Critical Ideas in Television Studies

By John Corner | Go to book overview
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4
Talk

TALK of various kinds is, of course, an element of most television. It is not surprising that it extensively drew on, and has since variously shadowed, developments in radio. Although its many distinctive capacities for producing and combining images constitute television's most direct way of engaging, and appealing to, audiences it is through speech that television addresses its viewers and holds them in particular relations both to specific programmes and to channel and station identities. Talk thus generates the socio-communicative sphere within which televisions images operate. Quite quickly in the development of British radio in the 1920s (see Scannell and Cardiff 1991), a range of informal, familial registers for presentation existed alongside the more distanced, official phrasings and tones which had, in part, derived from the pre-radio traditions of public speaking. Sir John Reith, the BBC's first Director-General, had been enthusiastic about the maintenance, albeit through adaptation, of earlier styles of spoken address and the kinds of authority, deference, and forms of politeness which they reproduced. But the generic range of radio entertainment immediately required presentational forms which extended beyond the scope of earlier public talk. The novel element of addressing individual listeners, or very small groups of them, in their own homes clearly suggested the need for new rhetorical conventions too. Radio required a different performance from speakers--earlier skills of the theatre, the public platform, the classroom, etc., might be useful but a direct application was rarely possible. In the development of American radio services, a more colloquial approach was, from the start, the consequence of commercially financed services and the need to treat the listener as a potential customer as well as (and sometimes rather than) a citizen within a national, political, and cultural collectivity.

In addition to the forms of direct speech, addressed to the listener, radio pioneered indirect uses of speech too, quite apart from the emergence of a dramatic dialogue distinctive to the medium. Of these forms, the live or recorded interview, an indirect form which is really only a direct form pretending not to be, has become a staple broadcast speech convention. It is no exaggeration to say that the broadcast interview, particularly the television interview, is now one of the most widely used and extensively developed formats for public communication in the world. When the conventions of sound broadcasting were incorporated into a medium which allowed a fuller projection of personality, of meaning and feeling (through facial expression and gesture), and often of context too, the social relations of the interview became defining not just for contemporary broadcasting but for contemporary culture and politics.

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