This overhead shot aligns Tony with danger, especially towards his family. Tony’s panic attack leads to him lying on the ground, directly below the flaming barbecue, set apart from the otherwise idyllic backyard scene.
The next head-on shot highlights the divide that Tony’s danger causes between him and his family.
In his AV Club coverage of The Sopranos, Todd VanDerWerff discusses the use of cancerous imagery, depicting Tony as the rotting centre of the show. With a scene in the pilot episode featuring an MRI machine and the possibility of a protagonist with brain cancer, this imagery is set up immediately.
One of HBO’s first original television programme, The Sopranos took advantage of the fact that less dependence on advertising meant greater freedom to air risky, controversial material. Cocaine on a cleaver: prime example.
The pilot is full of beautiful shots of Tony eclipsed by shadows. Although the entire episode is driven by Tony revealing himself to his new therapist, the visual inaccessibility of his figure implies darker secrets and motives unspoken in the doctor’s office.
A protagonist framed completely by trash, describing his business both literally and metaphorically. What could be a simple exchange between friends becomes a symbol of Tony’s entire world, about to unfold as one of television’s most fascinating shows.
HBO, with its lack of commercial breaks, has redefined the way that television can work with sponsors and advertising. Through subscription fees and single-sponsor shows with product placement rather than traditional advertising, HBO creates a unique viewing experience for its audience.
HBO isn’t necessarily a departure from traditional methods, but rather an escape. AMC, through one of its most popular shows, Mad Men, have changed the way viewers receive commercial breaks instead of abolishing them completely. Though Mad Men involves storylines of romance, family life, and personal drama, it is first and foremost a show about advertising and those who control it. Seeing both Don Draper’s persuasive ad pitches and the behind-the-scenes reasoning that form the pitch ideas, Mad Men gives audiences a view into the process behind commercial advertising. Viewers are privileged in knowing how their emotions become manipulated through the process, and through that privilege they feel a superior understanding of advertising.
So, when Mad Men breaks for commercial, the audience now understands the logic behind the car commercials and make-up ads that play. They retain the knowledge acquired during the program and apply it outside the diegetic world of 1950s Manhattan. AMC may still gain revenue because of these traditional commercial breaks, but the experience for the audience is different because of the specific show aired.
“As a representation of a television switching on at the beginning of the programme and off at the end, the HBO logo evokes the impression of an appointment to view with each programme, creating a separate and special place in which its programmes are encountered.”
– Catherine Johnson, “Tele-Branding in TVIII”
I never consciously realized this, but the opening HBO logo definitely does have an effect on viewing the show that follows. It’s like the MGM lion or the Disney castle – a familiar noise that indicates that it’s time to focus on the screen. Even with changing viewing practices (downloaded shows on laptops, recorded shows from DVRs, etc.), this sort of introduction still influences the expectations of the audience.
Johnson points out that the “snow” and “warming up” that accompanies the logo’s appearance also works to evoke earlier periods of broadcasting, distinguishing HBO as something different and “established.” As their brand slogan states, “It’s Not TV: It’s HBO.”
It’s also worthwhile to think of content warnings as working within this sort of set-up. What is written as cautionary has always seemed to me more of a promise – “This program contains violence and coarse language. Viewer discretion is advised” – and creates an environment of heightened awareness about the content of what will follow. Both logos and warnings give the impression that one can’t simply drop in halfway through the episode, that it is an experience bookended by pertinent viewer information.
The Buzziest Thing at Film Festivals? It Might Just Be TV
“‘We’d been interested in opening the door to showing adventuresome, quality TV for some time,’ said festival producer Janet Pierson. ‘The lines between indie film and TV have been blurring for years, both in terms of filmmakers finding work and creative possibilities in that medium, but also in terms of where the interesting, intelligent eyeballs are going. When I get together with my peers, I find the conversations quickly turn to the likes of The Wire or Breaking Bad.'”
Interesting article about the increasing presence of TV screenings at film festivals like Sundance, Cannes, SXSW and IFFR, indicating the changing perceptions of television as a “serious” medium.
To start off, something (vaguely NSFW) that could really only be shown on an HBO series in the 2000s.
Besides the overabundance of expletives, the scene is notable for its reliance on the viewers’ understanding of the detectives’ thought process. There’s no explanation, no summative remarks, no revealing dialogue – the viewer is expected to put the pieces together as Bunk and McNulty work.
Within a show that encourages a deep level of attention while viewing, this scene demonstrates the entertainment that can come from actively engaging with the process rather than simply the presentation.
For the next few months at least, this blog will be home to my scattered thoughts on issues pertaining to television series in the 21st century. I’m currently researching this topic for an undergraduate independent project at McGill University (Montreal, QC).
My research is focused on three distinct aspects of contemporary television networks and series: (1) networks such as HBO and AMC and how they work to establish themselves as a brand; (2) the changing visuality and content of shows on these channels, and (3) new viewing experiences created and perpetuated by these shows. Ultimately, the course will lend insight into the future of television studies, taking into account its changing landscape.
In addition to recent theory regarding the topic, the course will involve close looks at The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007);The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008); Mad Men (AMC, 2007- ); and Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008- ).
I hope for this blog to be a space where I can collect my thoughts on my readings, examine particularly interesting episodes, and engage with current discussions about contemporary television studies.