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Last Lecture!

These are simply my raw notes from the last TV Cultures lecture of the semester *sniff*. I forgot to bring my notebook. Hence, typed.

 

Comedy and the Mockumentary: The Office

Guest Lecturer: Dr Fincina Hopgood

Mockumentary – documentary form + fictional content = mockumentary.

“Mock” – fake/not real, poking fun at

Challenges documentary’s claim to represent truth/reality

Carries postmodern traits of pastiche (homage), parody, irony and satire. The Simpsons does this a lot.

The advent of the mockumentary occurred in the 80’s and 90’s. Audience becoming more aware of the way documentary’s operate – interrogate truth claims.

Mockumentary is a quite complex form – humorous on the surface, but also a subtle critique. It is important that it has the appearance of a documentary, even though it’s not. Therefore, on purpose ‘mistakes’ – shaky camera footage, etc.

As it’s post-modern, relies that the audience is being clever, and knows what show it is copying. Therefore, The Office success dependant on rise of reality TV ‘docu-soaps’. Intellectually engaging. Active audience.

Actors in the mockumentary need to not be stars – Gervais and Carrell became stars as a result of the Office, but the profile was not there when they were cast.

Key Mockumentary Texts:

– This is Spinal Tap (1984) – genre defining. Christopher Guest, key auteur.

– Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003) – all directed by Christopher Guest.

– All these films rely on the ensemble cast (much like the Office, even though people are most familiar with Gervais or Carrell)

– The Blair Witch Project (1999) – first ‘mockumentary’ to use the form not for humour, but for horror. All about what they couldn’t show you. Shaky cam footage. Key to the film, seemed more real.

– District 9 (2009) – sci-fi genre/documentary genre – also a commentary on apartheid South Africa. Aesthetics very much borrowed from documentary.

Mockumentary form not purely for humour purposes.

TV Texts.

– Curb Your Enthusiasm (1999) Larry David playing himself as the creator of Seinfeld – commentary on the art of show business (HBO). When the form came to TV it went to the ‘quality’ networks, but later moved into the other ‘mainstream’ networks (The Office and Modern Family)

– Arrested Development (2003-2006)

– Australian TV – Chris Lilley (We can Be Heroes, Summer Heights High, Angry Boys) But before this, we had Frontline (Working Dog Productions – also produced the Hollowmen). Mockumentary a good form of local comedy for Australian TV – been done longer than American TV networks?

The Office as a transnational format

– Came to U.S in 2005. Created for BBC in 2001. Only ran for 2 seasons in the U.K, but massive reputation. Big impact. Critically etc. 2003 Christmas Specials, drawing together storylines. By this time it was very popular overseas. Christmas specials nominated for Emmy award. First British comedy show to be nominated for Golden Globe in 25 years, and won. Inevitability of U.S version after this. American version outstripping British version in terms of success?

U.K – 14 episodes. U.S – 155 and counting, even after Steve Carrell has left the show. Other versions in France, Germany, French Canada, Chile, Israel and Brazil. All follow same basic premise – setting, frustrating boss etc. Most reality show formats that go transnational are either game show formats or challenge formats.

When first season of U.S premiered, very closely followed U.K version. Didn’t go down to well with critics, seen as pale shadow of U.K. Between S1 and s2, Steve Carrell became a big success. People began downloading episodes online, Steve Carrell started settling into his own persona, and didn’t become a carbon copy of Gervais. Settled into the character. Tweaking at the level of humour and satire between versions. British humour much darker, American more light. ‘Not a copy, but an interpratation’ – more satirical, less morbid. S2 – typical American workplace. Carrell different from Gervais, and ‘that’s okay’.

***Look up quotes and reviews of the show online

Writers in second season did something that ‘was authentic to American culture’.

Office US pilot , 2005, 22 minutes (much shorter than U.K version)

Things to watch for – documentary conventions, introduce characters and setting, characters looks to the camera. Consider the evolution of the U.S series from this pilot.

As the series progressed, Pam is much more confident and assertive, Michael’s character has been softened.

Docu-soap genre

– Origins in observational documentary aka ‘fly on the wall’.

– Focus on everyday life or indviduals within institutions. Everyday ordinary stuff.

– Hybrid genre – influence of soap opera conventions such as focus on characters and emotions (eg, makeover TV). Seriality: ongoing storylines/character arcs.

Dawn and Tim/Pam and Jim – ongoing ‘soap’ drama.

Key stylistic features of the Office:

– combines docu-soap genre with situation comedy (without live audience or laugh track) Sit-com with laugh track very much an American format. The Office struggled at first because of lack of live audience or laugh track. Took longer to find audience because this version of the sit-com was slightly different.

