In our discussion in class, Keegan, Brandon, and I approached the question of what television is a slightly different fashion. Though most potential definitions are based in either narrative (episodes, time lengths, etc.), commercial (produced by networks), or structural (the actual television set) distinctions, it’s possible to think of television as a medium that is primarily concerned with distribution. Consider that none of the narrative conventions we perceive in television as far as episodic structure, time constraints, or seriality are actually inherent to the medium – most of them are arbitrary manifestations of commercial concerns. That’s not something you really see in most media. There are some commercial influences on what makes up, say, a novel (printing, serial publication), but those are ultimately secondary to what a novel actually is and how it conveys information and narrative – in this case, a prose story of a certain length.
Television seems, from a pure content perspective, to be roughly identical to film – both are comprehensive, visual forms of storytelling. But in addition to what are ultimately arbitrary continuing narrative constraints, television’s uniqueness seems derived from the way it brings that content to the viewer. Films are produced and meant to be seen in theaters, in a single setting. People still go to the movies. Television, on the other hand, has always been primarily concerned with getting you entertainment right in your home, and making the process of that entertainment as comfortable as possible. That’s a unifying factor in the periods Lotz identifies as the distinct eras in the history of television: as it becomes easier to broadcast directly into the homes (and pockets) of viewers, television changes accordingly (literally from broadcast networks to the Internet).
So though it obviously wouldn’t be a be-all end-all definition of television, you could take as a starting definition “visual entertainment meant to be transmitted directly into the home,” with all other narrative conventions defining subgenres of television. That would, at the least, allow for some interesting conversation if direct transmission (and likely some other notion of comfort) became primary in the close readings of television shows we’ve done over the course of class. What does the fact that The Sopranos or Six Feet Under are meant to be viewed in-house (possibly on a family set) say about the show’s focus on different sorts of American families? Does the likelihood that viewers are either watching Homeland from the privacy of their own home or on a laptop containing a hybrid of their work and personal lives change or enhance the show’s thematic focus on privacy and public/private spaces in the post-9/11 (Internet) age?