Geographies

Let’s talk one of my favourite daytime talk shows (because why not?): Ellen!

She’s often passed off as just an everyday talk show host that dances a lot, but Ellen can always make me smile. She has a real knack for bringing out the best in people, and frankly I adore her!

But as an American show, often I can feel left out. Ellen will often visit her home town of New Orleans (Or “Nuu Awwlenz”) and take the camera crew along, but many of the ‘Southern’ jokes, accents and aspects of life will go straight over my head.

An episode of Ellen starring Matt Leblanc ended in a game where each had to guess what accent the other was imitating. One accent by Leblanc was ‘Valleygirl’, a word I’d never before come across as a descriptor for that typical teenage girlness: “Oh, my gawd!”

While not all jokes can be translated to different cultures, whether from America to Australia to Japan, in general the sentiment can be understood. Watching Ellen as an Australian, I can appreciate many of the gags, but perhaps differently to the American, Canadian, New Zealander, British, etc, etc people watching – it is indeed “a world where all cultures are both (like) ‘us’ and (not like) ‘us'” (Ang and Stratton, 1996) and this synthesis into enjoyment for many cultures is something I think Ellen captures very well.

Aside from Aussies being smart enough to access the lols, Ellen does connect with Australians on some level quite specifically: she married ‘our’ Portia Derossi, and for this fact will sometimes sprinkle the show with jokes on her behalf, or facts she might have learnt. Ellen’s Australia as Country of the Week episode both works to invite Australian’s watching and make fun of them, for example with the boomerang coffee cup in the clip below.

To me it seems that relate-ability is the key for television (or anything, really) to cross over from one culture to the next:

“An early twenties [Taiwanese] informant told me that the life style and love affairs in an American drama such as Beverley Hills 90210 are something she enjoys watching, but she found Japanese love stories more realistic and easier to relate to. A 17-year-old high school student also told me that ‘Japanese dramas better reflect our reality. Yeah, Beverley Hills 90210 is too exciting (to be realistic). Boy always meets girl. But it is neither our reality nor dream’.” (Koichi Iwabuchi – ‘Discrepant Intimacy’)

If I wasn’t able to connect with or relate to Ellen, despite her being American, famous, middle-aged and so on, I simply wouldn’t watch.

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Transmedia Trends

“‘Over the long-long-long-term, generationally long,’” explained the head of Lionsgate, the studio responsible for such prestige dramas as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, “‘it’s very likely that the genre—which I’ll call short-form, truly short-form of five minutes—may be the way in which people consume a lot of entertainment media, putting movies aside.” (From Max Dawson’s article ‘Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency’)

I think we’ve all been privy to some kind of transmedia of one of our favourite TV shows. ‘The Office’ spin-off series ‘The Accountants’ for example, or even content on the website of said television programs. Simon Staffans blog gives a pretty good idea of some examples: HBO’s True Blood series, with a web portal providing information about the series, the characters, the music and the merchandise, and also directs you to the video blog hosted by one of the side characters of the show, the baby vampire Jessica; The Dark Knight transmedia project Why So Serious?; even Angry Birds reportedly branching out into a tv-series.

Transmedia texts work to extend narratives, enrich the viewing experience for the audience, and encourage audience participation (Paraphrased from Matt Load’s lecture slides transmedia_trends_week_4). Certainly, the above examples of transmedia do this: we can gain a further insight into the behind-the-scenes goings-on of our favourite accountants, we can contribute to the conversation surrounding baby Jessica.

Dawson explains: “The first experiments with exhibiting films, videos, and television programs on the web occurred in the late 1990s, at a time when the limited capacities of computer hardware and restrictions on Internet bandwidth required would-be exhibitors to keep the sizes of digital video files to an absolute minimum. Shorter videos meant smaller files, which in turn meant faster load times, better image and sound quality, and (potentially) more pleasurable experiences for viewers.” Even moving into a technological time where extended footage can be made readily available, this “more pleasurable experience for viewers” may be the reason why shorts have remained short. Late at night, when I know I should be sleeping but just don’t wanna, ‘reason’ wouldn’t allow myself to consent to watching another whole length movie. “Just watch one more YouTube video Zoe,” my ‘rational’ brain will say, only to blur into a YouTube vortex taking as much time, if not more, than had I just watched the full movie. This sense of time, with shorts being made into, as the name suggests, short chunks, gives the viewer if nothing else, a sense of not ‘wasting time’ watching TV. It’s only 4 minutes out of their day, and can (potentially) create as many laughs, tears or thought provoking ideas as a 42 minute full episode.

