Fall 2012: T/Th 12:00-1:20pm

Location: Wieboldt Hall 408

Instructor: Patrick Jagoda (

Office Hours: Tuesday 1:30-3:30pm or by appointment (Walker 504)

TA: Jose Arellano (

This course serves as an introduction to the field of Television Studies in an American context. Of particular interest will be the era between the commercialization of television in the United States (in the early 1950s) and the rise of web television via services such as Hulu (in the 2000s). As we will see, the history of television in these years intersects with numerous other media, including radio, cinema, the novel, and even videogames.

Alongside a study of American television through media studies and culture studies approaches, we will attend carefully to the various forms of dramatic TV narrative — the stand-alone episode, the miniseries, the long serial arc, and the web television series. In the latter half of the class, we will focus our attention on the complex long form televisual dramas that attained maturity in the 1990s and made possible the recent renaissance of television narrative characterized by such serial programs as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men.

The course combines historical and theoretical texts with close readings of television shows. Requirements include engaged participation in class discussion, a special topic presentation (in pairs), several blog entries, a midterm paper, and a final research paper (along with an abstract and presentation). There will be no additional exams.


The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood (David Simon and Ed Burns)

Television: Technology and Cultural Form (Raymond Williams)

The Corner (HBO miniseries)

The Wire Season 1 (HBO)

The Twilight Zone (“What’s in the Box” episode) and other select episodes

– Books are available at the seminary co-op. All other readings are available online or on Chalk.

+ COURSE SCHEDULE (Subject to Revision)

Week 1: Introduction to Television and Media Studies

2 October: Course Intro and discuss “Television and the Public Interest” (Newton Minnow, online) & “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” (David Foster Wallace, p. 151-194)

4 October: “Addressing Media” (W.J.T. Mitchell in What do Pictures Want, p. 201-21) and “Why Television?” (Jason Mittell, p. 1-14)

Week 2: Early American Television Contexts

9 October: The Twilight Zone (“What’s in the Box” episode), “Women’s Work” (Lynn Spigel, p. 73-93), & “Static and Stasis” (Jeffrey Sconce, Haunted Media, p.124-66)

Presentation Topic: Pre-1950 Television

11 October: “Feeding Off the Past: The Evolution of the Television Rerun” (Phil Williams, Television: The Critical View, p. 52-72) and Law and Order Rerun Watching Exercise

Presentation Topic 1: Broadcasting: Technology and History

Presentation Topic 2: Television in the 1960s

Week 3: Television as Cultural Form

16 October: “The Triumph of the Prime-Time Novel” (Charles McGrath) and Television; technology and cultural form (Raymond Williams, Chapters 1 and 3, p. 1-25 & 39-76)

Presentation Topic: Television in the 1970s (Mikki Kressbach)

18 October: Hill Street Blues episode (pilot) and “From Beats to Arcs: Toward a Poetics of Television Narrative” (Michael Z. Newman, p. 16-28)

Presentation Topic: Television in the 1980s

Week 4: Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television

23 October: “Excessive Style: The Crisis of Network Television” (John Thornton Caldwell, p. 3-31) and “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television” (Jason Mittell, p. 29-40)

Presentation Topic: History of the “Soap Opera”

24 October: *** Screening (7pm, Cobb 425): The Sopranos (pilot) and Six Feet Under (pilot)

25 October: “Producing an Aristocracy of Culture in American Television” (Christopher Anderson, The Essential HBO Reader, p. 23-41), The Sopranos (pilot) and Six Feet Under (pilot)

Presentation Topic: The episode form and episodic television

Week 5: Television Adaptation and the Miniseries: The Corner

30 October: David Simon & Edward Burns, The Corner (Winter, p. 1-182)

Presentation Topic: The miniseries on television (and in other media)

1 November: The Corner miniseries (episodes 1-6)

2 November: ***5+ Page Midterm Paper due***

Week 6-8: Long Arc American Serial Television: The Wire, 24, and Homeland

6 November: The Wire Season 1 (episodes 1-3), “The Wire” (Brian G. Rose from Gary Edgerton, The Essential HBO Reader, p. 82-91), and “Bingeing on Box-Sets: The national and the digital in television crime drama” (Charlotte Brunsdon, Relocating Television: Television in the Digital Context, p. 63-75)

