Category Archives: Sweeps

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.

Sink or Swim: The Transatlantic Translation of British Television

If a television show is successful and profitable in England, it is easy to argue that its success and profit will only grow in a bigger marketplace such as the United States. However, some television shows simply cannot be translated for the American audience. The success of a television show depends completely on how it is adapted to fit its new cultural context.

It is difficult to ignore the rising trend in television shows coming from the United Kingdom and being adapted and remade for the United States. Shameless, Being Human, Skins, Episodes, and even The X Factor are all examples of repurposed television shows that either have already or will be premiering in 2011 (McNutt). This is, however, nothing new. Many recreated English adaptations have made their way to American screens over the past several decades, both successfully and unsuccessfully.

The truly successful shows are typically the ones that people have forgotten are originally from the United Kingdom in the first place. Norman Lear’s 1970’s television series, All in the Family and Sanford and Son, were both adaptations of the British originals Till Death Us Do Part and Steptoe and Son, respectively (Spicer). A slew of reality and game shows have also made their way across the pond in the form of American Idol (from the English Pop Idol), Dancing with the Stars, Top Gear, and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (Spicer). No conversation about adapted English television can ignore The Office. With rights sold in eighty countries, The Office has established itself as the most successful original British comedy series to be exported (Griffin 3).

Throughout the years, there have also been many adapted shows that simply did not translate well for the American audience. Fawlty Towers, Coupling, Life on Mars, and Spaced are just a couple examples of shows that met with low ratings and cancellations early on in their recreated forms in the United States. What then makes for a successful adaptation? Where did these shows go wrong?

I propose that the success of an original British television show in the United States is dependent on how it has been adapted to fit its new cultural context. To adapt is “to make suitable to requirements or conditions; adjust or modify fittingly” (Dictionary.com). Consideration must be placed on the recreation of characters and settings without losing a show’s essence, finding the right audience and the right

network, and conforming to a new set of regulations and commercial needs. To demonstrate the importance of these factors, I will be focusing on three British adaptations currently in their first season in the United States:

Shameless, Being Human, and Skins

Shameless revolves around the lives of the dysfunctional Gallagher family, lead by the patriarch, Frank, who spends a majority of his time too drunk to take care of himself, let alone his six children. The children, Fiona, “Lip,” Ian, Debbie, Carl, and Liam, all of varying ages, are left to fend for themselves as they straddle the line between working class and poverty (Abbott “Episode One”). The show is an hour-long dramedy with one season so far aired in the U.S. on Showtime and eight seasons in the U.K. on Channel 4 (Channel4.com).

Being Human is about three supernatural beings, a ghost, a werewolf, and a vampire, who form an unnatural friendship and live together as roommates. All three struggle with what they have become and attempt to go against their supernatural nature to live ordinary lives and be human (Whithouse “Being Human”). Being Human is an hour-long dramedy currently in its first season in the U.S. on SyFy and in its third season in the U.K. on BBC Three (BBC.com).

Skins follows an unlikely grouping of high school teenagers growing together as they grow up. The show explores each character individually and as a group as they confront such controversial topics as eating disorders, sexual orientation, substance abuse, and death (Elsley “Tony” 2007). Skins is an hour-long teen drama with one season aired in the U.S. on MTV and five seasons in the U.K. on E4 (E4.com).

Globalization Theory

This paper examines the exchange and appropriation of media and the ideas held within that media between two different countries. This is an aspect of the theory of globalization. The term globalization refers to the integration and interdependence

between two or more countries on both a minimal scale, such as individual persons, or grand scale, such as large corporations and governments. “Globalization as a concept refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole” (Robertson 8). Politics, economies, technologies, and cultures are being exchanged and redefined by globalization. The speed, intensity, and extent at which this is occurring is also unprecedented (Bohman).

The television industry as a whole has become globalized. Large television networks and production companies extend past geographic boundaries and span several countries. Viacom is a great example. Viacom owns and runs MTV Networks, BET Networks, and Paramount Pictures and is, in turn, responsible for such channels as MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. With representation in 161 countries and territories, Viacom content is shared in 33 languages through locally programmed and operated television channels and hundreds of online properties (Viacom.com).

As a result of such broad reach, media conglomerates have played a large role in the globalization process and the spread of ideas. Film and television circulate ideologies and general concepts held in their native country and promote acculturation. This is particularly evident when very powerful nations export culure to smaller nations  (Bohman). This theory is referred to as media imperialism. In contrast, how is this exchange handled between two different countries of dominance like the United States and the United Kingdom?

The concept of globalization can be viewed and interpreted in various ways, although most opinions lie at either of two extremes: progressive and beneficial or capitalistic and detrimental. I will be approaching my thesis from a neutral frame,

regarding globalism as neither positive or negative but rather as a natural and unavoidable process.

Recreating Characters and Settings

Arguably the most vital process in adapting an English television show is recreating the same plots and themes while adjusting a show’s settings and characters to reflect what would be found in the United States. In many situations, this also happens to be the most challenging element of adaptation. A successful approach to this issue can be to take current issues and themes from the United States and carefully apply them to the imported show. This is most often expressed through a show’s characters and the space in which these characters must interact.

Sanford and Son is an example of this idea used successfully. Many forget that Sanford and Son is a remake of an original British television show by the name of  Steptoe and Son (Spicer). The basic story elements remain the same between the two versions: a working-class father and son run a junkyard. The United States’ version, however, rewrites these characters as an African-American family and sets the junkyard in South Central Los Angeles (Museum of Broadcast Communications). By incorporating race, the creators of Sanford and Son were able to adapt the story to make it more relevant for an American audience with whom it eventually found commercial success, apart from the British Steptoe and Son.

