Monthly Archives: June 2011

Comcast/NBC Universal and the Production Theory of Television

By Chelsea Perry

To the untrained eye, television is merely entertainment. At face value, viewers receive a storyline, character development, and plots and audiences get pure enjoyment from what they can clearly see on the screen. Many channel surfers, while watching television, do not take into consideration what it takes to fully put on the production. It does not cross the viewer’s mind that it took a multitude of people from different institutions to create the programs they sit and enjoy each and every day. The production theory of television looks further into the relationships that are cultivated behind the scenes; out of the viewer’s eyesight. The theory explains how the relationships made effect what is being seen on television. Production theory also dissects the balance of control that is given to each tier of power in a production and how that control can set the stage for the content of the show through personal choices, social mores, and contractual obligations.
One valuable example of production theory in the current news is that of the Comcast/NBC Universal merger. The acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast has raised the eyebrows of critics regarding worries of media consolidation in television. Comcast is treading in new production waters because the NBC Universal acquisition from GE goes against many of the current FCC laws forbidding the ownership of companies that span too wide of an audience. Ownership of the media plays a large role in the content and control that the crew, cast, and production companies have over their shows and the NBC/Comcast merger poses a threat to what many see as an already working equation.
To make the merger final, Comcast bought 51% of NBC Universal’s stock from General Electric, which makes it the new parent company (Memmott). Along with owning NBC, Comcast now has control over such entities as MSNBC, Bravo, Syfy, USA Network, and the Weather Channel (Flint). The reach of NBC Universal, and now Comcast, expands well past the realm of television and extends to motion pictures with the ownership of Universal Pictures (Flint). Since the joining of NBC and Universal, NBC Universal also owns Universal Parks in Orlando, Florida. The span of Comcast’s control over the media world has greatly expanded because of the acquisition of NBC Universal and all of its assets.
One of the major aspects of production theory is that of the relationships between crew, cast, networks, and institutions. The relationships that can affect the production can be as simple as the actor’s relationship to the director or as complex as the relationship between a social topic and the cultural mores of an area. The levels of analysis regarding relationships and interactions are defined in three different levels; macro analysis, micro analysis, and mid-range analysis. Each analysis level deals with a different aspect of production but all are easily overlapped into one another. Macro analysis deals with the big-picture. Essentially, macro analysis includes the relationships between networks and company ownerships. Another aspect of macro analysis is that of social culture and mores. When looking at macro analysis, one has to take into account “…particular socio-political, historical and culturally-specific contexts…” that could also affect the content that is being shown on the program (Chandler).  One thing that has to be kept in mind about macro analysis is that changes with the decades because the cultural themes which dominate a decade tend to change throughout time (O’Donnell 46).
Comcast has control of around 25 million cable, Internet, and telephone consumers in America, which makes it one of the largest and most competitive companies in that field (Flint).  NBC is one of the top networks on television. The merger of the two powers follows the path of media consolidation. Media consolidation can be grouped into the macro-level, or institutional level, of production theory. Essentially media consolidation refers to the joining of different mediums of media (BNET). In Comcast/NBC Universal, the two mediums are a cable/Internet provider and a cable network.
The fear associated with media consolidation is that of media bias which is not seen by the American audience. Viewers tend to take whatever is seen on television as mere fact without considering the morals and ethics of the parent company, which affects the content and viewpoints of the show or network. With one of the largest cable companies owning one of the most widely watched cable networks, the worries of favoritism and media bias from the parent company, Comcast, is a very tangible one. The FCC, or Federal Communications Commission, has to consider the media consolidation threat and judge whether it imposes upon the Sherman Anti-Trust Act that was set up by the US Congress in 1890 (Infoplease). The Sherman Anti-Trust Act ensures that no company can form an abusive monopoly over a certain good or service and the merger between to two such powerful companies could pose just such a threat (Infoplease).
Recently in the news, there have been rumors of Comcast acquiring a network called the RightNetwork that would supply very conservative news to viewers (Gavin). Often, this RightNetwork has been referred to as a television station for the newly developed, right wing, political movement called the Tea Party Movement. This rumor started when a “lookbook” from a RightNetwork show provided the names of its partners, Comcast being amongst them (Crooks and Liars). Since the revelation of this ‘lookbook’, it has been pulled down from the RightNetwork site and Comcast has released a statement saying that they are not involved with the RightNetwork and have “no partnership with this venture and have no plans to launch or distribute the network” (Khoury). This example demonstrates, though, how easy it is for big companies, such as Comcast, to get involved in the political arena possibly creating an immediate, behind-the-scenes political bias. A bias in a media company is extremely dangerous because of the widespread reach it has on it’s American, and world, audiences.
Micro analysis deals with the dynamics of a production on a more personal level then macro analysis. Micro analysis generally deals with single roles, like a director or an editor, and what can influence their input on the content of the program. Micro analysis can focus on things such as personal relationships or decisions an individual makes when dealing with things like time restraints and money constrictions; all which undoubtedly affect the outcome of a show. One example is a hypothesis that states that in the micro analysis of newsrooms, the relationships between workers “…are related to a person’s role in a news organization” (Berkowitz and Allen). So not only does micro analysis look at personal relationships between workers, it also observes how similar goals are also a motivating factor in the interactions.
The micro level of production can also be widely affected by the merger of the two companies. NBC Universal no longer is under GE control and has the new parent company of Comcast. Along with the switch in hands of power and control, comes a new set of company ethics and culture that all current employees need to adhere to, both in the creative and business aspect. Every company has a different culture and Comcast’s culture could be very different and distinct from the one GE had. NBC executives are already getting retrained in the ways of their company’s culture because of the change in authoritative power to Comcast. Execs for NBC were already in Philadelphia at one of Comcast’s headquarters learning about their new parent company’s culture (Gross).
With management being trained in a new company culture, the trickle-down affect of power and control could certainly change. Things such as program content could change due to things such as the brand loyalties that Comcast has and also the ethics that the company upholds. This could also affect personal relationships among staff members, which falls under the micro level of production theory. As petty as it sounds, within the bigger picture, the interpersonal relationships between cast and crewmembers, along with their relationships with higher-ups, can drastically change the content and feel of a show. If one section of the work force is unhappy, the workplace aesthetic is jeopardized which, in turn, can alter the substance of the show.
The final tier of production theory is called mid-range analysis. Mid-range analysis observes the structure of shows and how it affects the outcome of the content. Mid-range can look at topics such as programming tactics by networks to brand-loyalty and recognition.  Mid-range deals more with the organizational standards for television and how shows adhere to them. The NBC Universal/Comcast merger will also have a lasting affect on the mid-ranged level of production theory. As stated before, mid-range has to deal with the structure of shows and how it affects the content. Comcast is the new parent company of NBC Universal. Being a cable and Internet provider, Comcast could have an interest in both mediums and how to further interlace the two. Being one of the largest Internet providers, Comcast certainly has an interest in the online world. Having the ability to control the content of the Internet could be one of the largest driving forces behind the merger of the two companies. By owning one of the largest cable networks, with some of the most successful shows like The Office and 30 Rock, Comcast could make the online viewing of those shows a monopolistic market—only making it available to their subscribers.
This concern, of course, brings up the issue of net neutrality. Net neutrality is, essentially, a political argument that broadband providers should be kept separate, and thus unbiased, from their content so that the Internet can remain a public domain (UC Berkeley). In the case of the Comcast/NBC Universal merger, Comcast is the broadband provider and NBC Universal shows are their content. Another worry that deals with net neutrality and the merger is that Comcast could block different video streaming sites other then their own, which features NBC shows, so subscribers to Comcast would be forced to use the Comcast-run website. Another option that Comcast could use is that if their subscribers access an online video streaming site that isn’t run by Comcast, such as Netflix, that subscriber would see a hike in fees (Pergraro). Since Comcast has control over every step in the process of creating NBC Universal content, from the creative aspect to the delivery aspect, Comcast has vertically integrated their product and that supports the idea that Comcast could turn the NBC Universal content into a monopolistic market.
In recent news, Comcast has already entered the net neutrality battle and come out victorious. According to the New York Times, federal courts have ruled that Internet providers, Comcast included, can slow or even limit access to certain websites for their subscribers. Also, the court stated that video sites, such as YouTube, could be given an extra charge by Internet providers. This court’s ruling has set back the FCC in it’s fights to keep the Internet a neutral playing ground for it’s users and worries website hosts. Comcast actually spearheaded this court battle by claiming that it could have control over the speeds of their subscribers Internet to help curb illegal downloading from sites like BitTorrent. Now, because of this ruling, the FCC has to consider how to go about treating net neutrality. One solution, according to the New York Times article, is to reclassify broadband service as a basic utility, thus making it have stricter regulations; much like telephone lines do today. As a result of the court’s ruling in April, many opponents to the NBC Universal/Comcast merger have spoken out claiming that this victory could just further the gap between net neutrality and the Internet of the near future.
Another aspect of production theory is the observation of power roles. Along with delegating control to certain tiers of the production line, power is also given out to certain people and organizations. Power roles deal with how one person or institution negotiates with another to achieve the goal they want for their show. Power roles can come from within a shoot, from director to actor, or from a larger scale, like the FCC to a network. With power roles, there is a love and hate relationship between the levels of television workers and their respective networks because of the two different models they are coming from (O’Donnell 46). Television show creators usually come from the public sphere model, whereas they want to inform and educate the public. While on the flip side, networks have more of a marketplace model in that they are in it for the bottom-line profits.
Production theory, although not widely known about, plays an integral role in understanding the inner-workings of television. Knowing that behind the scenes there are decisions being made by people and institutions that can completely affect the outcome of the show adds a new, complex perspective that most viewers don’t consider. Having a general knowledge of production theory helps a viewer make sense of why certain decisions are made, which may, on face value, have made no sense at all.
One can find this particular theory in use throughout almost all aspects of television. If one looks at a show and investigates the inner-workings with the crew, cast, and companies it is involved with, the topics that production theory deals with are very relevant. The production theory also plays a role in larger institutions and their workings within the industry.
The positive side to this merger is that with the joining of the two companies the programs and information provided could be produced more efficiently and with better quality because of new level of information, funding, and technology that Comcast can bring to NBC Universal. The American public must be aware of the merger and the consequences, though. While the joining of the two companies will undoubtedly open up new financial and technological doors for NBC Universal, the media bias that could develop should also be considered. Amongst their subscribers, Comcast doesn’t have the highest reputation for the “best quality” cable that could be easily reflected onto NBC, which could then threaten the prestige that NBC has as a cable company (Pegraro). Also, one must look at the success level of large-scale merger’s that have happened in earlier years—for every successful venture there is about two flops, like the AOL-Time Warner fiasco, to counter them (Pegraro).
Knowing production theory, and everything it encompasses, it is easy to see how the theory could work into something like the Comcast/NBC Universal merger. Mainly, the connection can be made to the levels of production theory- those being micro, macro, and mid-ranged- and how the interaction between the new companies happens. Each level of production theory will be challenged because of the change in the hands of power and control over NBC Universal.
To be aware of the production theory and how integral the inner-workings of the three levels of television are is important for viewers to understand because of the large role that television plays in a majority of their day-to-day lives. The Comcast/NBC Universal merger could potentially change a great deal of components in the current NBC Universal production level equation to success, which has been serving them well for decades. The levels of production help the public understand more clearly how every aspect of the television-making process could be altered and how media bias could occur with such a large merger.
Works Cited
Berkowitz, Dan, and Craig Allen. “Exploring newsroom views about consultants in local TV: The effect of work roles and socialization.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media Fall 40.4 (96): 447. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Feb. 2010. <http://web.ebscohost.com.emils.lib.colum.edu/ehost/detail?vid=3&hid=101&sid=9fbf32d9-5908-484b-9523 84a853a6b167%40sessionmgr110&bdata=JmxvZ2lucGFnZT1Mb2dpbi5hc3Amc2l0Z            T1laG9zdC1saXZl# db=aph&AN=9701223294>.

