Infographic: Emmy Nominations by Network, 80’s – 10’s

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Emmy Nominations by Network, '80s - '10s

via Wired, “Welcome to the Platinum Age of Television.” This infographic charts the Emmy nominations by networks over the past several decades (the website’s image is interactive, to specify which shows were nominated for which network). The magazine points out that “with so many more places to see great shows, the distinction between broadcast and cable has disappeared. Quality is the only thing that matters.” The chart shows a lot of interesting changes – the incredible diversity of choice in the  00’s and 10’s; HBO’s peak in the late 90’s/early 00’s; the lack, with the exception of AMC, of any strong upwards trajectory by a network, etc. I find it especially interesting that HBO, AMC and Showtime haven’t received a higher proportion of awards, despite the reputation of quality that is associated with those networks – it shows that awards season may focus on quality, but popularity is still very much a factor as well.

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Teaser: Mad Men, Season 6

Today, a new teaser video was released for Mad Men‘s final season, premiering on April 7th. Like the previous teasers, this video contains no new footage or dialogue, using footage from Season 5 to remind audiences what has been happening in the world of Don Draper. ShowBiz 411 has revealed some details about the first episode, informing us that it will be 2 hours long, titled “The Doorway,” and take place in Hawaii (explaining these beachy pictures).

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Throwback: 18 Academic Papers About ’90s TV Shows

18 Academic Papers About ’90s TV Shows (via Mental Floss)

Just because I work with contemporary programs doesn’t mean I don’t love a solid analysis of a ’90s television show! It’s also reassuring to see academic writing about these older programs, showing that this field of study has strong roots from which to grow.

“If we can learn something interesting about the ancient Romans by studying their drinking songs, surely we can learn something interesting about ourselves by studying our TV shows.”

The Good Wives

“God save us when an Aaron Sorkin antihero is the closest we get to a good guy.”

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A few months ago, the New York Observer ran a piece entitled Bad Men: TV’s Most Reprehensible Antiheroes and the Women Who Love Them. The piece was a follow-up to the Golden Globes, which was argued to be indicative of “a new trend in millennial TV protagonists—men who are, if not quite villains, then at least Bad Men.” 

Tony Soprano, Dexter, Nucky Thompson, Sgt. Brody, Tom Kane, Walter White, and Don Draper all fit the description of this type. “At best, our guy is an immoral misanthrope and a latent misogynist. At worst, he’s a sociopath, one who may or may not be running an international drug cartel. Or a terrorist ring. If you’re lucky, he’s merely a serial killer who kills other killers.” The presence of a misanthropic character on a television show isn’t necessarily a new trend – Archie Bunker is a prime example. What is unique about these millenial protagonists is that audiences identify with them. They root for them. They even respect them. 

Who we don’t respect, for the most part, are their wives.

These shows “all portray nosy, ineffectual matriarchs who are simultaneously ice-cold bitches, helpless victims and puritanical enforcers.” Betty Draper and Skyler White especially are despised by audiences, seen as the “spoilsports” to their husbands’ activities – even when in fact they are the victims of them. 

What these women really do is act as a foil to their male counterparts, foils that question the glorified masculinity that the shows depict through violence and rebellion. These women show the side of these men that can be sexist, weak, self-deluding, unreasonable, and downright threatening. When the protagonist is questioned, the audience is uncomfortable. They look for a scapegoat, the root of the problem. “Why is my hero struggling?”

That isn’t to say these women are perfect moral counterparts – they have their flaws and questionable decisions, their infidelity and maternal struggles. But the widespread negativity towards them has to be investigated, especially in an era where there are examples of complex, interesting, powerful female characters leading many different television programs.

There have been many different articles recently on the topic, which is promising, and Breaking Bad and Mad Men each still have a season (roughly) left to engage with these characters on a more complex level. As well, shows like Enlightened and Girls keep encouraging discussion around female protagonists whose relatability and respect differ widely among audiences, an interesting development for complex television. At the very least, the nagging matriarch is a trope that is being dissected in critical reviews.

“Way Down in the Hole”: Title Sequences

A shared feature of many recent shows is their focus on downward spirals, character demises, and mourning, grief, and loss – and their title sequences show it. The credits of these shows are exemplary of their respective shows’ themes and indicate the turn towards darker, more complex content that has been occurring.

Mad Men

Mad Men’s opening titles depict an ad man falling from office buildings, floating downwards past oversized advertisements on the walls of the buildings. The image has been used in print campaigns for the show as well, depending on the viewers’ alignment with the figure and the show (this has caused some controversy, as the image is reminiscent of a 9/11 photograph). The instrumental music accompanying the titles mimicks the trajectory of the falling man, dipping lower somewhat ominously until the man is finally shown sitting in an office chair.

