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  • Tuning In: American Narrative Television Music by Ron Rodman
  • Orlene Denice McMahon (bio)
Ron Rodman Tuning In: American Narrative Television Music New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, 368 pp.

In a witty article published earlier this year addressing the question of why we are watching more television, Guardian journalist Vicky Frost quotes a recent study from TV Licensing noting that the average Briton now settles down to watch a little more than four hours of television a day - an almost half-hour increase on 2006 viewing habits.1 Frost lists various reasons for this increase: better quality programmes; it is a cheap entertainment alternative during the economic downturn; we are bound less and less by the schedules; and our televisions are now better quality than ever, even though we don't actually need to be at home to watch them thanks to our phones, laptops, and tablets. And Britain is not alone in its telly-addiction. Worldwide, television watching is a favourite pastime. Indeed, in the US, television viewing is the most commonly reported activity after work and sleep, taking up just over half of all leisure time.2

No wonder then that the subject of television music has become an increasingly hot topic of research in academia over the past few years. Like its predecessor film music, television music has garnered increased attention by media scholars and musicologists, resulting in a number of significant publications in recent times. Notable here are two collections of original essays published as part of the Routledge Music and Screen Media Series: the 2011 collection entitled Music in Television: Channels of Listening, edited by James Deaville, and the 2012 collection entitled Music in Science Fiction Television: Tuned to the Future, jointly edited by Kevin J. Donnelly and Philip Hayward. Both collections are testament to the increased critical awareness of the power and possibilities of music on the small screen as well being exciting entry-points into understanding culture in the twenty-first century.3 However, these collections are not the first to talk about television music. One book that is singled out by film music specialist Claudia Gorbman as having 'paved the way in establishing the field of television music criticism and for much thinking [on the subject since]' is Ron Rodman's Tuning In: American Narrative Television Music.4

Referred to as 'arguably the first important academic monograph about television music', Rodman's Tuning In is certainly not an introductory overview of the subject.5 Rather, it offers a heavily theory-driven study of television as a medium of communication and how music functions [End Page 201] (and of course signifies) therein. Drawing upon a wide variety of genres from the first fifty years of American television, encompassing westerns, science-fiction thrillers, police dramas, sitcoms, and commercials, the goal of Tuning In is to convey a theory of how meaning and mediation occurred in television music in the period from 1949-99. Rodman does so through the prisms of history, analysis, and existing theory, ultimately exploring how this music conveys meaning to American television viewing audiences.

The book opens with an introduction outlining the development of television music during the first decade of broadcasting, providing a backdrop for the ensuing discussion of American television music since World War II. Chapter 1 sets out Rodman's methodological approach towards developing an associative theory of television music based on the audience's pre-established habits and beliefs about musical types or topics. In doing so, he leads the reader into an in-depth theoretical examination of television as a semiotic communications system, identifying music as an important component of television's technical codes, which interacts with many other codes to convey televisual meaning. By means of a brief analysis of the opening credits to the late 1950s Western show, The Rifleman, Rodman illustrates the multichannel communication and semiotic model that is television, emphasising the sensory channel of music as a significant contributor to the programme's communication of a meaningful message. Although an important chapter for the book as a whole in terms of theory and context, one gets the feeling that Rodman argues more for the complexity of television as a means...


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