Presentation Topic: DVD distribution formats of television series

8 November: The Wire Season 1 (episodes 4-6) and “Ethnographic Imaginary: The Genesis and Genius of The Wire” (Linda Williams, Critical Inquiry, p. 208-226)

Presentation Topic: History of the “police procedural”

9 November: *** Final Research Paper Abstract due***

13 November: The Wire Season 1 (episodes 7-9) and “All in the Game: The Wire, Serial Storytelling and Procedural Logic” (Jason Mittell)

Presentation Topic: Television audience and reception studies

15 November (Session Taught by Jose Arellano): The Wire Season 1 (episodes 10-13) and “Wired” (Patrick Jagoda, Critical Inquiry, p. 189-199)

19 November: *** Screening (7pm, Cobb 425): 24 and Homeland episodes

20 November: 24 Season 5 (episodes 3 & 4), Homeland Season 1 (episode 1), and “24/7, 16.8: Is 24 a Political Show?” (Alexander Galloway, p. 18-22).


Week 9: Web Television and New Media

27 November: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (web television series)

Presentation Topic: Web-based distribution formats and the webisode

29 November: “Introduction” to The Television Will Be Revolutionized (Amanda D. Lotz, p. 1-26, Regenstein electronic resource) and “Television and Digital Media” (Lynn Spigel and Max Dawson in American Thought and Culture in the Twenty First Century, p. 275-286)

Presentation Topic: Participatory television viewing

Week 10: Final Paper Presentations

December 4: Final Research Paper In-class Presentation and Critique

December 6: Final Research Paper In-class Presentation and Critique

Week 11: Research Paper Completion

13 December: *** Final Research Paper due***


Timely Arrival: We only meet a handful of times so make the most of each seminar/workshop session. Arrive on time!

Preparation: Do the reading and take the activities seriously. Meaningful discussion depends on your engagement with our core texts and artworks. All readings and viewings are to be completed for the date on which they are listed.

Annotations and Notes: Bring your notes and annotated readings to class. Just because we’re discussing television shows, in some cases, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jot down ideas that will strengthen your participation in our group exchange. These notes may also serve as the starting point for your blog posts, midterm essay, and the final research paper.

Screenings: Screenings and participation are mandatory. If you absolutely can’t attend one of the events, you must pre-approve this absence and play the game prior to our class discussion.

Questions and Office Hours: Always feel free to ask questions either in class or during office hours. A seminar can’t succeed without open discussion and curiosity!

Plagiarism: As the Office of the Vice President and Dean of Students notes, “It is contrary to ethics, to academic integrity, and to the spirit of intellectual inquiry to submit the statements, ideas, or work of others as one’s own. Such conduct is punishable under the University’s disciplinary system.” If you have any doubts about whether something constitutes plagiarism, you should contact me in advance of turning in work with plagiarized content. The penalty for plagiarism might include failure of this course.


– All writing should be typed in 12-point font, double-spaced, and include page numbers.

– For all writing, include a heading on the first page with your name, course title, and due date.

– All writing should have an original title that entices the reader.

– All assignments that you expect me to read should be edited and proofread for spelling and sentence-level errors. Start your writing process early enough to allow revision.

– Sources should be cited using a consistent citation method. Look online for basic guidelines for accepted formats (MLA, Chicago, etc.). You can also turn to the University of Chicago library citation guide or citation managers such as WorldCat.

– All papers that cite articles, books, or other texts (even if they are covered in class) should include a Works Cited or Bibliography page (that does not count toward the page total).


– Preparation, Discussion, and Screenings: 15%

– Short Presentations on TV Studies Topic (In pairs): 10%

– Blog Posts (Entries and Responses): 15%

– Midterm Paper (5 pages): 20%

– Final Research Paper: Including Abstract (300-400 words), Presentation (5 minutes), and Essay (10-15 pages): 40%


+ Short Presentations on TV Studies Topic (In Pairs)

Given the short duration of the quarter, we will not have time to consider a number of major historical, technological, cultural, and formal issues at the heart of television studies. In order to incorporate some overviews of these topics, you will give short presentations, in pairs, about a number of predetermined topic areas, such as Television in the 1960s, History of the Soap Opera, and Web-Based TV Distribution Formats (see course schedule for more). You may take any path through these broad topic areas. But you have only 5 minutes, so you’ll have to be organized and disciplined about your presentation. These presentations will generally take place at the very start of class. Given the short duration, this overview should orient the class to your area with a handful of appropriate examples, dates, and concepts. Even as the presentation is short, you will be expected to do some minimal research that exceeds what one might find in the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

