American Television Drama
Run by School of Music and Media
20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits
Organiser: Dr Gregory Frame
Overall aims and purpose
It is arguable that ‘quality’ TV has changed the way we watch television; the advent of the DVD boxset and, more recently, the proliferation of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime allow us to excuse ourselves from the broadcast experience altogether and watch ‘quality’ TV without the interruption of advertisements or a week between episodes. However, the critical praise levelled at individual shows belies the fact that most people still watch television in its traditional broadcast format, and still – sometimes in their millions – watch TV shows that conform to definitions of ‘ordinary’ television. In addition, while ‘quality’ television has been celebrated – sometimes rightly – for its sophisticated aesthetic and narrative structures, it is just as easy to see a template for the ‘quality’ genre: troubled male anti-heroes; increased levels of sex, violence and bad language; complex narrative structures and ‘cinematic’ production values.
This module will explore questions of taste, genre and industry in American television drama. It will chart the development of the ‘quality’ distinction in US television drama by exploring its manifestations within American broadcast networks in the 1980s and 1990s, before shifting focus towards the HBO model that dominated the 2000s and Netflix and Amazon Prime, which have been distributing original drama since 2013. How has ‘quality’ TV changed the way we watch television? Is it right to suggest that this television is ‘more like cinema’, and what is meant by this? What strategies have ‘quality’ shows adopted to position themselves in relation to film, and why? What impact have the more relaxed censorship codes on cable and streaming platforms had on representations of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality and class? The module will treat the term ‘quality’ as a marker of taste, a branding tool, a generic category, an aesthetic distinction, and explore it as a distinctive consumer product in a diffuse and fragmented media consumption environment
'Quality' television, authorship and television, cult television, gender, race, ethnicity sexuality, history and politics, post-9/11 American television, the African-American city. Hill Street Blues, Freaks and Geeks, Twin Peaks, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Wire, Westworld, Battlestar Galactica, Transparent, House of Cards, The Man in the High Castle
Submitted work is adequate and shows an acceptable level of competence as follows:
- Generally accurate but with omissions and errors
- Assertions are made without clear supporting evidence or reasoning
- Has structure but is lacking in clarity and therefore relies on the reader to make links and assumptions
- Draws on a relatively narrow range of material
Submitted work is competent throughout and distinguished by superior style, approach and choice of supporting materials. It demonstrates:
- Very good structure and logically developed arguments
- Draws on material that has been sourced and assessed as a result of independent study, or in a way unique to the student
- Assertions are backed by evidence and sound reasoning
- Accuracy and presentation in an appropriate academic style
C- to C+
Submitted work is competent throughout and occasionally distinguished by superior style, approach and choice of supporting materials. It demonstrates:
- Good structure and logically developed arguments
- At least in parts draws on material that has been sourced and assessed as a result of independent study, or in a way unique to the student
- Assertions are, in the main, backed by evidence and reasoning
- Accuracy and presentation in an appropriate academic style
Submitted work is of an outstanding quality and excellent in one or more of the following ways:
- Has originality of exposition with the student’s own thinking being readily apparent
- Provides clear evidence of extensive and relevant independent study
- Arguments are laid down with clarity and provide the reader with successive stages of consideration to reach conclusions
The student will understand and be able to interrogate debates surrounding history, politics, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality in contemporary television drama.
The student will be able to combine an understanding of these scholarly debates with critical textual analysis of the programmes studied.
The student will understand the aesthetic, industrial and narrative distinctions between network, cable and online television drama.
The student will become familiar with a series of historical, theoretical and critical frameworks about television, and be able to discuss and apply them.
The student will understand, historicise and evaluate the scholarly debates about quality within Television Studies.
|EXAM||Final take-home exam||
'an exam where the student will be given questions 24 hours in advance, and will be expected to answer three questions. The actual writing of each answer should take 1 hour each, so 3 hours in total. The student will be given guidance and support in advance of the publication of the questions to enable them to revise and prepare effectively.'
Teaching and Learning Strategy
1-hour group discussion x 11 weeks
2-hour screening of selected episodes of television programmes studied x 11 weeks
Exam support in Week 12 prior to final assessment.
1-hour formal lecture x 11 weeks
- Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
- Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
- Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
- Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
- Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
- Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
- Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
- Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
- Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
- Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
Subject specific skills
- Artistic engagement and ability to articulate complex ideas in oral and written forms. (NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.2).
- Awareness of how different social and cultural contexts affect the nature of language and meaning (English Benchmark Statement 3.2).
- The ability to synthesize information from various sources, choosing and applying appropriate concepts and methods (English Benchmark Statement 3.3).
- Ability to formulate and solve problems, anticipate and accommodate change, and work within contexts of ambiguity, uncertainty and unfamiliarity (NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.2; English Benchmark Statement 3.3).
- Ability to engage in processes of drafting and redrafting texts to achieve clarity of expression and an appropriate style. (English Benchmark Statement 3.3; NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.2).
- Ability to gather information, analyse, interpret and discuss different viewpoints (NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.2; English Benchmark Statement 3.3).