“A four minute webisode is not a waste of time, but rather a marvel of efficiency.” – Dawson

But these digital shorts are not without their problems. As Dawson describes: “The dispute over The Accountants stemmed from NBC’s equivocation on the question of whether the webisodes were web promos for The Office or an original series in their own right.” So how do we accept webisodes? As original content, just a different platform for the same product, or as advertising? In an age of my beloved Gruen Transfer, I think as consumers we are all pretty aware of the fact that advertising is everywhere. But is that all it is? And how do we think writers should be paid? It’s not completely necessary for webisodes and digital shorts, the show would still exist without it, and many happily do. But they do add a bonus to our experience of the show. When watching The Office, we can now also see our favourite accountants in the background of a scene who we maybe wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. The Accountants belong in The Office world, but the webisodes can be enjoyed by the audience even if they haven’t seen The Office, or don’t particularly follow the series. Plot points aren’t given away, and prior knowledge is rarely, if ever, needed to enjoy the oddball comedy.

The major accomplishment of a short like The Accountants or The Rookie: to blend promotion and content in a way that television itself seldom can. – Dawson

Audience participation and user-generated content are huge buzz-words in PR and marketing at the moment, and transmedia also works to facilitate this. The Accountants website offers video, photos, episode guides, games, a shop, and perhaps most importantly a social section. Fans are able to join the conversation (possibly the most overused term at the moment, forgive me), Like The Office on Facebook, Follow The Office on Twitter, and post on Message Boards, as well as visit and comment on a number of blogs: SchruteSpace, There’s No Accounting for Taste, Halpert Baby Blog andCreed Thoughts.

Another favourite TV show of mine to get involved with is Ellen. As the shows play during the day, I’ll often catch up on her YouTube channel and watch the highlights and various segments. In doing this, I found out The Ellen Show posts web-only content, which is often interactive: I get to click the links through to what I want to see, like a make your own adventure story book.

The Ellen Show

The Ellen Show

What are your favourite shows and do you participate in other aspects of the show like I have mentioned above? Leave your comments below 🙂

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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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Television in a Post Broadcast Era

John Hartley’s chapter ‘Less popular but more democratic?’ in Television Studies After TV, explains that television is in constant flux, and what constitutes television is diversifying. Technologically, Hartley says, “TV includes non-broadcast technologies (DVDs, TiVo, BitTorrent files), and it can be viewed on computers (YouTube) and mobile devices (phones, iPods) as well as via traditional TV sets, which have evolved to flat-screen technologies.” Hartley also suggests other changes in television: the mode of production, the domestic context, and the content and study of television.

Hartley makes the point that “because audience choice is increasingly fragmented across more channels and platforms, it is unlikely that any single TV show will ever again achieve the audience numbers of ‘I Love Lucy’s top-rating episode, or the series finale of M*A*S*H.” But Hartley still accepts TV as being possible to experience ‘live community’. “For instance … the telecast of Senator Obama’s acceptance speech in August 2008 reached 38.3 million viewers.”

During the Heyday of representational broadcasting, popular TV was regarded as democratic, both politically (it reached most people) and semiotically (it represented ordinary folk on screen)

But now, as Hartley posits, a new model is emerging, based on social networks, consumer-created content and multi-platform publication. It has transformed the medium from “‘read only’ to ‘read and write’, from network tv to social networks”.

Read all about it!

Read all about it!

Indeed, the role we play while watching TV has distinctly changed. We can be contributing to a livefeed of our thoughts about the Olympics, or  asking actors questions on Facebook while we watch the newest Grey’s Anatomy. But what role does The News play in TV?

Since the beginning of television, the news has played a big part in scheduling: typically broadcast at a time when the working father would be home from work, and maybe dinner would be on the table with all eyes pointed at the screen. The six o’clock news. A ratings winner. Even in the 21st century, the nightly news can be guaranteed a spot at prime time, with other stations taking a 24 hour approach.

The news creates an identity for the whole television station it plays on, from the messages the slogans imply (eg, “See it first” and “News you can trust”), to the authority or simple likeable-ness of the presenter/s.

Is TV dead?

Is TV dead?

The ritual of watching the news is often an important one. Families tend to gather at around news time, taking it in together and discussing what has happened over the muted ad breaks. It is this ritual that will keep television alive and well. Nation-building, live events like the footy and the olympics will remain into the future, as will the social institution of watching The Gruen Transfer with your folks every Wednesday night. Maybe these ideas will change in the future… maybe we’ll be watching them on our portable screens on our watches, or interacting with our many multiscreens, viewing our favourite sports from every angle in each corner of the screen, zooming in and out with the touch of our fingertips, or maybe our voices!

