Archive by Author

Personal Experience with a Web Series

27 Nov

So a friend of mine became involved in a web series project this fall. The collaboration was spearheaded by a guy who had an idea for a TV show. Rather than go about producing it the traditional way — write a pilot, find a director, find some money, film a pilot, hope it gets picked up — this guy bought a bunch of air time around 1 AM on ABC Family. This is the kind of time that is generally bought by infomercials and evangelicals. But this guy thought that if he could put his show on at this time, and get a cult following, then maybe the network would pick it up for real. They started filming.

The show underwent many changes over the next few months. It went from scripted to loosely scripted to unscripted. Several crew members quit. There was an incident in which no one was paid, and then there was a threat to pull funding, and it was all documented on the internet and in some major print publications.

But finally the show wrapped it’s 12 or so episodes and the creator sent off the footage he edited to ABC Family. ABC Family issued him a refund and stated that the show was rejected “because it did not meet our standards for programming for time buy purchases.” That’s basically like, saying this show was not good enough to be a late-night infomercial, which is really saying something.

So they released it as a web series. And now, according to the creator, it’s one of the top web series on (100 points if you guess what show I’m talking about, 1000 if you guess which actress I know) — so why was it not good enough for ABC, but WAAAY good for the internet?

In my opinion the ease of access has encouraged users on YouTube, Vimeo, etc to get pretty lazy. On the show I’m talking about, there are often out of focus scenes, bad camera angles, discontinuities. There is sound distortion. The sets lack detail. It is clear they are filming in one apartment but the narrative and a couch switch claim it to be two separate places. The same kinds of technical issues and lack of detailed work are found on many web series I have seen. They get away with using one camera in a fixed location (Lizzie Bennet Diaries) or flat out exploit low-quality cinematic choices (Between Two Ferns). These programs would likely NEVER succeed on a major network (with the possible exception of Between Two Ferns because it’s like… Zach Galiflanakis). Maybe they’d find homes on niche cable channels (like IFC or something, where the low-quality “choice” might be seen as “ironic”) but for the most part, real TV is way better than the web series. I think web videos are fun and easy to make, and with immediate feedback options? It’s so alluring. Your average joe on YouTube doesn’t really care if the jump cuts are awkward or the tripod is tilted. It has become part of the “genre” of web tv that it is a little (often very) shoddy.

I’m not amused and while I’m not saying I WON’T ever make or watch a web series, I sincerely hope their quality improves. Who would be entertained by or even be able to follow a complex show like 24 or The Wire if it were filmed in one room in someone’s clearly fake house that was out of focus and hard to hear?

No Business like TV Musicals (Trying to Post This To The Abstract Page Sorry if I’m Doing It Wrong!!!)

27 Nov



I would like to explore the role of musical episodes in series television. My primary argument regarding the form will be that the musical episode functions as a reflexive tool, aimed at drawing the audience’s attention to the narrative structure, rather than progressing the narrative arch of the season or series as a whole. The musical episode is also more focused on revealing elements of character, and being performative or “spectacular” for the viewer. The form is very audience-aware, and generally more self-contained than other episodes within a season or series.


Specifically, I will look at three musical episodes from various television series. Right now I expect to do closing readings from the musical episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 6), Oz (Season 5, episode 3), and Ally McBeal (Season 3). These three shows have divergent narrative structures already, so they will function well as separate examples of how the musical form of plot structure affects the storytelling. I will also look to the show Glee as a contrasting model of a show who’s entire structure is built around musical numbers that oppose my theory by using music to progressing the plot over numerous episodes.


The musical episode of a television show relates to my broader study of the musical’s transition from stage to screen. My paper will be in dialogue with Caldwell’s chapter Excessive Style and Mittel’s Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television. I also plan to briefly touch on movie musicals, and the task of creating a spectacle with the power of a live musical on the screen, through the lens of movie musicals Chicago and the 1982 movie version of Annie. A study of how changing the form of the narrative while keeping the characters, context, and plot constant will contribute greatly to an understanding of the importance of storytelling form in television.


The reader of my paper will be better capable of discussing style and narrative form as factors that influence the overall effect of any given show. The paper will give rise to questions about the role of spectacle in television, and the divergent paths of live theatre and other, non-live media. Most importantly, my paper will encourage its reader to refrain from a viewing of the musical episodes as gimmicks and look at them as explorations into alternative storytelling and character-building strategies.


For the rest of the quarter, I will do close readings of the musical episodes I mentioned before, as well as re-read the Mittel and Caldwell chapters. I also will begin to draw parallels between the three episodes, and hopefully obtain information about the producers or writers decisions to create musical episodes. Ideally, I would also obtain the scripts and scores for the musical episodes, although these are pretty hard to find.




Guy Gets His “Nielsen TV Family” Package

20 Nov

This one of the videos Alessio and I mentioned in our presentation last week. It embodies the strange culture and pride surrounding the people who get to decide what stays and what goes on network television. I’m a little spooked.

