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Moments in television

Substance and style have been attended to separately in different strands of television studies, from those who have sought to establish the discipline as serious and worthy of study, to the work of television aesthetics, which has taken stylistic achievement as a primary focus. This collection interrogates and overturns the typical relationships between the terms, instead setting them alongside one another and renegotiating their relationship through new perspectives and with reference to a range of television programming. Contributors draw attention to the ways substance and style inform one another, placing value on their integration and highlighting the potential for new meanings to form through their combination. In this way, the binary is used to re-evaluate television that has been deemed a failure, or to highlight the achievements of programming or creative personnel who are less celebrated. Chapters present style as a matter of substance, in terms of it being both part of the material constitution of television and an aspect of television that rewards detailed attention. Substance is developed through a range of interpretations which invite discussion of television’s essential qualities and capabilities as well as its meaningfulness, in conjunction with its stylistic achievements. Programmes studied comprise The Americans, Call the Midwife, Les Revenants, The Good Wife, Friends, The Simpsons, John From Cincinnati, Police Squad! and The Time Tunnel. Substance and style are evaluated across these examples from a wide range of television forms, formats and genres, which include series and serial dramas, sitcoms, science fiction, animation, horror, thrillers and period dramas.

Moments in television

This collection appraises an eclectic selection of programmes, exploring and weighing their particular achievements and their contribution to the television landscape. It does so via a simultaneous engagement with the concepts of complexity and simplicity. This book considers how complexity, which is currently attracting much interest in TV studies, impacts upon the practice of critical and evaluative interpretation. It engages reflectively and critically with a range of recent work on televisual complexity, expands existing conceptions of complex TV and directs attention to neglected sources and types of complexity. It also reassesses simplicity, a relatively neglected category in TV criticism, as a helpful criterion for evaluation. It seeks out and reappraises the importance of simple qualities to particular TV works, and explores how simplicity might be revalued as a potentially positive and valuable aesthetic feature. Finally, the book illuminates the creative achievements that arise from balancing simplicity with complexity.

The contributors to this collection come from diverse areas of TV studies, bringing with them myriad interests, expertise and perspectives. All chapters undertake close analysis of selected moments in television, considering a wide range of stylistic elements including mise-en-scène, spatial organisation and composition, scripting, costuming, characterisation, performance, lighting and sound design, colour and patterning. The range of television works addressed is similarly broad, covering UK and US drama, comedy-drama, sitcom, animation, science fiction, adaptation and advertisement. Programmes comprise The Handmaid’s Tale, House of Cards, Father Ted, Rick and Morty, Killing Eve, The Wire, Veep, Doctor Who, Vanity Fair and The Long Wait.

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Contemporary “high-end” TV drama
Author: Robin Nelson

This book updates and develops the arguments of TV drama in transition (1997). It sets its analysis of the aesthetics and compositional principles of texts within a broad conceptual framework (technologies, institutions, economics, cultural trends). Tracing ‘the great value shift from conduit to content’ (Todreas, 1999), the book's view is relatively optimistic about the future quality of TV drama in a global market-place. But, characteristically taking up questions of worth where others have avoided them, it recognises that certain types of ‘quality’ are privileged for viewers able to pay, possibly at the expense of viewer preference worldwide for ‘local’ resonances in television. The mix of arts and cultural studies methodologies makes for an unusual approach.

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Substance / style
Lucy Fife Donaldson, Sarah Cardwell, and Jonathan Bignell

. Style is valued in scholarship that focuses on formal analysis, including (but certainly not limited to) the field of television aesthetics. Sarah Cardwell's article ‘Television Aesthetics’ provides an essential outline of this subfield at the point when it was ‘becoming established as a stand-alone area of television studies’ (2006: 72). In her overview, Cardwell highlights a range of work that may or may not self-identify as ‘television aesthetics’, but nonetheless addresses and evaluates television as an aesthetic form, including earlier texts (Thorburn 1987

in Substance / style
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Moments in television

