Procrastination Links

While I’m fortunate enough to spend my last two weeks of undergrad writing about television, we can’t all be so lucky. Here’s a collection of recent writings that can serve as enjoyable (and informative!) study breaks.

The Revolution Was Televised: The Conversation

Two of the most important television critics today, Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall, in conversation with each other about Sepinwall’s (fantastic) new book, The Revolution Was Televised. They discuss the change from television in the ’70s and ’80s to recent dramas, the television vs. movies debate, and what happened to the Russian, among other topics. It’s a conversation full of incredible insight from two writers who have immersed themselves in these questions.

How Film Critics Use Twitter

Less about television, but with the distinctions being blurred (e.g. screening television series at film festivals) this examination from Jane Hu about the heightened use of Twitter for criticism is spot on. I especially like her acknowledgment of the “work/play” boundary that critics tend to ignore on their Twitter – evident also in Chris Becker’s Good TVeets, a weekly collection of the best and funniest Twitter commentaries about television events.

Tom and Lorenzo’s Mad Style

As someone who loves both Mad Men and obsessive fashion criticism, this weekly analysis is mecca. The writers pick apart screenshots of the characters and their outfits, and puts them into dialogue with the episode’s overarching themes. For a great interview with Janie Bryant, the show’s brilliant costume designer, there’s Vanity Fair.

What’s So Bad About Small-Stakes TV Shows?

Bullett makes a plea for the renewal of Bunheads, looking at the widening gap between “big” and “small” dramas on television. “Even if critics are willing to praise both the big and the small, the pro-bigness position, which rewards shows for breaking with the bad old TV of the past, is the one that’s been adopted by the more adventurous segment of the audience that’s fueling this golden age.” This case for finding quality in smaller-stakes shows is a great perspective – and I really would like to see another season of Bunheads.


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.”