Chandler, Daniel. “Engagement with Media: Shaping and Being Shaped.” Aberystwyth University. Feb. 1996. Web. 28 Feb. 2010. <http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/short/determ.html>.

“Comcast Partners with Teabaggers to Bring New Right-Wing Broadcast Network Online.” Crooks and Liars. 17 Apr. 2010. Web. 24 Apr. 2010. <http://crooksandliars.com/karoli/comcast-partners-bring-new-right-wing-broad>.

“Consolidation: Definition and Additional Resources from BNET.” Glossary of Business Dictionary Terms. Web.  02 May 2010. <http://dictionary.bnet.com/definition/Consolidation.html>.

Gavin, Patrick. “Report: Comcast Says No Plans to Acquire Right-wing Network (UPDATED).” POLITICO.com. Web. 02 May 2010. <http://www.politico.com/blogs/onmedia/0410/Report_Comcast_to_acquire_rightwing_network.html>.

Joe, Flint. “Comcast in Deal Talks with NBC Universal.” Los Angeles Times. 30 Sept. 2009. Web. 02 May 2010. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/entertainmentnewsbuzz/2009/09/comcast-wants-nbc-universal-.html>.

Khoury, Jennifer. “Comcast Not Involved with Right Network.” Comcast Voices | The Official Comcast Blog. 19 Apr. 2010. Web. 25 Apr. 2010. <http://blog.comcast.com/2010/04/comcast-not-involved-with-right-network.html>.

Memmott, Mark. “Mega-Media Merger In Works: Comcast Cuts Deal For 51% Of NBC Universal.” NPR : National Public Radio. 3 Dec. 2009. Web. 02 May 2010. <http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2009/12/nbc_comcast_ge_sale_media.html>.

“NET NEUTRALITY: Definition.” Open Computing Facility at U.C. Berkeley. U.C. Berkeley. Web. 02 May 2010. <http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~raylin/whatisnetneutrality.htm>.

O’Donnell, Victoria. Television Criticism. Minneapolis: Sage Publications, Inc, 2007. Print.

Pegoraro, Rob. “Comcast-NBC Merger Nears, Questions Begin.” Faster Foward. Web. 02 May 2010. <http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward/2009/12/comcast-nbc_merger_nears_quest.html>.

“Sherman Antitrust Act.” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Web. 02 May. 2010 <http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0844878.html>.

Wyatt, Edward. “Court Favors Comcast in F.C.C. ‘Net Neutrality’ Ruling.” The New York Times. 06 Apr. 2010. Web. 25 Apr. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/technology/07net.html?hp>.

The Two Americas: How Modern Horror Programming Sees American Society

by Rachael Sherwood

Television is saturated with shows that do not fit into a simple genre category. These increasingly complex ways of storytelling reveal even more complex ways of coding messages. Modern horror programming relies on genre-hybridity to create a narrative of America. Two examples of this are Supernatural, which uses the western genre to reinforce traditional American ideologies and True Blood, which uses the satire genre to subvert them. In an increasingly polarized society, these shows depict very different visions of America.

Genre theory is, to put it broadly, the study of genres. A genre can be defined as a “type” or “category” a work is placed in (Chandler 1). Genre theory analysis of a work looks at how the genre is used within the work and compares that to the typical conventions of the genre.

Some questions a genre theorist might ask are: What genre does this work appear to fit in? What genre will an audience assign to this work? What expectations will they have on the work because of this genre classification (Chandler 10)? Genre theory also seeks to place a work within the context of historical perspective. A theorist will try to identify texts that influenced and shaped the piece (Chandler 9-11).

The origins of genre theory can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks with Aristotle, who began to categorize plays and literature into such categories as “tragedy” and “comedy” (Mittel 1). Historically genre studies was more prescriptivist, but now is often tied to poststructuralism and deconstructivism. Modern day genre theorists are interested in questioning the assumed genre of a work (Mittel 1). The most influential scholar who started this trend in general analysis was Northrop Frye with the publication of Anatomy of Criticism in 1957 (Synder 5).

Terms that are essential to understanding genre theory are: conventions/tropes, hybridity, and taxonomy. Conventions and tropes are the elements that a genre typically contains. For example, a medical drama contains elements such as a hospital, doctors, and injuries. Hybridity is the process by which genres are blended. When a work contains conventions and tropes from multiple genres, it is said to be a hybrid. By its basic definition, taxonomy is the science behind classification. When applied to genre theory, it is examining the system of categorizing used to identify a work within a genre category (Chandler 15).

First, we must understand what makes up the horror genre. Although Supernatural and True Blood are hybrids, they are culturally understood as horror. When examining the promotion for the two shows, it is clear that they were both intended by their respective networks to be considered horror. In promos for Supernatural, the WB stated that it would be “the scariest hour of television”. True Blood’s initial promotional imagery focused on its lead character, a young blonde woman, and images of blood. This combination, along with the red and black typography, recalls familiar horror tropes. The marketing for both these shows sends a clear message: these shows are to be understood as horror.

In his paper, “The Nature of Horror”, Noel Carroll pinpoints that what the horror genre does, essentially, is to examine a conflict of man vs. other, where the other is seen as a “monster”(Carroll 53). The monster can be a creature, such as a werewolf, or it can simply be a madman. The important part is that even if the audience has some sympathy for the monster, they do not identify with it. Instead, they view themselves through the protagonist. Carroll argues that if the audience does not feel this dynamic, they will fail to experience the other key feature of the horror genre: catharsis (55). Catharsis occurs when the threat is vanquished and the protagonist is safe.

Both Supernatural and True Blood use this dynamic in their pilot episodes. In the first episode of Supernatural, we are introduced to Sam and Dean Winchester. Sam is a successful college student and Dean, his older and “street smart” brother, who Sam has not seen in years, interrupts his normal life to ask him to help find their father. Immediately, with these familiar family dynamics and struggles, the audience is pulled into identifying with Sam and Dean on a personal level. They care not only that the Winchesters solve the mystery at hand–but also that they live to see another episode.  The identifying protagonist of True Blood is Sookie Stackhouse, a young waitress in a Louisiana bar. In order to create sympathy and identity, the show quickly illustrates the day to day struggles Sookie has: the stresses of her family, friends, and unique telepathic gift.

The “monster” in the pilot episode of Supernatural manifests in a Woman in White–a creature from folklore and urban legend. Although the show creates sympathy for the monster (a deeply disturbed woman who killed herself and her children), it also makes it apparent that she must be stopped. The episode only ends after they have successfully thwarted the Woman in White. True Blood does not make it as easy to identify the monster. Although it introduces Bill Compton, a vampire, he quickly becomes a figure of sympathy and intrigue. His “goodness” is vouched for by Sookie’s belief in him.  By the end of the episode, the “monster” is quite clear: the mysterious entity that is murdering innocent women in Bon Temps. Since True Blood is a serialized show, the catharsis of this storyline is not experienced immediately, but the audience is given an understanding that it will be.

While Supernatural and True Blood are both firmly set into the horror genre–they are completely different shows. There are a number of factors that influence this. They are on different networks, have different creators and writers, and are in different formats. However, beyond even this, they seem fundamentally different. This is likely because of the influence of genre hybridity. Both shows are tied to one other genre, and these new genres are what inform the show’s narrative ideology. Both are tied to genres that are concerned with examining American perspectives: the western, which upholds a traditional reading of American culture, and the satire, which often seeks to undermine or criticize that reading. This difference in their hybridity accounts for the feeling that they are fundamentally different.

Supernatural, while having the appearance of a horror show, can easily be placed within the genre category of western.  According to Lee Clark Mitchell, there are several important  themes that resonant through all Westerns: masculinity, the lone man, the frontier, honor, and the law (Mitchell 6). There are also visual elements that play in most westerns: cowboys, sheriffs, horses, pistols, saloons, etc. The effects of genre hybridity are not always visually obvious. We must be able to understand the difference between the archetype of “cowboy” and the stereotype of “cowboy.” The Winchesters are the Western outlaw/cowboy hero, even if they do not wear boots or hats. It does seem that the show itself even recognizes this, as later in Season 1, the  Winchesters come into possession of a early 1900s Colt pistol, weapon of choice for many on-screen cowboys (Herring 5). In fact, their very name is a reference to famous guns: the Winchester rifle.

In the pilot of Supernatural, all the elements of a western are present. Stripped of all its genre trappings, the story is of two men, outside society and the law, who travel West to a small town and save the people from a threat they cannot understand. There are visual stand-ins for the things that cannot fit into a modern context. For example, instead of riding a horse, Sam and Dean have their beloved car, which receives as much attention and affection as a cowboy would give a horse. Instead of conflict with the sheriff, the boys must deal with the local police and feds.

