House M.D. on YouTube, I was curious what CBS’s Elementary might offer as an updated, American version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. I searched for an interview with one of Elementary’s female producers, and landed on Liz Friedman, a very accomplished television producer and writer who executive produced both Elementary and House M.D. I was interested in this podcast interview with Friedman because female voices unmediated by men are not often heard, and this was an interview between two women in the industry. I wondered if Friedman’s minority status within the industry as a woman (a gay woman at that) would influence her representation of her work. The podcast was created and hosted by Jen Grisanti, a former TV executive who now seems to make her entire living off of paid seminars and speeches on “making-it” as an industry writer. By analyzing the subculture of “insider” discussion in Jen Grisanti’s podcast interview of Liz Friedman, I will explore how above-the-line work privileges the needs of the industry over individual laborers by using such deep texts as what Derek Johnson (2016) calls “regimes of truth,” enforcing the ideology of Hollywood meritocracy. Continue reading
Laura Prudom writing in Variety’s March 22, 2016 article, “Supergirl’ Meets ‘The Flash’: Stars Take Us Behind the Scenes on the Crossover (EXCLUSIVE)” reveals the economic convergence involved in such event programming. Henry Jenkins defines various forms of the post-network phenomena of convergence, the economic variety consisting of the ownership of different forms of media. Conglomeration has been ramping up for decades since the deregulation of Fin-Syn’s abolishment. The significance of conglomeration in the post-network age lies in the potential for what Jenkins terms “transmedia exploitation of branded properties.” When companies have ownership in multiple channels, they have greater incentive and ease in engaging in cross-promotion and synergy among those holdings. By exposing the economic convergence involved in the Supergirl/Flash crossover, I will show how convergence can breed convergence, allowing shows to benefit from post-network fragmentation.
Best known for its crime procedurals like NCIS and event reality shows like Survivor, CBS doubled-down on its cash cow shows years ago, as unabashed king of back-door pilots spinning off into series. While comedies and non-crime dramas exist and are even popular on the network, the majority of CBS shows are similar in their lean toward the episodic end of the cumulative TV spectrum. A few shows break this mold, Continue reading