Sunday, January 16, 2011

Newcomb - TV: The Most Popular Art

Newcomb, Horace. TV: The Most Popular Art. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1974.

As the title suggests, this is an early attempt to apply a critical lens to television as an art, rather than merely dismiss it as low because it is popular. I don't think he uses the term, but Newcomb breaks television down, chapter by chapter, into genres.

Genres (with chapter noted)
2 - Situation Comedy - A group of characters, usually a family, is placed in some zany set of circumstances. Each week the star of the show navigates a problem to solution. Ex. The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched
2 - Domestic Comedy - Built more specifically around a family, with a more heartfelt conclusion. Less slapstick, less hysterics, deeper character, a touch more seriousness. Ex. Father Knows Best, My Three Sons
3 - Westerns - Similar to its film and radio predecessors, but Newcomb argues television has come to make the Western into a lens to view contemporary culture, thus complicating the code of the West. (82) Ex. Gunsmoke, Bonanza
4 - Mysteries - The tension of the mystery drives a story that presents a united pattern of contemporary values enforced by the policeman or the detective. Ex. Dragnet, Police Story
5 - Professional Shows (Medical and Law) - Centered on a series star, these shows deal with human issues as they solve medical or legal problems. Ex. Marcus Welby MD, Perry Mason
6 - Adventure Shows - A character or set of characters (loners in the U.S. and explorers in space) confront a complication, extricating themselves by the end of the episode. Note that these series tantalize the audience with continuity (although they fall well short of current shows!). Ex. The Fugitive, Star Trek, Route 66.
7 - Soap Opera - Newcomb is especially defensive of this oft-maligned genre. He discusses how the flimsy sets are actually part of the genre's feel. He also emphasizes their serialization as allowing them to be the most realistic of any genre.
8 - News/Sports/Documentary - Present reality, but in a way that is more similar to fictional shows than might be expected because these shows emphasize the star - newscaster, sportshero, etc.
9 - The New Shows - Newcomb partly forsees but could not possibly fully predict the changes television would undergo in the next decade. He notes the serialization of primetime dramas, and the social consciousness of Norman Lear's shows. He does not, however, envision the great blending of genres that would come far into the future.

Also Note
Chapter 1 is a decent historiographical essay of "Responses to Television" from its early history to the early 1970s.

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