A more recent example of an adaptation is Showtime’s Shameless. “In remaking a series from another country, a key challenge is a setting that will resonate in a similar way to the setting of the original” (Griffin 4). The writer/producer responsible for bringing Shameless to the United States, John Wells, has mentioned in an interview his argument against early decisions to have the American version set in the South (Rochlin). The British Shameless is set in the city of Bristol, a large urban city in South West England. In order to keep in line with its original, Wells pushed for the show to be set in Chicago’s South Side, an area that would better resonate with the original show’s setting in Bristol but still be viewed as very “American.” According to Wells, this allowed for the audience to relate to these characters and their struggles without painting them in the stereotypical images often associated with the South. Wells wanted an urban audience to feel as if this family could be people they actually (Rochlin).

In addition to appropriately translating the setting, it is also necessary to make adaptations to characters. With a show like Shameless, which features a family with many archetypal characters, it is important to consider the different roles in the family structure according to the culture for which it is being made. For example, the character of Fiona, the eldest child in the family, is depicted as more motherly and matriarchal in the American version (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”). This becomes a more prominent feature and driving force for the American Fiona throughout the run of the season.

Another way to go about this is by following in the same steps of Sanford and Son and finding themes and current issues relevant for the U.S. audience. In both versions of Shameless, Ian, the second oldest brother of the Gallagher clan, isgay.  Additionally, in the American version Ian is interested in joining the military (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”). This calls back to the current American hot topic of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy. The American Shameless also brings forth the theme of race. Unlike the British version, Liam, the youngest child in the Gallagher family, is of mixed race (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”). This plays into a storyline later on in the American version. The neighbor characters of Kevin and Veronica are also depicted as a bi-racial couple in the American version. In the American version, Kevin is Caucasian and Veronica is African-American, as opposed to the English version where they are both Caucasian (Abbott “Episode One”).

Within the first two minutes of both the U.S. and U.K. Shameless pilots, the audience is introduced to the setting as well as all the principle and some secondary characters of the show (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”; Abbott “Episode One”). The setting and action appears to be nearly identical, with Bristol’s skyline being replaced by Chicago’s, as a riotous group of people gather around a fire drinking, laughing, and having a good time. As the scene progresses, both incorporate short vignettes about the characters that make up the Gallagher family.

A comparison of The American and English versions of these vignettes reveals the differences between the American characters and their English counterparts. Fiona, for example, is shown holding tissues to the noses of two of her younger siblings telling them to “blow,” as Frank, the father, narrates through voice-over how much Fiona reminds him of her mother (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”). In the English version, Fiona, is shown laughing and lovingly caressing her baby brother Liam’s face for a total of four seconds as Frank’s voice-over only offers a quick comment that Fiona is a”massive help” (Abbott “Episode One”).

Likewise, American Ian is established as a straight arrow, shown in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) practice as Frank emphasizes Ian’s interest in the military (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”). English Ian is merely shown laughing then running from something unseen as Frank talks about how similar Ian looks to his mother (Abbott “Episode One”). Kevin and Veronica, the neighbors, also got more air time in the American version, having their own vignette as opposed to the English pilot where they are only mentioned briefly and shown in a cut (Abbott “Episode One”). In the American pilot, Kevin and Veronica are depicted as a more sexually adventurous bi-racial couple, with Veronica coming off as a stronger African-American version of her English original (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”).

The setting and characters of Shameless have all been manipulated in such a way so that they are in some way or another more “American, yet still maintain a great

resemblance to their English versions.  The appropriation of current issues and news headlines also help in the translation of these characters and their backdrop in a completely different country. The writers and producers must carefully balance the differences and similarities and what narrative elements need to be focused on more than others in order to adapt a show from one country to another and produce a show that is a ratings success.

The Right Network, The Right Audience

Knowing the target audience is important for any show, but for an imported show, the same content may call for a different audience in its new country. What other competitors are there in this new marketplace? Where does this show fit in culturally with its new audience? And what network is most appropriate based on the content?

Before finally finding a home on Showtime, the American Shameless was in development at NBC for a short while, followed by some time at HBO (Bernstein). In the words of John Wells, “I was always very concerned that we wouldn’t be able to do the content. Not that it has to be exactly the same content, but a certain pulling back [to accommodate broadcast network standards] would make it not the same show. And then it was at HBO for about three-and-a-half years” (Bernstein). HBO ended up passing on the show, giving Showtime the opportunity to pick it up (Bernstein). By being aired on a premium service channel like Showtime, the adaptation of Shameless could still be done without Wells’ initial worries of too much “pulling back” for network standards.

By comparison, Skins offers an example of a show that did not find ratings success because it challenged values in the United States. In the United Kingdom, Skins is aired on E4, a free digital television channel targeted to young adults (E4.com). Although known for the scandalous behavior of the characters on the show, it was well received critically and has won numerous awards (E4.com). In the United States, however, its adapted incarnation on MTV was met with a lot of backlash and negative criticism, despite the TV-MA warning, censoring of obscene language, and omission of nudity found in the U.K. original (Elsley “Tony” 2011). As it turned out, the American audience  was much more disapproving of Skins’ depiction of teenagers than the British audience was for the U.K. version. In the same way Wells was worried about avoiding controversial content for Shameless were it to have been aired on NBC, Bryan Elsley, the creator and executive producer for both the U.S. and U.K. versions of Skins, did not “pull back” enough. Based on the success of Shameless, A show like Skins would probably have been better suited to a premium service channel.

Being Human found its place in the United States by being aired on SyFy, a channel that has undergone rebranding over the past couple of years with the goal to create programming “that’s more accessible and relatable to new audiences” (Blastr.com). In the United Kingdom, Being Human is aired on BBC Three, a channel geared to the 16 to 34 year old demographic of “people who are young in spirit and mindset” (BBC.com). With a show like Being Human, which is about the supernatural, consideration of competing shows in the American marketplace was important in determining the right network. The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural were already being aired on the CW network. True Blood has proven itself as a hit on HBO. MTV was developing its own remake of Teen Wolf.

