Friday 15th December 2017,

Contemporary Television (2014)

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Television is dead; television is in a golden age. Can both statements be true? This course focuses on how the art and business of primetime television changed after the introduction of “new media,” from cable to the Internet. Readings will explore production, storytelling, identity and distribution of TV and web entertainment. Students will watch, analyze and have the option to pitch or produce television.

The goal of this course is to give students a deeper understanding of the complexity and ever-changing nature of a media business. Television is arguably the country’s most powerful medium, foundational to American culture and history in the post-WWII era. At first tightly regulated and controlled, television has fragmented, its networks folded into conglomerates and its programs spread across dozens of channels. Throughout the semester students are encouraged to question how changes in television production, regulation and distribution affects programming, culture and politics at large.

Required Texts:

Ethan Thompson and Jason Mittell, How to Watch Television, New York, NY: New York University Press, 2013.


Paper: 8-15 pages

Analyze how a contemporary broadcast, cable or web television series, group of series or network has succeeded or failed in the post-network television market.

Your essay must consider every aspect of television explored in the course, including production, distribution, technology, audiences, representation, financing, narrative, and the context of the post-network television market. Your argument will ideally focus on 1-3 aspects as leading reasons why your series was a success, failure or produced innovations.

Papers must include primary and secondary sources outside those on the syllabus.

You can work pairs but please meet me in advance of the mid-term proposal to get approval.

Regular reading suggestions for this course:

Television and Online Video Periodicals (pick 2-4):

New York (Vulture), Deadline, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Antenna, Flow, AV Club, TV by the Numbers, Shadow and Act, Tubefilter, News for TV Majors, Multichannel News, Reel SEO, Broadcasting and Cable, Will Video for Food, The Video Ink, New Tee Vee (GigaOM)


Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, New Yorker, New York, New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, The Nation, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, Los Angeles Times, NPR, The Guardian, Indiewire

Advocacy and Academics:

New American Foundation, Free Press, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Social Media, Berkman Center (Harvard University), Center for Internet and Society, Flow, Terra Nova

Social media (pick 2-4):

Twitter @: n4tvm,* jmittell, mattzollerseitz (New York), emilynussbaum (New Yorker), alyssarosenberg (Washington Post), kristenwarner, memles, tvoti (AV Club), willapaskin (Salon), marcgraser (Variety), awallenstein (Variety), _mesk





Course overview: Syllabus

Introductory Lecture: How has television changed?



—    Good Times, “Cousin Cleatus,” (3:14, 1975) (YouTube I, II, III)
—    A Different World, “Radio Free Hillman,” (2:10, 1989) (YouTube I, II, III or Hulu+)
—    The Boondocks, “Return of the King” (1:9, 2006) (YouTube)


—    Christine Acham, “The Cosby Show: Representing Race,” in Thompson and Mittell
—    Aymar Jean Christian, “The Black TV Crisis and the Next Generation,” Flow,
—    Herman Gray, “The Transformation of the Television Industry and the Social Production of Blackness,” Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for Blackness
—    Mike Royko, “VII,” Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago

Suggested Readings:

—    Herman Gray, “The Politics of Representation in Network Television,” and “It’s A Different World Where You Come From,” Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for Blackness
—    Ethan Thompson, “Key and Peele: Identity, Shockingly Translated,” Antenna,
—    Todd VanDerWerff, “A Different World was the last black sitcom to be a hit—but why?,” AV Club,90788

Guiding questions:
—    What are the most important factors affecting the representation of race on television over time?
—    How have changes in the television business affected TV storytelling?
—    What are the different ways black-cast shows address American culture, politics and society across time — pre-cable, during the multichannel transition and in the post-network era?