– Uses all features of the documentary form, except voice-over narration.

– Characters look to camera seeking validation (Gervais/Carrell) or empathy (Tim/Jim) from audience.

The Office as ‘mocku-soap’

– Satire of docu-soap’s fascination with the mundane and banal

– Critique of reality Tv’s elevation of ordinary people to stars

– Self-consciousness of participants ‘performing’ for and acknowledging the camera (no such thing as ‘authentic’ character in doco’)

– Question the form and content of reality TV.

Further reading – Docufictions: Essays on the Intersection of Documentary and Fictional Filmmaking,

The Office, BFI Tv Classics series, by Ben Walters (British Film Institute, 2005)

The Office (U.S Versions), new and old ops, Tuesday nights on Eleven (good chance to look at evolution of characters).

The Office (U.K) Christmas specials, part 1, 2003, 45 minutes.

Docu-soaps formal codes and conventions

– natural lighting, hand held camera, talking heads, offscreen presence of the crew (never heard before)

– seriality eg. what happens next for the characters (special written with the fans in mind)

Features of the ‘mocku-soap’

– characters’ self-conscious performance; commentary on reality TV and celebrities.

Questions being answered – What happens to Dawn and Tim; what happens to David Brent after he was made redundant at the end of s2.

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Reality TV – Not always horrible, it seems…

A few months ago, on my other blog, I wrote this. A short blog post about a reality TV show I came across while surfing channels one day. “I Married A Stranger”. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe that such a ridiculous concept of a show resisted. I felt like this:

(Yes, I have posted that video before).

Sadly, reality TV shows seem to cop quite a bit of flack for the supposed ‘cheap thrills’ and ‘low-brow’ entertainment…yet, they are strangely addictive. Shows such as X-Factor, Biggest Loser and MasterChef have such massive followings (indeed, MasterChef is a bit of a ratings winner). They do like to play up the melodramatics, or even create dramatic moments out of nothing to up viewer tension and anticipation, but if it works, it works. Indeed, I find MasterChef entertaining, but then it doesn’t have such an outrageous premise as ‘I Married A Stranger’.

However, as I learnt last week, these are not the only type of ‘Reality’ TV shows out there.

One Born Every Minute is a show that is termed a ‘docu-drama’ – Set in the maternity ward of a hospital in Britain, the show is focuses on the different stories of different women who come in to give birth, and also takes a look at the mid-wives and nurses who help them.  Shot in a documentary style format, and edited together to create at least two, parallel narratives occurring each episode. The editing also gives the show a sense of dramatic tension into what is in all probability a long, almost monotonous process (I mean, poor Joy in episode one was in labour for about four days, and it was condensed into about hour long show). The different techniques include a voice over narration, some use of interviews (with the new parents and some of the hospital staff) and observational style footage (cameras placed around the ward).

I found this show engaging, funny (maybe the women didn’t feel that way at the time) and even touching – I left the lecture theatre wanting to watch more! This is the kind of reality show I can watch quite happily!

HBO and the idea of quality TV…

So I’m sitting outside on a sunny, sunny day, on my Mac – as you do- following the coverage of the Emmy’s on Twitter – as you do – and Peter Dinklage just won Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his role on Game of Thrones, a HBO show (based on a series of books which I have yet to read – I have too much blogging to do).  He had the above to say in his acceptance speech. Followed closely by this:

Not that that lessens the validity of the previous statement in any way, shape or form!

HBO isn’t just a television network anymore – it is an exclusive brand. I realised this not only when we were told in the lecture, but when I made a trip to the local JB Hi-fi and discovered HBO had its very own section in the DVD shelves. They have long been associated with edgy, high quality, cutting edge drama, producing shows such as Big Love, Sex and the Cit, the Wire, Deadwood, True Blood, Game of Thrones etc. Shows that are critically acclaimed and considered ‘high end’ drama. No ‘Wife Swap’ to be found on this network people! It’s exclusive, in a way. It’s a cable network, not ‘free to air’ – you have to pay to see this high quality shows.

The idea of ‘quality tv’ though is not an old concept:

“Even before a normative notion of ‘everyday television’ had solidified, the idea of ‘quality drama’ existed in the form of live’ anthology’ teleplays of the 1950’s” (p. 146) HBO however, really brought the idea of quality TV to the forefront. It even likes to think of itself as something beyond normal television.