In television scholarship, sound and image have been attended to in different ways, but image has historically dominated. The chapters gathered here attend to both: they weigh the impact and significance of specific choices of sound and image, explore their interactions, and assess their roles in establishing meaning and style. The contributors address a wide range of technical and stylistic elements relating to the television image. They consider production design choices, the spatial organisation of the television frame and how camera movements position and reposition parts of the visible world. They explore mise-en-scène, landscapes and backgrounds, settings and scenery, and costumes and props. They attend to details of actors’ performances, as well as lighting design and patterns of colour and scale. As regards sound, each chapter distinguishes different components on a soundtrack, delineating diegetic from non-diegetic sound, and evaluating the roles of elements such as music, dialogue, voice-over, bodily sounds, performed and non-performed sounds. Attending to sound design, contributors address motifs, repetition and rhythm in both music and non-musical sound. Consideration is also given to the significance of quietness, the absence of sounds, and silence. Programmes studied comprise The Twilight Zone, Inspector Morse, Children of the Stones, Dancing on the Edge, Road, Twin Peaks: The Return, Bodyguard, The Walking Dead and Mad Men. Sound and image are evaluated across these examples from a wide range of television forms, formats and genres, which includes series, serial and one-off dramas, children’s programmes, science fiction, thrillers and detective shows.

Style, appreciation and the temporally prolonged problem of The Simpsons
Michael Clark

character as thoroughly inept as Homer Simpson to thrive. 2 This achievement, beyond being impressive comedically, is compelling as an especially televisual one, as it foregrounds notions of longevity that are common to the medium's programmes but which are somewhat taken for granted in the field of television aesthetics. Moreover, the opportunity to discuss this achievement is doubly exciting as, despite its commercial and critical successes, The Simpsons has also been largely overlooked within television aesthetics

in Substance / style
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Complexity / simplicity
Sarah Cardwell, Jonathan Bignell, and Lucy Fife Donaldson

describes unnecessary, excessive or inappropriate complication (or complexification) or simplification, respectively. Such distinctions are fundamental. Alongside reflective metacriticism, a careful and precise use of language is crucial to the project of further developing sound, evaluative critical practices within a loosely ‘television aesthetics’ approach. A tale of complex TV: narrative complexity Complexity implies richness, depth, scope, intensity. It also suggests something of the quality of the viewer's responsive

in Complexity / simplicity
Rescuing John From Cincinnati from the HBO narrative
Robert Watts

television aesthetics’ sought to contest the assumption – borne of the discipline's roots in media and cultural studies – that it was inappropriate for them to posit evaluative statements, or engage directly with the question of whether these ‘quality’ programmes are actually ‘any good’ (Cardwell 2007 , Mittell 2005 ). In the spirit of the era's calls for television aestheticians to lay their evaluative cards on the table, I acknowledge here that my attempt to disentangle John from its distribution narrative is motivated at least in part by the fact that – despite its

in Substance / style
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Experimental British television
Laura Mulvey

than a definitive term in the context of television aesthetics, but it enables the designation of ways in which practitioners have pushed at the medium’s conventions and boundaries, expanding its vocabulary and investigating its specificity. As some of these aesthetic experiments have taken place on the margins of television, and some have been relegated to oblivion as critical failures, further research is needed (across both the BBC and ITV) to find ‘lost’ programmes that will fill in gaps and give this fragile tradition a firmer demarcation. Experimental British

in Experimental British television
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Audiovisuality and the multisensory in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks - The Return
Caroline L. Eastwood

emphasis on the audiovisual relationship in his atomic bomb moment and in doing so clearly illustrates the fundamental contribution sound can make in our experience of television. His aesthetic approach in this sequence from TPTR therefore highlights the importance of situating sound in the context of its relationship with the image in our study of the medium. There is an established body of literature in television aesthetics which has allowed for in-depth critical investigation of style and form, but discussions are dominated by image, and sound receives little

in Sound / image