Television and Popular Culture

Robert Thompson

Published by: Syracuse University Press

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Television and Popular Culture

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Bigger than Ben-Hur

The Book, Its Adaptations, and Their Audiences

edited by Barbara Ryan and Milette Shamir

First published in 1880, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ became a best-seller. The popular novel spawned an 1899 stage adaptation, reaching audiences of over 10 million, and two highly successful film adaptations. For over a century, it has become a ubiquitous pop cultural presence, representing a deeply powerful story and monumental experience for some and a defining work of bad taste and false piety for others. The first and only collection of essays on this pivotal cultural icon, Bigger Than “Ben-Hur” addresses Lew Wallace’s beloved classic to explore its polarizing effect and to expand the contexts within which it can be studied. In the essays gathered here, scholars approach Ben-Hur from multiple directions— religious and secular, literary, theatrical, and cinematic—to understand not just one story in varied formats but also what they term the “Ben-Hur tradition.” Drawing from a wide range of disciplines, contributions include the rise of the Protestant novel in the United States; relationships between and among religion, spectacle, and consumerism; the “New Woman” in early Hollywood; and a “wish list” for future adaptations, among others. Together, these essays explore how this remarkably fluid story of faith, love, and revenge has remained relevant to audiences across the globe for over 130 years.

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Black Male Frames

African Americans in a Century of Hollywood Cinema, 1903-2003

Roland Leander Williams Jr.

Black Male Frames charts the development and shifting popularity of two stereotypes of black masculinity in popular American film: “the shaman” or “the scoundrel.” Starting with colonial times, Williams identifies the origins of these roles in an America where black men were forced either to defy or to defer to their white masters. These figures recur in the stories America tells about its black men, from the fictional Jim Crow and Zip Coon to historical figures such as Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Williams argues that these two extremes persist today in modern Hollywood, where actors such as Sam Lucas, Paul Robeson, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman, among others, must cope with and work around such limited options. Williams situates these actors’ performances of one or the other stereotype within each man’s personal history and within the country’s historical moment, ultimately to argue that these men are rewarded for their portrayal of the stereotypes most needed to put America’s ongoing racial anxieties at ease. Reinvigorating the discussion that began with Donald Bogle’s seminal work, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks, Black Male Frames illuminates the ways in which individuals and the media respond to the changing racial politics in America.

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Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence

The Evolution of a National Icon

J. Richard Stevens

Since 1940, Captain America has battled his enemies in the name of American values, and as those values have evolved, so has Captain America’s character. Author J. Richard Stevens reveals how the comic book hero has evolved to maintain relevance with America’s fluctuating ideas of masculinity, patriotism, and violence. Stevens outlines the history of Captain America’s adventures and places the evolving storyline in dialogue with the comic book industry as well as America’s varying political culture. Using close readings, Stevens shows that Captain America’s adventures encourage reexaminations of issues of masculinity, patriotism, and violence that are as practical as they are interesting to students and scholars of popular culture and the social sciences.

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Inside the TV Writer's Room

Practical Advice for Succeeding in Television

Edited by Lawrence Meyers

Aspiring writers often ask how they can break into the television writing business. Meyers believes that the answer can be found by asking why people become television writers and what makes them successful. Inside the TV Writer’s Room reveals these insights and much more. This volume, a collection of interviews with some of today’s top episodic writers arranged in a roundtable format, explores the artists’ drive to express how the writers honed their creativity, and what compromises they have made to pursue their craft both before and after finding success. Each chapter’s topic is distilled into a practical lesson for both professionals and aspirants to heed if they wish to find or maintain success in writing for television. The book includes such leading entertainment writers and producers as Neal Baer, executive producer of the NBC series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Tim King of the groundbreaking hit Heroes, Peter Lenkov of 24 and CSI: New York, and Shawn Ryan, creator of the acclaimed series The Shield. Individual writers discuss the struggle to balance artistic fulfillment with the realities of commerce, and how they inject an original voice into a show that is often not their own creation.

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Interrogating The Shield

edited by Nicholas Ray

When The Shield first appeared on US television in March 2002, it broke ratings records with the highest audience-rated original series premiere in cable history. In the course of its subsequent seven-season run, the show went on to win international acclaim for its abrasive depiction of an urban American dystopia and the systemic political and juridical corruption feeding it. The first book dedicated to the analysis of this immensely successful series, Interrogating The Shield brings together ten critical essays, written from a variety of methodological and theoreti­cal perspectives. Topics range from an exploration of the series’ deriva­tion, genre, and production, to expositions of the ethics, aesthetics, and politics of the show. As may be expected from a multi-authored collection, this volume does not seek to present a homogenized account of The Shield. The show is variously applauded and critiqued. In their critical variety, how­ever, the essays in this book are a testament to the cultural significance and creative complexity of the series. As such, they are a reminder of the renewed power of quality television drama today.

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King of the Half Hour

Nat Hiken and the Golden Age of TV Comedy

David Everitt

Regarded by his contemporaries as one of television’s premier comedy creators, Nat Hiken was the driving creative force behind the classic 1950s and 1960s series Sgt. Bilko and the hilarious Car 54, Where Are You?
King of the Half Hour, the first biography of Hiken, draws extensively on exclusive first-hand interviews with some of the well-known TV personalities who worked with him, such as Carol Burnett, Fred Gwynne, Alan King, Al Lewis, and Herbert Ross. The book focuses on Hiken’s immense talent and remarkable career, from his early days in radio as Fred Allen’s head writer to his multiple Emmy-winning years as writer-producer-director on television. In addition to re-establishing Hiken's place in broadcast history, biographer, David Everitt places him in the larger story of early New York broadcasting. Hiken’s career paralleled the rise and fall of television’s Golden Age. He embodied the era’s best qualities—craftsmanship, a commitment to excellence and a distinctive, uproariously funny and quirky sense of humor. At the same time, his uncompromising independence prevented him from surviving the changes in the industry that brought the Golden Age to an end in the 1960s. His experiences bring a fresh and until now unknown perspective to the medium’s most extraordinary period.

