Below are directions followed by each point question. Use this is direction and content for
Genres are designations that attempt to define and categorize groupings of content (from speech
to cinema) through the identification of regularly occurring conventions (plot elements,
character types, settings, props, film techniques, subject matters and themes) Any given genre
subscribes to a set of conventions that, for the most part, have to show up or the audience will
not recognize them as a part of that specific genre (though the forcefulness of their presence and
how they are utilized can substantially differ).
Both outer (structure) and inner (subject matter) conventions required.
Outer = what we actually see; Inner = themes.
Outer: Cowboys; Indians; horses; cattle; guns; frontier towns; saloons; ranchers; etc.
Inner: Good versus evil; manifest destiny; The struggle to bring civilization to the savage
West; Struggles over maintaining one’s autonomy and freedom in the face of an
EXAMPLE #1: DOMESTIC SITCOM GENRE CONVENTIONS:
Shot on sound stage.
White, middle-class, suburban nuclear families.
Recurring settings (the home).
Conflict generated through misunderstandings and generational differences.
Amnesia and loopiness (the characters typically forget what happened in the previous
episode and everything just restarts).
Precocious children and Father typically knows best.
Mothers never have trouble balancing work and home life.
Home is haven from outside forces that usually provide conflict.
EXAMPLE #2: NEWS PROGRAMMING GENRE CONVENTIONS:
Two anchors (often one man and one woman; often of two different races).
All dressed professionally.
Anchors seated behind the anchor desk; weather person standing.
Screens within screens.
Recurring reporters and segments.
Local -> national -> international segments.
Crime, politics, economy, entertainment, human interest stories.
Trustworthy and authoritative sounding anchor.
Friendly banter between anchor, sportscaster, weather person.
Direct address to camera.
Impartial tone/claims to neutrality.
Create a list of bother inner and outer conventions for the cop show and the medical drama. E
should have a minimum of 12 conventions.
According to Rick Altman, genres might be studied by analyzing the relationship between their
semantic elements and their syntactical structures.
Semantic elements = common traits (conventions) [think random words] – wide
applicability w/out explanatory power.
Syntactic structures = constitutive relationships between undesignated and variable
placeholders (meaning-bearing structure) [think the arrangement of words into sentences
We do not define a genre by its content alone, but rather by its syntax, by the rules governing the
arrangement of said content. Meaning comes from the ways the semantic elements are arranged.
Lets think of this in terms of Lego sets and salad recipes.
EXAMPLE: Lego sets: each word below represents a block that you can build whatever you
want to with.
REARRANGE: water; resistance; group; machine; encounter; home; but; invented; human;
aliens; search; scientists; from; sea; world; who; invade; small; level; the; in; of; a; of; have; a;
that; prevents; rise.
Possibility #1: Aliens invade the human home world in search of water but encounter
resistance from a small group of scientists who have invented a machine that prevents sea
Possibility #2: Humans invent a machine in search of water but encounter resistance from
a small group of alien scientists that rise from their leveled sea home world.
Possibility #3: Water aliens resist science on their home world but encounter a small
group of humans invent a machine that prevents sea level rise.
The same conventions rearranged would create very different scenarios yet all still recognizable
Or, Let’s make a salad:
EXAMPLE: Salad: Your ingredients: Tomatoes, lettuce, onion, cucumber, olive oil, salt, lemon
juice, blue cheese But how much of each should we put in the bowl?
Scale and emphasis allow for play with conventions. How humanoid are the aliens? How
different is the future? How big are the lasers? What scale is the intergalactic war?
And what if you want a fruit salad?
Return to your list of conventions for cop shows and medical dramas and using the LEGO and
metaphors, please envision 4 different versions of each genre that still use the same conventi
play with syntax, scale and emphasis.
Please make sure you have read Laurie Ouellette’s essay “Enterprising Selves: Reality
Television and Human in Capital” in Making Media Work before reading this page.
The television genre that has dominated since the late 1990s is “reality television.”
The description is misleading, because many of the programs included under the moniker are
highly unrealistic. Though there is some debate here, TV genres like news programming, sports
programming, talk shows, game shows, and documentaries are generally not considered “reality
TV” despite sharing some overlapping conventions. Reality television typically refers to
unscripted television (though even this can be a fuzzy concept) that documents actual - if also
highly contrived - events and usually features non-professional actors.
Generic conventions include: frequent interviews with participants, with an emphasis on drama
and personal conflict.
There are many sub-genres of reality TV including self-improvement/makeover (The Biggest
Loser, Supernanny), renovation (Extreme Makeover Home Edition, Pimp My Ride), social
experiment (Wife Swap), legal/medical (Judge Judy, The First 48, Intervention), celebrity (The
Kardashians, Real Housewives), and competition/gameshows (American Idol, The
Apprentice). Competition-based reality show conventions often include a participant being
eliminated every episode, a panel of judges, and the concept of immunity from elimination.
