Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture

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Psychology Press, 2004 - Performing Arts - 238 pages
2 Reviews
Genre and Television proposes a new understanding of television genres as cultural categories, offering a set of in-depth historical and critical examinations to explore five key aspects of television genre: history, industry, audience, text, and genre mixing. Drawing on well-known television programs from Dragnet to The Simpsons, this book provides a new model of genre historiography and illustrates how genres are at work within nearly every facet of television-from policy decisions to production techniques to audience practices. Ultimately, the book argues that through analyzing how television genre operates as a cultural practice, we can better comprehend how television actively shapes our social world.
  

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Good start. Engaging conclusion but in much need of an update.

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SCOPE A Review by Sarah Godfrey, University of East Anglia, UK
Genre and TeleSvision by Jason Mittell updates traditional genre theory and adapts it for the specificities of television studies; while
Mittell draws upon traditional literary and film studies understandings of genre he also establishes a sound argument as to why the theories need to be re-worked when dealing specifically with the domestic medium of television. Indeed Mittell makes a sound case for continuing to use forms of genre theory within the discipline arguing that renegotiating and adapting theories of genre affords a useful approach to issues such as production, distribution and the reception of television programmes, both old and new. His introduction outlines what he terms a 'cultural approach' to television genres. In other words, an approach which draws upon the idea of a genre as a continually evolving cultural category that is subject to discursive transformation. He advances a methodology which goes beyond a traditional text-based approaches to include, amongst others, industrial/corporate influences, making a strong case for how and why genre is used by television channels to form and maintain a distinct brand identity, for example. He also draws upon audience practice, reception theory, industrial developments and historical trends in order to produce a case which is holistic and comprehensive offering a timely review of the relevance and potential offered by generic approaches to television studies.
Before going on to explore a number of generic categories Mittell outlines his main agenda and methodology in the first chapter 'Television Genres as Cultural Categories'. While he concedes that deconstructionist theory has somewhat undermined the traditional more essentialist approaches to genre theory, as a concept genre still can and does hold relevance for media scholars and students today. Instead of perceiving genres as distinct, intransigent categories he puts forward an argument which acknowledges "genre definitions are no more natural than the texts they seem to categorise" (1) but that generic distinctions remain a key way in which producers, broadcasters and audiences understand and make sense of the wealth of televisual material which confronts them in day to day life. With this in mind Mittell contends that a specifically televisual "genre theory needs to work against some of the core assumptions of traditional approaches to genre", essentially updating the formalistic and aesthetic approaches which have led to genre theory being declared outdated and deterministic. His formative questions are driven by this cultural approach to television. For example, he states that "the central questions motivating many media scholars today [include] -- how do television programmes fit into historically specific systems of cultural power and politics?" (p2) Problematising a 'definitional' approach to genre Mittell prefers to approach genre with a view to exploring and explaining how a particular programme or type of programme functions within the wider cultural context. Drawing on Foucauldian notions of genealogy, Mittell proposes to explore a range of genres within their cultural, historical and production contexts in such a way that takes into account the specificity of television history, form, institution, uses and style.
 

Contents

Before the Scandals Genre Historiography and the
29
From Saturday Morning to Around the Clock
56
Audiences Talk Genres Talk Shows and the
94
Policing GenresDragnets Texts and Generic Contexts
121
Making Fun of GenresThe Politics of Parody
153
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About the author (2004)

Jason Mittell is Assistant Professor of of American Civilization and Film and Media Culture at Middlebury College. He has published essays in Cinema Journal, The Velvet Light Trap, Television and New Media, Film History, Journal of Popular Film and Television, and several anthologies. He lives in Middlebury, Vermont.

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