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Final Reflective Report

Since the introduction of television it has struggled to assert it’s legitimacy as a cultural art form against the much more established and accepted art form of cinema. It is only relatively recently that television studies have begun to be taken seriously as a scholarly subject.  It is now however, an ever growing field of study, with academics such as Henry Jenkins regularly producing content examining the place of TV in modern society and how it is perceived as an art form in its own right. One of the things that has been discovered is that television as a medium is able to become particularly transnational, and that format sharing and swapping is a common practice, and is slowly reshaping the global media industry. But, it is not just the transnationality of television formats that is discussed in the field of television studies – the idea of ‘quality TV’ is one which has also been closely examined, with shows that are deemed ‘quality’ often being compared to cinema in terms of production values. In contrast, reality TV carries the stigma of being at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of quality. It is being reconsidered though, whether labelling reality TV as low-quality entertainment  is an unjust observation, especially when different sub-genres of reality television are so varied. This report seeks to reflect on these ideas and concepts of transnational television and format adaptation, and quality TV versus reality TV.

Television is usually produced with a national context in mind. Traditionally, programmes are created with a view towards to the culture of a certain nation in mind. For example, the Australian programme ‘Rush‘ is set and filmed in Melbourne, and is written to be specifically watched and understood by an Australian audience. However, some television shows have demonstrated the ability to go beyond their supposed ‘national boundaries’. Shows such as ‘Kommissar Rex‘, set and produced in Vienna, Austria and Iron Chef, set and produced in Japan, have gained an international following, transcending their original borders. This phenomenon of transnational television has even caused the creation of transnational television networks. According to Chalaby (2003 p.460) ‘Transnational television networks challenge the enduring relationship between television and the nation- state by reaching audiences across frontiers.’ A good example of this is a network such as BBC World, who broadcast BBC programmes such as Doctor Who for American audiences. These kinds of transnational television shows and channels are an important contributor to the globalisation process, as the barriers between different cultural and national borders are broken down through the television medium. Of course, there are certain television shows that are simply too based in the culture of their own nation to successfully cross these imagined borders into a new country or nation. Sometimes it is not the the original show itself that is transfer, but the show’s format that is adopted by another nation, allowing the same basic show to be adapted and configured for a local audience by giving it a new context. Adopting an international television format is ‘ an increasingly influential practice in television markets all over the world’ (Jensen, P 2007 p.5). Shows such as the Office have shown success in this way. Originally a show written and produced in the U.K, it’s basic format was adapted for an American audience and this version has lasted for many seasons longer what it was originally based on. Sometimes, show s are not as successfully adapted; the Australian show Kath and Kim was adapted for an American audience, but was quickly cancelled. The American pilot of the I.T Crowd (a British show originally) didn’t make it any further than the pilot. Failures like these are most often attributed to the inability to adapt both culturally and contextually to a new audience, and are still too much based in their original culture and context. One format however, that seems particularly adept and well-designed for format trade, is the reality TV genre.

When one thinks of reality TV, the types of shows that most often spring to mind are those such as Big Brother, Wife Swap, Survivor and the Amazing Race. Originally thought to be nothing more than a passing fad (Magder, 2004) reality TV simply grew and grew, and is still a dominating and prevalent format today. Reality TV is so named because of its original claim to be showing events as they actually happened, whether it be crime shows using CCTV footage or hidden camera footage from a show such as Big Brother. However, critics of the genre scorn the use of editing and melodramatic music, to name a couple of techniques that are oft complained of, and claim that because of this, these shows cannot really be called ‘reality’. Unfortunately for the genre, it therefore often classed as cheap, low-brow entertainment. However, as this course has shown us there is much more to reality TV than crazy contestants and strange challenge based programming. The term ‘reality TV’ has been used so loosely, it has been suggested  that ‘over the last decade such a wide range of productions have been categorised has “Reality TV” that one wonders if the term is too general to be helpful’. (Barnfield in Holmes and Jermyn, 2004, p.3) Indeed, these game/challenged based reality TV shows make up only a portion of the type we get to see. An example of another kind of reality TV show would be One Born Every Minute, a series we were introduced to in this course. Set in the maternity ward of a hospital, and utilising an almost cinema verite/observational style of filmmaking, this series follows different women every episode as they prepare to give birth. There are no challenges set up. No one is competing for anything. This type of show, termed ‘docu-drama’ can be thought of being on almost the higher class, quality side of the reality TV scale.

If reality TV is often stereotyped as being on the lower end of the television ‘quality scale’ then HBO programmes can be seen as the polar opposites. HBO, a cable network in America, is often thought of as the home of quality television, a concept explored earlier in the course. With shows to its name such as True Blood, Deadwood, Big Love and the Wire, and many others, HBO series are often critically acclaimed, and touted as quality viewing by the same. Even though other networks, even the commercial ones, are starting to get in on the act and produce shows to compete with HBO, the quality banner still remains. This can be partly attributed to HBO itself. With it’s slogan, “It’s not TV, it’s HBO” it is clearly branding itself. They even have their own section in the DVD store. They are clearly positioning themselves as something beyond ordinary programming, and indeed, in terms of production values and the type of shows being produced, HBO has even been thought of as something closer to cinema. According to McCabe and Akass (200?) HBO has ‘defined new rules for talking about, and understanding what we mean by, quality TV in the post-1996, post-network era. To this end, HBO has imposed itself as a model for producing quality TV, enforcing those ideals, and spawning new forms of television culture and subjectivity…’ (p. 84). HBO has carried this image of quality TV programming for so long, that carrying the very HBO logo becomes one of a TV shows best marketing strategies. Further evidence of HBO’s success in associating itself with quality TV programming is that, as a pay TV channel, its viewers must pay them for the right to watch, which they do in earnest. Shows such as The Sopranos (arguably HBO’s biggest success story) have garnered such massive followings that the network is secure in its future and its reputation as a provider of quality television viewing, and one of TV’s biggest champions in terms of it gaining a cultural legitimacy.

So, as television has developed and changed over the years, not only has the field of television studies garnered more scholarly contributions, but television itself has gained its own cultural standing, stepping out of cinema’s shadow. The wide range of TV genres, from reality TV to the many ‘quality’ programmes broadcast on the network HBO can attest to the wide variety that TV has to offer, and also provide much of the debate and academics writings on television. As discovered in the course however, one of the most overlooked aspects of television, is its contribution to the process of globalisation, through the global trade of television formats and transnational television. Television is more than an entertainment medium, it is the means of creating a shared space, experience and imagined communities.

Word count: 1441



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