In her essay “On Cowboys and Welfare Queens”, Eileen Boris argues that the archetype of cowboy/outlaw has long been used in American culture to represent white male conservative ideals (Boris 602). In Supernatural, we can see this at play too. Dean and Sam must stand apart from society–they get where they are going through hard work and they are rewarded through the narrative for their individualism. Although they face difficulties, they are at an advantage because of their background and education. Boris points out that the problem surrounding the Western myth is that it ignores the historical reality. The cowboy and western frontier, far from romantic figures, were a battleground of warfare and genocide (604). The Western myth is just that–a Western one. Supernatural’s America likewise does not reflect the demographic reality of the areas it portrays. Although it sets most of its stories in poor Southern and Western towns, its character demographics are overwhelmingly white suburban families (Johnson). By leaving out this perspective, Supernatural reinforces a traditional white male reading of America.

Supernatural also seems to support a conservative narrative of leadership. Dean and Sam are able and capable leaders. What they do they do in secret and alone. Anytime they attempt to let anyone in on their circle, the situation becomes complicated and escalates. For example, in the episode “No Exit”, the brother’s friend Jo decides to join them in demon hunting. Exasperated, the brothers attempt to send her home. When she refuses, she is eventually captured and they must save her. Although Jo is not portrayed as a bad character, it is clear that things are better if they work alone. This plot line and variations of it are repeated through the seasons of Supernatural, echoing a conservative call for small government and executive power. Every time Sam and Dean expand their operation, it becomes bloated and inefficient. This is a direct parallel to the “man” alone often found in the Western genre, who is often hindered by the if good natured, clumsy attempts of others (Smith 46).

True Blood fits into the satire genre, which often subverts traditional American ideologies. What makes up a satire genre? It is easy to think of conventions of a genre like a Western. Certain images are easily associated with it. Satire is more difficult to define. Charles Knight argues that satire is both “pre-generic and modal” and that it opens up the boundaries of other forms instead of containing its own (14).  However, if one takes a more postmodern approach that there is no such thing as a “pure” genre, it can be accepted that satire is a genre, just one ripe for hybridization.  Satire is the usage of humor to criticize (Bakalar 1).Thus, the defining characteristics of something in the satire genre are humor and social criticism.  There is a long history of satire in America that is critical of the ideology of the dominant institutions, from African American slave satires in the late 18th century to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart of today (7).

True Blood sets itself up as a show that is critical of the dominant institutional interplay between government and religion. The show uses the idea of “Vampire Rights” to criticize and comment on the state of civil rights for the GLBT community in America. Rather than come out and say it overtly, True Blood uses clever manipulation of language to make this association with humor. Vampires do not arrive in society, they “come out.”  They are not just desiring of rights, they have lobbyists and amendments. In the opening credit sequence, there is an image of a church sign with the phase “God Hates Fangs”, a clear reference to the “God Hates Fags” slogan of the Westboro Baptist church. By equating vampires with the gay rights movement and then making a lead character a vampire, the show adapts a position of support for the gay rights movement.

True Blood also satirizes the two big institutions of small-town life: the church and the police. Although neither religion nor law are presented as bad, the establishments are inefficient and comical. The church introduced into the True Blood universe, Fellowship of the Sun, is exaggerated and corrupt. Although it preaches love and salvation, underneath all the make-up and hairspray it is actually training young men to be “soldiers”—culminating in a suicide bombing. This is the kind of reversal common in the satire genre (Knight 77).

The entire first season of the show can be read as an indictment of the police. The two cops, Bud and Andy, are blinded by their prejudice of vampires and ignorance. They are only interested in subjects who are either vampires are associate with vampires. The actual killer is right under their noses the entire time. However, because he is just “a normal guy”, their profiling doesn’t work. Instead of noticing him, they spend most of their bullying those who are innocent. The plot line is a critique of racial and ethnic profiling. In one episode, the sympathetic hero Bill Compton is pulled over because the cop suspects he may be a vampire—a subtle reference to “Driving While Black” (Callahan). Since racial profiling is still commonly accepted, especially amongst conservatives, this portrayal is rather subversive.

The link between horror and satire can be problematic. A common criticism leveled at True Blood is the issues caused by equating Vampire Rights with Civil Rights when in the show, many vampires are shown as dangerous and lewd (Shen). It would not be ridiculous for the audience to sympathize with the position of the universe’s fictional church. Could it be argued, then, that it inadvertently supports the position it is trying to oppose? This confusion is caused directly because of the ramifications of genre-hybridity. Each genre makes its own demands on the story.  True Blood is not a simple satire, it is a horror-satire.  The horror genre demands certain things of its material–it has a need for violence. Without violence, there is no catharsis.  By combining genres, True Blood does not make it simple to analyze.  However, in examining the message of the show, it is easy to see that the added satiric elements only serve to further subvert a traditional American narrative.

In conclusion, it is the hybridity that creates these conflicting ideologies. Although individual pieces can be different, genres have a dominant belief system. In the Western, the dominant ideology is a conservative narrative of traditional American values. In the Satire, it is a progressive narrative of subversion. It may not have even been the creator’s intention to introduce these ideologies, but they are so pervasive that just by including elements of the genre, they come to the forefront. By adding these genres to a horror story, the creators of Supernatural and True Blood created very different views of America.

Works Cited

Bakalar, Nicholas. American Satire: an Anthology of writings from Colonial Times to Present. New York City: Plume, 1997.

Borris, Eileen. “On Cowboys and Welfare Queens: Independence, Dependence, and Interdependence at Home and Abroad.” Journal of American Studies 41 (2007): 599-621.

Callahan, Gene, and William Anderson. “The Roots of Racial Profiling.” Reason.com. Aug. & sept. 2001. Web. 20 Sept. 2009. <http://reason.com/archives/2001/08/01/the-roots-of-racial-profiling>

Carroll, Noel. “The Nature of Horror” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 46 (Fall), pp. 51-9.

Chandler, Daniel. “An Introduction to Genre Theory.” 1997.

http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/intgenre/intgenre.html

Herring, Hal. Famous Firearms of the West. Globe Peqot, 2007.

Johnson, Alayne D. “An Open Letter to Eric Kripke.” Web log post. Angry Black Woman. 9 Sept. 2009. Web. 20 Sept. 2009.

<http://theangryblackwoman.com/2009/09/09/an-open-letter-to-eric-kripke/>.

Knight, Charles. The Literature of Satire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Mitchell, Lee Clark. Western: Making the Man in Fiction and Film. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Mittell, John. Genre and television: from cop shows to cartoons in American culture. New York: Routledge, 2004.

“Pilot” Supernatural. Exec. Prod. Eric Kripke. WB. September 13, 2005.

Shen, Maxine. “Flesh and ‘Blood’: HOW HBO SERIES HAS TURNED HOT VAMPIRES INTO GAY-RIGHTS ANALOGY “. New York Post. September 20th 2009

<http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/tv/item_WKvyfOFvvONjfWj5S1xa8N>.

Smith, Henry Nash. Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1950.

Stewart, Susan. “The Epistemology of the Horror Story.” The Journal of American Folklore.95.395 (1982): 33-50.

“Strange Brew.” True Blood. Exec. Prod. Alan Ball. HBO. September 7, 2008.

Synder, John. Prospects of Power: Tragedy, Satire, the Essay, and the Theory of Genre. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1991.

Why Branded Entertainment is Changing Our Content

by Stephanie Sidak
Back in the 1950s, in what feels like a galaxy far, far away, the broadcast television airwaves were ruled by a little television program called I Love Lucy. This pioneer of the multi-camera situation comedy format starred A-list comedienne Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz, as an upper-middle class married couple in Manhattan. Each week Lucy, Desi, and their neighbors/best friends Fred and Ethel engaged in delightful hijinks as they cavorted around New York City. And each week, home viewers of the show were treated to not only the hilarity of Lucy’s comedic timing, but also to a healthy dose of Phillip Morris cigarette product placement commercials. But these commercials did more than just run during the act breaks of I Love Lucy – they actually financed the entire show after Philip Morris became the official sponsor of the half-hour sitcom (“I Love Lucy”). As the financial controlling interest in this show, the tobacco giant took its role very seriously; according to www.sitcomsonline.com, the word “lucky” wasn’t allowed to be written into any script, due to fear that it would cause viewers to think of competitor Lucky Strike cigarettes.

While watching television, it is easy to forget that what we’re seeing is so much more than simple storytelling, and that the content we consume is first and foremost a moneymaking enterprise. The notion of having one controlling sponsor who influences a scripted television show as much as Philip Morris did in the mid-twentieth century may seem archaic. However product placement and product integration are working just as hard now as they ever were to ensure that the audience’s money gets from their pocket to an advertiser. In fact, the television industry’s need for advertising revenue is now so strong that an entirely new genre is moving to the forefront of American media: branded content. Branded content – as explained by Paul Thenstedt, VP of Digital Media Sales at NBC Universal in Chicago – is content that is created to tell the story of a brand. In the case of the NBC Universal Digital Studio, an advertiser commissions the production house to create, produce, and distribute a story with their brand at the center. With the rising popularity of such content and the prevalence of product integration in our entertainment, it is easy to argue that original content will soon be born not of creativity, but rather, salability.

A New Model

From starting around the time I Love Lucy was running in the early 1950s, the television industry has essentially had the same business model. This model relies on the symbiotic relationship between network and advertiser; shows stay on the air because of the funding they get from ad revenue, and advertisers pay to run their commercials in shows that draw a large audience. This model worked great when the television was the centerpiece of the American family room and only three major broadcast networks provided the majority of the content. The viability of this model began to falter, however, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) loosened its restrictions on cable television providers, and the premium cable channel Home Box Office (HBO) came into existence (“History of Cable”).

By the spring of 1998, there were 171 cable video networks (cable history page). Now, of course, that is just a small percentage of all the cable channels available through digital and satellite technology. These networks are funded by subscription dollars, but most also receive supplemental funding through advertising revenue. Compared to the three networks that controlled the airwaves of yesteryear, advertisers now have a much broader range of outlets on which to spend their money. The fragmentation caused by the expansion and diversification of cable networks, along with the competition for advertising dollars is causing a shift in the traditional network business model (Mullen).

