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24

By John McCullough

For eight seasons between 2001 and 2010, Fox’s 24 garnered critical accolades and became one of the most watched and discussed shows in primetime. In an innovative premise, the show’s hour-long episodes were meant to represent a real-time hour of the story, so that each twenty-four-episode season depicts a single day in the life of its characters. Influential as a popular hit, 24 was also closely linked with the “culture of fear” that dominated the post-9/11 period. In this insightful study, author John McCullough demonstrates that the series was not only unique and trendsetting, but also a complex creative response to its historical context. In three chapters, McCullough looks at 24’s form, style, and overarching themes and meanings. He argues that although the series is driven by the political and cultural shifts brought on by the War on Terror, it is routinely out of step with real history. Using Linda Williams’s distinction between the melodramatic mode and melodrama as a genre, McCullough explores 24’s use of the action-adventure and spy thriller forms with particular attention paid to the series’ hero, Jack Bauer, who is depicted as a tragic hero perpetually in search of a return to innocence. Ultimately, McCullough finds that the series’ distinction lies less in its faithful re-creation of the history of the WOT than in its evocation of the sense of crises and paranoia that defined the period. McCullough also analyzes 24 as a response to television culture in the “post-network” age, characterized by reality TV’s populist appeal and visceral content, on the one hand, and sophisticated boutique cable programming (“quality TV”), on the other. McCullough demonstrates that 24 engaged not only with the most pressing issues of world history and the geopolitics of its time, including terrrorism, neoliberalism, and the state of exception, but, on the strength of its form and style, also represents significant global trends in television culture. Fans of the show and media history scholars will appreciate this thorough study.

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Batman

Matt Yockey

ABC’s action-comedy series Batman (1966–68) famously offered a dual address in its wildly popular portayal of a comic book hero in a live action format. Children uncritically accepted the show’s plots and characters, who were guided by lofty ideals and social values, while adults reacted to the clear parody of the values on display. In Batman, author Matt Yockey argues that the series served as a safe space for viewers to engage with changing attitudes about consumerism, politics, the Vietnam war, celebrity, race, and gender during a period when social meaning was increasingly contested in America. Yockey examines Batman’s boundary pushing in four chapters. In “Bat-Civics,” he analyzes the superhero as a conflicted symbol of American identity and considers the ways in which the Batman character parodied that status. Yockey then looks at the show’s experimentation with the superhero genre’s conservative gender and racial politics in “Bat-Difference” and investigates the significance of the show’s choices of stars and guest stars in “Bat-Casting.” Finally, he considers how the series’ dual identity as straightforward crime serial and subversive mass culture text set it up for extratextual production in “Bat-Being.” The superhero is a conflicted symbol of American identity—representing both excessive individualism and the status quo—making it an especially useful figure for the kind of cultural work that Batman undertook. Batman fans, from popular culture enthusiasts to television history scholars, will enjoy this volume.

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The Dick Van Dyke Show

Joanne Morreale

The Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS 1961-66) was a uniquely self-reflexive sitcom that drew on vaudevillian tropes at a time when vaudeville-based comedy variety was disappearing from television. At the same time, it reflected the liberal politics of the Kennedy era and gave equal time to home and work as it ushered in a new image of the sitcom family. In The Dick Van Dyke Show, author Joanne Morreale analyzes the series' innovative form and content that altered the terrain of the television sitcom.Morreale begins by finding the roots of The Dick Van Dyke Show in the vaudeville-based comedy variety show and the "showbiz" sitcom, even as it brought notable updates to the form. She also considers how the series reflects the social context of Kennedy's New Frontier and its impact on the television industry, as The Dick Van Dyke Show responded to criticisms of television as mass entertainment. She goes on to examine the series as an early example of quality television that also pointed to the complex narrative of today, examining the show's progressive representations of race, ethnicity, and gender that influenced the content of later sitcoms. Morreale concludes by considering The Dick Van Dyke Show's afterlife, suggesting that the various reappearances of the characters and the show itself demonstrates television's "transseriality." Fans of The Dick Van Dyke Show and readers interested in American television and cultural history will appreciate this insightful reading of the series.

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Father Knows Best

Mary R. Desjardins

Although the iconic television series Father Knows Best (CBS 1954-55; NBC 1955-58; CBS 1958-60) has enjoyed a long history in rerun syndication and an enduring fan base, it is often remembered as cultural shorthand for 1950s-era conformism and authoritarianism. In this study of Father Knows Best, author Mary R. Desjardins examines the program, its popularity, and its critical position within historical, industrial, and generic contexts to challenge oversimplified assumptions about the show's use of comedy and melodrama in exploring the place of family in mid-twentieth-century American society.Desjardins begins by looking at Father Knows Best within media and production contexts, including its origin on radio, its place in the history of Screen Gems telefilm production, and its roots in the backgrounds and creative philosophies of co-producer Eugene Rodney and star-producer Robert Young. She goes on to examine the social contexts for the creation and reception of the series, especially in the era's emphasis on family togetherness, shared parenting by both father and mother, and generational stages of the life cycle. Against this background, Desjardins also discusses several Father Knows Best episodes in-depth to consider their treatment of conflicts over appropriate gender roles for women. She concludes by exploring how the series' cast participated in reevaluations of the Anderson family's meaning in relation to "real families" of the fifties, through television specials, talk show appearances, magazine and book interviews, and documentaries.Blending melodrama and comedy, naturalistic acting, and stylized cinematic visuals, Father Knows Best dramatized ideological tensions in the most typical situations facing the American family. Scholars of mid-century American popular culture and film history as well as fans of the show will appreciate Desjardin's measured analysis.

