Monthly Archives: February 2012

Interview: Jane Espenson

Jane Espenson has written for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, The O.C., Gilmore Girls, Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica,  Caprica, Game of Thrones, and Torchwood: Miracle Day among other series.  She is currently a consulting producer on ABC’s hit Once Upon A Time, and is co-creator of Husbands, a web series viewable at http://husbandstheseries.com You can follow Jane on Twitter @JaneEspenson. Candice Philpot sat down with her to relive glory days and dish about glory days in the making.

What was the dynamic like between the production team on Buffy? Did that dynamic differ or change from Buffy to Angel to Firefly, etc.? Specifically in relation to the people who worked on multiple series?

The dynamic.  Hmm.  Well, first off, the production team includes, I would say, over a hundred people.  So there was no one dynamic.  Crew people, office people, the cast, the writers, they have their own dynamics.  Generally, Joss was at the head of each group, but I don’t think each group related to him in the same way.  I can only speak to the dynamic among the writers, and only during the years I was there (seasons 3-7).  I found it to be a generally very happy group with a pretty healthy dynamic.  It evolved over the years – new writers were added, others left.  Joss’s involvement decreased at the end, and Marti Noxon’s grew.  Some writers went to Angel.  New writers were brought in to work on Firefly.  We didn’t have a lot of interaction with the Angel staff, especially after their first year, and less with the Firefly staff, who weren’t even housed in the same facility.  But back to the Buffy staff – some of us were very close.  Doug Petrie and I were hired at the same time, and we became very close with Drew Greenberg and Rebecca Kirshner, who were brought in later.  We were also good friends with Steve DeKnight, but then he went off to Angel.  Drew Goddard was hired late in the run of the show, but Joss recognized his value very quickly — Drew’s a great guy.  David Fury and Marti Noxon were both ranked above me, and were both very generous and kind to me.  It was a warm staff, very supportive of each other, and prone to expressions of affection – they gave me gifts when I was ill that moved me very much.  We might have bonded especially closely because we tended to make the most story progress with Joss in the room – it was a very top-down, Joss-driven show.  So when Joss wasn’t there, we had some unstructured time together.  It was also a show in which scripts were sometimes written quickly by splitting them into acts, which required us to coordinate with each other, and write in a unified style.  It was an amazing job, and I’d say the dynamic was strong – no backbiting or currying for favor.

What kind of major creative decisions did you make while working on a Whedon series? (Any examples or anecdotes of decisions you’ve been a part of that made a huge impact on a story, character or content?)

Oh my.  The big decisions usually came from Joss and then from Marti.  I witnessed big ideas, but was usually implementing them, not coming up with them.  I seem to remember that some of us had the idea of making Principal Wood the son of a Slayer – I think that was something that came from us instead of from Joss.  The impact I had was usually at the more micro-level, writing specific lines and jokes, or capturing the flavor and tone that Joss wanted for a scene or script.

Most importantly, what do you think are the benefits of working within a community of creators?

I’m not sure what you mean “a community of creators.”  Although some of us went on to create other projects, Joss was the sole creator of Buffy.  We were a creative community, though, like any staff, and it was, I believe, a particularly talented group.  Part of what made this group so strong was our ability to get out of Joss’s way – is that ironic?  I’m not sure.  But we were all good at finding takes on things that allowed his ideas to shine.  We also were often sent home to write with a lot of freedom allowed to us in the process.  There is a TV writing term, “WP,” which stands for Writer’s Problem or Writer’s Prerogative, and we were allowed a lot of those on Buffy – places in a script where we were allowed to exercise our personal choice as we wrote.

What are some positive aspects of working in the television industry? Especially with the competitive and cut-throat nature of the business?

I have found it to be competitive, but I think the cut-throat thing is overstated.  I’ve never felt sabotaged.  I was mildly undermined a few times, early in my career, and there are definite problems in terms of less-than-optimal diversity in the business, but once you break in, there is something pretty close to a meritocracy going on.  You rise or fall on your ability to write for the show.  That’s certainly positive.  You also get to write for TV, with all that entails – you get exposure, influence, pay, and the chance to work with other creative and funny people.  You meet people you respect and you get to work with them.  Your voice is amplified.  I adore this job.

You’ve written for a variety of mediums– why is television writing a favorite?

I love writing dialogue.  And I love writing fast… a project that lingers loses my interest eventually.  I love that TV demands a lot of product.  I love that it draws a big audience – it’s fun to reach people.  I love that it has the power to change how people think and affect positive change.  I love that I can make people laugh.

The internet has become a huge component of television– what role do you believe the webseries plays in the current state of the industry, and why is it important?

It’s HUGELY important.  It’s going to become all one thing, which is going to be fascinating.  It’s making filmed entertainment much more accessible to creators in all places, of all income levels, with all kinds of points of view.  It’s tackling those creator-diversity issues that TV hasn’t made much progress with.  It’s making TV have to be more daring, more inclusive, more accessible in order to compete.

How did you begin development for Husbands? What challenges have you faced?

We began with a simple idea to make a web series about young people in LA.  It evolved into our romantic comedy with its marriage equality message – the change was crucial, because suddenly there was a bigger reason to tell the story.   My first step was to ask Joss for advice, and he told us to hire a good line producer and then he sent us to Felicia Day, who gave us great advice about putting in the time and effort to market and publicize the show ourselves.  The challenges – we had to cast someone to play Brady, and that took a long time and many sessions before we found Sean Hemeon.   We needed to shoot a sequence in downtown LA, doubling as the Vegas strip – that was nervewracking because we didn’t have a permit.  We had some problems with bad batteries in sound equipment during our promo shoot, and a broken camera during the main shoot.  We had three EPs – Brad Bell (who also co-wrote and starred), Jeff Greenstein (who also directed), and me, and we all had to agree on some things, which wasn’t always easy, although there were few real disagreements.   And then we had the challenge of fighting for views and exposure, which has been effortful, but has worked out well.  We’re hitting a number of conventions this year, continuing to drum up support and meet the fans.

Auteurism: Joss and The Whedonverse

On March 10, 1997, the first episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer aired as a midseason replacement on The WB Network. Unbeknownst to television viewers, or executives at the novice, up and coming network, that singular episode of television would not only launch a brand for the WB, but also, the career of Buffyʼs creator: Joss Whedon. Over 200 episodes of television, a film, web-series and various projects in a variety of mediums later, Whedonʼs franchise is alive and secure all within the realm of his production company Mutant Enemy.

While Whedon might be the creator, name and face of these productions, further consideration and analyzation can be given to his company members and production personnel– specifically in the context of television studies and analysis. Criticism can be interpreted and argued through means of production theory as well as through auteur theory.

Joss Whedon has created a new facet of the auteur theory through the development and structure of his repeatedly used production personnel. This argument can be supported by use of three sub-claims: 1. Whedonʼs method of structuring and maintaining his production personnel who’ve been inspired by other successful creators. Whose careers and auteurism have inspired his own. 2. Factually and statistically, many writers, producers, directors and actors who’ve been repetitively involved in Whedonʼs shows. 3. Many writers, producers and directors have played monumentally prominent roles in the development and creative process of Whedonʼs shows.

In this analysis of Joss Whedonʼs work, it is first necessary to obtain a firm understanding of the theories used, compared and referenced within these writings. Most important is the basic understanding and comprehension of auteurism, or the auteur theory (included in production theory analysis of media works). Most simply, per a basic dictionary definition, an auteur is defined as: “a filmmaker whose personal influence and artistic control over a movie are so immense  that the filmmaker is regarded as the author of the movie” (Oxford Dictionary). Or: “a view of filmmaking in which the director is considered the primary creative force in a motion picture” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). As with all media types, structures and conventions, this definition has also endured multiple evolutions.