The surge in media technology over the past decade has compounded this shift. As the Internet began to monopolize the way people spent their leisure time, the television industry was forced to go online. In 2006, ABC was the first broadcast network to make select prime time shows available for streaming in their entirety on its website (“ABC Puts TV”). Now, almost every major network has a full episode player feature on its site, and if a show can’t be found there, viewers can find content on sites like Hulu.com which also house full episodes. These episode players are available for free. But embedded within the streaming episode are several advertisements that the user can’t skip over – providing a new platform for advertisers to reach consumers and for networks to make revenue.

When web series began to gain popularity, an entirely new market became available for content providers to monetize. NBC Universal jumped on the bandwagon three years ago with the creation of its Digital Studio; a fully-functional production house that creates nothing but branded entertainment. According to Thenstedt, the episodes created lend themselves best to the web series format – about an hour’s worth of content broken up into a series of five-minute episodes – but run across all media platforms including television, online, and mobile devices.  These mini-shows have a high production quality and many feature B and C list actors, like the Digital Studio show “CTRL,” which stars Arrested Development’s Tony Hale.

“CTRL” tells the story of a nerdy cubicle-dweller who accidentally spills his Lipton Iced Tea onto his computer keyboard, causing the keyboard to become “alive” and give him the ability to magically manipulate time. Lipton was the sponsoring brand of this series, the idea being that their iced tea is magical – extraordinary compared to other teas. Another approach to telling a brand’s story is demonstrated in “In Gayle We Trust,” another NBC Digital Studio production that tells the story of American Family Insurance. In this story, the titular character Gayle is the personification of the AFI brand. Gayle is a local, small-town American Family Insurance agent who also happens to be friends with everybody, a stand-out citizen, and who is great at giving advice.

NBC Universal is not the only network tossing their hat into the branded web series ring; this past year BET co-produced two successful web series with Proctor & Gamble, “Buppies” for CoverGirl and “My Black is Beautiful” for P&G’s eponymous line of beauty products. The latter has been a huge success for Proctor & Gamble, drawing over 3.6 million viewers since its launch (Hampp). That may not seem like a lot considering the great expanse of the web, but it is easy to see that this little series performed well when you compare it to a full-fledged cable show like Terriers, which was recently cancelled by FX because it only drew an average 500,000 viewers per episode (Rice). Even non-entertainment brands are starting to utilize web series advertising, like Kraft and Unilever with their web shows “The Real Women of Philadelphia” and “Into the Heart of Italy,” respectively.

Changing Viewing Habits

It is fair to say that the Internet has not only revolutionized many aspects of everyday life – from the distribution of information to global communication – but also changed our society. As someone who has grown up with the Internet, I cannot deny the affect it has had on the way I interact with my surroundings and my world. The speed of broadband has set the precedent for everything to be instant, and the convenience of mobile has set me up to expect all of my information and media to be accessible from anywhere. I don’t believe that I’m the only one who feels this way; the cultural ramifications of the World Wide Web are far-reaching. As our technology progressed and became dominant in our lives, our media consumption habits changed.

According to a study done by Comcast in 2010, 6 out of 10 people have reported owning a DVR (Digital Video Recorder), and 62% said they have, at some point, utilized a time-shifting machine to watch a television program at a time other than when it originally aired (Seidman). One user-friendly feature of DVR devices is the ability to skip over ads. This obviously creates a problem for advertisers, as their ad dollars are wasted if their target audience simply skips their ads. Though statisticians at Duke University recently found that the majority of people still watch television shows live (an amazing 95% of 1,200 users studied, to be exact), I have a suspicion that this will not be the case for much longer (Hollister). In addition to DVRS, many web sites are cropping up online with pirate television episodes, most of which do not have commercials.

Additionally, with cellular phones now functioning in a much higher capacity, media consumers are beginning to look to content providers for enhanced mobile media. A study done by ABI Research projects that by 2012 there will be 462 million mobile television subscribers – a huge market that is still largely untapped by content creators (“Mobile TV Subscribers”). A look at att.com shows that many networks have a mobile format, including ESPN, CNN, FOX News, Nickelodeon, and the major broadcast networks, but few have yet to take full advantage of this platform by creating custom mobile content. Much of the current mobile content is technology-specific and is not catered to the ever-expanding mobile audience (Schuurman).

Content providers have recently begun to develop counter-attack strategies to keep their medium from becoming obsolete during this time of our shifting media landscape. With the recent launch of Google TV, the way viewers interact with their televisions and computers could potentially be changed forever. The system is essentially a hybrid of a television and the Internet, and allows users to browse the web while simultaneously watching television, with the users cell phone functioning as the remote control. Features include a customizable home page, much like Google’s Chrome browser, and DVR capabilities if live viewing is not possible. Content providers are contracted with Google to create a widget for their network on Google TV, which provides users with television content as well as the content on the network’s online property. As the Google TV web site reads, “the web is now a channel.” Consumers can purchase a specialized Google TV starting at $599 or buy a box that brings the service to their existing television set for $399 (“Features”).

The Need for Integration

These changing viewer habits all point to one thing: the necessity of advertising that is built into the entertainment. Like traditional show sponsorships, product placement goes back to the earlier days of television. In addition to being the primary sponsor of I Love Lucy, Philip Morris also utilized product placement within the shows narrative. Lucy, Desi, and company always smoked Philip Morris cigarettes, and in one episode, Lucy even disguises herself in the iconic Philip Morris bellhop uniform. These days, this type of brand and product integration is everywhere – from Tony Soprano’s beer of choice being Rolling Rock to the cell phones of the Gossip Girl characters being made by Verizon.

A great case study that demonstrates the financial effectiveness of a well-executed product integration strategy is the partnership of fast-food chain KFC with the CBS sitcom Gary, Unmarried. In one particular scene from an episode that ran in early 2010, the two main characters enjoy a bucket of KFC chicken for dinner – and have a brief conversation about the taste and deliciousness of said chicken. The brand mention lasted less than a minute, but iTVX later reported the integration to have had a $514,259 payoff for KFC. This is an undeniable success of ROI considering that a 30-second commercial on the show costs roughly $80,000 (Stanley).

Product integration becomes crucial when an advertiser’s target audience knows they’re being targeted to or has the technological means to skip over traditional commercial spots entirely. Teens and young adults, for example, are difficult to reach due to their Internet literacy that allows them to find free content without the perceived bother of advertisements. Unfortunately, this demographic is the one that most advertisers are trying to reach, as their pockets run deep with their parent’s money.

In their article “Advertising in the age of TiVo: Targeting Teens and Young Adults with Film and Television Product Placements,” Donnalyn Pompper and Yih-Farn Choo claim that product placement can actually be analyzed as a form of classical-conditioning, “wherein one’s attitude toward a well-liked stimulus is transferred to an affectively neutral stimulus when the stimuli are joined.” Essentially, this means that if you, as an advertiser, can get your audience to associate your product with a piece of entertainment they like, there is a much higher likelihood that they will purchase your product. Assuming this is true, product placements and integrations are then ideally functioning on three levels: 1) content producers can expand revenue potential beyond traditional commercial spots, 2) advertisers can overcome ad-skipping technology and the “leave the room when a commercial comes on” mentality, and 3) subliminal marketing favorably links a brand with an emotional, personal experience created by the entertainment it is embedded in, thus increasing brand recognition and purchase rates.

Because of the potential of brand integration to be fiscally successful, the practice has become a vital part of advertiser’s media strategy. So vital, in fact, that ratings measurement companies like Nielsen, iTVX, and Front Row Analytics all now have measurement systems in place to test the effectiveness of integrations. iTVX in particular analyzes over 70 different aspects of one product integration to come up with a comprehensive rating that will determine its success or failure. This enhancement of the ratings measurement systems reflects the increasing sophistication of the integrations themselves. Gary Cogland, Business VP at iTVX, is quick to point out that “these deals are more highly managed than they’ve ever been before. Brands don’t send out props and hope for the best (Stanley).”

Gossip Girl, for instance, utilizes product integration to advertise to that hard-to-reach teen demographic by embedding products into storylines to achieve an effective integration. The show revolves around a group of Upper East Side high school students in Manhattan whose lives are closely entwined through an online and mobile gossip site called Gossip Girl. Plot lines are frequently driven by things that the characters find out about each other on Gossip Girl, or by using the site to manipulate and socially attack each other. Most of the time, the characters access the Gossip Girl site through their mobile devices, which are always provided by Verizon Wireless – who won a four-way battle between mobile providers to be the starring company (Steinberg). The interesting thing is that the Gossip Girl/Verizon relationship works both ways; Verizon’s web site has an entire page devoted to the show with exclusives like the music featured on the show, episode recaps, and wallpapers featuring the shows main characters.

Verizon’s placements with the popular NBC comedy 30 Rock inspired the title of this paper. After a conversation with her boss about Verizon’s great service, Tina Fey breaks the fourth wall and turns to the camera asking, “Can we have our money now? (Fey, McCarthy, “Somebody to Love”).  Of course, this level of self-reflexivity is what keeps 30 Rock viewers coming back for more, but also makes an important point about product placement and integration: the shows that we all know and love are being partially funded through it. So this strategy is just as important to content creators as it is to advertisers.

Production Theory

Production theory is based on the assumption that all media is created for profit and operates within the American capitalist free-market economic structure. It is the most applicable theory to branded content and the ever-changing television business model. In fact, since this content that is being marketed on air literally is for being crafted for the sole purpose of making money. With this knowledge television is the perfect ideology to be analyzed using Production Theory. The core of this analysis is the changing relationship between advertisers and content producers, which is also in line with the basic concern of Production Theory: the balance and imbalance of power within the relationships between industry entities (Fineman).

Within the situation outlined in the preceding pages it is primarily a mid-range circumstance. However, it has aspects micro-level and macro-level aspects. For instance, according to Thenstedt, the NBC Digital Studio does not yield much profit, but instead is viewed by ad salesman as an extra service provided to advertisers in order to secure more of their money in other, more profitable ad outlets. The negotiations that happen surrounding the pitch and sale of these Digital Studio web series would fall under the micro-level umbrella. Additionally, the Client and Producer power roles are demonstrated by observing the give-and-take of the advertiser with the network; the network wants money from the advertisers, and the advertisers want as much air space as they can get for their dollars (Vande Berg).

Looking at branded content from a macro-level, the first potential problem that jumps out at me is the regulation of audience with protection from subliminal advertising. Though it is typically thought of in regards to the regulation of content in television shows, the FCC also has some authority over the advertisements that get put on air as well. There are currently regulations in place regarding children’s advertising, tobacco and alcohol advertising, among other things.

