The Contemporary Television Series/Cable Visions: Television beyond Broadcasting

Article excerpt

* Hammond, Michael and Lucy Mazdon (eds.) (2005). The Contemporary Television Series. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 260.

* Banet-Weiser, Sarah, Cynthia Chris, and Anthony Freitas (eds.) (2007). Cable Visions: Television Beyond Broadcasting. New York, NY: New York University Press, pp. 368.

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus is often credited with the saying that "one cannot put a foot in the same river twice." His admonition, of course, refers to the constant movement of the water, thereby effectively creating a different river every moment. The development of television is much like that river. It is ever-changing. Books on the nature of television, like those under review, allow us to see a snapshot of a single moment in the evolution of television. However, that snapshot is left quickly behind and can only tell us what television was and not exactly what it is. While both of these books make interesting reading and have an important place in the literature of television, their references to programs and technologies have become very dated in only a few short years after their publication.

In The Contemporary Television Series, the editors have compiled twelve essays that address, what they call, the television series/serial form. They define this form as programs that are given detailed coverage in both popular magazines and in the quality press. They are shows that will be issued on DVD and video, suggesting that they will be watched more than once. These programs will have a "life" beyond everyday broadcasting (p. 4). The series/serials described here are not so much "television" programs as they are "entertainment media." The viewer is no longer tied to a broadcast schedule, nor is she limited in the number of times she may watch a given program (limited by an outside programmer) or on what medium she views the work. In reality, the word "television" no longer functions as a descriptor of these mass media.

The essays are divided into three sections: "Histories," "The Series/ Serial Form," and "Receptions." Each section is preceded by an introductory essay written by one of the editors. These are followed by essays built around programs that meet the definition of the "series/serial form."

Unfortunately, the programs referenced are very dated, and unless the reader is very familiar with them, much of the message is lost. By way of example, the essays address programs such as "thirtysomething," "Ally McBeal," "The West Wing," and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." "The Sopranos" is one of the newest programs subjected to analysis. While many of these programs may have been relatively familiar vehicles for analysis at the time of the book's publication, they have now receded into history for most younger readers. For example, just this year one of my colleagues experienced frustration in her introductory television studies class because she had great difficulty finding one television series, for an analysis project, that all thirty students had seen. This speaks volumes about the changing role of television as mass entertainment in our society.

In contrast, the introductory essays are especially helpful and hold up fairly well over time. Despite a few dated references to the "new TiVo" technology, each of the introductions could still preface an entirely updated set of essays that deal with newer programs that illustrate many of the same points. Certainly the ready availability of DVR technology to today's television viewers would impact any discussion of the viewer's control over the texts of programs (p. 79).

Cable Visions: Television Beyond Broadcasting is a collection of essays that discuss the development of multi-channel pay television services in the United States. …