- Guest Editor’s Introduction
In 2011 I published the first academic collection of essays on the topic of television music.1 The wide-ranging contributions provided a preliminary set of perspectives on how music in television establishes genre, constructs meaning, and reflects the general political, social, and cultural conditions of its production. After nearly a decade and a host of developments in the medium of television, it is timely to revisit the roles and functions of its music in this special forum, albeit from a different standpoint. Rather than demonstrating the types of insights that specialized studies of individual programs and genres furnish, the essays here adopt a broader approach, providing readers with an assessment of the current state of television music by some of the leading scholars working in the area. I have asked the authors to report on what is transpiring now in music for television, how the present trends originated, and where they feel it is headed while directing academics and the public alike to fruitful directions for further research.
Shawn VanCour opens our forum with a foreword that advances the need for this type of media research and identifies the areas of challenge that studying television music poses with regard to disciplinarity, definitions, and archives. My own essay picks up the thread of my chapter in the Routledge collection, “A Discipline Emerges: Reading Writing about Listening to Television,” by surveying scholarly engagement with television music since the publication of Music in Television.2 The essay begins by reviewing recent trends in television studies, in particular as they relate to ongoing debates over the concepts of “television” and “quality TV.” The article then assesses the field of resources and researchers for the topic of television music, arriving at the conclusion that individual books, essay collections, and articles may have appeared, and new specialists [End Page 395] may have emerged, yet the critical mass of research needed to identify a subfield of study does not appear to exist at this point in time.
In order for the scholar of television music to make definitive historical and contextual statements about a program, practice, or policy, she or he should have access to the documentary record that an archive can provide. On the basis of her extensive experience in primary-source research, Reba Wissner details both the methods involved in working with archival resources and how and where to locate the principal archives holding television music materials. Wissner illuminates how work with the primary sources—including footage from programming—can inform studies of specific shows, while she also enumerates potential problems the researcher may encounter in carrying out archival tasks.
Turning to the programs themselves, the musical codes of semiotics can afford insights into the mechanisms of meaning production in television, for they help to organize programs into genres. After an introduction to the semiotics of television music, Ron Rodman applies those principles to identify and analyze what he calls the dramatic supergenre and the comedic supergenre, subdivided into genres that integrally implicate music in their construction. Rodman furnishes a number of examples from television history to support his observations and in the end speculates that future viewers will witness the increasing hybridity of television genres and their music.
Willem Strank focuses on the music of so-called quality TV, a style of television (arguably) since 1981 that has distinguished itself through high production values that border on cinema, large-scale narrative structures, and genre-determined formal innovations. Like Rodman, Strank covers a wide swath of television history. His examples from recent programming tend to support Jason Mittell’s designation of “complex TV” for the narrative elaborateness of these shows that approach cinema in a number of features.3 Through the overarching topics of video on demand and nostalgia and their relevance for the underscores of programs, Strank accesses a broad range of contemporary television.
Finally, it is appropriate and timely to consider music in one of the most popular Spanish-language television forms in North America, the serial drama known as the telenovela. Jacky Avila leads us into the topic via her memories of childhood viewing. She then discusses the value of Netflix for streaming Spanish-language...