Based on previous ratings, a show about the supernatural or fantastical would be way too risky for any of the major networks to produce. Just compare the success of sitcoms like Modern Family, 30 Rock, and The Office to shows like Medium, Ghost Whisperer, and Pushing Daisies. With shows about vampires and werewolves already being aired on several networks, mostly marketed to teenagers, Being Human needed to find a channel geared to a slightly older, more mature age group that would still be receptive to a show about such creatures. SyFy was the safest and most secure channel for the show to develop without the pressure of conforming to the trends in how vampires and werewolves were already being depicted on other television shows. With an average of 1.8 million viewers in its first season in the U.S., Being Human has already been deemed SyFy’s most successful winter scripted series launch in 6 years (Hibberd).

Different Regulations and Commercial Needs

There are various differences in both the United States’ and The United Kingdom’s television broadcast norms. This ranges from its communication regulations, general story structures and framework, and the commercial needs placed on television from either country. In the United States, communication regulations are set by the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC (FCC.gov). In the United Kingdom, the equivalent of the FCC is called Ofcom (Ofcom.com). Both organizations handle the same kind of tasks in regulating all forms of communications and broadcast in their own countries, but it is the differences in how the task of judging the content being produced and aired on television is approached that should be examined when adapting that content from one country to another. The best way to illustrated this is with the adaptation of the television show Skins.

As previously mentioned, when the freshly adapted U.S. Skins was first aired on MTV it received with a lot of criticism from parents and organizations, and mixed reviews by critics. This was despite it’s near shot for shot likeness to its award winning English predecessor. In any case, the show’s pilot adhered to all FCC regulations, as reassured by MTV. The Parents Television Council, or PTC, disagreed.  The PTC argued that although MTV rated the show TV-MA and aired it at 10:00pm, they marketed Skins to a much younger than appropriate audience (parentstv.org). The PTC also stood behind the argument that some scenes from the show may even be in violation of child pornography statutes (parentstv.org). In response, the PTC bypassed the FCC and called for a federal investigation on the show for child pornography.

As Mark Estes, blog writer from TV Overmind, puts is, “The thing that the PTC and some highly sheltered American teens don’t get is that the MTV’s Skins is tame compared to it’s source material (Estes).” The FCC acted as a harsher regulator against the show compared to Ofcom with the U.K. original but not harsh enough according to many parents. After the premiere of the pilot, sponsors of the show immediately began to drop their sponsorship and disassociate themselves with the show. By the time the second episode aired, MTV had lost sponsorship from H&R Block, Foot Locker, General Motors, Schick, Subway, Taco Bell and Wrigley (Elliott).  By comparison, the U.K. version airs commercials for some of the U.K.’s largest brands (Zana).

Another very important element to consider in the adaptation process is the television show’s story structures and framework. The typical American television season runs between 20 and 26 episodes. The typical U.K. television series only runs about half that length between 6 and 13 episodes. The writers and producers of Being Human had no other choice but to get creative when expanding the seven episodes of the first English series to a total of 13 for the American audience, still a small amount of episodes by American standards. One approach was to stretch out the character development further in the first couple of episodes and incorporate different characters and situations for the purpose of creating new storylines that help define the characters more. The most prominent example in Being Human is the character development for the ghost in the show named Sally in the U.S. version and Annie in the U.K. version.

In the U.K. Being Human Annie can already be seen and heard by other people. She can also manipulate objects by actually physically touching them. The first episode opens with Annie waiting for the pizza delivery man, being overly excited upon his arrival and having a full conversation with the young man, then physically handling the pizza herself and shutting the door behind her (Whithouse “Being Human”). For the first couple of episodes of the U.S. Being Human Sally’s inability to connect with others becomes the driving force behind her character’s personality. She can neither be seen nor heard by anyone other than her werewolf and vampire roommates, Josh and Aidan. What affects her even more is the fact that she can’t touch or be touched. She has not yet mastered the ability to manipulate physical objects (Carver, Fricke “There Goes The Neighborhood, Part 1”).

Slowing down the character development allowed the writers more creative room to to both stretch out the storylines and create a character apart from the U.K. Annie. This modification of Annie/Sally’s character led to the creation of unique American characters that would be introduced to Sally throughout the season and would teach her lessons in being a ghost. In episode 3, “Some Thing to Watch over Me,” Sally is introduced to Tony; the only other ghost Sally has had contact with up until this point. Tony is the first person since her death that Sally has been able to actually touch. He teaches her how to leave the house and in return, she helps him move on (Carver, Fricke “Some Thing to Watch over Me”).

Sink or Swim?

All three of these factors, setting, character, and programming can at times be dependent upon each other and one creative solution to one problem can be a good solution to another. The new approach to the character of Sally in the American Being Human worked in extending storylines by several episodes and helped adapt the character with a new set of ideologies more suited for the American audience. The decision to air the American version of Shameless on Showtime meant that the show could remain true to its original form by not having to censor adult content or worry about commercial sponsorship.

The adaptation of television shows and content from country to country is sure to increase as globalization continues to expand communication capabilities. It is important to know why some shows work and some shows don’t. By reimagining characters and settings without losing a show’s essence, finding the right audience and the right network, and effectively conforming to a new set of regulations and commercial needs a television show can find success in whatever country it is being exported to. What it all comes down to is an understanding of both cultures and the ability to translate content.

Works Cited

BBC. “BBC – Commissioning TV – BBC Three.” BBC.com. British Broadcasting             Corporation. Web. 8 May 2011. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/commissioning/tv/what-            we-want/service-strategies/bbc-three.shtml>.

“Being Human” Being Human, Pilot. Writ. Toby Whithouse. Dir. Declan O’Dwyer. BBC Three. 18 February 2008. BBC, 2008. DVD.

Bohman, James. “Critical Theory (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy/Spring 2010             Edition).” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Spring 2010. Web.             <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2010/entries/critical-theory/>.

Channel 4. “Shameless.” Channel4.com. Channel 4. Web. 8 May 2011.             <http://www.channel4.com/programmes/shameless>.

Channel 4. “E4.com.” E4.com. Channel 4. Web. 8 May 2011. <http://www.e4.com/>.

Dictionary.com. “Adapt | Define Adapt at Dictionary.com.” Dictionary.com.             Dictionary.com. Web. 9 May 2011. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/adapt>.

Elliott, Stuart. “As ‘Skins’ Nears the Finish Line, Madison Avenue Still Shies Away –             NYTimes.com.” A Guide to the Media Industry – Media Decoder Blog –             NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 8 Mar. 2011. Web. 26 Apr. 2011.             <http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/as-skins-nears-the-finish-            line-madison-avenue-still-shies-away/>.

“Episode One” Shameless, Series One. Writ. Paul Abbott. Dir. Mark Mylod.             Channel 4. 13 January 2004. Channel 4, 2007. DVD.

Estes, Mark O. “Skins UK vs. Skins US: An Analysis.” Web blog post. TVOvermind. 4             Mar. 2011. Web. 29 Mar. 2011.             <http://tvovermind.zap2it.com/cable/mtv/skins-            mtv/skins-uk-skins-            analysis/50172>.

“Father Frank, Full of Grace” Shameless, Season One. Writ. John Wells. Dir. Mark             Mylod. Showtime. 27 March 2007. Warner Brothers, 2007. Live.

Federal Communications Commission. “About the FCC.” FCC.gov. Federal             Communications Commission. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://www.fcc.gov/>.

Griffin, Jeffrey. “The Americanization of The Office: A Comparison of the Offbeat NBC Sitcom and Its British Predecessor.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 35.4             (2008): 154-63. Print.

Hibberd, James. “Syfy Renews ‘Being Human’ for Second Season | Inside TV |             EW.com.” EW.com. Entertainment Weekly, 17 Mar. 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2011.             <http://insidetv.ew.com/2011/03/17/being-human-second-season/>.

“Interview: John Wells Gets SHAMELESS When It Comes to Projects – Part 1.”             Interview by Abbie Bernstein. Assignment X. Assignment X, 6 Mar. 2011. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://www.assignmentx.com/2011/interview-john-wells-gets-            shameless-when-it-comes-to-projects-part-1/>.

McNutt, Myles. “Ch-Ch-Changes: Thoughts on January’s British TV Invasion | Cultural             Learnings.” Cultural Learnings | Television Reviews and Analysis. 19 Jan. 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. <http://cultural-learnings.com/2011/01/19/ch-ch-changes-            thoughts-on-januarys-british-tv-invasion/>.

Museum of Broadcast Communications, The. “Sanford and Son.” The Museum of             Broadcast Communications. The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Web. 1              2011. <http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=sanfordands>.

Ofcom. “What Is Ofcom?” Ofcom. Ofcom. Web. 21 Apr. 2011.             <http://www.ofcom.org.uk/about/what-is-ofcom/>.

Parents Television Council. “Skins on MTV.” Parents Television Council – Because Our             Children Are Watching. Parents Television Council, Jan.-Feb. 2011. Web. 03 May 2011. <http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/campaigns/Skins/main.asp>.

Robertson, Roland. Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage,             1992. Print.

Rochlin, Margy. “The Family That Frays Together.” NYTimes.com. The New York             Times, 17 Apr. 2011. Web. 31 Dec. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/02/arts/television/02shameless.html?_r=1&pa            gewanted=all>.

Blastr.com. “SCI FI Channel to Become Syfy; “Imagine Greater” Is New Message.”             Blastr.com. SyFy, 16 Mar. 2009. Web. 8 May 2011. <http://blastr.com/2009/03/sci-fi-channel-to-become.php>.

“Some Thing to Watch over Me” Being Human, Season 1. Writ. Jeremy Carver, Anna             Fricke. Dir. Jerry Ciccoritti. SyFy. 31 January 2011. NBCUniversal, 2011. Live.

Spicer, Nathan. “10 Great American Adaptations of British TV.” Paste Magazine.             PasteMagazine.com, 9 Apr. 2011. Web. 3 May 2011. <http://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2011/04/10-great-american-            adaptations-of-british-tv-show.html>.

“There Goes The Neighborhood, Part 1” Being Human, Season 1. Writ. Jeremy             Carver, Anna Fricke. Dir. Adam Kane. SyFy. 17 January 2011. NBCUniversal, 2011. Live.

“Tony” Skins, Series One. Writ. Bryan Elsley. Dir. Paul Gay. E4. 24 January 2007.             Channel 4, 2007. DVD.

“Tony” Skins, Season One. Writ. Bryan Elsley. Dir. Scott Smith. MTV. 17 January 2011.             Viacom, 2011. Live.

Viacom. “Reaching Our Global Audience.” Viacom.com. Viacom. Web. 8 May 2011.             <http://www.viacom.com/ourbrands/globalreach/Pages/default.aspx>.

Zena H. “Advertisers Pulling Out of “Skins” Air Time.” Grown Up Thinking.             GrownUpThinking.com, 26 Jan. 2011. Web. 26 Apr. 2011.             <http://www.grownupthinking.com/index.php/tag/commercials/>.

The Workplace Family

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009, the average working American spent two hours a day providing childcare for their children, compared to seven and a half hours per day in the workplace. Culture is changing; where family values were once the cornerstone of success in America, we are experiencing a shift towards greater importance being placed in the workplace. This change has even affected our media. As society has grown to value career aspirations over family values, the family sitcom has evolved into the similar workplace sitcom. When we once turned on the television to watch families like ours work out their problems, we now seek out depictions of workplaces we can relate to.  This growth within the genre is apparent when looking at archetypes presented, the cast of characters, and the narrative structures.

To get a full understanding of the sitcom evolution, one must look at genre theory. Genres are forms of classification. As Victoria O’Donnell defines it in Television Criticism, “These tend to be tried and true formulae that have certain predictability and familiarity.”  There are general genres found in television that can be instantly recognized, such as situational comedies, talk shows, news programs, or dramas. These can also be broken down into smaller categories, or sub-genres, such as medical dramas, cop dramas, or soap operas, for example.

Broadly, genre theory aims to classify different types of text into their own categories.

According to Jane Feuer, author of Genre Study and Television, a genre is “ultimately an abstract conception rather than something that exists empirically in the world.” Because of all these different classifications and the various ways they can be identified (such as theme, style, or formula), it is hard to nail the definition of a genre, and genres change as society changes. For example, O’Donnell brings up how the situational comedy used to deal with married couples comprised of a working man and his stay-at-home wife, as seen in I Love Lucy (97). But a modern day situational comedy often deals with working women, single parents, or even same-sex couples. In his book Film Theory, Robert Stam suggests, “while some genres are based on story content (the war film), other are borrowed from literature (comedy, melodrama) or from other media (the musical). Some are performer-based (the Astaire-Rogers films) or budget-based (blockbusters), while others are based on artistic status (the art film), racial identity (Black cinema), locat[ion] (the Western) or sexual orientation (Queer cinema).”

Though there are so many different ways to classify television shows and other texts, being able to separate them into genres and sub-genres helps isolate certain types so they can be further analyzed as a group. These genres often reflect “cultural norms, concerns, and fears as times change” (O’Donnell 99). Genres can often reflect the times they are set in or were created in, such as the American western. They reflect different histories, morals, and values. Each different genre has its own identifiable characteristics – comedies make us laugh, dramas make us cry, news programs inform us, talk shows discuss. However, single texts found within these genres do not necessarily have all the possible characterizations of the genre – that would be impossible. Daniel Chandler, in the article “An Introduction to Genre Theory,” suggests that genres can be seen “as ‘fuzzy’ categories which cannot be defined by necessary and sufficient conditions.” They are fluid and ever-changing, but nevertheless an important way to classify and analyze text.

The situational comedy is an elastic genre, with many sub-genres branching off beneath it. Sitcoms began with family-oriented themes and “no matter the type of sitcom, each followed the same basic structure and its content was influenced by current events” (Smith 31). All in the Family, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Addams Family; even the quirkiest of setups was most often filled in with actual family of characters. Some were large ensembles showing many different types of characters, such as The Brady Bunch’s overstocked cast of two parents, six children, and one housekeeper. Some were smaller, as in All in the Family’s two parents, one daughter, and one son-in-law. But the families reflected the times and different relationships, and different sitcom archetypes.

Also essential to understanding the shift from family sitcom to workplace sitcom is narrative theory. Narrative structure is a system of presenting a story; it “recounts one or more events, thus a story in a series of events arranged in an order” (O’Donnell 73). It is generally an identifiable pattern that helps the viewer interpret and understand the material. This comes across in many forms. Archetypes and characters show us people we recognize over and over in different media. Myths are cultural tales that are widely known and easily picked up on, offering classic insight into wrong and right. The narrative structure itself can be analyzed, as patterns between structures are formed and used to represent the narrative in a way that can be understood easily by the viewer.

For example, Aristotle presented his own theory – the most widely used theory – in his book Poetics. It presents a simple three act structure, with an emphasis on plot above all other elements (O’Donnell 74). The three acts follow a pattern each time: conflict, complications, resolution. It is quick and simple, and thusly it is often used in films or television shows as a means of following action. Another common theory is that is Vladimir Propp, outlined in his book Morphology of a Folktale. His structure begins with equilibrium, follows it into disequilibrium, and resolves by restoring the equilibrium (O’Donnell 75). The most important aspects of his structure are lack and or/villainy; the hero wants something he does not have, that the villain is possibly keeping away from him. There is also Roland Barthes’s theory, based around a “hermeneutic code” (O’Donnell 75). There is first an enigma that brings the audience to ask a question that will need to be answered by the end. Next there is a delay, which puts off a solution for a time. In the end, a resolution ends all curiosity over the enigma by fulfilling it. While these are some of the more common theories used, narrative structures are elastic and identifiable.

Archetypes are an important aspect of narrative theory, and a clear way to identify how family sitcoms have influenced workplace sitcoms. Archetypes are “recurring patterns of actions, character types, or identifiable images whose expression is an unconscious product of the collective experience of the entire human species, an unconscious mental record of such experiences, the uncollective unconscious” (O’Donnell 83).

Some typical classic character archetypes are the hero and villain, the mother and father, the leader and sidekick, the wise elder and foolish youth (O’Donnell 83). In family sitcoms specifically, the archetypes often rely on status within the family. An early stereotypical take on the family can see seen in a show like Leave it to Beaver, where the father is the authority figure who goes to work, the mother is the housekeeper that dotes upon the boys, and the two sons are the cute children who learn lessons every week. This was the American Dream, the “perfect family,” the nuclear family. Sitcoms in these days often ignored social issues occurring in the world and focused on upholding moral standards. No one discussed the unequal gender roles or how minorities fared. Television families were successful, white, and straightforward, and it is clear who had the power, what the gender roles were, and the type of clean-cut family image that was being represented.

The family sitcom itself has changed since then. It went through years of change with minority families on shows such as Good Times, which showed an African American family living in a low income Chicago neighborhood, and social issues were talked about, as seen when All in the Family’s bigoted Archie bumped heads with his liberal son-in-law. Family structure itself took new forms and changed; no longer was the nuclear family the only structure that was seen. However, the patterns found in the earliest sitcoms still translated to the current ones; there were still parents, children, and extraneous family members that fell into the same patterns, albeit in more modern situations.

The archetypes seen repeated in family comedies can be applied similarly to an ensemble of employees. According to the website tvtropes.com there are plenty of different family archetypes. The Patriarchal character is the father: a man of authority, the overprotective father who always ends up warming hearts in the end. This can be translated over to the boss figure in workplace sitcoms, as a person who holds authority but also cares for his employees. The Matriarch is the mother: caring, protective, and generally good natured until provoked. This can be translated over to a boss figure or the most caring person in the workplace; essentially, the glue that holds the work family together. Children archetypes vary depending on the character. There is the dork, a smart underdog. There is the precocious child, who is the youngest child in the family; this character is purely innocent and used for the cute factor. There is the teenager, who is prone to fighting and defying authority. Various employees in a workplace sitcom can take on any of these, especially if they are especially cared for by the boss. Various other characters can be seen in family series, such as the loser, the bully, the charmer, or the goofball, among others. Often times, characters like aunts or uncles (in family sitcoms) or people outside the staff (in workplace sitcoms) fill these roles.

The characters themselves are hugely important. While you can trace archetypes between genres, it is also easy to see similar characters between specific shows. This in particular highlights the similarities between the characters needed to fill a sitcom family, and the characters called on to fill a sitcom staff.

Take the late ‘80s/early ‘90s family sitcom Full House. Compared to the television families of the ‘50s, the Tanners were a highly unorthodox family. However, there were still the recognizable family figures within the ensemble. The father figure was represented by Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), a widowed father who was good-natured, caring, and somewhat goofy. In place of the deceased mother, he was joined by two friends, who became Uncle Joey (Dave Coulier) and Uncle Jesse (John Stamos) in the pilot episode. They were the show’s odd-couple duo, Joey being the typical goofball while Jesse was the slick ladies’ man. Eventually, Jesse married, and his wife Becky (Laurie Loughlin) became the show’s first and only consistent mother figure, as she related to Danny’s daughters in ways the men couldn’t. And the three girls – DJ (Candace Cameron), Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), and Michelle (Mary Kate Olson, Ashley Olson) – each had their turns at being the dorky child, the popular child, and the precocious child as they grew. They even used outside players, such as Kimmy (Andrea Barber) the neighbor, the five-minute character that no one wanted around, or Steve, DJ’s boyfriend who was not the brightest crayon in the box. The family, while being unorthodox in terms of nuclear family structure, still retained many of the typical family roles, and certainly the sitcom archetypes.

Conversely, when looking at a workplace sitcom ensemble, the same character types can be seen. For example, Parks and Recreation is a mockumentary set in a small-town government’s parks and recreation department. At the center of the show is Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the deputy director of the department, who’s optimistic, hard working, and naïve. She’s what keeps the entire department motivated, with her positive energy and endless faith in change. Therefore, she takes on a motherly role, often taking care of the other characters and looking out for them. In the season two episode “Christmas Scandal,” the rest of the department takes on her workload when she has a day off, and when she comes back, they find an appreciation for her as an authority figure in their workplace. Department director Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is her opposite, a libertarian who proclaims no interest in caring for other people, but does so reluctantly, and therefore becomes the department’s father figure. While there is nothing romantic about Leslie and his relationship, it is reminiscent of an Odd Couple archetype, where they butt heads but ultimately care about and support one another. The season two episode “Ton and Tammy” finds Ron butting heads and nearly reuniting with his abusive ex-wife; Leslie ends up getting him out of the situation, wherein he realizes that she’s the only person who’s ever cared enough about him.

Younger department employees Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) and April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) take on the role of the children. Tom is intent on being the suave one, the unsuccessful ladies’ man, who likes to appease Ron (like a son would want to impress his father) and tease Leslie. April is the unaffected youth, the blank-face teen who wants nothing to do with the parental figures, but actually gets advice and protective care from both Leslie and Ron. The four of them, while not always the central focus of the show as a group, form a sort of representation of a nuclear family, albeit a dysfunctional one. Ron’s role as the father is unintentional but apparent, as in the season three episode “Harvest Festival.” Everyone in the department is bickering while stuck on a ferris wheel, and Ron takes it upon himself to scold them, even telling April, “Quit being a child.” His form of discipline for the immature employees is similar to that of a father.

Similarly, Leslie’s motherly side is highlighted the most in the episode “Fancy Party.” When April announces a very sudden wedding, Leslie is worried for her well being and attempts to talk her out of it, eventually boiling over until she scolds, “You need to go to bed!” And in the end, April embraces her and admits that she loves Leslie and is happy she is there.

These story ideas and character types were carried over from family sitcoms. Even the other characters have similar roles – co-worker Donna (Retta) is the “cool” aunt, underdog Jerry (Jim O’Heir) is the overlooked uncle, shoe-shiner Andy (Chris Pratt) is the goofy neighbor, Leslie’s best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) and love interest Ben (Adam Scott) are the outsider voices of reason. And at the end of each episode, they are a family coming together to care about each other.

Narrative structure is applicable to the sitcom, in order to see the similarities between the two. The pilot episodes of Parks and Recreation and Full House are similar in nature. When we meet the Tanner family in the episode “Our Very First Show,” Danny needs help raising his daughters, and Jesse and Joey step in to give it a shot. The family comes together under one roof, where they begin to drive each other crazy. The uncles do not know how to take care of three young girls, and the comedy arises from the situation. At the end of the day, everyone comes together because they are family. They care about each other and need to support each other so they can continue to function. The need to raise the girls brings everyone together and gives them a central focus. They even come together to sing the Flintstones theme song, solidifying the fact that they are, indeed, a family.