Binge-ing on the Pain of Others

5 Nov


The idea of something being “unbearable to watch” and “unbearable to stop watching” made me think of Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others. Sontag talks about how we are becoming a “society of spectacle”, evident in things as common as slowing down to get a good look at the gore in a car accident, or switching on the evening news. Charlotte Brunsdon channels her inner Sontagian when she talks about binge-watching The Wire, and how it can be “a relief to stop viewing” – if you can. Brunsdon talks about the role of the wire dramatizing the viewer. If the viewer becomes fully engaged in the show, he or she is struggling along with the police, trying to understand the vernacular and coded messages being picked up. The viewer becomes Sontag’s “spectator” — to some media/psycho analysts, the “voyeur” — with the television acting as Sontag’s necessary distance between the spectator and the object. Sontag wonders if watching images of pain and violence act to numb the spectator to their true effect. If the spectator is far enough away from the spectacle, the spectacle is no longer tangible, both physically and emotionally. In binge-watching, the viewer consumes an enormous about of information, and in The Wire, a good deal of suffering. Somehow, the experience of binge-watching draws the viewer both closer and further away from the material being presented. Both Sontag and Brunsdon wonder if it is possible to stop watching or change the channel, and Sontag wonders what the effect of this might be – with strong leanings towards over-saturation leading to apathy.

 Here’s a link to Sontag’s book, which I think is definitely good to read along with the Brunsdon this week. It’s lengthy, so if you just want a taste, I particularly like chapters 1 (a good overview), 6 (lots of gore here), and definitely 7 where she actually talks about television’s ability to drain images of their force due to sheer frequency of their being seen.

Jersey Theory

24 Oct


From the beginning of Caldwell’s chapter, “Excessive Style: The Crisis of Network Television” I was thinking about Hamlet. In act 3.2, Hamlet encourages his actors to hold up a mirror to nature with their art. So whenever someone (Caldwell) accuses an art of being tasteless, trashy, whatever negative evaluation you can come up with, I tend to think of what that reflects about us. I think that to see what is in the TV/mirror (“combination female mud-wrestling act-heavy-metal rock concert game-show with some comedy bits thrown in”, for example) as a perfect reflection is an ineffectual way of viewing. On page 20, Caldwell says that paradigms can “compete, contract, and co-exist”. With this in mind we could see “trash TV” as a dramatic response to inaccuracies reflected by highly stylized prime time TV, a rejection of too much cultural “air brushing” brought about by TV that perfects an image of an educated, beautiful society.

Caldwell opens with an example of two trashy programs being juxtaposed, but look at the juxtaposition of a show like Jersey Shore competing for viewers with Big Bang Theory. First, it should be acknowledged that Jersey Shore is on a cable channel whereas Big Bang Theory plays on CBS, so there is some disparity in viewership based solely on access. It is also important to note that Big Bang Theory and Jersey Shore vary generically — sit-com versus reality TV, respectively. It is still worthwhile to compare the different images of society reflected by each program, and what motivates the distorted image of our society projected by each.

In Big Bang Theory, we see a group of pretty nerdy dudes that somehow through their endearing quirky-ness and genius antics attract a hot girl to sometimes hang out in their apartment. The “nerds” are stylized — none are actually that unattractive. They are funny nerds, they project the typical nerdy tropes but win us over with their endearing quirky-ness. Also, no one on the show is obese, or even overweight. Any one of these dudes could slap on a suit and rock the red carpet. And the hot chick is of course, a blonde hot chick.

Then we flip the channel over the Jersey Shore. Bam. Fat people. Crazy hair, crazy make-up, f-you attitudes abound. There is no awareness of audience, no pandering. The plot of Jersey Shore consists almost entirely of night after night of partying, and interrupted by brief observations interjected from cast members, confessional-style. No one is super pretty, or super witty. They make mistakes that aren’t resolved in 30 minutes (or a whole season). They get arrested, and do things that are (to some) irredeemable. Jersey Shore emphasizes the kind of “live-ness” referenced by Caldwell on page 29. While it is not being broadcast live, it embodies the same experience. The unscripted reality creates an electric excitement from knowing that these characters are not  “photo-shopped” — this is really how they are, how they exist, look, interact. This concept of “raw-ness” prevails in reality television as a genre and could be seen as a cultural desire for more live action, perhaps a need that used to be satisfied by live theatrical performances (this should be another blog post).

Unlike Big Bang Theory, where we see people who fundamentally want us to like them, on Jersey Shore we see an insular group who seem by their actions to be nearly unaware that their may be a shocked/disapproving/enthralled audience observing their actions. The image of our society put out by Jersey Shore is vastly different from the image reflected by Big Bang Theory, yet there is overlap in the demographics they attract (age 12-34). They both do well within that demographic.

What does this tell us? Sure, Big Bang Theory isn’t Breaking Bad – which is to say, if we did this comparison with a drama, some kind of Prime Time, auteur-ey show, this would be a totally different post. What I’m interested in is the image of society that these two shows give us. One, that we are redeeming and attractive and smart (or maybe redeeming and attractive despite our smarts). The other, that we are trashy alcoholic animals. Maybe we to see both distortions in order to find a truthful middle ground, a true reflection.