Coronavirus (Covid-19) Information

Module UXS-1066:
American Television Drama

Module Facts

Run by School of Languages, Literatures, Linguistics and Media

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

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

Course content

May include: '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, Arrested Development, High Maintenance, The West Wing

Assessment Criteria


D Grade

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


B grade

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


A grade

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

C- to C+

C Grade

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

Learning outcomes

  1. The student will understand and be able to interrogate debates surrounding history, politics, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality in contemporary television drama.

  2. The student will be able to combine an understanding of these scholarly debates with critical textual analysis of the programmes studied.

  3. The student will become familiar with a series of historical, theoretical and critical frameworks about television, and be able to discuss and apply them.

  4. The student will understand, historicise and evaluate the scholarly debates about quality within Television Studies.

  5. The student will understand the aesthetic, industrial and narrative distinctions between network, cable and online television drama.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Final take-home exam 60
Annotated bibliography 40

Teaching and Learning Strategy


1-hour group discussion x 11 weeks


2-hour screening of selected episodes of television programmes studied x 11 weeks

Private study 156

Exam support in Week 12 prior to final assessment.


1-hour formal lecture x 11 weeks


Transferable skills

  • 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).


Resource implications for students

As it is currently planned the students should not need to purchase any additional materials for this module.

Reading list

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:

Optional in courses: