The Curious Breed of the Television Tie-In

By Shenton, Andrew K.; Hay-Gibson, Naomi V. | School Librarian, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Curious Breed of the Television Tie-In

Shenton, Andrew K., Hay-Gibson, Naomi V., School Librarian

Browse through any book dealing with the genres of literature written for children and young people and you are likely to find coverage of such categories as adventure, animal, domestic drama, historical, humour, mystery, fantasy, science fiction and 'rites of passage' stories. However, one literary type frequently goes unrecognised in these volumes--the television tie-in. A key problem with the traditional genre classification used by many commentators when discussing literature for youngsters is that television tie-in books as a body cannot be equated with a single theme or subject. On the contrary, although they are perhaps most associated with science fiction, they actually transcend genre and are not even limited to fiction. Factual books devoted to television programmes are also often billed as 'tie-ins' by their publishers.

Consensus as to the sorts of books embraced by the television tie-in category is limited and few dictionaries of terms associated with either literature or librarianship include entries that may help a reader seeking clarification. Whilst the expression tends to be applied to books that have emerged in some way from television programmes, often as either book adaptations (or 'novelisations') of broadcast episodes or new fiction featuring the same characters and locations as those seen on screen, some of the studies of children's literature that cover tie-ins deal exclusively with novels which have been reworked for television. Thus tie-ins may be regarded as books that either stimulate television productions or result from them. Where works of the former type are reprinted after the transmission of the adaptation, often with the addition of a photographic cover showing stills from the televised version, this may lead to an anomaly--the reprinted work may be designated by its publisher as a 'television tie-in, whilst a previous edition, although probably identical in content, will not be represented in this way. Any bookseller or librarian relying on labelling by the publisher to categorise the work may thus treat different editions of it in differing ways, although, in practice, many libraries do not allocate a separate section of the collection to television tie-ins.

Television tie-ins have always struggled to gain critical acceptability from a literary standpoint. They are typically dismissed as derivative spin-offs that amount to no more than another form of branded merchandise, with publishers and authors seizing the opportunity to make easy money, and programme makers taking advantage of the chance to extend their reach beyond the original medium into print. Yet, research dating back as far as the 1970s has demonstrated the importance of the television tie-in in inspiring reading among young people, especially those of low ability or from a poor socio-economic group. Furthermore, studies at various times have shown considerable levels of popularity of the television tie-in among youngsters generally. Books of this type frequently either make up a considerable proportion of the participants' favourite titles or constitute the preferred form of fiction among many of the youngsters sampled. In view of the derision which stems from the apparently 'exploitationist' mentality of those responsible for television tie-ins, it is ironic that bookshops and libraries--both school and public--have themselves been prone to make use of the appeal of tie-ins in order to entice youngsters through their doors and then browse, borrow or buy. Librarians interviewed by Naomi have conceded that television tie-ins are generally of limited literary value. Indeed, one of them herself subscribed to the popular view that such books constitute little more than an exercise in 'money-grabbing' but, noting their popularity, asked rhetorically, 'If that's what people want, why not give it to them?'

Not only do commentators on children's literature tend to ignore television tie-ins as a phenomenon but also, when discussing significant individual works of juvenile fiction, they seldom highlight any books within the television tie-in category. …

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