“So, HBO is a full-service cable service. It gives us texts that are not TV. It interprets them for us [in its promos]. It promotes them as art cinema. It punctures its own promotions to show how post-modern it is.” (p.155)

Another aspect of the idea of ‘quality TV’ is that of serialised drama – now, Jane Feuer points out that because something is serialised, it might give rise to some potentially ‘negative comparison(s) to soap opera’. How would you compare a show like Big Love to a serialised soap like The Bold and the Beautiful (ugh!) However Feuer, using the example of the West Wing, that while it is serialised in terms of narrative structure (long form narratives stretched over the series) it lacks the melodramatic aspect associated with soaps (p. 149)

Whether the shows on HBO are really on the same level as ‘art cinema’ is up to individual interpretation, there is no denying that HBO programmes have obtained a certain status.

 

This is amazing!

Well, to my mind it is – I find lots of things amazing. I promise this is pretty cool, whatever else you may think. It’s a site called Television Tropes and Idioms and is basically an encyclopaedia to the the TV devices that writers often use. Also, it’s just plain funny!  You can search a specific show, and they’ll have analysis of the different idioms the show uses, particularly in regards to characters, or you can just browse. When you think about it, these ‘tropes’ are everywhere – but the site expresses that there is a difference between a trope and a cliche.

These are some of my favourites:

The Worf Effect – Whenever the ‘monster’ or ‘baddie’ of the week shows up, it inevitably picks on the the ‘tough guy’ character, showing him up as…well, not so tough.

The Butt Monkey – That one character who is always the butt of demeaning jokes.

Gadgeteer Genius – There’s always a scientific genius somewhere…

What happened to the mouse? – A minor character or plot line is dropped and never seen again…

Psychotic Smirk – Speaks for itself…

There are literally hundreds, and hundreds of these!

First Journal Submission

Four posts that I would like evaluated:

Perhaps even TV likes to hate on TV at times

‘The King’ of TV

“It’s always an imagined audience”

Webisodes and Transmedia!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Webisodes and Transmedia!

My inner nerd was satisfied in the last lecture with many references to Star Trek and Doctor Who, but I won’t spend the whole post going on about these two awesome franchises. The main focus of the lecture was the phenomena that is the ‘webisode’ and the concept of ‘transmedia’. Matt Loads took us through these ideas in the lecture.

I’m familiar with webisodes, having watched a few of them before (mostly the web series ‘The Nurses’ from the TV show Offspring). Matt showed us the definition of ‘webisode’ in the Miriam Webster Dictionary, which is: An episode especially of a TV show that may or may not have been telecast but can be viewed on a website. 

Pretty straightforward definition. Matt also added that it can have either a direct or indirect relationship with the TV medium, and takes its cues from that form. The term itself was first coined by Stan Lee (I was surprised, but anyway…) Matt also took us through the number of ways that webisodes can be used in storytelling (this relates to Transmedia, but I’ll get to that soon). I’ll go through those methods first. According to Matt, they can be used as trailers; prequels, linking segments or cut scenes; parallel storylines; similar narrative styles (similar narrative to an existing TV show but no other relation) or they may be original content. They can also be used for advertising or promotional purposes.

Now, I’m not so certain about trailers as webisodes – I’d cast trailers as a separate medium, but the others I can easily understand. The Nurses (the webisodes related to the TV show Offspring) I’d say are examples of parallel storylines. We get to see the conversations between the nurses at the hospital where Nina works at around the same time the main events in the show are occurring. They’re not necessary to the main narrative, but they enrich the experience for those die hard fans of the show.

This is what I’d call an example of a linking segment or cut scene. It’s part of The Hollowmen, features three of the main cast from the show (Rob Sitch, David James and Stephen Hall) and was released and made specifically for the web. It was made as part of an ABC bid for more funding I believe, and very cleverly done.

Again, it’s not necessary to the main narrative of the TV show, and is shot in exactly the same style and form.

Original content is out there too. I’m helping out  on a shoot soon for the web series Tales from the Table, which takes cues from fantasy/comedy shows. I even think certain video blogs, such as this one from the youtube channel Charlie is So Cool Like, could even count as web series. Or is that taking it too far?

But now I can talk about Transmedia. This term was coined by Henry Jenkins at Confessions of an ACA Fan. Christine Huang describes it as ‘that which moves across multiple channels of communication.’ (citation – she also quotes heavily from Jenkins). In her article ‘Four tips for embracing the new methods of storytelling’ she says that each part of the ‘must serve to support the larger narrative without becoming an essential element of its unfolding.’ That is exactly what transmedia does – it spreads the narrative across different platforms – TV, radio, books, webisodes, merchandise, even fanfiction – without one part becoming necessary to the understanding of the other. That’s where Doctor Who came into the lecture – the TV series is the main platform for the narrative, and is considered canon (what is considered as ‘part of the universe of the story world’ is the best way I can explain it) but any novels and audio books serve to enrich the fans experience. The examples of webisodes that I’ve shown above enrich the experience of the narrative worlds of those shows for the viewers. They add to the enjoyment. That’s something else Huang states ‘Build a world, not a story’. Doctor Who and Star Trek, some of the best examples of what transmedia can do with all their TV series, spin-offs, movies (in the case of Star Trek), books, merchandise and video games have built an entire universe for their characters to live in and explore, and fans to enjoy.

