All you can eat TV
AffiliationSchool of Film and TV
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2020-12-11.
© 2018 Elise McCredie
I am sitting iPad in front of me, my finger poised over the PAUSE icon. Should I watch another episode or should I go to bed? If I don’t watch another episode will my dreams be full of all the possible outcomes for Don Draper, Walter White or Sarah Lund? Will my imagination soar with possibilities or should I give into the gnawing, addictive urge to watch just one more episode? Will I enjoy it? Or will I, in a foggy state of addictive exhaustion, only take in half of the complicated plot points? If this is the modern conundrum for today’s viewers, then what does it mean for today’s screenwriters? How does this glut of instantly available serial content affect the way we write serial drama? In the last twenty years, there has been a revolution in viewing practices. Broadcast executives have been slowly de-throned as digital advances make viewing serial television a democratic, individualised, multi-platform and frequently illegal practice. My thesis will explore the relationship between these technological advances in distribution and viewing practices and the extraordinary rise in complex television serial narratives. As defined by Trisha Dunleavy in her book Complex Serial Drama and Multiplatform Television, complex serial television is by its nature serial as opposed to episodic, has a genuine diversity of settings and mileux, has transgressive primary characters, and has far more explicit content than would be allowable on broadcast television. 2 The question this thesis asks, is, whether this rise in complex serial television is the result of technological advances? Or whether it has evolved from an audience’s desire for more complex, challenging narratives? Or alternatively, perhaps the two are so inextricably linked that it is impossible to tell where one starts and the other begins? To begin interrogating this, I will look at television in an historical context, charting the seismic shifts in narrative storytelling over the past twenty years. This thesis will specifically investigate long form serial drama. Sitcoms, reality TV, web series and factual are all outside the purview of my research. Comparing pre-digital show Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-91) with post digital Twin Peaks - The Return (Showtime, 2017) will offer an informative insight into both form and content in serial storytelling. How different is the narrative structure of a series when cliff-hangers, episode breaks, and lengthy narrative recaps are no longer de rigeur? As a practicing screenwriter, I am particularly interested in how these technological changes have affected the writing process. As a part of this creative practice-led thesis I have written a pilot episode and a bible of an original television series Overflow. In developing this series, I have consciously interrogated my own writing and development process. How aware am I of how my completed television series will be consumed? Does this affect my writing process? Indeed, does the knowledge of consumption methods (by which I mean streaming, binge watching, lack of commercial breaks, consumption on multiple platforms etc…) feed into the way I structure my narrative? As a writer can I remove myself from what eminent television scholar Jason Mittel calls “the historical contexts of production and consumption”?3 In his seminal work, The Medium is the Massage4, Marshal McLuhan decries that content is irrelevant and it is technological forces that dictate change. He suggests that, “Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication”.5 However, it is not form alone that this thesis is concerned with. It will also explore how the digital storytelling revolution has opened up television narratives to dark, complex characters and story worlds. Narratives that traditional ‘broad’ casting has been loath to explore for fear of alienating large sections of its audience. Despite the paucity of recent academic research in this field, I will frequently rely upon Complex TV, the seminal work of Jason Mittel, who coins the phrase “narrative complexity” to describe “a new model of storytelling … as an alternative to the conventional episodic and serial forms that have typified television since its inception”. 6 Television, which became widely available in the 1950s, has transformed from vaudevillian shows, to soap opera melodrama, to case of the week procedural drama and finally to its current popular form - long running, complicated, searing serial dramas. In Brett Martin’s 2013 interrogation of the ‘golden age of television’, Difficult Men, he claims that complex series television “had become the signature American art form of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the equivalent of what the films of Scorsese, Altman, Coppola and others had been to the 1970s or the novels of Updike, Roth, and Mailer had been to the 1960s.”7 Is television now at the peak of its own fifty-year cycle or is the revolution only just beginning?
KeywordsTV; serial drama; binge watching; complex drama; serial storytelling; digital technology
- Click on "Export Reference in RIS Format" and choose "open with... Endnote".
- Click on "Export Reference in RIS Format". Login to Refworks, go to References => Import References