In conclusion, our media landscape is rapidly changing. Networks and content producers are beginning to take the steps necessary to combat becoming obsolete in an era of Internet dominance and advancing technology, but unfortunately, this means that we can expect to see more advertising in our content. How blatant the advertising is will vary, but it is important that we, as viewers, are aware of it regardless. We’ve come a long way from the times of Lucy and Desi. However, the relationship between advertisers and content producers and the audience is still intact – but it is only changing out of necessity. The artistic repercussions of this shift toward ad-fueled content have yet to be seen – but, sadly, it appears that commerce is slowly edging out art from our media consciousness.

Works Cited

“ABC Puts TV Shows Online for Free – Mac.” Macworld UK. Web. 12 Dec. 2010. <http://www.macworld.co.uk/news/index.cfm?NewsID=14333&Page=1&pagePos=4>.

“Features – Google TV.” Google. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. <http://www.google.com/tv/features.html>

Fineman, Elissa. “Production Theory.” Columbia College Chicago, Chicago. 8 September 2010. PowerPoint.

Hampp, Andrew. “Branded Entertainment: Some Brands Flock to Web Series – Advertising Age – Madison Vine: Digital Entertainment.” Advertising Age – Ad & Marketing Industry News. 9 Aug. 2010. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. <http://adage.com/madisonandvine/article?article_id=145276>.

“History of Cable – NCTA.com.” Home – NCTA.com. Web. 9 Dec. 2010. <http://www.ncta.com/About/About/HistoryofCableTelevision.aspx>.

Hollister, Sean. “Study Finds Commercial-skipping DVRs Don’t Affect Purchases, ‘TiVo Effect’ May Not Exist.” Engadget. 6 May 2010. Web. 12 Dec. 2010. <http://www.engadget.com/2010/05/06/study-finds-commercial-skipping-dvrs-dont-affect-purchases-ti/>.

“I Love Lucy.” The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Web. 11 Dec. 2010. <http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=ilovelucy>.

“Mobile TV Subscribers to Number 462 Million by 2012.” ABI Research: Technology Market Intelligence. Allied Business Intelligence, 24 Jan. 2008. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. <http://www.abiresearch.com/press/1043>.

Mullen, Megan. The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States: Revolution or Evolution? Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003.

Palmer, Benjamin. “Branded Content: Not a Good Idea.” Adweek: Advertising Industry News and Analysis. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. <http://www.adweek.com/aw/content_display/community/columns/other-columns/e3idda2f1661c03a55f4f000efd7fa6a2e9>.

Pompper, Donnalyn, and Yih-Farn Choo. “Advertising in the Age of TiVo: Targeting Teens and Young Adults With Film and Television Product Placements.” Atlantic Journal of Communication 16.1 (2008): 49-69. Print.

Rice, Lynette. “‘Terriers’: FX Cancels Freshman Series.” EW.com. 6 Dec. 2010. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. <http://insidetv.ew.com/2010/12/06/fx-cancels-freshman-series-terriers/>.

Schuurman, Dimitri, Lieven De Marez, Pieter Veevaete, and Tom Evens. “Content and Context for Mobile Television: Integrating Trial, Expert and User Findings.” Telematics & Informatics26.3 (2009): 293-305. Print.

14. Seidman, Robert. “Do a Lot More Homes Have DVRs Than Nielsen Estimates?” TVbytheNumbers.com. 17 Aug. 2010. Web. 13 Dec. 2010. <http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2010/08/17/do-a-lot-more-homes-have-dvrs-than-nielsen-estimates/60118>.

“Somebody to Love” 30 Rock. Tina Fey. Beth McCarthy. NBC. 15 November 2007. NBC Universal, 2007. Live Viewing.

Stanley, T.L. “A Place for Everything.” MediaWeek 20.9 (2010). Print.

Steinberg, Brian. “Verizon Gets in on ‘Gossip Girl’; MADISON & VINE: Bests Rivals to Win Integration Deal. Advertising Age. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. <http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-170298109.html>.

Vande Berg, Leah R., Lawrence A. Wenner, and Bruce E. Gronbeck. “Production Context Criticism.” Critical Approaches to Television. 2nd ed. Allyn & Bacon, 2003. 259-74. Print.

Live From New York: The Ladies of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE!

by Naomi Penner

“My dream for the future is that sketch comedy shows become a gender-blind meritocracy of whoever is the funniest.”
–Tina Fey in her memoir, BossyPants (2011)
Saturday Night Live is not entirely a boy’s club. Since debuting in 1975, SNL has featured an array of seriously funny ladies who have captured the hearts and souls of viewers across the nation. In this paper, I will discuss the role of Saturday Night Lives’ female cast members from the 1970s to the 2000s (approx. 2000-2008), answering the question: “How did women influence Saturday Night Live throughout its history?” I will first also look at how women are depicted in television in my discussion on how women have impacted television and the media since the emergence of the Feminist Movement in the 1970s, not just as actresses or comedians, but also as producers and writers. I will look at women not only from the cast and crew of SNL, but from other television shows and media sources. I will then describe the history and influence of SNL on society, culture, and television; how the show impacted what could be said on television regarding race, gender, and politics, paving the way not just for late night, but prime time television as well. Saturday Night Live successfully became part of the counterculture, targeted at a younger audience looking for a show that could successfully voice their opinion, which I will also explain. Another topic I will explore is the portrayal of women in Saturday Night Live in parallel to the portrayal of women in society from a feminist perspective, looking at how feminist humor has influenced these depictions. In doing so, I will look at a few characters performed by Gilda Radner and Cheri Oteri. Finally, I will describe one specific example of how a female cast member has contributed to and impacted the show as well as society: Tina Fey’s impersonation of Governor Sarah Palin. Tina Fey herself has been a huge celebrity to come from Saturday Night Live, and the best example of a female figure who is significant in the realm of comedy, television, and film.
Throughout history, women have been treated as the lesser sex not capable of doing what men can do. However, time and time again, they’ve proven themselves to be just as capable, if not even better. Up until the emergence of Saturday Night Live, women in television generally played very passive, submissive, and traditional roles, this depiction as the lesser sex represented. In comedy, they are perhaps looked down upon even worse. The women of SNLhave changed all that.
The media is an important place in learning about gender. Cultural expectations of masculinity and femininity are constantly repeated; validating what defines gender norms (Mittell 330). Viewers, therefore, adapt to them as part of their own behavior and ideals (Mittell 330). Prior to the 1970s, television defined femininity as a woman whose main priority was the home, her only duties domestic. Although I Love Lucy of the 1950s featured a female character that often disobeyed the orders of her husband, the husband still always got the last word. When the Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered, women no longer were chained to the home, instead becoming working professionals and living on their own without a man. However, because the tradition of a women’s only place being in the home, these females can sometimes be seen as overly masculine, as shown with Murphy Brown (late 1980s -1990s) (Mittell 333). Maude gave us an older woman who dealt with real life issues, some perhaps too provocative for their time. Maude, however, fit in with the socially relevant sitcom structure, and, like the Mary Tyler Moore Show, provided viewers with a strong female lead. Women are also frequently portrayed as being overly emotional, “soft” in news and political programs (Mittell 334), placed in roles that require sensitivity: mothers, wives, nurses, etc (Mittell 334). Too much emotion can equate to irrationality, which women are depicted as in real life and in television. I Dream of Jeannie is a perfect example of this, as well the stereotype that women lack in intelligence with Jeannie’s dumb blonde character (Mittell 336). The two most overused roles for women in the media are the passive female and the sexual object – the damsel in distress and the vixen. Women are over sexualized in music videos, commercials, and beyond. The Aaron Spelling hit of the 1970s, Charlie’s Angels, featured a band of women who were often objects of male desire, fighting crime in skimpy outfits. Today, women are sexual subjects who initiate relationships, Sex and the City is a prime example (Mittell 344).Before the 1970s, women worked way behind the scenes as publicists, casting agents, costume designers, and “script girls” in the entertainment industry (Kimball 61). Female producers and executives were very rare up until the 2000s, where there were hundreds (Kimball 61). This change in the industry resulted from the establishment of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunities Commission) during the 1970s (Kimball 62). From 1970-2000, more women realized they had the power to make films, to study the arts and transform it with a woman’s point of view (Kimball 62). Lindsay Law, executive producer, says, “Women dig deeper into themselves, both in what they bring to the project and the subject matter. Women seem to make things they care about as opposed to ‘I can sell this’” (Kimball 65).When it comes to comedy, women have surely come a long way. I would have never thought of the comedic world to be a place uninviting to women, but it turns out that it’s just as controlled by men as everything else. Humor is a difficult realm for women to break into (Maki 6). Historically speaking “women are not supposed to be funny in the first place” (Horowitz 133), but during the 1970s, at the peak of the women’s liberation movement, comedy for women really began to change its ways (Horowitz 144). A new style of women’s comedy emerged that was assertive, aggressive, and focused on “oppressiveness of the patriarchal culture” (Horowitz 144). Comedienne Caroline Hirsch states that “You didn’t really see women break out in comedy until the feminist movement made it possible for women to be considered funny without degrading themselves” (Horowitz 144). Being outside the norm – a minority, is funny in our society, and women fall under that category. Women’s comedy pushes past old restrictions, challenges any sexist assumptions, and allows women to claim power over men (Horowitz 7-8, 144). A woman that is funny is mentally strong and daring (Horowitz 8). She has intellect and wit, and admitting that a woman is funny means admitting she’s highly intellectual (Maki 6) – a threat for men. Men are sometimes scared of the woman wisecracker: a woman who we can laugh with while being the subject of humor, who has opinions, and who says whatever she thinks, feels, or wants to (Horowitz 133). Men don’t like a woman who can out do them, especially when it comes to making others laugh.

In August 1974, NBC president Herb Schlosser gave Dick Ebersol, a sports executive for ABC at the time, the task of creating a show based on traditional comedy-variety, but with a twist, and that was to close late-night Saturday television (Hilmes 201). Later that year, Ebersol met Lorne Michaels, a young, Canadian writer and comedian who had written for CBC’s Laugh-In during its first season in 1969 (Hilmes 201). Deciding to give Michaels a chance, Ebersol hired him for what was then NBC’s Saturday Night, housing Michaels and his late night show in Studio 8H, Rockefeller Center (Hilmes 202).