According to Andrew Sarris, in his highly regarded essay Notes On The Auteur Theory in 1962, the auteur theory “itself is a pattern of theory in constant flux” (563). In his essay, Sarris demonstrates an in-depth analysis of auteurism, its characteristics and how it relates to film and television production and criticism– all elements necessary to comprehending the argument of this analysis. The concept that this theory, as well as with production theory and any analysis theory, is constantly changing, re-shaping and evolving pertinent to, not only this argument, but to television analysis and criticism as a whole. Theory and basis of study evolve along with the media mediums- they must evolve in order for criticism to be progressed and to remain relevant.

Auteur theory, according to Sarris, can be analyzed through three premises, as use for criterion of value: “technical competence of the director… distinguishable personality of the director… [and] the interior, or ultimate glory of the cinema as an art” (562). Further Sarris affirms, that auteurism of directors and all creatives alike, “emphasizes the body of a director’s work rather than isolated masterpieces” (Sarris 563) and goes on to elaborate on the characteristics and similarities within a creative professional’s works, based on the above stated criterion.

This definition and shared elemental criterion of auteurism– a creator’s influence, through multiple premises, on the production and overall product of their work, can be related and attributed to the work of Joss Whedon. Clear understanding and parameters of auteurism are directly utilized and referenced within, and for the purpose of this analysis. Also, the examples and body of analysis used within this argument that had been  narrowed to Whedon’s most popular and acclaimed projects: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (The WB/UPN, 1997-2003), Angel (The WB, 1999-2004), Firefly (FOX, 2002), Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (web content, 2008) and Dollhouse (FOX, 2009-2010).

As written by Sarris, auteur theory is constantly evolving into new forms and structures for criterion of creative media products. Joss Whedon’s repetitive use and communal structured production and creative team are a direct example. This evolution of auteurism, and how Whedon’s works have progressed and impacted it, are the primary issues the theory poses within this analysis and argument. It is important to understand the development of this production staff and how this community which was formed within the realm of Whedon’s creative works.

First, Whedon’s method of structuring and maintaining his production personnel was inspired  by other successful creative professionals whose careers (and individual auteurisms) have influenced his own. In A Religion in Narrative: Joss Whedon and Television Creativity, an essay originally presented at the “Blood, Text, and Fears” conference in Norwich, England in2002, then later published as part of The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies, critic David Lavery writes about the beginning of Whedon’s career and those who influenced him, before he made it big with Buffy.

“Thanks to [Whedon’s] commentary on the Buffy DVDs,” Lavery writes, “where he mentions Hitchcock, DePalma, Lynch, Leone, Abel Ferrara, Luc Bessson, Sam Peckinpah, Tim Burton, Marcel Ophuls, Woody Allen, we know something about the directors whose work he remembers (not always favorably) and sometimes emulates,” (Lavery 2). These influences not only shaped Whedon’s education; but his early career in film and television.

With a degree in film studies from Weslyan University, Whedon, known as a comic book geek, a musical lover and television fanatic, emerged into the television industry at a time when “even television auteurs have become prominent in the way we think and write about the medium,” (Lavery 2).  Television legend and fellow auteur, Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, also pioneered and inspired Whedon in a variety of ways. In Do Not Go Gentle Into The Twilight: Rod Serling’s Challenge to 1960’s Television Production, an essay written by media scholar Jon Krazewski and published in the “New Review of Film and Television Studies 6.3”, Krazewski outlines Serling’s career, including the development, creation of The Twilight Zone and how Serling’s methods of television production differed from his peers at the time.

The Twilight Zone was created by dramatic television writer Rod Serling and it aired for five seasons, from 1959-1964.  During the 1960’s, in the midst of a golden era for television,. Serling challenged conventional production methods with the new, innovative and non- traditional methods he implemented. This primarily includes “subvert[ing] the traditional relationships between producers and writers in the 1960’s television industry,” (Kraszewski 344). The shift Serling implemented among his staff, allowed writers to take on roles usually reserved for producers. For example, “Serling allowed writers to mix fantasy with a variety of genres on The Twilight Zone in a way that enabled them to customize the level of character development, the narrative point of view, and the generic identity of episodes on a script-by-script basis,” (Kraszewski 344).

Despite some negative attention, and adverse effects,Serling completely altered and inspired a change in the way television was written and produced. As the industry moved toward the end of the 20th century, challenging a standard and managing to “overthrow the dominant mode of 1960s’ television production,” (Krawsewski 344).

“Not only does Whedon’s work mirrors Serling’s per use of science fiction genre and social/political commentary, but it is also inspired by one of Serling’s ‘unconventional’ production methods: giving more control to the writers of the series, and allotting the writers the most important “creative power,” (Kraszewski 361). The methods in which Serling took to develop his production team, those relationships, and the overall idea that he challenged the existing production methods of his time are the core components of Serling’s auteurism. They can be directly related to Joss Whedon’s works and production methods—tying the creation of a new facet of the auteur theory.

This emulation and inspiration that he had received from the creatives that have come before him gave Whedon the motivation to take on creative leeway in developing and transforming production personnel roles, status and relationships, into something modern and new, while transforming the role of the television creator and auteur. Through transformation and development of this production team, Whedon has taken a new approach in the developmental and creative process of his shows.

Second in argument, over the entirety of the body of accomplishments being used for analysis, many writers, producers, directors and actors have been involved, repetitively, in Whedon’s shows/projects.  Direct, factual and statistical examples of this repetitiveness and community of creators include: Actor Nathan Fillion with four projects (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Serenity,  and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) for a total of 22 episodes and one film (Internet Movie Database), writer/director Tim Minear with three projects (Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse) for a total of 88 episodes (Internet Movie Database) and actress Felicia Day with three projects (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Dollhouse) for a total of 13 episodes (Internet Movie Database)

Additionally, others include actress Summer Glau with four projects (Angel, Firefly, Serenity, Dollhouse) for a total of 19 episodes and one film (Internet Movie Database) and writer/producer/director David Greenwalt with two projects (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel) for a total of 232 episodes of television (Internet Movie Database).  To further understand and elaborate on expansive numbers and use of Whedon’s talent and production team, the season seven episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, “Dirty Girls”, which originally aired on April 15, 2003, was examined for this repetition. Within approximately 42 minutes of television, over a dozen actors, writers and other production personnel were featured within the episode– actors, writers and production personnel who are not only credited in other Buffy episodes, but in other Whedon projects. “Dirty Girls” examples include: actress Alyson Hannigan, actress Eliza Dusku, actor Tom Lenk, casting director Anya Colloff, stunt double Steve Tartalia and makeup technician Ken Culver, among others (Whedon “Dirty Girls”).

In Rhonda Wilcox’ article In ‘The Demon Section of the Card Catalogue’: Buffy Studies and Television Studies, Wilcox examines the cultural and social impact of Buffy, as well as Whedon’s works as a whole (the “Whedonverse”) on television audiences and 21st century societies. Wilcox references the “boundary-crossing” (Wilcox 42) Writer/Producer Jane Espenson, who has not only worked on Whedon projects Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse, but also wrote and collaborated on several other Whedon-based projects, including the Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Eight comic book series.

Wilcox compares the Whedonverse, and even the “Buffyverse” to a “Venn- diagram” (43) of creators including “…Espenson, musician Christopher Beck, actor [James] Marsters, even stunt coordinator Jeff Pruitt– though every episode is touched by the hands of Joss Whedon,” (Wilcox 43).  This repetitive use of personnel and creative professionals has developed into a, noted and criticized, community within Whedon’s works. While these numbers are statistics, they represent a vast majority of Whedon’s team and contacts. The group of people form the auteur and their continued and maintained work within Whedon’s series sustains it.