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Reading Joss Whedon

Edited by Rhonda V. Wilcox, Tanya R. Cochran, Cynthea Masson, and David Lavery

In an age when geek chic has come to define mainstream pop culture, few writers and producers inspire more admiration and response than Joss Whedon. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Much Ado About Nothing, from Dr. Horrible’s Sing–Along Blog to The Avengers, the works of Whedon have been the focus of increasing academic attention. This collection of articles represents some of the best work covering a wide array of topics that clarify Whedon’s importance, including considerations of narrative and visual techniques, myth construction, symbolism, gender, heroism, and the business side of television. The editors argue that Whedon’s work is of both social and aesthetic significance; that he creates “canonical television.” He is a master of his artistic medium and has managed this success on broadcast networks rather than on cable. From the focus on a single episode to the exploration of an entire season, from the discussion of a particular narrative technique to a recounting of the history of Whedon studies, this collection will both entertain and educate those exploring Whedon scholarship for the first time and those planning to teach a course on his works.

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Screwball Television

Critical Perspectives on Gilmore Girls

Edited by David Scott Diffrient with David Lavery

Bringing together seventeen original essays by scholars from around the world, Screwball Television offers a variety of international perspectives on Gilmore Girls (WB/CW, 2000–2007). Adored by fans and celebrated by critics for its sophisticated wordplay and compelling portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship, this contemporary American TV program finally gets its due as a cultural production unlike any other— one that is beholden to Hollywood’s screwball comedies of the 1930s, steeped in intertextual references, and framed as a "kinder, gentler k

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"Something on My Own"

Gertrude Berg and American Broadcasting, 1929-1956

Glenn D. Smith, Jr.

In 1929 "The Goldbergs" debuted on the air, introducing Gertrude Berg -- and her radio alter ego, Bronx housewife Molly Goldberg – to the nation. The show would become one of the most beloved and enduring sitcoms of Golden Age radio, and early TV. At the helm was Berg who, as creator, star, writer, and producer, became a force to be reckoned with. This multi-faceted biography provides a penetrating look at how Gertrude Berg carved a special place for herself in the annals of broadcast history. Decades before Lucille Ball, Berg triumphed as a woman of commercial and creative consequence in what was essentially a male-dominated arena.
For over three decades, Berg’s "Molly" fluttered about and hung out her kitchen window dispensing motherly advice laced with engaging malapropisms, insights, and lots of "schmaltz". The show offered a warmly comedic look at the lives and dreams of working-class American Jews, and subtle insights into the nature of assimilation. While Molly, husband Jake, and Uncle David represent Old World Jewish stereotypes, children Rosalie and Sammy are as American as apple pie. Berg makes it clear that the only thing separating shtetl and middle-class new world values is style.
Drawing on Gertrude Berg’s papers at Syracuse University’s Bird Library, and rare interviews with her family and colleagues, the author reveals her as shrewd, creative, and forthright. Unlike "Molly," Berg was a cultivated woman and a Columbia graduate. A pioneer in the concept of product tie-in, she parlayed the show’s popularity into a movie, short stories, and even a cookbook. In 1951 she stood up to the blacklist by refusing to fire longtime co-star Philip Loeb who was under fire by the House un-American Committee. The book also chronicles Berg’s accomplishments in theater, film, and literature.

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TV On Strike

Why Hollywood Went to War Over the Internet

by Cynthia Littleton

On November 9, 2007, the Avenue of the Stars, a six-lane concourse that runs through the most affluent business district in Los Angeles, was swelling with striking writers and their supporters. It was day five of the Writers Guild of America strike against film and television production enti­ties, notably those controlled by Hollywood’s heavyweights: Walt Disney Co., News Corp., Time Warner, NBC Universal, Viacom, Sony Corp., and CBS Corp. Nearly two years of rhetoric and posturing by leaders of the guild and the major entertainment conglomerates had devolved into a bare-knuckle street fight. It was the first industry-wide walkout to hobble Hollywood in nearly twenty years. In TV on Strike Littleton narrates the inside story of the hundred-day writers’ strike that crippled Hollywood, exploring the television industry's uneasy transition to the digital age that was the driving force behind the most significant labor dispute of the twenty-first century. The strike put the spotlight on how the advent of new media distri­bution platforms is reshaping the traditional business models that have governed the entertainment business for decades. The more than 4,000 writers that crowded the streets of Los Angeles and New York with picket signs laid bare the depth of the divide, after years of industry consolida­tion, between the handful of media barons who rule Hollywood and the writers whose works support the industry. With both sides afraid of losing millions in future profits, a critical communication breakdown spurred a brief but fierce fight with repercus­sions that continue today. The saga of the Writers Guild of America strike is told through the eyes of key players on both sides of the negotiating table and by the foot soldiers who shocked even themselves with the strength of their resolve to fight for their rights in the face of an ambigu­ous future.

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