Television has always troubled the Society for Cinema Studies, and several scholars have noted that when the name change came in 2003, it was to the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, rather than to any name that included television. Television has perhaps missed its moment in the rush to “new media,” but nevertheless, in 2005, William Boddy commissioned senior television scholars to contribute to an “In Focus” section on “The Place of Television Studies,” the title an explicit reference to a 1984 SCMS Plenary and Patrice Petro’s polemical 1986 article.1 As Boddy notes in his introduction, this was also the year in which the SCMS conference was held in London, the first time that the conference had been held outside North America, and there was a record number of nonfilm paper topics.2 The initial invitation to scholars contributing to that “In Focus” asked for commentary on the current state of scholarship in television studies. The contributions below, to this In Focus, are all written by members of a long-established television study group in Britain, the Midlands Television Research Group, and continue this conversation about the objects, methods, history, inheritance, and future of television studies: its place in both the academy and the contemporary mediascape.3
Our most obvious aim is to report on these issues from a different place, and one with a very different television history and culture. However, we also concur with arguments that some of the questions that have historically formed and preoccupied the study of television, are, in the twenty-first century, of much greater and obvious relevance to the study of cinema than they were in the last century.4 These are, at a general level, principally questions to do with the definition of the object of study and its modes of textuality; attention to the contexts of viewing; theorizations of the audience that are not based on psychoanalytic screen theory; empirical investigations of viewing and memories of viewing; the role of fan cultures and cultures of collecting; and finally, the aesthetics of non-analogue media. As television scholars struggle to understand the implications of the switch to digital, multiplatform delivery and the changing position of broadcast television, there is now the increased chance of a meeting with film scholars traumatized by [End Page 122] the incipient loss of celluloid, the rise of digital delivery, and the marketing of the DVD.5 While film and television scholars may have used different routes, we are all, in the twenty-first century, in front of the same proliferation of screens. We suggest that there is a history of scholarship within television studies, which can be a resource for all screen scholars in these digital days. Maybe it will be neither “new media studies” or “visual culture,” but some version of “screen studies” that will be the most interesting home for the study of television in the future, but only if it retains a memory of the history of broadcasting. There is certainly a motive for those interested in questions of communication, affect, history, and aesthetics, rather than technological modes of delivery, to talk to each other in a project to continue the study of film and television as meaning-making and meaningful media. The essays below approach these questions in different ways, more and less explicitly. Some are principally concerned with reporting on specific projects, others offer more general arguments. Overall, though, the aim is to give something of “the view from here.”
The place of television in British culture has always been rather different to that of the medium within U.S. culture. This, as will be familiar to most readers, is because of the historical role of the BBC within British culture, its commitment to “public service” broadcasting (which is not at all the same as the PBS channel in the USA, although that is where many British programs are shown in the United States), and the method of funding the BBC, through the collection of a “license fee” from all households with television.6 Everyone with a television pays directly—currently about $250 per household, annually, on current exchange rates—for BBC radio and television...