Lastly, many writers, producers and directors have played monumentally crucial roles in the developmental and creative process of Whedon’s shows. This relationship, team-mentality and dependency upon creators other than Whedon himself, support the analyzed auteur. This important role, played by Whedon’s personnel, spans over the entirety of his television series.  This, specifically, exemplified by the involvement of Jane Espenson, along with the work of Writer/Producer David Fury with three projects (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) for a total of 164 episodes (Internet Movie Database). As well as Writer/Producer Marti Noxon with three projects (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) for a total of 187 episodes of television (Internet Movie Database).

In David Perry’s article Marti Noxon: Buffy’s Other Genius, published in a compilation of essays focusing on the final two seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, explores Marti Noxon’s role and impact on the show and other Whedon productions. Not only did Noxon’s introductory work cause an “immediate impact” on the series (Perry 14), but also incorporated “themes and imagery that would later be associated with her writing” (Perry 14). These themes and ideas made it’s mark on the entirety of Noxon’s work with Whedon.

According to Perry, “Marti Noxon is credited by other Mutant Enemy writers for being the passionate and pained heart of the show and for capturing the sometimes deliberately cruel aspects of love,” (Perry 14-15). These themes and ideas can be seen, repeatedly, in Noxon’s work on, both, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel.  Not only did these aspects have a monumentally impactful role on analyzed shows, but evidence of Noxon’s professional relationship with Whedon further proves the auteur and importance of the repetitively used production personnel. For example, “Joss Whedon expressed his admiration for Marti Noxon by rewarding her with choice assignments,” (Perry 14). This professional and personal working relationship, the responsibility Whedon allotted to Noxon as a member of his personnel, over the entire span of her involvement further demonstrates Whedon’s evolving methods and auteurism.

In a coinciding article within the same compilation of essays, Understanding the Espensode, author David Kociemba also outlines Jane Espenson’s involvement in Whedon’s body of work, specifically in relation of auteurism and her relating roles. He describes Espenson as “a craftsperson working under Joss Whedon’s direction” (Kociemba 23) and notes “several places where Espenson carves out some artistic autonomy and influences other in the creative process,” (Kociemba 24). Kociemba goes on to outline some of the characteristics of Espenson’s writing, used over the span of her multi-series involvement, including, “off-the-nose dialogue” (Kociemba 27). Along with these characteristics and techniques as a writer and producer, the work of Espenson can be compared to Noxon with her incorporation of repeatedly used themes. Espenson, who has worked with Joss Whedon on four projects (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse) for a total of 102 episodes, has held the position(s) of writer, executive story editor, co-producer, supervising producer and executive producer.

Espenson’s involvement, as with Noxon’s, Fury’s and a handful of others, is much more than a face on the screen, or a name rolling in the closing credits. The work of these writers, producers, and directors has played a key role in the creative and developmental aspects of Whedon’s productions. The work of these individual production personnel has impacted the content of these productions. It has impacted the displayed themes and incorporated ideas of these productions. It has impacted the overall tone of these productions, spanning over several series and several hundred episodes of television.

In conclusion, as with any type of media criticism or analysis, methods and concepts are continually expanding and evolving, and will continue to exist in this “constant flux” (Sarris 563). Critics may rebut that the “auteur” is a term often  reserved for film directors, specifically– a negation that can immediately be dispelled by these progressions and evolutions. The evolution of the auteur theory holds a place in an identical vein of thought: as television forms and mediums evolve and progress, the theories administered as criticism must mirror this progression.

This proves criticism and argument that Joss Whedon has created a new facet of the auteur theory.  through the developmental and structure of his repeatedly used production personnel, by means of: structuring and maintaining production personnel as inspired by auteurs before him, the repetitive involvement of writers, producers, directors and actors, and the monumentally important role a select group of writers producers and directors have played in the creative and developmental process of his body of work.

Works Cited

“Auteur.” Def. 1. Oxford Dictionary. Oxforddictionaries.com. Oxford University Press, Apr. 2010. Web. Nov. 2011. <http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/ auteur?region=us>.

“Auteur Theory.” Def. 1. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. Www.merriam-webster.com.

Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Nov. 2011 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/!dictionary/auteur?show=1&t=1323696533>.

“David Fury.” Imdbpro.com. Internet Movie Database. Nov. 2011  <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0299236/>.

“David Greenwalt.” Imdbpro.com. Internet Movie Database. Nov. 2011   <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0277213/>.

“Felicia Day.” Imdbpro.com. Internet Movie Database. Nov.2011  <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0277213/>.

Kociemba, David . “Creating the Espensode.” Buffy Goes Dark: Essays On The Final Two Seasons Of Buffy The Vampire Slayer On Television. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland &, 2009. 23-40. Print.

Krazewski, Jon. “Do Not Go Gentle into That Twilight: Rod Sterling’s Challenge to 1960s’ Television Production.” New Review of Film and Television Studies 6.3 (2008): 343-64. Print.

Lavery, David. “”A Religion in Narrative”: Joss Whedon and Television Creativity.” www.slayageonline.com. Online Journal of International Buffy Studies, Oct. 2002. Web. Sept. 2011. <http://www.slayageonline.com/PDF/lavery2.pdf>.

“Marti Noxon.” Imdbpro.com. Internet Movie Database. Nov. 2011 <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0637497/>.

“Nathan Fillion.” Imdbpro.com. Internet Movie Database. Nov. 2011 <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0277213/>.

Perry, David. “Marti Noxon: Buffy’s Other Genius.” Buffy Goes Dark: Essays On The Final Two Seasons Of Buffy The Vampire Slayer On Television. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland &, 2009. 13-22. Print.

Sarris, Andrew. “Notes On The Auteur Theory In 1962.” The Film Artist (1962): 561-64. “Summer Glau.” Imdbpro.com. Internet Movie Database. Nov. 2011  <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0277213/>.

“Tim Minear.” Imdbpro.com. Internet Movie Database. Nov. 2011 <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0277213/>.

Whedon, Joss. “Dirty Girls.” Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The WB. 15 Apr. 2003. Wilcox, Rhonda. “In ʻThe Demon Section of the Card Catalogueʼ: Buffy Studies and Television Studies.” Critical Studies in Television (2006): 37-48. Print.

The Innovative & the Ignored: A Critical Reflection of THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS’ Transmedia Strategy

by Brett King

Abstract

As part of its ongoing effort to expand its audience base and remain on the air, the US American soap opera  “The  Young  &  the  Restless”  has  been  utilizing  transmedia  since  the  mid-1970s. This piece looks at those earlier strategies, in addition to exploring more recent, cutting-edge ventures that make it possible to examine the intersection between transmedia and the (assumed) female experience.

Introduction

In the current discourse on media, the concept of “transmedia”—that is, utilizing multiple media platforms to expand and tell a singular story—has drawn much attention. There has been discussion of its usage in dramatic adventure series, science fiction programming, and more.1  Yet, one genre that has remained conspicuously absent from this conversation is the soap opera. Perhaps this is because soaps—at least in US American culture—are seen as a dying breed, thus not worth the attention. Despite this, there is one soap opera in particular that has been actively utilizing transmedic forms for nearly 40 years, far longer than many of the other television series frequently lauded for their efforts in this area: The Young & the Restless (CBS; 1973-present).

As part of The Young & the Restless’  ongoing  efforts  to expand its audience base and remain relevant (thus on the air), it has employed a transmedia strategy since 1976. This paper will provide readers with an historical analysis of The Young & the Restless’  earliest multi-medium endeavors, as well as offer a discussion highlighting modern, cutting-edge ventures executed by producers. As part of this overview of The Young & the Restless’  transmedia  strategy, readers will learn: how, in an effort to grow their audience in the pre-Internet era, producers turned to print-media; how producers have prioritized the frequently overlooked and assumed female experience in crafting a transmedia experience; and, how producers have created a fresh avenue of revenue in an age where the genre—as a whole—is not as profitable as it once was. In short, this paper will explore the ways in which The Young & the Restless’  transmedia  strategy  over  the last 40 years has been, and continues to be, truly innovative.