Thus Saturday Night Live began, and on October 11, 1975 the show debuted with George Carlin as the host and a cast referred to as the ‘Not So Ready For Prime Time Players’ (Hilmes 202). It was 100% live, distinctly New York, bringing back the vaudeville type shows of television’s Golden Age (Castleman and Podrazik 253). With its week-by-week format, the ‘Not So Ready For Prime Time Players’ were given the opportunity to develop distinct character types while featuring a guest host that worked with the cast and writers, as well as musical guests performing two to three songs for each show (Castleman and Podrazik 253). The show attracted the highest percentage of viewers than any other program on the air with its topical attacks on society and culture, political satire, and parodies of advertising, movies, and other cultural happenings. It was the equivalent to the Smothers Brothers of the 1960s, but late night, and free to discuss issues without controversy. It’s cutting edge style and approach to critiquing society appealed to this new found “television generation”, the young and intellectual 18-49 year olds (Hilmes 202).

Saturday Night Live presented an awareness of a willingness to comment on the world around it that was unlike any other show at the time (Hilmes 202). It helped satirical sketch comedy emerge as a dominant force and cultural touchstone for young audiences living in the 1970s (Mitell 293). The battles faced with NBC’s censors pushed the boundaries of what could be addressed with current events (Mitell 293), what could be said on television, and what could be depicted on screen.

One of the most significant cultural institutions of our time, deriving from Saturday Night Live, is the mock news segment Weekend Update. Weekend Update takes a direct stab at politics, social issues, and media (Hilmes 202). Shows such as John Stewart’s The Daily Show are able to thrive and exist (Reincheld 196) thanks to Weekend Update’s establishment as a fake news show for poking fun at serious issues and people. “The writers and producers who filled the segment each week were in position to have a great impact on the American social consciousness at an important time in the country’s history…Saturday Night Live was part of the counterculture, and those who anchored and wrote for the show viewed it as a way to voice an opinion about the world around them to a mass audience” (Reincheld 190-192). Thus, Weekend Update not just made people laugh, but made people learn, informing them of major news stories and people. Saturday Night Live was created during a turbulent time in American history, from the Vietnam War to Richard Nixon’s presidency, these events an influence on Lorne Michael’s “inclusion of a news parody on SNL” (Reincheld 192).

As mentioned, SNL pushed the boundaries of NBC’s censors. “Because of it’s 11:30 p.m. start, the show was able to get away with much more than average prime time shows, resulting in skits and jokes that were seen as shocking and sometimes outright racy” (Reincheld 194). In the season one episode hosted by African American comedian Richard Pryor, he and Chevy Chase act as interviewee and interviewer in a skit involving racial issues. Chase and Pryor engage in an association test that is turned into an exchange of racial insults and slurs; Pryor calling Chase names like “redneck”, “cracker”, and “honky”, Chase calling him a “tar baby”, “jungle bunny,” and “nigger”. Another specific Weekend Update moment occurred when Gilda Radner’s character Emily Latella, an old woman who would come on Weekend Update and comment on the wrong topic, did something that caused a big uproar with the censors: uttered the word “bitch” (Reincheld 195). Jane Curtain was the anchor of Weekend Update at the time, Latella calling her a bitch in response to Jane. Luckily, Lorne got away with it, thanks to a made up story regarding the context of the word: not “bitch” in the noun form, but “bitch” in the adverb form – like, she’s acting bitchy (Reincheld 195). Not only did this prove that SNL have a strong voice in television, but the women too. The show allowed more freedom in what could be said in skits, its efforts to push the limits allowing other television shows that freedom too (Reincheld 195).  Finally, what was being said on television reflected what was being said by people at home (Reincheld 195).

The show has also changed the way political campaigns are run (Reincheld 190). New York City’s former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, political activist Ralph Nader, and vice president Al Gore are examples of political figures who have appeared on the show (Reincheld 195-196). “At a correspondent’s dinner in Washington, D.C., Senator Eugene McCarthy told Michaels that the show and Update jokes made about senators was the first topic of conversation each Monday on the Senate Floor. Another sign of its importance was that political candidates started to turn to SNL to get attention for their campaigns” (Reincheld 195). In the most recent Presidential election, in 2008, Senator McCain and his vice presidential partner Sarah Palin appeared several times on the show, including Update. Tina Fey’s impersonation of Palin had a significant impact on viewers’ votes for president, which will be discussed later in my paper. “Likening Weekend Update to political cartoons, Michaels said, “ ’That’s a big part of how Americans define democracy’ “ (Reincheld 196).

For thirty years, the youth of America have been taught the news from a variety of anchors, at one point by two successful female cast members Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. They’ve also been educated on mainstream culture, society, and a range of other socially relevant topics. The cast and crew of Saturday Night Live have fulfilled a need in American society: to make viewers laugh while, most importantly, making them think.

For a woman to be funny, she usually has to play up existing “funny lady” stereotypes, like the dumb blonde, the bitch, the old woman, etc (Maki 3). It has to be something men can connect to, since, as I’ve mentioned, they control the industry. Humor, in a society so deeply into entertainment, provides the humorist with a certain power, a way to be successful amongst our culture and society. Saturday Night Live is “the most powerful cultural form in our history” (Maki 4). As I’ve discussed already, no other show on television has done a better job of portraying our society. Given that SNL has pushed so many boundaries and been so radical in so many ways, it is “well suited to push the line of feminist humor in a public and socially palatable way (Maki 5).

On and off camera, woman have played a vital role in the production of Saturday Night Live. Rosie Schuster, Anne Beatts, and Marilyn Suzanne Miller were some of the first writers, writing material that addressed issues women were experiencing, as well as issues of their own (Maki 5). These women created new ground for female humor, setting the standards for it on network television (Maki 5). They didn’t seem to care that they happened to be surrounded by boys, or being unfeminine or anti-woman through the material they were writing. Because by silencing a women’s humor, you silence her voice, her feminine, intellectual voice (Maki 7). And during a time when all women wanted was their voice to be heard, silencing it was more anti-feminine than anything else.

Feminist humor purposefully targets cultural structures (Maki 7), perfect for a show like SNL. It makes very clear that “the very absurdity of the culture’s views and expectations of women” making it clear that it’s not the women who are being ridiculous, or easy targets for ridicule, but their culture (Maki 7). Domesticity is a popular subject matter for feminist humor (Maki 7), unsurprising to me since it’s such a dominant role for a woman to be domestic. This traditional depiction is unquestionably still relevant in our society of soccer moms and celebrity housewives. Female comedic characters are more than likely to be at home than male characters, providing childcare, serving food, and performing household duties (Maki 8). I will discuss other portrayals later when I look at specific characters of Gilda Radner and Cheri Oteri.

It’s all about survival with feminist humor (Maki 8). Female humorists point out the cruelties, injustices, and incongruities of their culture, drawing them to the light (Maki 9). Identity is key to the structure and narrative (Maki 8). Language is a key tool in portraying these oppressions, using puns, irony, and sarcasm (Maki 8). Parody, satire, and skits are idyllic for presenting feminist humor, even better on television since it’s just a dominant form of entertainment (Maki 10). Again, Saturday Nigh Live is the perfect platform. A skit allows for parodies, for a woman to poke fun at herself (Maki 11). Sketch performances, which are comprised of skits, monologues, impersonations, and parodies, allow more freedom for women (Maki 11). They can create and recreate reality however they wish (Maki 11). Saturday Night Live allows for all of this.

Gilda Radner and Cheri Oteri neither developed strong television or movie careers post SNL, but were huge successes during their time on the show. The two are known for their physical talent as comedians and goofy characters. Gilda was a cast member during the first seasons of SNL in the 70s, Cheri during the 90s. Each played similar types of characters who portrayed certain archetypes. Archetypes span throughout history and culture, found in books, film, and television. They serve as “symbolic responses to shared human experiences”, therefore an agreeable form of feminist humor, something the audience can identify with even if the individual reinterprets it (Maki 14). The three archetypes I will be focusing are: the virgin, the vamp, and the crone. These, I feel, are the most recognizable and used the most. The virgin is defined as innocent and good, personified as a daughter, sister, or girl-next-door. The vamp is alluring and seductive, fatal to men. Finally, the crone is vengeful, a villain, aware that she can use her maternal role to get what she desires.

Radner and Oteri’s “virgin” characters are Judy Miller and Althea McMinnamen. Both are energetic, elementary school aged, very talkative, and with wild imaginations (Mika 16). Their environments and subject matter are, however, completely different. Judy’s playing is her pretending to be on her own TV show, playing characters that are mostly beautiful brides or princesses, sometimes evil queens (Maki 16). Radner fully commits to Judy as a child, her world never invaded by adults (Maki 17). On the other hand, Althea converses with a pilot, bringing up provocative topics like her brother’s one testicle and her aunt’s life partner (Maki 17). Judy is in a world of typical childhood fantasy, Althea a bit more “adult”, both interested in being grown up while remaining innocent (Maki 17).

The vamp characters are Gilda’s “Hey, You” girl and Oteri’s Adele (Maki 17). Radner is a girl in a commercial selling a fake perfume title “Hey, you”, a perfume for one-night stands (Maki 17-18). In the commercial she eyes a man across the bar, leaves with him, and wakes up the next morning disheveled and exiting his apartment (Maki 18). Adele works in an office, always trying to seduce her co-workers dressed in a tube top and skintight pants (Maki 18). Both “Hey, You” girl and Adele are focused on seducing a man; “Hey, You” girl uses her scent, Adele uses assertive come-ons (Maki 18). They represent the standard vamp – the enjoyment of casual sex and constant flirtation.

Emily Litella (Radner) and Rita Delvecchio (Oteri) reflect the crone archetype. I’ve mentioned Emily already in my paper, the woman who appears sweet on the outside, but tells us otherwise when she calls Jane Curtain a “bitch.” Rita is an elderly housewife confined to her home and her neighborhood (Maki 19). She is sarcastic to her neighbors, nasty, and not what you’d expect from an older woman. Both are passive aggressive – Emily more submissive and Rita very blunt (Maki 19). Emily is never apologetic and Rita is constantly putting her foot in her mouth (Maki 19). Both are very critical of the world around them.

