Live Television: From the Extraordinary to the Everyday

My weeks are punctuated by what’s on TV.

Gruen Planet/Sweat/Transfer on a Wednesday night always reminds me with dread that I have five hours of uni the next day and “oh crud, did I have study to do?”

During tv ‘season’, the new episodes of HIMYM, Grey’s Anatomy, New Girl and Glee spawn the weekly ritual of pajama pants, chocolate and a sneaky download or four.

Mornings at the gym are spent with good pals on various morning shows with too many ads on my treadmill’s built in screen. These weekly and daily rituals based around television schedules produce a sense of time, both with scheduling, in their content and with a sense of ritual and tradition. So often I’ll be doing something – probably watching TV on my laptop, lawl – when the actual TV will come on with a show, or a segment on a show, I love watching once a week (instead of in a huge chunk), and I’ll think, “oh yeah! It’s Tuesday!” or “Oh no, it’s nine thirty already!”

Sunrise makes use of this sense of time with different segments: The hourly news updates, sports section, the celebrity ‘expert’ segment. There’s a definite sense of structure that translates to an almost seamless flow. The hosts are obviously well rehearsed in the pattern of the show, which makes their actions seem natural to the audience. The following segment, about a woman who has booked her wedding despite the fact she doesn’t have a groom, exemplifies the representation of the hosts, the studio setting, and the sense of ‘liveness’ that is carried throughout the show.

The coupling of a pre-filmed package with the cut to the ‘live’ interview gives the impression that the two hosts, Mel and Kochie, are sitting in our lounge room with the audience, creating a sense of inclusion into this little public sphere in the family home. The informal language of both hosts is very ‘Australian’, (eg, the repeated use of the word “bloke”), and even the nicknames are inclusive to the imagined Australian audience, but perhaps could be a counter-public sphere to other nationalities trying to watch. The further cuts away from the main action, to one of the cameramen pretending to get ready to meet the woman, adds to the sense of ‘liveness’. It had clearly been planned from the beginning as a camera was set up on him, but appears to be a spontaneous ad-lib. The show is very ‘low-key’ in the sense that it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It’s just an Aussie show for Aussie people in the morning, talking about news items and things of interest in a simple way. This clear agenda of not-really-having-an-agenda presents the show to the everyday layman, creating an intimate world of trust and family.

Other ‘live’ television events bring together wider audiences. “The funerals of President Kennedy and Lord Louis Mountbatten, the royal wedding of Charles and Diana, the journeys of Pope John Paul II and Anwar el-Sadat, the debates of 1960 between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the Watergate hearings, the revolutionary changes of 1989 in Eastern Europe, the olympics, and others.” (From Dayan and Katz’s Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History) The Olympics opening ceremony for example, created a much broader public sphere, with the potential audience numbering into the billions.

Despite criticism for the obvious commercial-ity of the Olympics, the games certainly

generate a sense of world community, and also inspire a strong sense of nationhood. Particularly in Great Britain, the ceremony worked to embody the nation’s social identity within the world. When each countries athletes came out, one would hope they acted in a way that would make their respective countries proud. I don’t know I can say so much about our Aussies… If I learnt anything in school it was to keep that top button done up in public and don’t use mobile phones when on display. Mrs MacCulloch, where were you when the Australian Olympic team needed you!?

Australian athletes at the Opening Ceremony

Australian athletes at the Opening Ceremony

Sports events are obvious nation-building, ritualistic events, but other ‘live’ events, such as something so simple as the weather forecast, are equally important in this task. David Morley, in the chapter ‘Broadcasting and the Construction of the National Family’, pp105-110 from his book Home Territories, explains, quoting Chandler, that if the shipping forecast enhances our sense of comfort in being safe at home, then this is also a matter of national belonging in the profoundest sense:

the shipping forecast is both national narrative and symbol; for  seventy years it has given reports on an unstable, volatile ‘exterior’ against which the ideas of ‘home’ and ‘nation’ as places of safety, order, and even divine protection are reinforced.

“National broadcasting can thus create a sense of unity… It can link the peripheral to the centre; turn previously exclusive social events into mass experiences; and, above all, it penetrates the domestic sphere, linking the national public into the private lives of its citizens, through the create of both sacred and quotidian moments of national communion.”

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