Reflexivity, Theory, and Method

I am approaching this piece from the point-of-view of a third-year undergraduate student majoring in the discipline of Cultural Studies and minoring in Women & Gender Studies. To date, most of my academic work has focused on the (mis)representations of gender, sexuality, race and class within popular culture, especially television (moreover US American daytime soap operas). I am a genuine fan of television, and, as a queer man living in a frequently homophobic culture steeped in heteronormative ideologies, I am interested in exploring television’s capacity to  challenge  these  systems.  Within  my  broader work, those theories that are most beneficial to me in understanding culture are those that illuminate the ideologies which subject and misrepresent certain groups of people while elevating others (e.g., Feminist and Queer Theory, written by scholars such as bell hooks and Judith Butler).

With these ideas in mind,  when  I  discuss  issues  of  “culture”  from  here  on  out,  I  am doing so in a manner akin to cultural theorist Raymond Williams in his essay “Culture  is  Ordinary.” That is, I am speaking of a whole way of life—complete with culturally-inscribed practices, shared meanings, internal politics of difference, etc.— which governs the way(s) people (both individually and collectively) live their lives and make sense of the world around them. Essential to this idea of culture is an understanding and recognition that cultures have fundamental worldwide, and temporal differences (i.e., Williams’  concept  of  dominant,  residual,  and  emergent  cultures), and that I can only analyze and speak of culture from a uniquely reflective position within my own. Furthermore, when I discuss issues of audience reception, I do so with a tacit understanding  of  Stuart  Hall’s  work  on  dominant,  resistant,  and  negotiated readings of encoded messages.

In essence, I recognize that various cultural factors might interfere with  individual  audience  members’  ability  to  interpret  the  intended  message(s)  that  producers have encoded within their production(s). In turn, this might cause such audience members to walk away with an understanding of the message(s) that differs from what the producers originally intended. Hence, why  I  refer  to  the  producers’  intents throughout, rather than what may or may not have happened on the audience-end of the cycle.

For this piece, I will also utilize the concept of production theory. Production theory is a framework of understanding that explores the relationship between popular culture and capitalism, and which developed from the field of television and media studies.  As  such,  a  “production  analysis  draws  attention  to  the  fact  that  whatever  else  popular culture may be, it is deeply embedded in capitalist, for-profit  mass  production”  (“Production Analysis”: paragraph 6). This is accomplished through analyses of pop culture artifacts (e.g., a television series) on three different levels: the microlevel looks at the workers involved in production; the midrange level looks at the institutions driving the production; and/or the macro-level looks at the governing forces exerting control over the production. The overarching goal of production analysis is to give consumers of popular culture a better understanding of those artifacts.

Of the three levels discussed above, I have employed a midrange critical reading here. I explore The Young & the Restless in terms of its intra- and inter-network locality, its branding and marketability, and its efforts to broaden its audience base and increase viability. I will show that, in understanding these factors, we gain a better understanding of the possibilities not only for the soap opera genre, but also for the application of transmedia as a whole.  Similarly,  I  utilize  the  idea  of  genre  theory,  which  “examines  the  development  or  characteristics of a specific classification  of  television  programming”  (Fineman,  “Theory  Overview”).  I  apply  this  theory  in  my  explanation  of  the  genre,  as  well  as  my  suggestions  surrounding its possible evolution.

Soap History

In his 2008 audience-impact  study  titled  “Soap  Operas  and the History of Fan Discussion,”  Sam  Ford—at the time, the instructor of a course on the American soap opera, and the Project Manager for the Convergence Culture Consortium Program at M.I.T. (Mistretta: paragraphs 1-2)—provides a concise history of the soap opera genre. Ford notes that even the  term  “soap  opera”  is  rooted  in  the  relationship  between  television and capitalism: in their earliest incarnation (short, daily dramas played on the radio), soaps were sponsored by soap companies (Ford: section 2.2). In that same section, Ford goes on to explain that these early soap operas focused  on  the  “ongoing development of an ensemble  cast”  (ibid)  to  attract  viewers.

Today, this ongoing character development is just as significant to the genre as it was in the 1930s and 1950s (when soaps transitioned to television), which brings us to Ford’s  next  point:  Soap  operas attract an audience through the creation of an immersive story world defined by characteristics such as: a serial storytelling structure; a sense of long-term continuity built through years, even decades, of key characters who are featured  daily or weekly; a deep character backlog that has developed over time; an ensemble cast of 30 or 40 characters who are featured on the show at any one time; and self-referential ties to events from a rich textual history. (Ford: section 2.3)

However, while that immersive experience is capable of retaining established viewers, it can also be problematic in terms of gaining new audience members because there is simply too much history, and much of it is non-archived. For example, new viewers of The Young & the Restless (assuming they did not have access to the Internet) would have no way of knowing the rich textual history driving the Katherine Chancellor and Jill Abbott characters  quasi-feud.3  As will be discussed in the next section, however, The Young & the Restless found a transmedic way around this flaw of the genre early on.

Ford also points out another area of soap opera production worth noting here: “[T]hese texts are defined by creative  powers  that  are  in  constant  flux:  not  only  are  hundreds of people employed to create soaps, but characters and story arcs will pass through various creative teams. Any U.S. soap opera that survives for decades will eventually see its creative team  completely  turn  over”  (Ford: section 2.3). This is notable because new authors bring with them the possibility for fresh, innovative perspectives. In some cases, they may have a different understanding of emerging constructs and/or evolving discourses (e.g., Web 2.0 and feminism), the combination of which may give rise to new ways of reaching out to potential audiences.

Turning the Page on History

Long  before  the  publication  of  Marsha  Kinder’s and  Henry  Jenkins’  ground- laying works on transmedia4—17 years earlier, to be exact—CBS’  The Young & the Restless was already engaged in the process of creating transmedic artifacts. Between 1976 and 1987, authors for Bantam Books and Pioneer Communications, Inc., while working in conjunction with Columbia Pictures, Inc., released (at least) ten novellas based on the series.

The  Bantam  Books  came  first  and  were  “[b]ased  on  the  Emmy  Award-winning series created by William J. Bell and  Lee  Phillip  Bell”  (Sherwood: title page). They focused on the romantic couplings audience members were most drawn to (e.g., Brad Eliot  and  Leslie  Brooks),  what  fans  today  would  call  a  “super  couple.”6  The stories told in these early books were actually re-tellings of events that had occurred earlier in the show’s  run,  but  with  a  twist.  Not  only  did  the  print-form of these stories offer consumers a chance to catch-up/refresh their memories, they also granted readers a unique insight into the thoughts and motivations of their ostensibly favorite characters. (After all, who didn’t  want  to  know  that  Leslie  was unable to sleep for two nights and unable to focus on her  pending  concert  in  Detroit,  because  she  was  so  tormented  by  Brad’s  relationship  with  her sister Lorie?) This is relevant to note because US American soap operas rarely utilize voice-overs (i.e., characters internal voices) as a means of conveying thoughts and motivation, choosing instead to rely on production and aesthetic techniques (e.g., emotive expressions during lingering close-up shots, dramatic music, etc.). Thus, by providing new readers and viewers-turned-readers a window into the thought processes of these characters, the books allowed audience members to feel even more immersed in the lives of (the fictionalized) Genoa City, Wisconsin’s citizens.

The Pioneer Communications series of books began publication in 1986, ten years later. Like the Bantam Books that came before, this second series of novellas offered consumers an expanded glimpse into past events. By then, The Young & the Restless had been on the air for thirteen years, and had aired approximately 2,470 hours of brand new, non-repeating storytelling.7  Numerous characters had come and gone, and, with such changes,  the  show’s  core-families evolved (the Brooks and Fosters were phased out in favor of the Newmans and Abbotts). For many viewers, the various couplings and un- couplings that came with this evolution made it hard to keep up. For instance, audiences may have forgotten (or never known) that before the Nikki Newman character was firmly ensconced in a love-quadrangle  with  the  show’s  two  leading  men  of  the  1980s,  she  actually spent two years married into a different core-family (the Fosters). Columbia Pictures and Pioneer Communications sought to bridge this gap in the only way open to them in the pre-Internet days: print-media. The cover art on many of the books from this series  declared  that  readers  could  “[r]elive  the  past  from  its  very  beginnings  in  a  continuing  series  of  paperbacks.” Furthermore, like the Bantam Books that preceded them, the nature of this form of media enabled creators to delve deeper into  characters internal thoughts and motivations, 8  once  again  furthering  the  depth  of  the  consumers immersive experience.