Now, in “Pilot,” the first episode of Parks and Recreation, Leslie learns about an abandoned pit in town at a public forum. She wants to do good for her town, so she vows to get the pit filled in and have a park built on the land. However, she needs the help of her department. Even though everyone is there out of obligation to their jobs, they all join her “task force” and begin the journey to bring the park to fruition. Ron eventually approves of their committee due to his reluctant care for Leslie, and everyone supports her because she is the glue that holds the department together. They come together, like a family, to achieve one goal. And at the end of the day, they have fun together and care about each other. Funnily enough, it even ends in song.  Both shows used their pilots to unify the characters, and it works out the same whether they are blood related or being paid to be there. The ensembles are a family, a group of people who have to get along and care for each other, no matter what the situation.

In her article “‘What have you ever done on the telly? The Office, (post) reality television and (post) work,” Tara Brabazon looks at the evolution of The Office as a result of reality television. While the narrative structure of The Office is set up like a documentary in the popular form known as “mockumentary,” that is not the defining aspect of the show. The characters within do not reflect those of a reality television show, but those of an unorthodox family, brought together not by relation, but by circumstance. While the voyeuristic approach to storytelling in a mockumentary lends itself to parodying reality shows, the situations and characters reflect those of a family.

In the season two episode “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” socially oblivious manager Michael Scott announces his role as the group father, and his outlandish exploits to make the office an entertaining place for his employee’s kids shows him having the desire for parental authority and affection. And his employees act like his children; faithful Dwight supports and helps him, like a child eager to please. Jim and Pam, the two level-headed, precocious young employees, clean up his mess, they play out the archetype of children being smarter than their parents.

When Michael Scott left the show in the season seven episode “Goodbye Michael,” the characters reacted as though losing a father. Dwight finally gets the chance to play paintball with him, as if he were a child finally earning the attention and praise that he always wanted from his father. Reality television rarely aims to show warmth between characters; it reaches for conflict that does not always need a resolution.

But The Office and other similar workplace comedies, show a group of people working together, having affection for each other, and resolving their problems like a family. If the point of the show was simply the mockumentary structure, it would not have the heart that it is known for. The familial relationships are what make the show work.

Parks and Recreation has a similar heart. Rather than show the severe conflict that reality television feeds off, the show aims to show a warmer side to the workplace ensemble. “For storytelling purposes, there has to be conflict,” says the show’s creator Michael Schur, “but that doesn’t mean the people have to be mean.” With the notion of keeping the characters friendly and the conflict purely situational, the ensemble forms the makeshift family. Many episodes of the series exist simply to show people coming together. “The Camel,” an episode in season two, finds the department trying to create a new town hall mural for a contest. Initially there’s conflict among them, as everyone believes their ideas to be the best for the project, but Leslie eventually brings compromise to the group, with everyone coming together to make the mural together, defending each other’s ideas instead of fighting them. When the show always aims to reach such a warm place, there is hardly anywhere for the ensemble to go but to become a family.

American society has been evolving and changing from the moral family values of yesteryear to the career-driven aspirations of modern day. People are spending more time than ever with their co-workers, and starting families later to make time to get work done. Sitcoms have picked up on the trend; truly, the workplace sitcom is a direct descendant of the family sitcom. As America spends more time at work, our favorite fictional characters spend more time bonding with their coworkers. This change is important because it shows how our media reflects our society; when the culture shifts, what we watch on television shifts to compliment it.

Sex, Drugs, and Adolescence

Gather some attractive teens/young adults and give them vivid back-stories, throw them in a glamorous city, or even just a small town, there’s bound to be some story there. Growing up is a tale that quite frankly, doesn’t get old and this is the reason that teen television has been flourishing since it became a recognized genre in the 1980s (Ross and Stein 12). How do I know what defines teen television? This is a question I asked myself time and time again. What’s the difference between a cast of teens in the fast paced city of New York, and a small town in Bristol, London? I realized not through research but through being a fan of shows like Gossip Girl and Skins, that being a teen is a universal transition. It is the bridge from childhood to adulthood, when lines become blurred, bodies’ change, and one’s curiosity is at its peak.

However it was through my research that I have realized the vast differences between shows that originated in the United States as opposed to show’s like Skins that were created in the United Kingdom. There are obvious differences like the style of clothing and the slang used, but more significantly the ideologies and the cultures are extremely different and have a great effect on the show. Although at first glance it wasn’t clear, I see now that the genre of teen television seems to bend in accordance to the country.

In television today we categorize our programs according to a list of generalities for example we have drama, situation comedies, news shows, and reality shows. About three decades ago another genre was added to the list, and teen television has become a notable part of television history. However as times change genres begin to mold with the conventions of the new lifestyles and these broad classifications begin to blur making it difficult to note what shows belong to what genre. This is where genre theory is introduced (O’Donnell 96).

For television, genre theory is important to understand as a viewer but even more so as a critic or member of the industry. The genre not only deciphers the types of shows that are created, but also where they will be placed on the schedule and the typical demographic of the show. As society becomes more reliant on the media and technology, genres will also allow the critic to see how the medium affects and reflects the audience.

In Genre Theory as a Tool for Analyzing Network-Mediated Interaction it says, “They suggest that what is important in understanding a genre is identifying the underlying social and technical forces which produce the regularities which characterize a genre” (Erickson). Basically saying, that genre theory is more than just separating shows into categories, but reading between the lines and understanding why certain shows are popular.  Viewers only watch what they are familiar with and so it is up to the industry to “blend and bend genres.” Even as conventions and social norms change on a regular basis, the audience must be able to identify key characters or formulaic structures and storylines in order to relate and accept shows. The biggest concern theorists face is whether or not these categories are limited to just one specific culture or if they are worldwide (“Introduction to Genre Theory”).