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Have Gun—Will Travel

Gaylyn Studlar

One of the most successful series of its time, Have Gun—Will Travel became a cultural phenomenon in the late 1950s and made its star, Richard Boone, a nationwide celebrity. The series offered viewers an unusual hero in the mysterious, Shakespeare-spouting gunfighter known only as “Paladin” and garnered a loyal fan base, including a large female following. In Have Gun—Will Travel, film scholar Gaylyn Studlar draws on a remarkably wide range of episodes from the series’ six seasons to show its sophisticated experimentation with many established conventions of the Western. Studlar begins by exploring how the series made the television Western sexy, speaking to mid-twentieth century anxieties and aspirations in the sexual realm through its “dandy” protagonist and more liberal expectations of female sexuality. She also explores the show’s interest in a variety of historical issues and contemporaneous concerns—including differing notions of justice and the meaning of racial and cultural difference in an era marked by the civil rights movement. Through a production history of Have Gun—Will Travel, Studlar provides insight into the television industry of the late 1950s and early 1960s, showing how, in this transition period in which programming was moving from sponsor to network control, the series’ star exercised controversial influence on his show’s aesthetics. Because Have Gun—Will Travel was both so popular and so different from its predecessors and rivals, it presents a unique opportunity to examine what pleasures and challenges television Westerns could offer their audiences. Fans of the show as well as scholars of TV history and the Western genre will enjoy this insightful volume.

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The Killing

John Alberti

Although it lasted only four seasons and just forty-four episodes, The Killing attracted considerable critical notice and sparked an equally lively debate about its distinctive style and innovative approach to the television staple of the police procedural. A product of the turn toward revisionist "quality" television in the post-broadcast era, The Killing also stands as a pioneering example of the changing gender dynamics of early twenty-first-century television. Author John Alberti looks at how the show's focus shifts the police procedural away from the idea that solving the mystery of whodunit means resolving the crime, and toward dealing with the ongoing psychological aftermath of crime and violence on social and family relationships. This attention to what creator and producer Veena Sud describes as the "real cost" of murder defines The Killing as a milestone feminist revision of the crime thriller and helps explain why it has provoked such strong critical reactions and fan loyalty. Alberti examines the history of women detectives in the television police procedural, paying particular attention to how the cultural formation of the traditionally male noir detective has shaped that history. Through a careful comparison with the Danish original, Forbrydelsen, and a season-by-season overview of the series, Alberti argues that The Killing rewrites the masculine lone wolf detective-a self-styled social outsider who sees the entanglements of relationships as threats to his personal autonomy-of the classic noir. Instead, lead detective Sarah Linden, while wary of the complications of personal and social attachments, still recognizes their psychological and ethical inescapability and necessity. In the final chapter, the author looks at how the show's move to ever-expanding niche markets and multi-viewing options, along with an increase in feminist reconstructions of various television genres, makes The Killing a perfect example of cult television that lends itself to binge-watching in the digital era. Television studies scholars and fans of police procedurals should own this insightful volume.

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Knots Landing

Nick Salvato

Airing on CBS for fourteen seasons (1979–93), Knots Landing was a spinoff of the popular drama Dallas, but ultimately ran longer and took a very different tone on domestic, social, and economic issues than its predecssor. In the first full-length scholarly study of Knots Landing, Nick Salvato situates the series in its economic and industrial contexts, addresses its surprisingly progressive relationship to the American politics of its period, offers close formal interpretations of noteworthy episodes, and unpacks the pleasures of the program’s sensuous surfaces. While it has been largely overlooked in studies of 1980s television, Knots Landing nonetheless beat more masculine fare like Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law in the ratings, introduced a novel focus on middle-class lives in melodrama, and launched or revived the careers of its major stars. In this study Salvato investigates the series’ place in widespread serialization of American primetime television in the early 1980s and the end of network dominance in the early 1990s, along with its unique relationship to Reaganism and glamour, on the one hand, and everydayness and suburbanization, on the other. Salvato also looks at the series in relation to key concepts such as memory, theatricality, identification, “quality” TV, and stardom. Fans of the series as well as readers interested in popular culture, television history, representations of gender, and constructions of celebrity will find much to enjoy in this volume.