A third print-media venture worth noting here is a single book released in 1998, on the occasion of The Young & the Restless 25th  Anniversary.  Columbia  Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Entertainment Company authorized authors Barbara Irwin and Mary Cassata to write a  Collector’s  Edition  book.  Over  the  course of 304 pages, readers encounter:  detailed  synopses  of  each  year’s  primary  storylines  (between 1973- 1998); family  trees  devoted  to  the  show’s  core-families;;  a  “wedding  album”  featuring  pictures and plot-line information  for  48  marriage  ceremonies;;  a  “map”  of  the  fictionalized Genoa City, Wisconsin, which denotes where characters live, the addresses of featured restaurants, and more; and, a comprehensive behind-the-scenes look at the creative process and actors. Although this book simply offers a recap of what has come before—it does not provide new story material—it does function like its predecessors in the  sense  that  it  contextualizes  25  years’  worth  of  history  for  audience members. Additionally, the latter half of the book (the map, tour guide, and behind-the-scenes features) serves to draw consumers even more deeply into the world of The Young & the Restless by  adding  an  air  of  authenticity  that  increases  audiences’  connectedness   to  the  (fictionalized) Genoa City, Wisconsin. Thus, producers maximize  the  series’  audience- base and profitability.

As I have mentioned already, the nature of these print-media forms—by virtue of retelling  earlier  storylines,  and  creating  new  avenues  of  understanding  characters’  motivations—served to create an even deeper immersive experience for the audience. As Ford notes, it is exactly that experience that keeps existing audiences coming back (section 2.3). Further, the books offered The Young & the Restless’  “Powers  that  Be”9  a chance to ensnare new viewers: those consumers who stumbled upon one of these artifacts at their local drugstore or grocer, but who had rarely/never watched the actual television show before. Once those consumers finished reading the books, producers expected them to tune-in to the actual program and find out what transpired in the interim; or, producers expected readers to be curious enough to want to find out if their own interpretations of certain characters jived with what appeared on-screen. Given the technological limitations of the time (i.e., the lack of Internet), the Bantam and Pioneer books were an ingenious way for producers of The Young & the Restless to market their product and increase its viability.10

Innovative Style

In  “Character,  Audience  Agency  and  Transmedia  Drama,”  Elizabeth  Jane  Evans explores the BBC series Spooks (BBC One; 2002-2011), and hails it as innovative in terms  of  digital  interactivity.  In  particular,  Evans  is  interested  in  looking  at  the  series’  use  of gaming as a means of maximizing  audience  interaction  and  forming  “a  matrix  of  interconnected fictional texts that are not only an extension of the television text, but are capable of providing different kinds of entertainment  in  their  own  right”  (198). In a similar vein, Tom Abba, in his essay on the future of transmedia narrative, comes back again and again to the idea of gaming—specifically Alternate Reality Games—as a key component of the web-based, transmedic experience.11 In fact, as of this writing, most of the transmedia scholarship I have encountered has focused on the importance of gaming culture. Little, if any, attention has been paid to either those who would not actively seek to participate in a gaming culture, or the (generalized) female experience. With regard to the latter, the only mention I have found  so  far  has  been  in  Henry  Jenkin’s  “Transmedia Storytelling,”  though even that is framed in the context of the frequently male-dominated gaming culture.12 In 2008, around the same time Evans was calling Spooks’  approach innovative, The Young & the Restless was employing transmedia in a way that was different from other series—a way that was truly innovative, in the sense that it prioritized the (assumed) female experience13 and it did not rely on Internet-based games. To understand this argument, however, the reader needs access to a bit of back-story first: within the world of The Young & the Restless, four fan-favorite characters came together in 2008 to start an in-universe fashion  magazine  titled  “Restless  Style.”  The magazine was (and continues  to  be)  a  prominent  feature  of  the  shows  storyline,  in  large  part  due  to  the  characters that work—and fight, and make love, and get fired, and later rehired—there. In an effort to bring attention to the series and interact with fans, producers created a real- world  website  dedicated  to  the  fictional  magazine’s  content.

Originally found at RestlessStyle.com,14 a sub-section  of  Sony  Pictures’  website, many industry followers at the time focused their attention on this transmedic magazine.15 In part, such coverage  came  about  because  series  producers’  method  of  reaching viewers was a first for the genre, and, as I mentioned already, producers were employing transmedia in a way that ran counter to the norm (i.e., it was not based on the frequently masculinized idea of gaming). That is, the transmedia format employed here relied on producers’  assumptions  about  what  women  viewers  were likely to seek-out in their  time  spent  on  the  Internet.  According  to  the  press  release  announcing  the  “Restless Style”  site:  “This  site  offers  the  latest  runway  trends,  fresh  beauty  tips  and  red  carpet  coverage, in addition to such things as videos, polls, photo  galleries  and  horoscopes”  (qtd. in DeLeon: paragraph 3).

The Young & the Restless’  creators  merged this assumed understanding of their audience  with  that  same  group’s  desire  to  know  more  about  the  shows  characters  and  environment  and  interact  with  them  on  a  personal  level  (i.e.,  Ford’s  immersive  experience). For example, visitors to the real-world site were able to seek the advice of controversial key character and fan-favorite  Phyllis  Newman  courtesy  of  the  “Ask Phyllis”  feature  (“Y&R’s  RestlessStyle.com”: paragraph 1). Fans were also given access to exclusive “behind  the  scenes  video  footage”  (“Y&R’s RestlessStyle.com”: paragraph 2) of characters orchestrating cover-shoots with real-world figures like Katy Perry, and wearing fashion by the likes of Christian Dior.16,17 Finally, rather than being subjected to actual advertisements, visitors to the site encountered ads for other in-universe brands (e.g., the Crimson Lights coffee shop, or the Forrester-brand haute couture line featured on  “sister-soap”  The Bold & the Beautiful). Through such features, existing audiences were encouraged to delve even deeper into the universe of The Young & the Restless, thereby giving them even more of a reason to keep watching the series. (And it certainly did  not  hurt  that  two  of  the  show’s  most  polarizing  female  characters  in  terms  of  fan- loyalty—the Sharon and Phyllis Newman characters—were at the heart of so much of “Restless  Style’s”  content,  both  in  the  fictional- and real-world environments.) In terms of bringing in new audiences, the genius of this approach rested in the potential cross- promotional appeal: a space was created in-universe for real-world pop culture figures like Perry and artists like Jeff Koons to be featured, thereby creating a reason for the followers of such figures to connect with the series and (hopefully) become hooked.

Jabot, Calling…

In recent months (2011), the creators of The Young & the Restless have undertaken their most innovative and potentially revolutionary step in terms of their transmedic evolution.  As  they  did  with  “Restless  Style”  in  2008,  producers  once again sought to bridge realities and genres by bringing Jabot Cosmetics—another in-universe company—into the real world. Unlike the previous venture, however, this time the producers set their sights on Jabot Cosmetics, a prominent company in-universe that has been  an  integral  part  of  countless  plotlines  and  characters’  lives  for 30 years. It is highly unlikely that anyone who has seen more than two episodes of The Young & the Restless would fail to recognize the significance of Jabot to the overarching series. With that in mind,  “TPTB”  have  struck  a  deal  with  the  real-world Home Shopping Network (HSN) to sell  products  sporting  the  Jabot  Cosmetics  label.  In  addition  to  being  sold  on  HSN’s  dedicated television channel, these products are also available online at both the HSN website and the Shop Jabot website.