—    24, “12:00 A.M. – 1:00 A.M.” (1:1, 2001, Amazon)
—    High Maintenance, “Jamie” and “Rachel” (2012, 2014, Vimeo)
—    Got 2B Real,  “The Finale — The Goodbye (Part 2),” (2:8, 2013) (YouTube)

In class:

—    “Dorien Corey on throwing shade,” Paris is Burning (1990) (YouTube)


—    John Caldwell, “Trade Machines and Manufactured Identities” (Chapter 4), Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television
—    David Gurney, “Auto-Tune the News: Remix Video,” in Thompson and Mittell
—    Louisa Stein, “Gossip Girl: Transmedia Technologies,” in Thompson and Mittell

Guiding questions:

—    How do technological innovations and introductions change storytelling, distribution and production?
—    Should we incorporate fan activity into our assumptions of the audience?
—    How can we? What are the impediments?



—    The Honeymooners, “The $99,000 Answer,” (1:18, 1956, DailyMotion)
—    Shark Tank, “Week 21,” (5:21, 2014, Hulu)
—    Battlestar Galactica: The Face of the Enemy, (2008-2009, DailyMotion)
—    Black Gay University, “PILOT Episode – Ball Queenz Be Like…” (YouTube)
—    Eliot Glazer, “Reluctant Gay Dude’s Guide to Modern Gay Vernacular” for Looking (HBO) (YouTube)

In class:

—    Franchesca Ramsey, “Shit White Girls Say…to Black Girls” (YouTube)


—    Mark Andrejevic, “Watching Television Without Pity: The Productivity of Online Fans,” Television & New Media
—    Henry Jenkins, “Introduction: Why Media Spreads,” Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture
—    Suzanne Scott, “Battlestar Galactica: Fans and Ancillary Content,” in Thompson and Mittell

Suggested readings:

—    Niall Connolly, “Welcome to the Ballroom, where Voguing is always in style,” Boingboing,
—    Kate Kaye, “Welcome to the Era of the Data-Driven Programmer,” Advertising Age,
—    Margaret Lyons, “How Television Without Pity Shaped Pop Culture,” Vulture,
—    Jason Mittell, “An Arresting Development,” Flow,
—    Streeter Seidell, “I Waste People’s Time Online. How? Don’t Ask Me,” New York Times,  

Guiding questions:

—    How have the construction and activities of audiences changed during the multichannel transition?
—    What are the consequences of these changes?



—    RuPaul’s Drag Race, “RuPaul Roast,” (5:7, 2013, Amazon)
—    Breaking Bad, “Box Cutter,” (4:1, 2011) (Netflix)
—    Whatever this is, “Reality,” (1:1, 2013) (Vimeo)

In class:

—    Video Game High School (YouTube)


—    Aymar Jean Christian, “Indie TV: Innovation in Series Development,” in Media Independence: working with freedom or working for free?
—    Amanda Lotz, “How to spend $9.3 billion in three days: examining the upfront buying process in the production of US television culture,” Media Culture Society
—    Ted Magder, “Television 2.0: the Business of American Television in Transition,” in Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture
—    Kevin Sandler, “Modern Family: Product Placement,” in Thompson and Mittell

Suggested readings:

—    Amy Chozik and Bill Carter, “A Rough and Bawdy Ad Magnet,” New York Times,
—    Rocket Jump, “The Cost of a Webseries,”
—    Chad Raphael, “The Political Economic Origins of Reali-TV,” in Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture
—    Alyxandra Vesey, “An Absolut Drag,” Antenna,
—    Edward Wyatt, “TV Contestants: Tired, Tipsy, and Pushed to Brink,” New York Times,

Guiding questions:

—    How does financing affect programming and vice versa?
—    How has digital distribution changed financing and does that matter? Why?



—    Scandal, “White Hat’s Back On” (2:22, 2013) (Netflix)
—    True Detective, “The Long Bright Dark,” (1:1, 2014) (HBO Go)
—    Epic Rap Battles of History (YouTube)
—    Kids React (YouTube)
—    Ratchetpiece Theatre, “Rasheeda (Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta)” (YouTube)


—    Jennifer Fuller, “Branding blackness on cable,” Media, Culture and Society
—    Jennifer Holt, “NYPD Blue: Content Regulation,” in Thompson and Mittell
—    Emily Nussbaum, “Cool Story, Bro: The shallow deep talk of True Detective,” New Yorker
—    Beejoli Shah, “In the White Room With Black Writers: Hollywood’s ‘Diversity Hires,’” Defamer,

Suggested readings:

—    Myles McNutt, “Limited Series Are A Product of Brand Management, Not Innovation,” Carsey-Wolf Center: Media Industries Project,
—    Michael Hiltzik, “Netflix, ‘House of Cards’ and the limits of binge-watching junk,” Los Angeles Times,,0,3297583.story#axzz2xf001q7v

Guiding questions:

—    How do you consume television?
—    How does distribution affect programming?
—    How does distribution affect consumption?