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The L Word

Margaret T. McFadden

In January 2004, Showtime debuted The L Word, the first prime-time commercial drama to center around lesbian characters. Over the course of six seasons, the show depicted the lives and loves of an evolving circle of friends in West Hollywood, California, and was widely read as evidence of changing social attitudes toward gay people. Building on immediate critical attention, the show reigned as Showtime's most popular for its first three seasons and earned a large and enthusiastic audience. In The L Word, author Margaret T. McFadden argues that the show is important for its subject matter, its extended and deeply literate commentary on the history of representation of lesbians in popular media, and the formal innovations it deployed to rewrite that history. McFadden shows that the program’s creators, led by executive producer Ilene Chaiken, were well aware of the assumptions and expectations that viewers would bring to it after a history of stereotypical depictions of lesbians on television. They sought to satisfy a diverse group of viewers who wanted honest and appealing portrayals of their lives while still attracting a large enough mainstream audience to make The L Word commercially viable. In five chapters, McFadden explores how the show tackled these problems of representation by using reflexivity as a strategy to make meaning, undertaking a complicitous critique of Hollywood, skillfully using a soap-drama format to draw in its audience, and ultimately creating its own complex representation of a lesbian community. While deconstructing the history of misrepresentation of lesbians, The L Word’s new modes of storytelling and new perspectives made many aspects of lesbian experience, history, and culture visible to a large audience. Fans of the show as well as readers interested in cultural studies and gay and lesbian pop cultural history will enjoy this astute volume.

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Maverick

Dennis Broe

Airing on ABC from 1957 to 1962, Maverick appeared at a key moment in television Western history and provided a distinct alternative to the genre's usual moralistic lawmen in its hero, Bret Maverick. A non-violent gambler and part-time con man, Maverick's principles revolved around pleasure and not power, and he added humor, satire, and irony to the usually grim-faced Western. In this study of Maverick, author Dennis Broe details how the popular series mocked, altered, and undermined the characteristics of other popular Westerns, like Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Broe highlights the contributions made by its creators, its producer, Roy Huggins, and its lead actor, James Garner, to a format that was described as "the American fairy tale."

Broe describes how Garner and Huggins struck blows against a feudal studio system that was on its last legs in cinema but was being applied even more rigidly in television. He considers Maverick as a place where multiple counter-cultural discourses converged-including Baudelaire's Flaneur, Guy DeBord's Situationists, and Jack Kerouc's Beats-in a form that was acceptable to American households. Finally, Broe shows how the series' validation of Maverick's outside-the-law status punctured the Cold War rhetoric promoted by the "adult" Western. Broe also highlights the series' female con women or flaneuses, who were every bit the equal of their male counterparts and added additional layers to the traditional schoolteacher/showgirl Western dichotomy.

Broe demonstrates the progressive nature of Maverick as it worked to counter the traditional studio mode of production, served as a locus of counter-cultural trends, and would ultimately become the lone outpost of anti-Cold War and anti-establishment sentiments within the Western genre. Maverick fans and scholars of American television history will enjoy this close look at the classic series.

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Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In

Ken Feil

The highest-rated network program during its first three seasons, comedy-variety show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (NBC, 1968–1973) remains an often overlooked and underrated innovator of American television history. Audiences of all kinds—old and young, square and hip, black and white, straight and queer—watched Laugh-In, whose campy, anti-establishment aesthetic mocked other tepid and serious popular shows. In Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, author Ken Feil presents the first scholarly investigation of the series whose suggestive catch-phrases “sock it to me,” “look that up in your Funk’n’Wagnalls,” and “here comes the judge” became part of pop culture history. In four chapters, Feil explores Laugh-In’s newness, sophisticated style, irreverence, and broad appeal. First, he considers the show’s indulgence of “bad taste” through a strategy of deliberate ambiguity that allowed audiences to enjoy countercultural, anti-establishment transgression and, reassuringly, conveyed the sense that it represented the establishment’s investment in containing such defiant delights. Feil considers Laugh-In’s camp, otherness, and “open secrets” as well as the show’s conflicted positions on the “private” issues of taste, sexuality, lifestyle, and politics. Sexual swingers, stoned hippies, empowered African Americans, feminists, and flamboyantly “nellie” men all filled Laugh-In’s routine roster, embodied by cast members Jo Anne Worley, Lily Tomlin, Chelsea Brown, Alan Sues, Johnny Brown, and Judy Carne, along with regular guests Flip Wilson, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tiny Tim. Related to these icons, Laugh-In reflected on hotly politicized current events: militarism in Vietnam, racist discrimination in the U.S., Civil Rights and Black Power, birth control and sex, feminism, and gay liberation. In its playful put-ons of the establishment, parade of countercultural types and tastes, and vacillation between identification and repulsion, Feil argues that Laugh-In’s intentional ambiguity was part and parcel of its inventiveness and commercial prosperity. Fans of the show as well as readers interested in American television and pop culture history will enjoy this insightful look at Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.

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