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Book Review Essay: Television 2013

From: Cinema Journal
Volume 52, Number 3, Spring 2013
pp. 190-197 | 10.1353/cj.2013.0030

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Scholarship examining television in contexts around the globe continues to wrestle with the substantial changes in what has been known as television. A considerable range of terms and periodizations have been developed to theorize these transitions, and new ones continue to be proposed. Although the terminology varies—TV1, TV2, and TV3; multichannel; post-network; neo-network; and post-broadcast—the core features of the distinctions that such terms indicate remain fairly constant. For the most part, they denote similar changes in the industrial norms of producing, financing, and distributing television, many of which can be attributed to the arrival of digital technologies. New competitive practices enabled by these industrial adjustments have led to transitions from mass to niche audience norms, and the multiplying technologies for viewing television have led to changing notions of television time and the importance of what was once thought to be a foundational quality: liveness. Scholarship in this area aims to carefully contextualize technological and related textual developments, although such efforts are significantly complicated by the fact that, despite considerable parallels in these changes in television systems and industries around the globe, the particularities are profoundly nation specific and, to a degree, viewer specific as well.

This review essay primarily considers three edited collections: Television Studies after TV: Understanding Television in the Post-Broadcast Era, edited by Graeme Turner and Jinna Tay; Relocating Television: Television in the Digital Context, edited by Jostein Gripsrud; and Television as Digital Media, edited by James Bennett and Niki Strange. This scope offers fifty-one individual pieces of scholarship that focus on developing understandings of how television programming, institutions, and audience experiences are changing in response to emerging industrial conditions that substantially disrupt television’s previous norms. The collections continue the work of Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson’s Television after TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition, the first collection to conceptualize and begin thinking through the then-nascent adjustments in television, as well as my own attempts to map the industrial dimensions of the US prime-time transition in The Television Will Be Revolutionized, and in other US programming forms in Beyond Prime Time: Television after the Network Era. Considerable continuity exists across these precursors and the works considered here, as television scholars—like the industry workers we often write about—continue to struggle with emerging production and viewing practices that clearly are disrupting the status quo, although the extent to which these emerging practices will become common for all audiences and viewing contexts remains unclear.

A top-rate, advanced Television Studies class could easily be built from the readings of these three collections alone, and fruitful conversations transcend each anthology. I could imagine a syllabus that works through the collections individually in the manner intended by their editors or a syllabus built topically, placing essays on similar themes across the collections into conversation. Each collection provides a considerable number of essays that carefully contextualize and flesh out how new opportunities and realities for television require new ways of thinking about the medium. Several also undertake preliminary theory building that may be grounded in a particular case study for the purposes of a single chapter but that might easily prove valuable to scholars subsequently seeking to propose more expansive theories for the cultural operation of television in the twenty-first century. Other chapters remind us how much we hadn’t yet figured out when substantial industrial disruptions first began to manifest themselves in the 1980s.

Television Studies after TV: Understanding Television in the Post-Broadcast Era.

The Turner and Tay collection was published in 2009, and although aspects of what it identifies as the post-broadcast era remain considerably in flux, the book remains current. Its goal of pushing television scholars to “think beyond the Anglo-American nexus” is achieved with considerable accomplishment—and remains much needed. In his own contribution, Turner crucially notes that how the post-broadcast era “plays out varies significantly from market to market; these are highly contingent rather than simply over-determined market responses.” The essays in the collection offer carefully grounded assessments that are detailed in the specifics of their contexts, yet also provide comparative and transnational insight. As the editors note, the...



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