For reasons that will be discussed presently, this venture offers The Young & the Restless’  audience  a  heretofore  unheard  of chance to immerse themselves in the storyline, and interact with tangible artifacts from the show—a specific, transmedia type of product capitalization offered by few other media-dependent properties. The approach also offers something valuable to the series itself: it creates another avenue of revenue in an age where the genre—as a whole—is not as profitable as it once was, and when many are prophesying the end of the structure. As noted by Liz Kalodner, the general manager and executive  vice  president  who  oversees  CBS’s  consumer  products:

This is a truly innovative licensing deal that just makes sense on so many levels. Jabot already has built-in brand familiarly with the viewers, and the launch of these new products  will  be  integrated  into  the story-lines  in  a  very organic way. Fans will get to watch the development of these products unfold on the show and then be able to actually  buy  them  and  use  them,  themselves.  (“Jabot  Cosmetics: The Real Deal”: paragraph 2)

As Kalodner highlights, this venture is more than a mere marketing campaign, and it is exactly that something more which qualifies the Jabot project as a transmedia experience. All of it—the packaging, the promotion, the sales, etc.—is actually  part  of  the  series’  recent and foreseeable storyline. The Jabot-HSN venture was featured prominently in the narrative building up to the product launch,19 and there is the (very real) possibility that the successes and/or failures of the line in the real-world will be referenced during in- universe  discussions  about  Jabot’s  sales  figures.  As  a  result,  audience-consumption of real-world Jabot cosmetics could dictate the outcome of future storylines. For example, if enough product is not purchased via HSN and the Shop Jabot website, producers have an impetus for scripting in-universe stock prices going down, thereby positioning rival company  Newman  Enterprises’  “Beauty  of  Nature”  cosmetics  line  as  a  threat—again— and paving the way for future dramatic moments. This approach gives the audience yet another level of unprecedented influence over the characters and story-lines they follow (and certainly more influence over the story than some of the other mediated properties critics are excited about). Talk about an immersive experience for the audience—it’s  like  the  producers  just  gave  them  a  seat  on  Jabot’s  Board  of  Directors  by  virtue  of  their  credit  card!

Still another aspect of this campaign worth noting is the actual packaging and marketing. The Jabot product line (both in-universe and in the real-world) utilizes stylized fonts and colors associated with The Young & the Restless’  branding  as  part  of  its packaging (see: images at right; courtesy of SoapCentral.com). Audiences recognize the red, looping font as the same used in the famous opening credits, and this, in theory, increases their desire to possess a piece of the show as their own.

Similarly, the line utilizes Tracey Bregman as its spokesperson in the real-world, and her character (Lauren Fenmore) as the in-universe spokesperson. The reason for this is that Tracey/Lauren has been a prominent figure in many storylines on both The Young & the Restless and The Bold & the Beautiful during the last 28 years. Fans of the series recognize Bregman—quite often as a favorite—and this association, in conjunction with the fact that she is marketing the line on both the real-world and narrative-levels, should broaden  the  chances  of  the  campaigns  success.

In essence, the producers expect this transmedia venture to succeed in maintaining existing audiences by making them actual stakeholders in the The Young & the Restless property, and by playing  on  their  desire  to  be  part  of  the  “rich  textual  history”  (Ford: section 2.3) they have vested so much time in over the years. Of course, this strategy also offers hope for potential new viewers vis-à-vis those who might not have watched the show, but who were intrigued by either the idea or actual product when encountered on the Home Shopping Network or elsewhere. Of course, given the newness of this experiment in transmedia, it is unclear whether or not The Young & the Restless’  creators  will meet with the desired success.

Don’t Touch That Dial!

I am sure there will be those who read what I have written here and still say: the soap opera genre is dying, so why should we care; or, why should we waste time on looking at them any furem/plstrongther? Likewise, I believe there will be those who say that the discourse has already been exhausted thanks to the superior efforts of scholars like Christine Geraghty, or that US American soap operas are encoded with regressive ideas on women and social issues and we should just let the genre die.

It is true that, as of this writing, there are only five (soon to be four) US American soap operas to be found on daytime television—it does seem as if the genre is on its last legs. But as Ford notes in his outline of the soap genre’s history, they have been a staple of television since the 1950s and were part of radio even before that (section 2.2). They would not have been able to survive these last 80 years without possessing a knack for survival that would make cockroaches and Twinkies jealous. In the past, soaps have reinvented themselves through a combination of behind-the-scenes changes (e.g., new writing teams, recasts, etc.) and controversial storylines. At other times, however, the artisans behind the scenes have shown themselves to be capable of shattering convention and trying something truly new and innovative. The Young & the Restless is a prime example of the latter. Over the years, and through the use of transmedia (even before the term was coined), the series has refused to remain confined to the televisual medium. It has co-existed alongside printed, paperback narratives; it has operated in conjunction with an interactive web-based periodical; and, currently, it is relying on a previously undefined combination of the Internet, television, cross-promotionalism, consumerism, and nostalgia that I will call Nostalgic Inter-Televisual Consumerism (at least until someone else comes up with a better term).

As for the other arguments against pursuing this line of study: while there is certainly no denying the exemplary work of Christine Geraghty and others who have framed the way the Academy sees soap operas as cultural artifacts, it does not mean that there is not room for growth. As I have demonstrated here, soaps—as heralded by The Young & the Restless—could significantly expand the way we look at transmedia, which could, in turn, influence the way media producers make use of other forms (e.g., the Internet, print-media, etc.), and audiences interact with said-forms. Similarly, it is true that US American soap operas are occasionally behind-the-times when it comes to certain ideas—after all, their audience base does tend to be somewhat more conservative when it comes to social issues, as indicated by various comments made over the years by industry insiders in regards to controversial storylines.20 By no means, however, does that mean that we should stop considering the media we consume. Indeed, we should remain all the more vigilant because of that fact.

One final point I can foresee future scholars challenging me on is the matter of power-dynamics. Throughout this piece, I have discussed transmedia texts’ usage of fan- favorite characters and couplings. Obviously, the creators of the texts make the final decisions when it comes to which characters are featured, what happens with them, and how story-lines are influenced by their interface with other mediums.  Thus,  the  audience’s  ability to interact and control their immersive experience is still limited to a significant degree.

Conclusion

I admit that I have been somewhat critical of the existing transmedia scholarship discussed throughout, which has shown itself to be both gender-biased and narrow in its scope. Certainly, I do not mean to diminish or negate such work completely—indeed, it has formed the basis of my own writing here. Rather, my goal has been simply to demonstrate that the way(s) in which The Young & the Restless—and, by extension, the soap opera genre—uses transmedia is truly innovative in comparison with other series and genres, and that, if other media producers adopted a similar approach, the discourse on transmedia could be pushed in new and exciting ways. As I have already discussed throughout, The Young & the Restless’  producers  have  facilitated  audience  interaction and stimulated audience growth over the last 40 years, and they have done so by continually expanding The Young & the Restless’  narrative  into  other  media,  and  by  focusing on the (assumed) female experience. No other media properties can compare in terms of longstanding transmedia ventures or female-oriented approaches; but, they could certainly learn a thing or two. So why is the Academy more interested in dramatic adventure series like Lost, and science fiction programming like Spooks?

Finally, personal experience and perspective have undoubtedly led to some biases on my part when it comes to this issue. Nonetheless, as I mentioned above, it is my firm belief that the US American Academy does not pay enough attention to the soap opera genre. Millions encounter soap operas on a daily basis—they have done so since the days of pre-television—and viewers simultaneously consume the messages contained therein and  create  new  meanings  for  themselves  on  issues  ranging  from  womens  health,  to  sexuality, to family, and so on. What are we missing by not discussing this important site of meaning-making and knowledge?