+ Blog Posts (Entries and Responses)

Over the course of the quarter, you will contribute to a class blog through original posts and responses to your peers. These posts are intended to influence and extend the conversations we have during our shared meetings. You are required to post at least 5 entries over the course of the quarter. Each entry should respond to that week’s readings or viewings, expand substantively on an ongoing topic of class discussion (without simply reproducing or documenting an exchange), or call our attention to articles or media about related phenomena. The 5 minimum entries can be posted anytime over the course of the quarter but you may post no more than one post a week for credit (so plan ahead!). Each post must also comment on a topic from the week in which it is posted (so you can’t, for instance, return to a topic from Week 2 on Week 9 unless it is in some way related to a current discussion). While the content of these entries can be wide-ranging and less formal than your essays, you should observe formal citation standards and be mindful of your prose. You are also required to read posts by your classmates and respond briefly to at least one entry per week.

+ Midterm Paper (5 pages)

For your midterm paper, you’ll perform an extended 5-page close reading of a television episode or series that we explore in class. Given the timing of the midterm, your options, at that point, include episodes of The Twilight Zone, Law and Order, Hill Street Blues, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and The Corner. I will not provide you with essay prompts, so part of the challenge will be finding a compelling topic that yields interesting implications — the question “So what?” should be perpetually in your thoughts when you engage in a close reading. Keep in mind that writing persuasively about a television show requires a specific vocabulary and analytic practices proper to that medium. A television show is not identical, after all, to a novel or a film or a videogame. In your analysis, you should attend not only to plot or character development, but also to formal features such as shot distance, lighting, costume, mise-en-scène, cut types, sound effects, televisual form, historical or technological concerns, and other medium-specific elements. While no external research is required for this paper, some of you might find it useful to engage with critical theories and methods such as historicism, feminism, critical race theory, Marxist literary criticism, new media theory, etc. in developing your implications.

+ Final Research Paper, Abstract, and Presentation

Your 10-15 page final paper can be related to any aspect of Television Studies that has some connection to the material covered in the course. For this assignment, you will work up to your final essay through an abstract (due November 9) and a presentation (on December 4 or 6). The paper itself should make an argument, support it through analysis, and elaborate on the implications (your “So what?”). Additionally, as this is a research paper, I will expect you to cite at least five external sources (you may of course include additional sources and/or sources covered in our shared discussions but there must be at least five external texts in the mix). In addition to books and articles, I also recommend that you explore the Paley Archive of television as you brainstorm possible topics. You may also contact the library’s Cinema and Media Studies specialist, Nancy Spiegel (, for additional assistance.

Final Paper Abstract (300-400 words)

About a month before the final essay is due, you will turn in a brief abstract. You can adjust your topic during the research process, but it’s useful to have a starting point — a working fiction, if you will — well in advance of the deadline. The abstract should succinctly state your argument, name your key televisual work or object of analysis, explain the way you’re positioning your intervention in the broader scholarly field, and demonstrate why a reader would care about the argument that you’re making. The abstract should also comment upon the type of research that will be necessary to complete your work in the final month of the quarter. If you wish to include a bibliography (which is recommended but not required), it will not be included in the word count. Your abstracts will be posted on the course site, so you should take this assignment seriously.

Final Paper Presentation (5 minutes)

About a week before the final research paper is due, you’ll have a chance to present your topic in class. You should present your argument and its implications in a clear and persuasive manner. You should also prepare the presentation, in advance, so that it fits within the allotted 5-minute slot while covering your key points. Visual aids (from powerpoints to images to videos) will certainly strengthen your presentation. The primary purpose of the assignment is to share your work with your peers and to receive feedback that will help you with your revisions.

2 Responses to “Syllabus”

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  1. 5 Questions: Dr. Patrick Jagoda (UChicago), Donald D. Harrington Faculty Fellow in American Studies « AMS :: ATX - March 17, 2014

    […] of Chicago such as “Virtual Worlds,” “Critical Game Studies,” “New Media Theory,” and “American Television.” I would also include a PhD seminar that I co-taught with visiting professor Eivind Rossaak entitled […]

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