—    All in the Family, “Cousin Maude’s Visit,” (2:12, 1971) (DVD)
—    Anger Management, “Charlie Goes Back to Therapy” (1:1, 2012, DVD)
—    Broad City (web series), (1:15-19, 2010) (YouTube)
—    Broad City (Comedy Central), “Stolen Phone” (1:6, 2014, Hulu+)


—    Miranda J. Banks, “I Love Lucy: The Writer-Producer,” in Thompson and Mittell
—    Amanda Lotz, “Making Television: Changes in the Practices of Creating Television,” The Television Will Be Revolutionized
—    John Vanderhoef, “Guilds Struggle to Organize Reality TV,” Carsey-Wolf Center: Media Industries Project,

Suggested readings:

—    John Caldwell, “Industrial Auteur Theory (Above the Line/Creative),” Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television
—    Gary Levin, “Testing the bonds of best ‘Friends,’” USA Today
—    Organize Reality TV:

Guiding questions:

—    How has production changed over the years?
—    What does “cheap” programming reveal about television today?




—    Living Single, “U.N.I.T.Y.,” (1:23, 1994) (DVD)
—    Pretty Wild, “The Arrest” (1:1, 2010) (Netflix)
—    F to 7th (season one, 2013),
—    Kam Kardashian “GLAWD” (2:1, 2013), “BFF (Asian Intern Remix)” (2:1B, 2013), “Internment” (2:4), “Fashion Forward” (2:8) (YouTube)

In class:

—    The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (season 1, clips)


—    Susan Douglas, “Fantasies of Power,” Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work Is Done
—    Ron Becker, “Glee/House Hunters International: Gay Narratives,” in Thompson and Mittell
—    Amanda Lotz, “Trying to Man Up: Struggling with Contemporary Masculinities in Cable’s Male-Centered Serials,” Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the 21st Century

Suggested readings:

—    Phillip Maciak, “Kill the Leading Man: Two Histories of 21st Century Television,” Los Angeles Review of Books,
—    Alfred Martin, “It’s (Not) In His Kiss: Gay Kisses, Narrative Strategies, and Camera Angles in Post-Network Television Comedy,” Flow,
—    Melanie Kohnen, “’You Want Me To Be Anderson Cooper’: Negotiating Queer Visibility on Husbands,” Antenna,
—    Janani Subramanian, “A Bitter Pill: Nurse Jackie and a Discourse of Discontent,” Flow,

Guiding questions:

—    How has representation changed through the multichannel transition?
—    What are the possibilities and challenges of representation in the post-network era?



—    Arrested Development, “SOBs,” (3:9, 2006) (Netflix)
—    Louie, “Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 2” (3:5, 2012) (Netflix)
—    Community, “Virtual Systems Analysis” (3:16) (Hulu+)


—    Bambi Higgins, “Homicide: Realism,” in Thompson and Mittell
—    Jeffrey Sconce, “Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!: Metacomedy,” in Thompson and Mittell
—    Aymar Jean Christian, “Netflix’s Arrested Development Will Not Change TV. Web TV Already Did,”

Suggested readings:

—    Michael Kackman, “Quality Television, Melodrama, and Cultural Complexity,” Flow,
—    James Poniewozik, “Louis CK’s DIY TV,” Time,,8816,2078110,00.html

Guiding questions:

—    How have changes to the production of television influenced its stories?
—    In what ways is post-network television different from network TV?


WEEK 10: In-Class Presentations!