Monday 27th March 2017,
Televisual

Web Series Research and Television Genres

I’ve been incredibly busy of late with various projects (lectures, editing documentaries, freelance and academic articles) and haven’t had time to post. Nevertheless I did want to give a couple scholarly updates.

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First is really just a class assignment — click for report — on Jason Mittell’s Genre and Television. Mittell’s is a remarkably well-researched book that aims to refocus television studies around issues of genre. Mittell’s main point is that television genres are best studied not as texts, but as cultural discourses involving numerous agents, voices and factors — industrial producers, the media, audiences, network scheduling, policy, etc. Mittell looks at various genres and scandals — cartoons, police shows (Dragnet), talk TV, soaps (Soap), and quiz shows — and provides blueprints for analyzing them. I wrote a class report covering most of the book; it’s basically a summary with a little bit of analysis/review thrown in. I thought it might be a useful guide to people. Of course, if you’re studying television, you should own it! If not, it’s a good library checkout. Click here for the report.

Mittell’s book is particularly useful to me as I start researching the web series. There is such a diversity of series out there, I knew I had to go beyond the text (the narrative, visuals, production aspects of the shows themselves) in order to study it, at least at first. I’ve been talking producers, marketers, writers, actors and others involved with web series production and I’m beginning to formulate a thesis that examines web shows not as texts — like I said, huge diveristy — but as a form emerging from a discourse about what audiences want in a post-network age.

Maybelline's sponsorship of the Broadroom really epitomizes what sponsors want from web series, and what many of the deals in this market look like at the moment.

Maybelline's sponsorship of the Broadroom really epitomizes what sponsors want from web series, and what many of the deals in this market look like at the moment.

The beginnings — the tiny sprouts from the seedlings — of that argument I written in a report here (click) on the market for web series. This report is not really intended for publication, i.e. I’m not submitting it anywhere, but more as a way to guide my thoughts around this issue. It’s not perfect; for one, I sort of drop my thesis about half way through and I think I quoted some sources pretty crudely (both mistakes are due to time), but it at least allows a glimpse into how I’m trying to interpret these things. I very much welcome comments and constructive criticism!

Hopefully I’ll have published soon a freelance article based on the same interviews, which will delve into a much more specific aspect of the web series market.

I’m also hoping to explore in more depth the role of fandom for web series (it’s only alluded to in the report above). It’s crucial, really for all media production today, and I’ll be fleshing out those ideas for a course I’m taking with the esteemed Henry Jenkins this fall!

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

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