This study analyses Samuel Beckett's television plays in relation to the history and theory of television, arguing that they are in dialogue with innovative television traditions connected to Modernism in television, film, radio, theatre, literature and the visual arts. Using original research from BBC archives and manuscript sources, it provides new perspectives on the relationships between Beckett's television dramas and the wider television culture of Britain and Europe. The book also compares and contrasts the plays for television with Beckett's Film and broadcasts of his theatre work including the Beckett on Film season. Chapters deal with the production process of the plays, the broadcasting contexts in which they were screened, institutions and authorship, the plays' relationships with comparable programmes and films, and reaction to Beckett's screen work by audiences and critics.
The hybrid television form of docudrama, blending documentary and drama conventions and modes of address, poses interesting methodological problems for an analysis of performance. This chapter provides examples of docudramas of post-1990 period. It discusses some of the distinctions between kinds of docudrama performance, the implications of their links with related television forms and how docudrama performance exploits the capacities of television as a medium. Performance styles are different in two examples of docudrama, where in one-off television films already known public personalities are represented by actors. The mode of Thatcher: The Final Days and Diana: Her True Story has much in common with melodrama. The melodrama in television is marked by its focus on women characters, on the emotional and the psychological, and on moments of dramatic intensity. The performance style in both Diana and Thatcher derived from the melodramatic mode, as opposed to more naturalistic, understated performance modes.
This chapter connects a study of the commissioning and production processes of the well-known science-fiction drama series Doctor Who with the larger theoretical question of the understandings of 'quality' guiding its production and reception. 'The Daleks' ensures Doctor Who's survival by attracting significant audiences with a futuristic science fiction adventure. As James Chapman has noted, the evaluation and justification of quality in British television drama has focused on its social realist tradition or on its relationship with literature. The chapter shows how the assumptions of the production team, aesthetics of the programme text, audiences, and publicity discourses and merchandising contexts lead to different understandings of 'quality' and negotiations with and between these understandings. Along with merchandise, spin-off and supplementary texts in various media supported the attractions of Doctor Who and especially the Daleks, both stimulating and satisfying Dalek-mania.
This introductory chapter discusses Samuel Beckett and his works that were adapted for British television and radio. It considers the question of whether Beckett's television plays are single ‘literary’ dramas or part of a larger series. It also identifies some critical traditions in Television Studies. The final section of the chapter presents an overview of the following chapters.
This chapter discusses the importance of the technologies that were used in making the five dramas Beckett wrote for British television. It studies television adaptations of Beckett's theatre plays, which were recorded in a television studio. It examines the work done on the aesthetics of television and also notes how changes on production technologies affected Beckett's work and other productions. This chapter also discusses the aesthetic significance of studio production and the plays' uses of film recording technology in the television studio.
This chapter discusses the broadcasting contexts where Beckett's television plays were made and shown. It examines some archival sources, which places the scheduling and promotional contexts of the plays in comparison with and in contrast to other television drama forms. It shows that Beckett's dramas for British television were screened in arts programming slots on BBC2, instead of the customary scheduling positions and drama series of the time. It also mentions BBC radio, which was committed to broadcasting original experimental drama in the Third Programme (now known as Radio 3), including Beckett's radio plays. This chapter also shows that his plays work both with and against television cultures, and draw attention to their distinctiveness.
This chapter takes a look at the most sustained work on the intertextual relationships between Beckett's television drama and other work by him and by others. It examines the association between authored television drama with discourses of ‘quality’, and discusses some matters of visual design, music and literary reference in television plays. It discusses the relationship between uses of visual space in Beckett's television plays and Film and his theatrical works. It also addresses some questions of performance related to ‘theatricality’ and the prevalent motif identified by Beckett critics of increasing formal simplicity or minimalism in his theatre.
This chapter reviews the arguments addressed in this study and the issues that were raised about their relationship with critical traditions in Television Studies and in Beckett scholarship. It then suggests how some of the limits of this study might be opened in future work. Finally, this chapter determines this book's contribution to the historiography of Beckett's work as part of the historiography of television.
This chapter takes a look at the institutional frameworks where Beckett gained access to television personnel and what his authorship meant to them. It identifies the role of the authorial signature in his television work, and notes that some of the programmes studied in this chapter were directed by Beckett himself. This chapter also evaluates Beckett's authorship in relation to the particular conflicts and divergent assumptions around authorship in television institutions.
This chapter discusses the formation of and the critical response to a canon of British television drama in terms of a conflict between aesthetic modernism and critical realism. It notes that some of the critics' responses to Beckett's work in the 1970s reflected the critical debate of the time over the politics of naturalistic versus avant-garde form. It determines that Beckett's television plays are placed within a complex dialectic of critical discourses around the aesthetics and politics of television drama, and part of this debate is about the address to the television audience. Finally, this chapter tries to link critical work on Beckett's television plays with discursive models of how television audiences were imagined by critics, television institutions and authors.