Friday, April 25, 2008

Changes in TV genres

This written analysis shall identify the change in key elements of three television genres across the timeline from its evolving till recent. Significant television programs of all the three genres will be mentioned. The three genres this essay will analyse are Action dramas 1: Adventure series, Action dramas 2: Cop shows and Reality Television / TV. The essay shall define the genres and explain the landmark alterations the genre undertook using examples of television programs during the course of time. Both the survived similarities and alterations resulting in dissimilarities shall be mentioned.

Action dramas 1: Adventure show(s) is an action-packed genre has a sub-genre called the western (Boddy 2005, 14). Hopalong Cassidy premiered in 1949 and was the first that brought film to serial television (Gary A. Copeland cited in Butler 2006, 260). He was television’s first “cult hero” – a cowboy dressed in black representing everything “noble and virtuous” (Bailey and Hoffman 1990, 149). William Bill Boyd who portrayed the hero in the program was alternatively called Hoppy. Hoppy, a non-smoker, non-drinker and not kissing girls and his style of catching bad guys without shooting them made the program commendable (Brunsman and Goodman 2005, 309).

Gunsmoke, Bonanza and Rawhide were programs under the sub-genre – Western that shared resemblances such as the theme music, large-scale action scenes and shot mostly on wide-angles to capture wide area of locations (Boddy 2005, 16). In the 1963s, these programs dominated the period but began losing popularity as the anti-hero began becoming the dominant character (Cusic 2003, 7).

Bonanza was popular among the teenagers due to the action sequences and within a family because of the “family-oriented storyline” (Bergfelder 2006, 96). Apart from the regular action sequences and capturing the bad guy, the warmth in the personality of the quiet, honest and amusing cowboy won audiences (Hawes 2002, 200).

In the late 1960s, science fiction merged with the action-adventure genre; Star Trek followed the regular format of catching the bad guy but in outer space (Hockley 2005a, 27; Hockley 2005b, 28). It was generalized under “time-travel genre” and the episodes concluded with restoring peace post an inter-galactic fight (Booker 2006, 120; Hills 2004, 194). Apart from being a science fiction Star Trek also focused on “ethics, human relationships” that could have otherwise highlighted in a “contemporary setting” (Raham 2004, 48). In addition, Star Trek also differed due to its attitude of cultural diversity; the lead star cast hailed from dissimilar backgrounds; Afro-American, Russian, Japanese and Extraterrestrials which implied the extinguishing of race as an issue (Hockley 2005b, 28; Hills 2004, 196).

Inspired by Jirel of Joiry came Xena-The Warrior Princess who battled bad invaders, Gods and male chauvinists thereby depicting women more than housewives and mothers (Alice Eleanor Jones cited in Larbalestier 2006, 86). In the 1990s, Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer displayed sharp contrasting images of women. In addition, their “pod-race sequences”, quick blur of actions, stylish acrobatic fight sequences moving from outer space to cyber space with the heavy duty usage of special effects (King and Krzywinska 2000, 99). Precisely, this conspicuously marks the technological advancement in the television industry. It also abides by the genre of fighting evil.

Unlike the 60s or 70s when the good side fighting against the evil like Hopalong Cassidy was represented by a male figure, post the 1990s females too enacted such roles. Like Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had females fighting to keep justice prevailing. X-Files¬ too had a female character who aided in solving extra-ordinary cases. She was not differed because of her gender. She committed mistakes as well as solved tough cases thereby being a feminist ideology merging with science fiction and action adventure series (Stephanie Tuszynski cited in Dickson 2006, 61).

Action dramas 2: Cop show(s) is a masculine dominated genre setting apparent optimism via restoring peace by resolving violence and shunning corruption which are the true aspects in the social world (Fiske 1987, 113; Richard Sparks cited in Brandt 1993, 89).

Dragnet was the first and most popular cop shows in the world. Besides been based on true events of the Los Angeles Police Department, Dragnet unlike other previous cop shows focused more on the actual solving of the cases rather than the violence. This portrayed the cops to be a frequently willing partner in the system of justice (McQueen 1998, 80; Mittell 2004, 142). It was filmed in studio locations and outdoor scenes with each episode commencing with a crime, followed by the investigation and ending with a guilty being convicted in a highly explanatory narrative style (Robards 1985, 13).

Homicide turned the phase of Australian television drama in the 1960s by running for eleven years and claiming the highest watched program within a years’ time (Cunningham and Turner 2000, 143). This series like Dragnet followed a similar template of solving a case within an episode in identical narrative styles. A comparatively less stylistic and cheaper method of filming was adapted due to the technological and financial limitations; single-camera setup for location scenes proving less effective (McKee 2001, 59). Nevertheless, it has been identified as one of the very few police series whose characters, the cops using nautical terms and delivering witty dialogues (McQueen 1998, 105).

In the late 1980s, High Street Blues modified the action drama: cop show genre both in narrative and portrayal styles. This “pioneering cop show” was regarded as the most“innovative and critically acclaimed series” (Cortese 2005, 183; Roberta Pearson cited in Hammond and Mazdon 2005, 16). The combination of cop show, action, mystery and drama with slight elements of “cinema very-style documentary”, soap-opera and sitcom was evident in the series. In addition, the unpredictable twists and coincidences was filmed in a thickly “populated urban workplace” in a quick-paced manner making it intense and “hyper-realistic” (Cortese 2005, 183). However, it occasionally contradicted the genre by its intense documentary feel and inconclusiveness (Richard Sparks cited in Brandt 1993, 89). This series stretched over episodes on multiple storylines possibly because it used a large assembly of cast unlike Dragnet’s crime-fighting duo (Nelson 2004, 101). This “politically correct” series unlike earlier cop shows had secondary characters – lawyers who fought for justice while the cops caught criminals (Rapping 2003, 2, 21).