- Information technology (IT) skills broadly understood and the ability to access, work with and evaluate electronic resources (NAWE Creative Writing Benchmark Statement 3.2; English Benchmark Statement 3.3).
i. engage critically with major thinkers and debates within the field, putting them to productive use
ii. understand forms of communication, media, film and culture as they have emerged historically and appreciate the processes through which they have come into being, with reference to social, cultural and technological change
iii. comprehend how different social groups variably make use of, and engage with, forms of communication, media, film and culture
iv. make critical judgements in the understanding and evaluation of these forms
v. consider and evaluate their own work in a reflexive manner, with reference to academic codes of practice and/or professional conventions, issues and debates.
vi. appreciate and apply ethical consideration and judgement to analysis of production, distribution and consumption in communication, media, film and culture.
i. carry out various forms of research for essays, projects, creative productions or dissertations involving sustained independent and critical enquiry
ii. formulate appropriate research questions and employ appropriate methods and resources for exploring those questions
iii. locate, retrieve, evaluate and draw upon the range of data, sources and the conceptual frameworks appropriate to research in the chosen area
iv. draw on the strengths and understand the limits of the major quantitative and/or qualitative research methods, and be able to apply this knowledge critically in their own work
v. draw on and evaluate and apply research enabled by established and emergent technologies
vi. draw and reflect upon the relevance and impact of their own cultural commitments and positioning to the practice of research
vii. locate, understand, and apply the research ethical codes produced by relevant subject associations, and understand and comply with the ethical standards appropriate to research in their field of interest
viii. collate, critically evaluate and understand a variety of research material within and beyond academic literature.
i. work in flexible, creative and independent ways, showing self-discipline awareness of relevant ethical considerations, self-direction and reflexivity
ii. collate, organise and deploy ideas and information in order to formulate arguments cogently, and express them effectively in written, oral or other forms
iii. retrieve and generate information, and evaluate sources, in carrying out independent research
iv. organise and manage supervised, self-directed projects
v. communicate effectively in interpersonal settings, in writing and in a variety of media
vi. work productively in a group or team, showing abilities at different times to listen, contribute and also to lead effectively
vii. deliver work to a given length, format, brief and deadline, properly referencing sources and ideas and making use, as appropriate, of a problem-solving approach
Resource implications for students
As it is currently planned the students should not need to purchase any additional materials for this module.
Stacey Abbott, ed. (2010) The Cult TV Book, London: I.B. Tauris.
Robert C. Allen and Annette Hill, eds. (2004) The Television Studies Reader, London: Routledge.
Charlotte Brunsdon (1990) ‘Problems with quality’, Screen 31:1, pp. 67-90.
Andreas Halskov (2015) TV Peaks: Twin Peaks and modern television drama, Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark.
Marisa C. Hayes and Franck Boulegue, eds. (2013) Twin Peaks, Bristol: Intellect.
Mark Jancovich and James Lyons, eds. (2003) Quality popular television: Cult TV, the industry and its fans, London: BFI.
David Lavery, ed. (2015) The Essential Cult TV Reader, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
Janet McCabe and Kim Akass, eds. (2007) Quality TV: Contemporary American Television and Beyond, London: I.B. Tauris.
Robert J. Thompson (1997) Television’s Second Golden Age: From Hill Street Blues to ER, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
Linda Williams (2014) On the Wire, Durham: Duke University Press.
Liam Kennedy and Steven Shapiro, eds. (2012) The Wire: Race, Class and Genre, Detroit: University of Michigan Press.
Tiffany Potter and C.W. Marshall (2009) The Wire: Urban Decay and American Television, New York: Continuum.
Gary R. Edgerton (2013) The Sopranos, Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
Marco Mario Albrecht (2015) Masculinity in Contemporary Quality Television, Farnham: Ashgate, 2015.
Scott F. Stoddart (2011) Analyzing Mad Men: Critical Essays on the Television Series, Jefferson: McFarland and Co.
Christopher Bigsby (2013) Viewing America: Twenty-First Century Television Drama, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gary R. Edgerton and Jeffrey P. Jones (2008) The Essential HBO Reader, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
Megan Mullen (2003) The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States: Revolution or Evolution?, Austin: University of Texas Press.
Kevin McDonald and Daniel Smith-Rowsey (2016) The Netflix Effect: Technology and Entertainment in the 21st Century, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
Betty Kaklamanidou and Margaret Tally, eds. (2016) Politics and Politicians in Contemporary US Television: Washington as Fiction, New York: Routledge.
Amy Villarejo (2016) ‘Jewish, Queer-Ish, Trans, and Completely Revolutionary: Jill Soloway’s Transparent and the New Television’, Film Quarterly 69:4, pp. 10-22.
Courses including this module
Compulsory in courses:
- W620: BA Film Studies year 1 (BA/FLM)
- 2W89: BA Film Studies (with International Experience) year 1 (BA/FSIE)
- P3W4: BA Film Studies with Theatre year 1 (BA/FSWTH)
- W6W8: BA Professional Writing & Film year 1 (BA/PWF)
Optional in courses:
- T103: BA Chinese and Creative Studies year 1 (BA/CHCS)
- WPQ0: BA Creative Studies year 1 (BA/CST)
- WQ93: BA Creative Stds & English Lang. year 1 (BA/CSTEL)
- WR91: BA French and Creative Studies year 1 (BA/CSTFR)
- WR92: BA German and Creative Studies year 1 (BA/CSTG)
- WR93: BA Italian and Creative Studies year 1 (BA/CSTITAL)
- WW93: BA Creative Studies and Music year 1 (BA/CSTMUS)
- WR94: BA Spanish & Creative Studies year 1 (BA/CSTSP)
- PP53: BA Journalism and Media Studies year 1 (BA/JMS)
- P3R1: BA Media Studies with French year 1 (BA/MSFR)
- P3R2: BA Media Studies with German year 1 (BA/MSG)
- P3R3: BA Media Studies with Italian year 1 (BA/MSIT)
- P3R4: BA Media Studies with Spanish year 1 (BA/MSSP)
- P3R5: BA Media Stud with Spanish (with International Experience) year 1 (BA/MSSPIE)
- P3WK: Media Studies with Theatre year 1 (BA/MSWTH)