Addendum #1

Known titles, presented in chronological/alphabetical  order…

Publisher Title Author Year
Unknown The Young and the Restless: Far Side of Love Unknown Unknown
Unknown The Young and the Restless: One Shining Moment Unknown Unknown
Bantam Books The Young and the Restless:the Story of Brad and Leslie Deborah Sherwood 1976
Bantam Books The Young and the Restless:the Story of Chris and Snapper Deborah Sherwood 1976
Pioneer Communications Network, Inc. The Young and the Restless: A Touch of Paradise Angelica Aimes 1986
Pioneer Communications Network The Young and the Restless: Bittersweet Harvest William J. and Lee P. Bell 1986
Pioneer Communications Network The Young and the Restless: Bold Passions Unknown 1986
Pioneer Communications Network The Young and the Restless: Echoes of Love Angelica Aimes 1986
Pioneer Communications Network The Young and the Restless: Private Yearnings Unknown 1986
Pioneer Communications Network The Young and the Restless: Shining Star William J. and Lee P. Bell 1987

 

Endnotes

1Forexamples,see:Abba’sworkonLost,andEvans’workonSpooks.

2See:“Encoding/Decoding.

3KayandJill’streatmentofeachotherissignificantlyrootedina1970s-love-affair involving Kay’s then- husband and the amorous Jill. Later, a millennial storyline saw the two women retconned as mother- daughter—muchtothecharacters’chagrin.Thatstory was itself retconned circa 2010.

4See: Playing with Power and “Transmedia Storytelling,” respectively.

5See: Addendum #1 for known titles.

6See:Reepformoreontheideaofthe“supercouple.”

7The Young & the Restless ran as a daily half-hour program between 1973 and 1980, at which time it became a daily hour-long program (see: Hyatt, and McNeal).

8For example, readers could better understand JillFoster’sassumptionsaboutwhatitmeanstobewealthy(Aimes, W. Bell, and L. Bell 72).

9“ThePowersthatBe,”or“TPTB,”isacommonwayforparticipantsinInternet-based discussion boards geared toward soap operas to refer to the collective of forces that influence various aspects of the show (e.g., head-writers, executive producers, sponsors, etc.).

10In the years since, other soaps—such as As the World Turns (CBS; 1956-2010)—have also employed transmedia strategies that rely on print-media, though that is a discussion for a different piece.

11See:“Hybrid Stories.”

12“So,womenmaynotplaygames,butwomenwholikeLord of the Rings might experiment on a related gametitle”(Jenkins3).

13That is to say, producers relied on culturally inscribed, gendered expectations of what their target audience—women—would want from a transmedic experience.

14The page is now defunct, and the link merely takes Internet users to Sony Pictures’ main The Young & the Restless page.

15Foranexamplesee:“RestlessStyle.comIsInBusiness,”postedbyusernameMelodie.

16See: “RestlessStyle PhotoShoot – BehindTheScene” for an example of this exclusive content featuring in-universe characters.

17From a production standpoint, this venture becomes even more interesting when one considers the business-end logistics of featuring real-world vocalists, designers, and so forth (i.e., paying royalties, etc.).

18 One of the most notable exceptions might be The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a real-world book discussed and read by characters within the Harry Potter franchise.

19For instance, in the July 28, 2011, episode of The Young & the Restless, characters Jack Abbott and Lauren Fenmore were seen promoting the Jabot-HSN joint venture on an episode of The Talk (2010- present), a real-world talk show that airs later in the afternoon on CBS. This segment not only allowed producers to plug the upcoming cosmetics line, but, as a result of questions based on in-universe events, The Talk’shosts helped further the overarching storyline (see: “Y&RTuckerJuly28,2011,”min.2:23).

20  Also worth noting is that the actors who play Lauren and Jack—Tracey Bregman and Peter Bergman—filmed a segment (as themselves) that appeared on an actual episode of The Talk at the same time, in which they too discussed the Jabot-HSN joint-venture (see: “PeterBergmanandTraceyBregman on The Talk,” min. 4:17).

21  For instance: Kay Alden, the former head-writer for The Young & the Restless, had this to say about the audience’sreactiontoaquickly-scuttled lesbian storyline in the 1970s: “You could hear television sets clicking offallacrossAmerica…Theaudienceknewexactlywhatwasgoingon…At no other time can I remember an instant ratings drop because of a single storyline”(qtd. in Bibel, paragraph 8).

Works Cited

Abba,  Tom.  “Hybrid  Stories:  Examining  the  Future  of  Transmedia  Narrative.”  Journal of Science Fiction Film & Television 1.2 (2009): 59-76. DCRC [Digital Cultures Research Center]. University of the West of England, Bristol, 14 Dec. 2009.

Web. 4 Nov. 2011. <http://www.dcrc.org.uk/publications/hybrid-stories- examining-future-transmedia-narrative>.

Aimes, Angelica, William J. Bell, and Lee Phillip Bell. Echoes of Love. Rocky Hill, Ct.: Pioneer Communications Network, 1986. Print.

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The Theological Inconsistency: Christianity on Television

by Neal Sjaaheim

America has the largest population of Christians in the world. In the 2008 census, seventy-six percent of Americans identified themselves as Christians, though a more recent estimate shows that about eighty-five percent of Americans consider themselves to be Christian.  Since the founding of this country, president after president has quoted the Christian Bible.  “The Neo-Conservative party, led by George W. Bush continually flaunts its ties to the religious right and often speaks in religiously charged terminology when justifying political decisions” (Tatarnic 449). Congress just recently reestablished the country motto, “One nation under God.” Despite all this, it would seem that there is a trend in television where Christians are now being attacked.

As recently as the 1990s the opposite was true; Christians were exalted, held above others and shown as great and productive members of society. In sitcom shows, the Simpsons had characters such as Ned Flanders as their good Christian man. In drama shows, there was the entire family on the show 7th Heaven. In reality television, there was a man named Jon Brennan on The Real World: Los Angeles. These are all examples of people and characters shown as generally decent  people. Compare these to the characters we have today, such as the Veals on Arrested Development, a character on a recent episode of Law & Order who killed abortion doctors in the name of God, and Marguerite Perrin, also known as “the God warrior” from an episode of the television reality show Wife Swap.

Why, recently, has television programming been making Christians “the other”? As Martha Smith Tatarnic says, “religious faith is untenable and the church, in trying to maintain itself as an institution structured around this obsolete faith, is desperate” (Tatarnic 448). Television believes that the Christian church will lower itself to the butt of a joke to gain coverage. The main goal of television shows is to draw viewers, which will bring in advertisement money. Television programming does this by focusing stories on the spectacular, or, as Tatarnic puts it, “the barrage of stories concerning sexual impropriety, abuse, or extreme theological opinions acted out in violent and dramatic ways, results in a very tarnished image of the church” (Tatarnic 458).

In a television sitcom, we can see the split in opinion extremely  easily. Sitcoms sometimes show Christian characters as a contrast to the bumbling main character, but more often, the Christian character will be the buffoon. In the television show The Simpsons, the good Christian man is Ned Flanders, a family man, devout Christian, and all around positive influence on his community. In one episode entitled “Homer loves Flanders,” Ned donates his time and efforts to many different charities including the local soup kitchen, and reading to sick children. Charity is a very large portion of Christian life. Christians always are expected to give ten percent of their earnings either back to the church or to charity, a practice known as tithing. Ned engages in these activities, not because he feels he needs to, but because he wants to engage in them. Ned is providing for his fellow man, and he requires no compensation for his actions. He provides because it makes him feel like a better person, even Christ-like.