Matt pointed out that Transmedia is a marketing buzzword nowadays, and its easy to understand why – fans go nuts over this kind of stuff. I’ve been to a shop in Elizabeth St that sells books, DVD’s and merchandise for all different kinds of shows like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Family Guy, the Simpsons, True Blood etc. etc (also it sells comic books and manga – but I go there for the sci-fi, if you didn’t already guess) and this shop does pretty good business as you could well imagine. Transmedia becomes a great commercial opportunity if used properly.

Opening Sequences – My favourites/best known

Last week, along with tastes and fans, we talked about how a show’s opening titles might set up audience expectations as to what type of show they’re watching. A well constructed opening sequence can also help draw audience in to the show, and are designed to appeal to a certain demographic.

These are the ones that I most remember. They are from the shows I watch(ed) a lot, or are just memorable to me.

Okay, I am both surprised and annoyed that I cannot find the opening credits for the TV series of MASH online (at least, not ones that weren’t recorded with a video camera pointed at the TV screen), but the opening credits to the movie are very similar, sans lyrics (same music). I always thought the opening credits to MASH were odd, considering the nature of the song (which you can clearly hear in the movie version) and the fact that the show was, for the most part, a comedy. The title sequence set up the introduction of the main doctors, Hawkeye and Trapper (and later Hawkeye and B.J) while crediting the lead actors, who would soon become iconic. The show itself features a chuckle track for most of the series, especially earlier on, but the titles themselves show MD’s urgently tending to wounded soldiers, and is quite grim. The show itself though, while remaining comedic as I have said, also dealt with some of the harsher realities of war – the pain and suffering behind the battles, especially as the series progressed. As far as I know, the series finale of MASH had the highest viewer count in history.

Doctor Who! Probably the most recognisable theme music ever! Well…maybe to a Doctor Who fan. I like seeing the evolution of the opening sequences – its always been quite sci-fi/ahead of its time I think.  The central theme has remained the same, but the mixing and layering has changed over the years. Even in the beginning it sounded weird and alien – electronic, which was not something a lot of shows were doing I think! Today, it is much more orchestral and epic, as the series itself is a lot more action based! (Just to be clear, Peter Davison is my favourite of the originals, and David Tennant is my favourite all time doctor!)

Deep Space Nine – rather majestic isn’t it? I used to think this was quite boring – pretty to look at, but boring and it took me a while to finally sit down and watch this show. I was pleasantly surprised, as this show had a lot more character conflict/drama than the previous series (the Next Generation) had done and loved to use long story arcs, often spanning many seasons. The previous series usually liked to keep stories/plot arcs nice and wrapped up by the end of an episode. Still, I’m not sure these titles really reflect the show. However, episodes of Star Trek usually begin on a cold opener, before rolling the titles, then back to the show.

The Hollowmen – pretty straightforward. It sets the scene (Canberra – can’t you tell by the bikes and the sign that says ‘Canberra’?), and introduces the five main characters nice and quick. I love the music (North by North – the Bats. A New Zealand band, wouldn’t ya know it?) and nice editing to the music. It’s snappy.

House – I used to be obsessed with House. I sort of stopped watching after season four. That’s when a lot of the main cast left or their roles got downgraded. Maybe I didn’t take to the new doctors, but I just lost interest. However, first four seasons = amazing! This version of the opening credits features Massive Attack’s song Teardrop, other seasons feature original music (which I have on my iPod – yes, I’m that much of a fan). These are also the credits featuring the original cast. Not as fluffy or melodramatic as other medical dramas I feel, and the music/opening credits reflect that.

Umm….okay, I think that’ll be enough for this post. I technically could go on forever! But do you think you could judge my taste simply from watching these opening credits? Interesting question. I guess you can pick up some similarities in those ones up there, that classify me. What if I throw in something completely random though?

That is probably one of the most epic and hilarious thing I have ever watched in all my life – I love it! This show used to be my morning ritual – wake up, watch Dragon Ball Z, go to school (and I’d tape it if I didn’t have time!) Mind you, I was maybe ten or eleven at the time, but I started watching a few episodes the other day and still found it weirdly awesome. It’s completely out there, often makes no sense, filled with long monologues, tough guy talk and then endless fight scenes, but I like it.

How would you classify my taste now?