Select a reality TV subgenere (other than competition/gameshow) and then select 3 current se
fall under that subgenere. Screen an episode from each. Then compile a list of conventions th
share in common (minimum 8). Finally, explain how similar conventions are used differently in
Several series and sub-genres dating back to the 1940s are seen as precursors to reality TV. Most
notably talent, stunt, hidden camera, and prank programming like Candid Camera (1948-2004),
Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts (CBS, 1946-1958), Truth or Consequences (NBC, 1940-1988),
and You Asked For It (Dumont/ABC 1950-1959). Also, home improvement shows like This Old
House (PBS, 1979-) and legal shows like The People’s Court (1981-).
In 1973, PBS aired the 12-part miniseries An American Family, which followed a year in the life
of the Loud family.
Series was shot in Cinema Verite style. Bill and Pat Loud’s marital problems, which worsened
under the constant scrutiny of the camera, led to their divorce midway through the filming of the
Lance Loud’s openly gay life was also a watershed moment for television, as the series became
the first to deal with homosexuality in a way other than to present it as “a problem.” Craig
Gilbert, executive producer, described the series as “about a land of plenty that produces
mindless people, who talked all the time, but not about the things that were troubling them… In
some ways, all American families resemble the Louds.”
In what ways in An American Family similar to and different from contemporary reality TV sho
The creators of MTV’s The Real World (1992-) claim that the show was inspired by An
… but a closer influence was likely the Dutch program Nummer 28 (1991), which followed the
lives of seven strangers put together in a student house in Amsterdam for several months.
Nummer 28 also pioneered many of the stylistic conventions that have since become standard in
reality television shows, including interspersing of events on screen with after-the-fact
"confessionals" recorded by cast members.
In 1997, Swedish television introduced the series Expedition Robinson, a competition-based
show about teams competing with one another on an isolated island location in the Baltic sea.
The series is better known as Survivor, which was adapted for US television in 2000, and has
also been adapted in numerous countries around the
Many reality programs are parts of larger global franchises that adapt a format to different
national markets. Indeed, many of the most popular US reality TV programs, like American Idol,
Fear Factor, and Survivor were not initially created for US audiences.
Many reality TV shows celebrate multiculturalism and sexual difference. These shows can serve
as spaces to promote “queerness,” or a celebration of non-normative attitudes, behaviors,
But reality TV also often commodifies “difference” and promotes new consumer and citizen
norms. The thematic preoccupations with celebrity, talent, competition, and self-improvement
that are found on many reality TV series tap into our current social climate. In an era defined by
neoliberalism (i.e., the liberalization of market constraints and the outsourcing/radical reduction
of social services in favor of private enterprise), citizens are increasingly asked to invest in
discourses of self-branding and self-management as means of attaining resources for their
Reality television programs starring lifestyle coaches and/or featuring competitions between
unpaid creative and craft laborers are part of the process of normalizing the ethos of selfgovernance by repeatedly demonstrating how success and failure are matters of personal choice,
creativity in the face of adversity, and the ability to "sell" one's brand to clients. Alternately,
many reality TV shows provide a kind of schadenfreude for viewers, who take pleasure in
seeing others humiliated on TV. Typically, those others correspond with groups identified as
either super wealthy or super poor, appeasing middle-class anger and anxiety about wealth
David J. Schwartz (1959) identified the franchise as an agreement between stakeholders—a
franchisor who develops the system and a franchisee who invests independently in that system:
“[t]he franchisor advertises nationally. . . and in other ways attempts to create public recognition
of the franchised outlets. The franchisee, following the merchandising and business procedures
outlined by the franchisor, proceeds to operate his outlet as an independent establishment…to
develop a ‘chain’ of independent business. In the ideal situation, the franchise system has the
advantage of both the large and small business.”
Are media franchises like Law & Order like McDonalds franchises? How are they similar? How are
Media franchising proliferates from a logic of multiplied production, rather than multiplied
One could define media franchising in the terms of products and intellectual properties extended
in an ongoing fashion within the culture industries. Such a definition would include repeatedly
reproduced or reinvented intellectual properties as James Bond, Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the
Rings, Law & Order, CSI, The Matrix, Pokémon, X-Men, Batman, Teen Wolf, Sex and the City,
Media franchising as cooperative enterprise. Media franchising was understood to be a site of
negotiation between distinct stakeholders, rather than an entirely perfected tool for top-down
corporate control, calculability, efficiency, or predictability. Franchising “creates value”
(branding) and allows for micro-marketing to differentiated consumers within the same
Derek Johnson suggests the media franchises are purposely “overdesigned” so as to establish
overarching rules that govern all franchise outposts (but are presented as rules nascent to the
shared “world” they inhabit)
These shared resources can include consistent references to characters, historical events, or
places, shared political, economic, technological, religious, moral, and other cultural and social
systems & hierarchies, shared aesthetic and linguistic principles, etc.
Importantly, however, these rules must be flexible enough to allow each franchise outpost to
expand, deepen, complicate and nuance aspects of the world’s mythology in order to be able to
forge a unique identity.
In other words, franchise overdesign is intended to enable as much as to constrain creative
possibilities through focalization. Franchise outposts can also include shared extra-diegetic
elements, like credit sequences, music, lighting & camera techniques that remind viewers of their
relational affinity to one another.
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