The future of television is anyone’s guess. Maybe more niche markets, maybe features like i-view will be standard on all our ‘smart TVs’. Maybe we’ll be watching TV on our portable screens instead of listening to our iPods on the train. Maybe trains will come with built-in TVs.

Please feel free to comment your predictions! 🙂

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Intro to TV Culture

I’m a self-confessed procrastinator. (Self-confessed AND accused of being: my boyfriend has even taken the time to explain to me the genetics of procrastination, how animals don’t have the “planning” gene and act only on impulse, etc, etc, in what I can only understand to be a subtle attempt at making me study.)

In fact much of the last, maybe, 5 years (?) has been dominated by TV series. The kind of domination that is all-consuming, the ‘look-I’m-really-sorry-I-can’t-hang-out-with-you-I’m-really-busy-lol-I’m-actually-dying-to-get-home-to-watch-Fresh-Prince’ kind of life domination, the ‘what-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-my-life-now-that-I’ve-finished-this-series?!!’ kind of life domination. Only now I can pass it off as studying for TV Cultures! Hurray! This week I’ve been watching Breaking Bad, The Wire and Game of Thrones in an effort to broaden my television knowledge of ‘quality TV’. Yes, I am ashamed and embarrassed  to admit I used my lunch breaks at work on Wednesdays last semester to watch the new episode of Glee. And I think my embarrassment at admitting that goes against what Alan McKee writes in his article Why Do I Love Television So Very Much?

McKee posits that art lovers not only “say, ‘I love this’, but also – ‘and if you don’t love this, then there is something wrong with you’. … Not only ‘This makes my life better’, but also, ‘If your life doesn’t have this in it, your life is less worthwhile than mine’.” I feel this is unfair to art lovers (myself included). While I have been known to publicly chastise said boyfriend for not liking Joan Miro while we were at the Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona, I’ve come across this higher-than-thou attitude a hundredfold with television. Self-proclaimed tele-holics ridicule my taste in TV, particularly that which I use as escapism, my guilty pleasure of a Friday night. Toddlers and Tiaras anyone? There’s just something so enthralling and suck-y in-y about trashy “reality” TV. Yes, in the same breath I did say I love MTV crap and Surrealist art! What of it? Why does McKee have to create a division? Televisionados vs artophiles…. Why can’t we all just get along?

One example I do agree with McKee about is The Simpsons:

The Simpsons may, quite rightly, mock intellectuals who think they are superior to everyone else (’But you can’t hate me!’, yells Homer after his retreating friends, when the removal of a crayon from his brain boosts his IQ to genius levels and renders him an unbearable snob: ‘I’m your better!’); but it also includes jokes that only Art lovers will get (Thomas Pynchon appears in the cartoon, but only with a paper bag over his head). It speaks to different people, in different ways, at the same time.

I’m going to bring up my boyfriend again (I must really like him or something?). When we watch The Simpsons together, we’ll both find hilarity in different parts: he’ll get the take-off of a famous rock song from the 70s or the Game of Thrones opener, I’ll appreciate Lisa as Ophelia or a reference to The Breakfast Club. The Simpsons, I feel, really embodies McKee’s point: “[Television] is a generous, warm, inviting, kind medium–defined by its desire to reach out and draw communities together.” I can watch The Simpsons with my seven-year-old nephew and my dear old, highbrow dad. I really can’t praise The Simpsons highly enough, and I’ll cut myself off here before I start an essay on the cleverness of the writers, and the boundary pushing, and even the artwork, and the….

As you’ve already read, I enjoy “crap” TV. Big Brother included. I can’t tell you how many times my dad made me “turn off that crap”. One of the things I liked most about Big Brother was simply just watching how people interact with each other. As a tweenybopper, I was interested in how ‘women’ (although I know now they were probably only 19) were supposed to act around ‘men’ (ditto). As ridiculous as it may be, I really loved the ‘guidance’ afforded me by the show. And if nothing else, I think it made me work out who I didn’t want to be like when I grew up. I really identify with Graeme Blundell‘s opinion:  I also liked Big Brother for the way the show blurred the conventional boundaries between fact and fiction, drama and documentary, and the way each year its various producers imaginatively tested the conventions of the format.

This blurring of genres is something I really love in all mediums, be it TV, art, music, books or film. I don’t think any form is less snobby than the others in truth, and I think it’s unfair to pit lovers of any genre against each other, especially when it’s normal to enjoy any and all!

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