The Wire

The Wire used a different version of the same song for its five seasons. The song, originally by Tom Waits, is called “Down in the Hole” and evokes religious imagery – temptation, salvation, and the fall from grace – that can be applied to the program as a whole. For each title sequence, a sequence of clips from the show is strung together. The clips may be focused on certain themes depending on which season it is, but it is the same effect for each: this show is a glimpse into a fragmented, broken world, composed of various crimes and characters that are in some way associated with “The Hole.” (Notably, much of the first season is set in a location called “The Pit”).

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad uses a short, simple title piece to neatly string together science and drugs, or, more appropriate to the show, formula and effect. In just a few short seconds, the sequence illustrates how rationality can be overtaken by something darkly appealing – in the show this is Walter White, his old life based on formula and routine fading into smoke.

The Sopranos

The opening lyrics to The Sopranos’ title sequence: “woke up this morning, got yourself a gun,” immediately sets up the violence that saturates the program. Tony’s uneasy expression as he drives through the bleak landscape of New Jersey indicates his discomfort in both his work and family life without explicitly showing either.

Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under, a show completely based on narratives of death, loss, and grief, immediately introduces its content with a bleak, desaturated series of images related to the world of funerals. The starkness of the sequence reflects the frankness of the way the show deals with its primary theme, while at the same time bringing artistic detail to what could otherwise be a cursory look at a funeral home.

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The Hummingbird Theory

In case you missed it, and in honour of International Women’s Day, here’s Emily Nussbaum’s recent article about her newly defined television archetype, “The Hummingbird.” Brought on by the pervasive discussions about the renewal of Enlightened, Nussbaum looks at its heroine Amy Jellicoe and several other female leads in current TV programs to define this new type of protagonist.

“They’re idealistic feminine dreamers whose personalities are irritants. They are not merely spunky, but downright obsessive. And most crucially, these are not minor characters. On each show, the Hummingbird is a protagonist—an alienating-yet-sympathetic figure whose struggles are taken seriously and considered meaningful.”

Nussbaum lists Jellicoe along with Carrie Mathison (Homeland), Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation), and Sue Heck (The Middle); discussion on Twitter has since also suggested Lisa Simpson, Hillary Clinton and her film shadow Tracy Flick (Election). Elements of the archetype can be seen across shows such as Mad Men, Community, and Friends.

It will be interesting to see if this archetype becomes as ubiquitous in use as the “manic pixie dream girl” – interesting and exciting, since the former has become one-dimensional and cliche since its conception. The Hummingbird is a character with depth, one that requires a show like Enlightened devoted to her (or his) unpacking and understanding. 

In other words, #renew #Enlightened!

The Drama over Digitalization

The other day in The Guardian, this headline ran: “Could online video consumption overtake linear viewing TV by 2020?” Recently, the director of YouTube Latin America made the prediction that “the online video audience will eclipse traditional linear TV watching by 2020,” citing changing consumer desires that can only be addressed by Internet video platforms.Image

The article argues that a pre-emptive focus on consumer needs and personalization is key for the major players of TV programming. A surprising example used is that of Netflix’s varied trailers for recently released House of Cards – the platform edited 10 different cuts of the show’s trailer based on users’ Netflix viewing history, to guarantee that the subscriber would be interested in watching the show.

In “Broadcast Television: The chances of its survival in a digital age”, Jostein Gripsrud makes a case against these types of headlines, becoming more and more prolific as digital television keeps rising. Using Raymond Williams’ seminal work on broadcast TV, Gripsrud argues that digitalization is less dramatic that it is often portrayed for a variety of reasons relating to the attributes of both types of television. He points out that patterns of viewing aren’t changing drastically, because analog satellite TV already involves a multitude of choice and time-shifting technology has existed since the VCR. He claims that the idea of individuals watching TV in complete freedom is utopian, since the choices are still pre-determined and based in commercial interests.

I really like Gripsrud’s article for two main reasons. Firstly, he emphasizes the continuing importance of watching TV “live” using the concept of water cooler discussions. While the water cooler may be a bit of an outdated notion, I see Twitter as the current equivalent – during a popular show, you aren’t part of any online community discussion unless you’re watching simultaneously with the rest of the audience. While it is convenient to be able to watch a series on one’s own time, there have been many times where I wish I had watched a show while it aired so I could engage with other viewers in real-time.

Gripsrud also addresses the concern that with a proliferation of channel choices, viewers may be led to watch more “trash” or “low-quality” television programs. He argues against this concern, pointing out that “the greater the number of channels, the more valuable to viewers are those channels that experience has taught them can largely be trusted as suppliers of reliable information and genuinely high-quality engaging, relevant, and entertaining material.” Looking at channels such as Showtime and HBO compared to channels that show primarily reality shows, etc., I think this argument really makes sense. Just because there are approximately ten channels on which to watch cake decorating competitions doesn’t mean I’m going to choose to watch them. As Gripsrud aptly sums up, “the fact that daytime gradually fades into nighttime does nto mean we cannot tell the difference between day and night.”