Cagney and Lacey introduced a prominent change in the genre during the same era; Barbara Corday, one of the female writers of the series connected feminist values to it contradicting the masculine control of law (Danae Clark cited in Brown 1990, 117). The genre mix was also a gender mix; cop shows being masculine and soap opera being feminine (Fiske 1987, 113).

Miami Vice in the mid 1980s made genre changes too; it was a cop show with music video characteristics (Fiske 1987, 112). Its’ protagonist lead character, complicated storylines, first of its’ kind - mood music or soundtracks, brisk camera movements providing “constant visual and sound excitement” precisely showcasing post-modernity with non-existent financial and technological boundaries (Trutnao 2005, 65; Anna Gough Yates, Bill Osgerby and Marianne Wells cited in Osgerby and Yates 2001, 23).

The recent cop show CSI is “case intriguing” intensified by the committed crimes displayed as “hazy flashbacks” and involves a lot of forensic science giving its viewers the idea of a detailed investigation (Temple 2005, 133). Both CSI and Law & Order do not include any car chases and have minimum shootouts unlike earlier cop shows. But, they show the cop show genre in its traditional sense by focusing majorly on “police procedural” (Lovell 2003, 127).

Reality TV as a genre is a combination of entertainment or infotainment with elements of information and documentary style of presentation. This observational television form that began in the 60’s is a metaphor for developing commercialized and globalized media-culture (Ib Bondebjerg cited in Jerslev 2002, 159).

Candid Camera, airing since 1948 in U.S. has arguably been the first and most memorable reality TV programme. It set the industry standard of capturing moments of ordinary people in “unguarded circumstances” using unnoticeable camera(s). Allen Funt, who hosted and developed the show would then use his famous tag-line ‘Smile! You’re on Candid Camera’; this signalled the laughter moment and revealed the concealed camera. It was primarily made to let people’s minds off the Cold War. Most of the shooting was done in bright locations with multiple-cameras installed in varying positions to capture the plot. (Bradley D. Clissold cited in Holmes and Jermyn 2004, 33, 45).

An American Family was constantly compared to The Real World. The former, a PBS series had a ground-breaking effect because viewers could watch a real family developing before their eyes. In addition, it was a documentary and not a “television experiment” like The Real World. The 1973series followed the Loud Family. Viewers watched a deteriorating marriage, a divorce scenario and their son revealing his homosexuality (Huff 2006, 13). The cameras also followed the family during their travels. Course abusive language used with uncensored honesty offered its’ viewers “progressively painful” and “shocking weekly glimpse” of real issues in a family. This documentary on real lives was an unadulterated portrayal of “human truth” (Saldana 2005, 6). Hand-held camera shots “registering life-as-it-is” of a family in real life dealing with real situations was given a feel of fictional soap opera by a voice-over using the family members as a cast and situations as a story (Bonner 2003, 25; Jose Van Dijk cited in Pisters and Staat 2005, 31).

Today’s TV programmes such as Big Brother and Survivor conversely do not entirely qualify as reality programs with respect to the elements of the reality TV genre. These programs are “post-documentary genre” (John Corner cited in Rojek 2007, 14).

Big Brother is a competition with a final cash prize. Competitors are ordinary people and strangers who are excluded from the society and made to stay in a house. Emerging feelings among one another in the course of time make it like soap-operas and exploring the patterns of socialising makes it a documentary (Bignell 2004, 201). Moreover, this reality TV cannot completely be considered real since the contestants soon are aware of the cameras and the fact of being judged by millions of viewers who decide the duration of each contestant’s stay in the house (Rojek 2007, 14).

Unlike Big Brother which is “character driven”, Survivor had contestants subjected to an “unusual artificial environment” (Jenkins 2002, 89). For instance, the contestants left on a snakes infested land urged viewers to question the realism factor in this reality TV programme (Jenkins 2002, 89; April L. Roth cited in Wood and Smith 2003, 32). Survivor typifies the contradiction of reality TV via its “well-produced version of reality” which is evidently more convincing than Big Brother though the “illusion of reality” appears several times in both these programmes (Andrejevic 2003, 196).

These programs used multiple camera setups like Candid Camera to capture instances effectively. But, as mentioned earlier, contestants begin to beware of the cameras which automatically affect their behaviour. Therefore, this occasionally tends not to be very real. The episodes edited to a suspense end like daily soaps make viewers follow-up with the program (Lothar Mikos cited in Mathijs and Jones 2004, 97).

It can be concluded that over the years all the earlier discussed television genres have made significant changes especially on narrative styles. They have also modified the genres yet stood to their primary focus. Action dramas: Adventure and cop shows till date involve bad guys being captured by the good guys. Due to the advancement in technology and sponsoring companies’ readily available financial budget, there is evidently substantial amount spent on special effects, costumes and studio locations in the recent past. Therefore, it is becoming easier to film a television programme also due to the availability of flexible genres and liberty to alter them furthermore. Reality TV that used hidden cameras in the past but now have theirs’ exposed which might have compromised on the reality factor. But, the platform remains the same; capturing ordinary people in extra-ordinary circumstances. Along the years, television programs have modified the genre to attract more viewers but have stood by their base.

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Copyright © Ajey Padival 2006 (Brisbane, Australia; +61-434360675;

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