How to Watch Television

How to Watch Television

How to Watch Television

How to Watch Television


We all have opinions about the television shows we watch, but television criticism is about much more than simply evaluating the merits of a particular show and deeming it 'good' or 'bad.' Rather, criticism uses the close examination of a television program to explore that program's cultural significance, creative strategies, and its place in a broader social context.

How to Watch Television brings together forty original essays from today's leading scholars on television culture, writing about the programs they care (and think) the most about. Each essay focuses on a particular television show, demonstrating one way to read the program and, through it, our media culture. The essays model how to practice media criticism in accessible language, providing critical insights through analysis- suggesting a way of looking at TV that students and interested viewers might emulate. The contributors discuss a wide range of television programs past and present, covering many formats and genres, spanning fiction and non-fiction, broadcast and cable, providing a broad representation of the programs that are likely to be covered in a media studies course. While the book primarily focuses on American television, important programs with international origins and transnational circulation are also covered.

Addressing television series from the medium's earliest days to contemporary online transformations of television, How to Watch Television is designed to engender classroom discussion among television critics of all backgrounds.


Imagine that you just purchased a brand new television, and inside the box, along with the remote, the Styrofoam packaging, and various cables, was this book: How to Watch Television. Would you bother to open the cellophane wrapper and read it? Sure, you might scan through the “quick start” guide for help with the connections, and the new remote control may take some getting used to, but who needs instructions for how to watch what’s on screen? Do-it-yourself manuals abound for virtually every topic, but TV content is overwhelmingly regarded as self-explanatory, as most people assume that we all just know how to watch television. We disagree. Thus, this is your owner’s manual for how to watch TV.

First, a word of warning: this particular manual is not designed to tell you what to watch or not watch. Nor does it speak with a singular voice or seek to produce a consensus about what is “good” and what is “bad” on all those channels. In other words, the forty writers who contribute critical essays don’t all agree on how to watch television. Despite the hundreds of years of cumulative TV-watching and dozens of advanced degrees among them, you can rest assured that, in many cases, they would disagree vehemently about the merits of one TV show versus another. This collection draws upon the insight of so many different people because there are so many different ways to watch TV and so much TV to watch. To be sure, the writers of many of these essays might “like” or “dislike” the programs they write about—sometimes passionately so. But we are all concerned more with thinking critically about television than with proclaiming its artistic or moral merits (or lack thereof). This book collects a variety of essays and presents them as different ways of watching, methods for looking at or making sense of television, not just issuing broad value judgments. This is what good criticism does—it applies a model of thinking to a text in order to expand our understanding and experience of it. In our book, those “texts,” a term scholars use to refer to any cultural work, regardless of its medium, are specific television programs. Too often, people assume that the goal of criticism is to judge a creative work as . . .

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