Clearly, feminist humor is a part of Saturday Night Live, although quite subtle (Maki 20). While Oteri is a bit more “unruly” than Radner, both are “unruly” woman – “the woman who truly subverts the dominant order to present something counter, provocative, and thus uproariously funny” (Maki 20). Perhaps Cher Oteri’s unruliness is a reflection of society at the time. By the 90s, women had gained the freedoms they had fought for during the 70s, more comfortable in their sexuality and femininity. Looking back at the pop stars of the 90s, like Britney and Christina, it’s very clear that women were seen as more sexual beings. The more liberal the society, the more sexualized, and Oteri’s characters are a reflection of that. Women are still somewhat excluded from humor, still perceived as humorless, but rather than dig into an issue they can just “hike up their skirts, stick out their chests…” and ignore it (Maki 22). What it all comes down to is looks.

A counter-example of this is Ms. Tina Fey. She has made leaps and bounds for female comics and female humor, playing up her sexuality and femininity while, at the same time, mocking it. Saturday Night Live has been an important show for female comics because of the number of women who have attained stardom through it (Martin & Segrave 380), Fey being a prime example. Most recently have been in her depictions of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin during the 2008 Presidential elections.

Not only did it do wonders for Fey, but put SNL back on the map as a “television landscape for political humor” (Flowers & Young 48) and as a truly funny show. When the parody of Palin first aired, SNL received its highest Nielsen rating for a season premiere, and the video went viral with 14.3 million viewers on NBC.com and Hulu.com (Flowers & Young 49). The second skit, Fey and Amy Poehler mocking Palin’s Katie Couric interview, resulted in 7.9 million television viewers and 11.1 million views on the web (Flowers & Young 53). The third sketch, the debate between Palin and Biden, increased SNL’s viewership by 23%, and the fourth with Alec Baldwin gave SNL its best overnight ratings in more than 14 years (Flowers & Young 53). In fact, more people watched the SNL parodies than actual network news of Sarah Palin (Flowers & Young 62).

Tina Fey’s visual, verbal, and contextual impersonation of Governor Palin was so “remarkable, dead-on, spot-on, fantastic, pitch-perfect…,and a bull’s eye” (Flowers & Young 62) that it affected Palin’s public image, shaping her into a beautiful bimbo not at all qualified to help run a country. The New York Times commented “Ms. Palin has the distinct advantage – or disadvantage – of looking a lot like…Tina Fey, which saddled her with an instant association with someone who is not to be taken seriously” (Flowers & Young 62). Time Magazine also stated that Fey’s depictions were the perfect blending of reality and parody – “When voters close their eyes now and envision Public Palin, likely as not they see Tina Fey” (Flowers & Young 62). The images and dialogue of the skits provided an interpretation of Palin as an “unsophisticated, unworldly, inexperienced state politician, talking about subjects beyond her depth of knowledge” and even as someone who is uneducated (Flowers & Young 62).

In my opinion, Fey was the reason why Senator McCain lost the election – not only was there fear that he was too old, but fear of what Sarah Palin might do to destroy our country. “Fey had about as much impact on this election as the economy did” said a CNN reporter (Flowers & Young 62). “Tina Fey has done more to hurt Sarah Palin and John McCain more than anyone” pollster Dick Bennett said (Flowers & Young 63). Polls conducted by groups such as CBS News, Cable News Network, Fox News, and Women’s voice Women’s Vote uncovered that Palin’s favorability ratings decreased from September to early November 2008 (Flowers & Young 63). Time Magazine wrote, based off its list of “100 People Who Mattered in 2008”, that Fey made the list because “she proved that comedy can still have a serious political clout: her winking performance of Governor Palin defined the governor before she even had a chance to define herself” (Flowers & Young 63).

Television is a truly powerful medium. And Saturday Night Live, the show of satire, has proven time and time again just how powerful the medium can be. From its very beginning, it’s done nothing but provide its viewers with truthful – and hilarious – representations of topical issues and public figures.  SNL has also successfully reflected such issues regarding race and gender, more specifically, through its female writers and performers, women’s roles in society and the media. Every one of these female representations – from the virgin to the vamp- has been portrayed in a clever, comedic fashion, providing these female talents with a well-needed voice. The women of SNL have played a role not only as female entertainers and comedians, but also as women who have used their sexuality to break (as well as exemplify) archetypal boundaries and the lines that separate them from their fellow male comedians. If I were given more time, I would love nothing more than to watch every episode of Saturday Night Live, studying every female cast member – from the characters they play to the female archetypes most commonly depicted. I’d analyze lines, costumes, body language, and more, as well as research the extent of their careers. I’m fascinated with these women, these ladies who’ve really broken barriers in the world of comedy. With comedy, comes power, and these SNL females aren’t afraid to pack a punch.

Works Cited

Castleman, Harry, and Walter J. Podrazik. “35. 1975-76 Season: Freddie or Not?”  Watching TV: Six Decades of American Television. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2010, 1982. (253-259). Print.

Fey, Tina.  BossyPants. New York: Reagan Arthur Books, 2011. Print.

Flowers, Arhlene A. and Cory L. Young. “Parodying Palin: How Tina Fey’s Visual and Verbal Impersonations Revived a Comedy Show and Impacted the 2008 Election.” Journal of Visual Literacy, vol. 29, no. 1 (Spring). Ithaca: Journal of Visual Literacy, 2010. (47-67). Print.

Hilmes, Michele. “What Closes on Saturday Night: NBC and Satire.” NBC: America’s             Network. Ed. Jeffrey S. Miller. Berkley. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007. (192-208). Print.

Horowitz, Susan. Queens of Comedy. Amsterdam: Overseas Publishers Association, 1997. Print.

Kimball, Gayle. “Galloping in Slow Motion: Women’s Influence on Film and Television.” Women’s Culture In a New Era: A Feminist Revolution? Ed. Mollie Gregory. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2005. (61-78). Print.

Maki, Kelsey J. “It’s Always Something: Creating and Sustaining Feminist Humor on Saturday Night Live.” Conference Papers – National Communication Association, p1, 0p. Minnesota: Conference Papers – National Communication Association, 2009. (1-27). Print.

Martin, Linda, and Kerry Segrave. “Gilda Radner.” Women in Comedy. New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1986. (380-386). Print.

Mittell, Jason. “Representing Identity.” Television and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. (305-353). Print.

Reincheld, Aaron. “’Saturday Night Live’ and Weekend Update: The Formative Years of  Comedy News Dissemination.” Journalism History, vol. 31, no. 4 (Winter). Ohio: E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, 2006. (190-197). Print.

Shales, Tom, and James Andrew Miller. Live From New York: An Uncensored History of   Saturday Night Live. New York: Little Brown and Company Hachette Book Group USA, 2002. Print.

MTV: Always New and Improved

by Joanna De Jesus

At the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards (VMA’s), Justin Timberlake accepted his award for Best Male Artist and criticized the network’s lack of music videos as part of their programming. “MTV, play more damn videos,” he said, “We don’t want to see The Simpsons on reality television. Play more videos” (Hiatt 1). Though I concede that MTV should play more music videos, I still insist that they are, in fact, giving their viewers what they want. In the article by Steve Jones, “MTV: The Medium was the Message”, he argues that scholarly sources on MTV have declined since the 1980’s due to MTV’s change in programming. He admits, MTV changed and lost its promise as “Music Television”, but he reminds us the change was for the better. “What caused MTV to begin moving towards live and reality programming was the need to capture audiences for longer periods of time than music videos would permit” (Jones 87). “Timberlake’s criticism pointed at broader concerns that music has become less essential to MTV’s identity” (Hiatt 1).

In the early history of MTV, music videos were a new way to experience music, but the network could not sustain itself forever solely by producing one type of programming. MTV expanded by adding variety to their programming and marketing their brand to reach the youth in other cultures through global expansion. Jones argues that this global phenomenon is “the first and most important reason that MTV continues to have an impact on popular culture” (Jones 84). For this reason, more scholarly attention should be given to the long-term effects of MTV. “‘Music television is a term that has to be redefined for each generation,’ says president of programming Brian Graden, who was instrumental in the station’s recent shift toward teen pop. ‘You have to find new ways to package it, celebrate it, reinvent it, or somebody else would create tomorrow’s music television’ “(Ali and Devin 50). Even though MTV stopped airing music videos and turned to regular programming, thus sacrificing its original purpose, MTV’s success at capturing their youth audience after 30 years should be defined by their ability to reinvent themselves with each generation.

To understand postmodernism, one must understand modernism: “Modernism is characterized as a rejection of realist representation and was thus a move away from the 19th century’s objective depiction of the world to various forms of abstraction and symbolism that emphasized subjective inward consciousness” (O’Donnell 183). Postmodernism explains how today’s modern culture is created by the advancement in technologies which set us apart from previous “modern societies”. It is the next layer of modernism. The debate of what is “postmodern” began in the 1950’s as a way to describe modern architecture and new styles of poetry (O’Donnell 191). In the 1970’s, when the claims of postmodernism began to appear in other cultures and academic disciplines, and theorist like Jean-Francois Lyotard came on the scene, the idea began to take hold and postmodernism was “here to stay”(Connor 6).

Mark Poster’s claim on postmodernism is that new technology increases the speed in which we receive a message, thus changing our lives because we quickly become dependent on this (O’Donnell 182).

What does new technology have to do with postmodernism? Theorists believe that they influence our society and create “a simulated culture highlighted by virtual reality” (O’Donnell 182). Jean Baudrillard and Jean-Francois Lyotard argue that the growth of the Internet, satellite radio, and phones with advance capabilities, are all forming a new social culture (O’Donnell 183). Does postmodernism really exist? Is there a ‘unified sensibility’ running across and between all the different areas of cultural life? Does postmodernism unjustly limit or prematurely curtail the ‘unfinished project’ of modernism? Is there anything new or valuable in the alleged ‘postmodern breakthrough’? Does postmodernist culture exist? If so, (sometimes even if not) is it a good thing or a bad thing? These are some of the many questions that came with the controversy following the “postmodernism” debate (Connor 6).

Smartphones and social networking sites such as Facebook prove Jean Baudrillard and Jean-Francois to be correct in their argument. Now, our social culture depends on technology. A cell phone can be used as a portable computer, an ATM, a radio, a camera, and of course a phone. People regain contact after years at the click of a button by accepting a friend request and have virtual coffee dates, rather than actual face time.

