This week’s readings on TV and Audiences clearly take a sharp opposition to last week’s readings based on TV consumption as passive rather than active fandom that “transforms personal reaction into social interaction, spectator culture into participatory culture” (Jenkins,Poachers, p.473) Henry Jenkins and Ellen Seiter’s (both professors at USC) articles are excellent resources that provide the foundation of audience studies, the use of ethnography in TV studies, and the shift to understanding TV consumption as participatory and active.
Mark Andrejevic’s article, which was published in 2008 rather than the ‘80s or ‘90s and heyday of laying down the groundwork of TV studies, then establishes a lot of what we talk about when we talk about audience studies, or fan studies today in terms of influential, savvy viewer.
Our early talks in class about the kind of TV shows we watched, why we watched them, how we watched them, with who, etc., made me reflect a lot about my relationship with Star Trek re-runs as a kid. Growing up on kids series like Captain Planet during the day and soap operas with my grandparents like Dallas. Later, I was all about the family sitcoms - Full House, Family Matters, and kid-dominated stuff like Clarissa Explains it All and the TGIF set. Now I long for ABC’s Shondaland TGIT and the cultural capital of HBO and Showtime, and AMC, programming that suggests the culture capital Seiter discusses. The cultural capital component rings especially true now when we think about “prestige” “narrowcasting” niche programming like The Sopranos and Mad Men and the onset of programming that came after, geared towards a college educated, upper middle class, TV viewing audience over the broader appeal of network TV.
But most of all, I thought about why I didn’t enjoy Star Trek as a child and why it still doesn’t appeal to me now. While sci-fi and action movies or TV programming have never been my cup of tea, I can sit through anything with an appealing storyline - that’s why I loved watching the funny, self-referential nature of Kingsman. Also, I think the True Crime genre prevalent in TV with Fargo, True Detective, The Bridge, parts of The Affair, and so many more prove this kind of programming a powerhouse, along with the popularity of cop shows as serialized like The Wire, from Hill Street Blues before it, and the decline of the more episodic Law and Order sets, although like many other women of my age, we love marathonic episodes of SVU- but in some ways this is because of the topical nature of each episode, as well as Detective Olivia Benson’s presence. This is despite the lack of character development we get from Benson, in contrast to a serial.
Reading Jenkins' piece again, I realized that a serialized, fan fiction, soap opera-esque version of Star Trek would be much more up my alley. Although Jenkins wrote that male fans of Star Trek dismissed this kind of soap opera-ization of their beloved series is blasphemy,male audiences today are clearly drawn to the long-form serialized genres prevalent in gangster shows like Sopranos and True Crime detective buddy shows turned prestige programming like True Detective.
And I think Andrejevic’s work, that shows the influence of fan communities, previously marginalized into a strange subculture, are becoming valued more and more in the digital era where marketing and creative both want to know what keeps fans watching. This fan response and desire to see more character development could likely contribute to why all TV is becoming more like a soap opera genre rather than en episodic plot structure with contained story lines.
Twitter is obviously one of the new frontiers in terms of fan responses to TV programming, best seen through Shonda Rhimes’ live tweeting of Scandal and now the #TGIT brand that ABC caught on after realizing the potential of social media and appointment TV. This is also evident in the Twitter Nielsen ratings. And unlike message boards, Twitter is right there in the open to anyone, rather than a subculture again. Being a fan of a media work is no longer marginalized, but in the mainstream. Producers of these series also become more participatory, engaged with and influenced by pervasive fan and critic responses.
I wonder what some of you as TV writers think of this shift - since I would imagine most TV writers initially identified as fans themselves, and their writing followed a similar path as what Jenkins' highlights from reading to writing. I've previously thought about how a spec script, in some ways, can function as a form of fan writing, although you can't go outside as much outside of the boundaries of what the TV show is like, so then perhaps that leads to what the TV writer and TV fan wants to see out of the next series.