Recently on television, sitcoms show their Christian characters in a very different manner. In fact, on the television show Arrested Development, the Christian characters often are shown to be insane, or in some way out of touch with reality. The Veal family consists of a pastor father, his wife, and their children, one of which – their daughter Ann, is dating the main character’s son. In the same episode in which we get introduced to the pastor and his wife, they are shown celebrating young love. Ann and George Michael are in plans to become “pre-engaged”. The Veals plan to celebrate, and even offer to buy alcohol for non-practicing Michael Bluth. Certainly, this is an action of a specific sect of Christianity, but later on in the episode, the mother of Ann makes a sexual advance on Michael. When the Pastor learns of this, he instantly assumes that the non-Christian is to blame for the action and attacks him. These characters act out in ways that are not Christian in nature.

Sitcom television likes to poke fun at all of the facets of life in the world in which the characters live. Sitcoms take shots at any kind of person, including the religiously devout. Since sitcoms point the finger at anybody, perhaps it is not fair to examine only them with such scrutiny when dealing with Christianity.

There is no set date as to when the attitude toward Christianity took this turn, but Michael Wakelin, former head of Religion and Ethics at the BBC commented that when he joined the BBC, “in 1986, religion was certainly more high-profile on TV…I’m afraid the media do tend to treat religion as a problem, and only as a problem. In some ways, [it is] like only covering football from the point of view of hooliganism and never actually showing the game being played” (Bailey 186, 189).

Perhaps then, the problem is not that television is not showing Christians in a positive light but that the media refuses to show the multiple facets that Christianity takes on. Characters are now only shown as fundamentalists, or extreme devotees to certain causes that have base roots in Christianity. From Ned Flanders acting like an upstanding citizen to Pastor Veal starting fights, this is the trend in television as of recent. The spectacle of the few has outweighed the reality of the many.

The sitcom genre is not the only genre to be affected by this trend, however. In the 1990s, there was a show titled 7th Heaven. The show followed the lives of a protestant minister and his family. The Camden family is portrayed usually as moral, upright citizens, while those around them are flawed or in a sense “evil”. In one episode titled “Faith, Hope, and the Bottom Line,” the pastor’s congregation is in need of a new church organist. One of the people to audition is an ex-convict who was recently released from prison. The congregation stands in judgment of this one who has lived a life of crime and is being punished for it, even after serving time. The congregation is shown as pure of heart and free of guilt on their collective conscience.  Comparatively the convict, has the guilt of his crime deeply embedded on his face and must wear the same constantly especially around the judgmental eyes of the churchgoers.

The drama genre has also taken a harsh turn toward how it portrays Christian characters as of recent. For instance, on the long-running detective drama Law & Order, an episode titled “Dignity” took on the heavy task of the debate of abortion. As always, a murder has taken place, and the motive was one Christian man’s beliefs about abortion, which were of course instilled in him through his religion. The stance on abortion will always be personal, and many politicians stay away form the issue. Some politicians even can be threatened with excommunication if they go against the church’s stance on abortion (Pederson 130). With pressure from the church not to take a stance and pressure from the public to take a stance, abortion may remain an issue that politicians may never have a unanimous vote.

Perhaps Christianity, is not being the target because of a growing secularism in the media. It could  possibly  be because it is already so well known. As Michael Wakelin says, he feels that “Christianity has taken a bit more of a kicking in a way, because it is so much more exposed” (Bailey 188). Plot lines and stories often portray scenes from the Bible or pay tribute in some way by a contemporary retelling. This may be confusing to some like a teenage audience who “weave together biblical narratives with stories found on television” (Mitchell 6). If the story in question is taking place on a sitcom, which more than likely it is, then the tone is more than likely sarcastic or satirical. This could confuse the audience by implying that the story took place closer to this interpretation. While the actions might be similar, the characters, and most definitely the characters’ attitudes, are not. Television sitcoms such as The Simpsons and Family Guy have showcased re-tellings of biblical stories many times.  Why do television programs so frequently showcase stories that originate form holy Christian scripture? God is “a popular, sellable commodity in today’s culture” (Tatarnic 448).

The final genre in which Christianity is being ostracized is reality television. The reality genre is known for pitting opposite personalities together in uncommon circumstances and having the opposing viewpoints quarrel over the most petty and insignificant things.  Shows like Bad Girls Club, Real World/Road Rules, and The Apprentice are all prime examples of this practice in effect.  When these opposites clash, the result is normally an explosion of emotions ripe with raised voices, and, in certain cases, violence. That is the expectation, but in certain cases the producers of the program will be surprised by with what actually happens.

Such was the case with Jon Brennan. Jon was a contestant on MTV’s The Real World: Los Angeles, during the second season. Jon was a devout Christian, hailing form a small town in Kentucky. He was meant to be the contestant who would be the first to “crack under the pressure,” so to speak. Jon was the youngest member of the house, and had admitted to feeling out of place in big cities. Being a Christian, Jon was also suppose to clash against the outspoken lesbian, Bethany, who was also a recovering alcoholic.  Much to the dismay of the producers, Jon did not clash with any of the cast members in the way he was suppose to, and even grew close to a few. This, however, also led to a ratings peak for the series, as Jon as a character changed over the course of the program, from being uncomfortable with others and with city life, to a confident person, comfortable in crowds and being in Los Angeles.

Recently, the screening process for reality television has been quite a bit more rigorous. Rigorous not in the way that would mean that logical, rational people are accepted to appear on the programs, in fact, it is now quite the opposite. People prone to emotional outbursts are rushed to the producers, then eventually onto the television screen.  Reality television producers created their magnum opus with the characterization of Marguerite Perrin. She appeared on the television show Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy. The show took the idea of pitting two opposite personalities against each other, this time only making the mothers of the families trade lives. Marguerite was an extremely devout Christian woman and was sent to live with a family of new age humanists. She did not much care for the way the family acted, like trying to explain their own beliefs to her when she insisted the family join her at a Christian mass.

Upon returning to her home, Marguerite did burst out emotionally, like what  was expected from Jon. She yelled at her family, accusing them of not praying enough for her. She criticized the other family for not being Christians. She became a spectacle because of the extreme way she reacted to an opposing viewpoint to hers. Marguerite Perrin is now a staple to be compared to in reality television. She has fan web pages dedicated to her. She has made people laugh, cry, scream in fear, and cheer for her devotion for God.

Television operates on a language all its own. It must keep the viewers’ attention while sporadically interrupting the story structure with advertisements. Unlike feature films where the story is constant and uninterrupted, television programming must be able to hold the viewer’s attention well enough that he will return and not be lost in the story. Television holds audience attention by creating story structure that is both spectacular and extraordinary. While most of the general population in its lifetime may never experience a fundamentalist Christian man murdering a doctor, or a narrow minded Christian woman accusing us of not praying correctly, but, ”when discussing the church, the mass media will most likely focus upon stories that reflect divergent behavior or dramatic crises” (Tatarnic 458). This makes for more dramatic and engaging television.

The genres of reality, sitcom, and drama are not the only which have recently shown Christians behaving in ways that oppose are understood practices of the Church. The examples discussed are just the best examples that show the clear contrast between Christians on television of the past and television of this generation. There is clearly an agenda of television makers to make Christians out to be an undesirable group. The fact that less than ten percent of the US population identifies as atheist or non-practicing of any religion, and the overwhelming number of Americans who identify as Christian should contradict this trend, but still the group being othered remains Christians.

Works Cited

Bailey, Michael. “Media, religion and culture: An interview with Michael Wakelin.” Journal of Media Practice 11.2 (2010): 185-189.

Mitchell, Jolyon. “Christianity and Television.” Studies in World Christianity 11.1 (2005): 1-8.

Pederson, Ann Milliken. “South Dakota And Abortion: A Local Story About How Religion, Medical Science, And Culture Meet.” Zygon: Journal Of Religion & Science 42.1 (2007): 123-132.

Tatarnic, Martha Smith, “The Mass Media and Faith: The Potentialities and Problems for the Church in our Television Culture” Anglican Theological Review 87.3 (2004): 447-465.