Meanings of the Medium: Perspectives on the Art of Television

By Katherine Usher Henderson; Joseph Anthony Mazzeo | Go to book overview

5
Ariosto and Bochco: Polyphonic Plotting in Orlando Furioso, Hill Street Blues, and L. A. Law

James V. Mirollo

In Channels of Discourse, the recent anthology of contemporary criticism and television edited by Robert C. Allen ( 1987), an excellent essay by Sarah Ruth Kozloff on Narrative Theory applies some of the insights of contemporary narratology to television narration. 1 One of the latter's most common traits, she concludes, is "multiple storylines intertwined in complex patterns and frequently interconnecting." If one were to change "and frequently interconnecting" to "not necessarily or at most infrequently connecting," a literary historian would recognize in Kozloff s common narrative trait the particular kind of multiple storytelling that I refer to as polyphonic plotting, also known as entrelacement, or intrecciatura. 2 As the French and Italian terms suggest, polyphonic narrative technique involves interlacing, interweaving, or braiding of narrative episodes -- what television critics, borrowing as they often do and must from the vocabulary of film criticism, call "multiple story lines" or "cutting from one story line to another."

As Kozloff admits, a historical overview of narrative form, such as can be found in Scholes and Kellogg The Nature of Narrative ( 1966) is "an important antidote to ahistorical theorizing." The relentlessly synchronic approach of recent narrative theory would also benefit from awareness of antecedent theory and practice, especially when the phenomenon under consideration, here multiple plots, has a rich history. On the principle that what once pleased will please again, it should not surprise us that polyphonic plotting has contributed crucially to the success on television of both daytime soaps and prime time series or serials like Hill Street Blues and L. A. Law, both produced by Steven Bochco in collaboration with Michael Kozoll and Terry Louise Fisher. Nor should we be surprised that this kind of storytelling, then and now, has aroused and continues

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