Postmodernism in television looks at the way intertextuality is used and lets the viewers analyze their own meanings to what they are watching (O’Donnell 187). Intertextuality can be defined through shows such as South Park, Family Guy, and The Daily Show. These shows address current events and pop culture moments that we, as viewers, are familiar with. Every week South Park parodies current events in pop culture, politics, or world news. Intertexuality is the content and the action is self-reflexivity or self-awareness when television recognizes and references itself.

Another great example of this is an old cartoon that aired on MTV, Beavis and Butthead. Beavis and Butthead were two young guys in high school, who sat around watching music videos on MTV. They were doing exactly what their viewers were doing and through the same network.

MTV is the epitome of postmodernism in television. Combining music with television and coining the term VJ (video jockey) to mean, “A person who conducts a television program of recorded music interspersed with chatter, jokes, and commercials (O’Donnell 188),” the network found a business in using music videos as paid advertisement for the record companies. They also televised live mega events, which were a catalyst for reality shows and more. MTV has redefined the way television is produced through creative editing, camera angles, and breaking the 4th wall (O’Donnell 189). “MTV not only changed the way we listen to music, but the station turbocharged the careers of icons such as Madonna and Michael Jackson, inspired fashion trends (remember the Hammer flattop?) and even influenced the way movies and TV programs are made (its Real World series was a reality-TV pioneer). From the chortling idiocy of Beavis and Butthead, to the appeal of MTV’s ever-morphing logo and eye-popping graphics, the Viacom-owned station’s presence is now ubiquitous” (Ali and Devin 50). Furthermore, to cater to our fragmented culture, the sister network VH1 was created for those who have grown out of the MTV phase.

The key to MTV’s survival is its’ ability to know when to change, what to market, and who to target. When the shift in viewership begins to affect ratings, MTV turns to its research team to help them create content that will set the next trends in pop culture. They turn to the trendsetters, teenagers who are aware and have a sense for the next big thing, for inside information. “We’re in a constant state of reinvention,” said Van Toffler, the president of MTV Networks Music/Film/Logo Group. The network is “rethinking the channels programs for the millennial generation, as those born in the 1980’s and 90’s are sometimes called.” From 2005 to 2009, MTV lost about 250,000 viewers and realized they were hanging on to the Gen X-ers for too long. It was time to give their attention to the next generation, who make up the current audience (Stelter 2).

In an article for Newsweek (2001) titled, “We Still Want Our MTV,” Lorraine Ali and Devin Gordon wrote, ”But not everyone is feeling the love for MTV. Critics say the secret to its success is the result of a Faustian bargain, where the station sacrificed its initial credibility to cater to teens’ most immediate and banal tastes.” Letting teenagers dictate who your target audience will be next, what type of content you’ll be airing, and when you will begin to change your programming to fit their needs, may not sound like the smartest business decision, especially when referring to it as a “Faustian bargain.” But for MTV this is what has worked for them because their audience is a 12-25 demographic.

The article continued to describe the over all-content on MTV: MTV’s main-attraction artists are now bubblegum poppers like Britney Spears and ‘N Sync, while its most popular shows consist of teens voting (and woo-hoo-ing) for their favorite videos, singing karaoke-style over hits and being made over into their favorite pop stars. Its prime-time hours (from 3:30 p.m. until dinner time) are filled with this fare, not to mention nonstop T&A in videos and beach-house specials, while more edgy artists are relegated to off-peak viewing hours or the smaller satellite station, MTV2. “It would be nice if MTV’s music programming was as risk-taking as the people who run it,” says former news anchor Tabitha Soren, who was at the station from 1991 to 1998. “It would be nice if their programming was more diverse. MTV now has enough power and has shown how irreverent and how creative it can be, so they should distinguish their programming from radio programming” (Ali and Devin 50).

Three years earlier, in 1998, Chris Morris wrote an article about trendsetter studies and how this research was used to influence MTV programming. Music Trendsetter Studies (MTS) is research conducted by the network that looks at “opinions, aspirations, tastes, and longings of listeners who live their lives ahead of he mainstream curve” (2). He quotes MTV president Judy McGrath when she explains this research is important to their programming because by knowing what these self-motivated young adults are thinking, you can use that knowledge to trigger what the latest artist will be working on next. She also says, “It can really tell you something about where the audience is, because that audience connection is the whole deal” (2).

The quote above also mentions MTV2. MTV2 was brought on as an alternative to viewers that did not care for the Backstreet Boys and Ms. Spears. As a way to cover their boundaries and not leave any viewers behind, MTV2 continues its “original purpose” of 24/7 music videos. To sum up, MTV allows the network to have a clear understanding of where trends are headed so they can create the their own. Getting there before the others is what MTV prides itself on.

Michael Mertz, a television instructor at Columbia College Chicago, with an extensive knowledge of rock music and the history of television said this about MTV,“MTV is postmodern because they reflect the sensibilities of their audience and that audience is completely postmodern in terms of their expectations of television and of the culture and the world in general.” In the beginning, MTV went through an experimental phase that “marked a new era in the promotion, consumption and power of pop music among the record-buying young, and coined the expression the ‘MTV generation’”(BBC News 1). During their rise to the top, MTV quickly became an iconic presence in pop-culture, impacting visual style and popular music.

From its debut in the U.S in 1981, MTV has inspired visual media culture and was the first to explore and introduce new formats for programs that are now essential to popular culture.  What made MTV so groundbreaking was the fact that there were only two ways to listen to music as the time: listening to it on the radio or buying the record. MTV began with around the clock broadcasting of music videos and later introduced “mega-events”, the merging of popular music and corporate sponsorship, “unplugged” acoustic performances, and reality programming in the form of The Real World. LiveAid was one of MTV’s mega-events, a fundraiser that helped raise money for the victims of the famine in Ethiopia in the mid 1980’s (BBC News4). The youth culture in the 1980’s and the artist were aware of global issues such as the famine in Ethiopia.

Soon after, coverage of the US Presidential election in 1992 set the trend for “Rock the Vote,” a campaign that encourages young adults to be aware of social and political issues. MTV found a way to make politics cool. By its 20th year, the music started to fade and the content turned to reality TV. It is my opinion that between the 2001 and 2011, MTV has been undergoing yet another experimental phase. The music is not completely gone. It can be heard as background music in their shows and found on their web site. The cartoons are gone and all that’s left is guilty pleasure reality shows such as, Jersey Shore, My Super Sweet Sixteen, and Sixteen & Pregnant. I believe the next generation of MTV programming will be documentary-style. The shift has already begun, while we see the immature sixteen year old demand an over the top party to commemorate their sixteenth birthday, the same viewers get to follow the lives of the same age group having to grow up faster than expected as teen parents.

It is also important to take into account that the youth market of today is different from the teens ten and twenty years ago. The teens today can be categorized into so many subcultures. Their expectations are higher and they demand things faster. The generation that MTV is now trying to target grew up with the Internet and iPods. MTV is aware of this and also aware that the network is no longer a musical tastemaker. With new research and new marketing tools, MTV will find a way to reach the new audience as they have in the past.

It is important to acknowledge that MTV is bigger than just MTV and MTV.com. After it’s launch, MTV proved to be a success and decided to test their chances at success over seas. “In 1987, MTV Europe launched adding more than 1.6 million households to MTV’s subscription list” (BBC News4). Ten years later, MTV was the first music channel to launch on the web and continued launching the network in other countries, such as the UK and Ireland (BBC News 4). MTV Networks is a business owned by Viacom. Their brand, “MTV”, is a global brand known worldwide with programs showing in 169 countries and heard in 28 languages (Lowry 1). In fact, the network has a policy with its overseas partners of 70% local content, which has resulted in some of the network’s most creative shows (Capell 4).
MTV’s global expansion has created a global village or “global mall.” Economically, the profits made from this operation are more than expected since “few other transnational media operations can claim to make profits at all” (Capell 2). In some countries, such as China, MTV has partnered with local cable operators. China and India are their biggest markets, and as noted before the policy states that 70% of programming needs to be local content. This allows the country to have control over the content, while MTV still gets to attach their brand to it. The cultures may be different, but musically the cultures are the same. This influences all kinds of trends, not just in music. It influences the clothing style, slang, and unifies different cultures through this global network. Being a network that markets to teens or “youth culture,” it is equally as important to be globally aware than it is to be politically aware or socially aware.

The Real World and The Hills era is coming to an end and MTV may never return to its original purpose: broadcasting music videos around the clock. Though I admit, MTV should play more music videos, the reality is the network would not have made it past five or ten years if that is all it did. The new generation is impatient. They want things instantly and the growth of the Internet has allowed this. With other media outlets available to them, like Yahoo! Music, YouTube, and MySpace to name a few, people have options for watching music videos. They turn to MTV (or MTV.com) because it is a brand they know and trust. MTV Networks, a business that now includes MTV2, VH1, Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, TV Land, TNN and CMT, continues to find new ways to promote music while creating content that revolves around pop culture. Without a doubt, MTV is postmodern and so are the people that tune in.

Works Cited

Ali, Lorraine, and Devin Gordon. “We Still Want Our MTV.” Newsweek 138, no.4 (July 23, 2001):50. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 29,2010).

Capell, Kery, et al. “MTV’S World.” BusinessWeek 3770 (2002): 81-84. Business Source Elite. EBSCO. Wed. 19 Oct. 2010.

Connor, Steven. Postmodern Culture: An Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary. 2nd. London University: Birkbeck College, 2001. 6

Hiatt, Brain. “MTV’s Midlife Crisis.” Rolling Stone 1036 (2007): 11-12. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 19 OCT. 2010

Jones, Steve. “MTV: The Medium was the Message.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 22.1 (2005): 83-88. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. 29 Sept. 2010

Lowry, Tom. “Can MTV Stay Cool? (cover story).” BusinessWeek 3972 (2006): 50-60. Business Source Elite. EBSCO. Web. 19 Oct. 2010.

O’Donnell, Victoria. Television Criticism. Montana: SAGE Publications, 2007. 181-198

Mertz, Michael. Interview by Joanna DeJesus. 12 Dec 2010

“MTV’s irresistible rise.” BBC News (2001):1-5. 19 OCT 2010  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1456093.stm

Morris, Chris. “Future Divined in new ‘Trendsetters Study’.” Billboard 110.39 26 Sept 1998. N. pag. Academic Search Premier. Database. 19 Oct 2010.

Stelter, Brian. “MTV Is Looking Beyond.” New York Times (2010): 1-4. Web. 14 Dec 2010.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/25/business/media/25.mtv.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print.