From the perspective of pop culture historians, teen television was not a recognized genre until the 1980s. It was in this decade that American networks began to cater to the appeals of adolescents. It’s important to understand that this genre was not just born over night, but that there were many influences and other staple shows, some in different genres, that inspired what is considered to be one of the most marketable niches. In the introduction of “Teen Television,” Ross and Stein give an example of how classic American shows would be categorized today as teen TV. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (ABC 1952-66) was a show that told the story of the rising teen star, Ricky Nelson. “The program regularly aired videos after each episode, featuring Ricky singing his newest hit.” Ross and Stein both agree that this could quite possibly be one of the first teen television shows (12-13).

While its true that teen television often intertwines pop culture, fashion, and music into their story lines, what makes the show “teen” is the showcasing of the “coming of age” story. Ross describes it best when she says that adolescence is a period during which bodies begin to develop adult characteristics, including sexual development, “and yet when one has little social power”. This period of time is about finding one self, finding a community to fit into, and dealing with the emotional and physical changes that one undergoes (Ross and Stein 7).

Today the genre has become a global phenomenon and there are entire networks exclusively devoted to teen audiences. I believe that the classifications of genres are a worldwide concept allowing two different countries to make two very different shows targeted towards the same audience and sending the same messages. This is because at some point or another the cultures of the host country bend the classifications of what it means to be a teen television show, allowing their ideologies to shine through.

It’s no secret that the United States is torn between whether abstinence or safe sex education should be taught in schools, and this proves true in the reflection of our society through hit teen television shows like Gossip Girl. Writers use their best efforts to keep all parties happy, but still there are many parents who find the show, and many shows like them, not fit for teens. From the beginning creators, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage received harsh reviews from parents. Sites such as Parentstv.org continue to bash the content saying that the “provocative kissing, erotic situations, and skimpy clothing” are sending the wrong message (Gildemeister). However when it comes to Irin Carmon, a writer on a blog site, Jezebel.com, she begs to differ. She says, “For all of the casual sex on Gossip Girl, if you’re a good girl, [it means] you want to save it for something special” (Carmon).

Like many other American shows, Gossip Girl continues to stress the importance of teens losing their virginity. Because in the United States that is exactly what is preached, sex is monumental, and even more so, sex is a private matter. In addition to this writers are constantly writing diverse characters with different moral codes, this in itself remolds the cookie cutter shape that fits the genre of teen television.  Take for example the character of Blair Waldorf, the beautiful queen bee, from Gossip Girl. She is popular not only in this fictional world but also to viewers.

In the first season Blair is a virgin waiting patiently for her prom night so that she can consummate her relationship with her boyfriend, Nate. This aspect of the story caters to viewers who aren’t completely abstinent, but believe that the right thing to do is to wait. The last thing that Blair wants to do is tarnish her reputation because in the world of the Upper East Side, image is extremely important. However at the end of episode 7 in season 1, Nate breaks up with Blair and explains that he no longer has feelings for her. This sends Blair off the deep end and straight into the arms of Nate’s best friend, the pompous Chuck Bass. After a night at a burlesque club, heart broken and bitter, Blair decides to lose her virginity to Chuck (Schwartz, Wharmby “Victor/Victrola”).

For many viewers this was more than a turn off, many teens related to the character of Blair and could not believe that she was lost to the seduction and glamour of “losing it,” and worse that she lost it to the malicious and arrogant Chuck Bass. But the writers of Gossip Girl were aware of what message they had just sent and so in future episodes they justify this reckless act. Blair ends up falling in love with Chuck and Nate loses his “good guy” image by becoming a player. The writers manipulate fans, allowing them to understand, and even sympathize with Blair, no matter what their beliefs are or stance on sex. With Blair on his side, Chuck becomes more and more appealing to the audience allowing Blair to keep her good girl reputation.

One Tree Hill is also a great example where writers struggle to keep all viewers happy.  One character Haley is a proud virgin and waiting until marriage, another character Brooke is reckless and overtly promiscuous. And in the middle ground we have Peyton, the 16-year-old who is not a virgin, but still views sex as a big deal. It is the perfect compromise producers purposely planted in order to satisfy not only American teens, but also American parents. We have Haley for abstinence, Peyton for safe sex, and Brooke the character both sides make an example of, screaming: this is what not to do (Schwahn, “Every Night Is Another Story”).

Across the pond we have E4’s hit teen drama Skins. The UK channel is known for pushing the limits, but with a “mostly teen cast that swears with the propensity of the characters found in HBO’s Deadwood and The Sopranos,” I, along with many others, am surprised it is allowed to air on network television.  The show revolves around Tony, the good looking but manipulative heartthrob, and his group of friends. As an American I was immediately surprised to see that there is no stress on the characters’ sexual tendencies. In fact the show has been praised by viewers for showing it like it is, and being one of the first in it’s time to depict teens as sexual beings with out disapproval or judgment (Tsjeng).

For example in season 1, episode 6 Tony and the gang head off to Russia on a school trip. Tony is roomed with Maxxie, a close friend and an openly gay character. Throughout the episode Tony and his girlfriend, Michelle, are seen having sex and fooling around in the boys’ hotel room. In the last segment of the episode, Maxxie arrives back to the hotel room and finds Michelle asleep in Tony’s bed. Tony enters from the bathroom and attempts to seduce Maxxie, explaining that he wants to try something different. They start to make out, and eventually Tony ends up “going down” on Maxxie. Halfway through Michelle wakes up and witnesses her boyfriend cheating on her with a close friend (Schiffer,Clough, “Maxxie and Anwar”).

“What is admirable about the show is that no sexual, or social issue is off limits,” one TV reviewer says.  He writes about how in America the idea of oral sex is taboo, embarrassing even. This idea relates back to the ideology that sex is private and personal. In shows like Gossip Girl, The O.C., and One Tree Hill, teen characters go from “first to last base,” conveniently leaving out any indication that there are any other steps in between (Film-book.com). But on Skins, there are all types of sex, “drunk sex, lesbian sex, casual sex, unprotected sex,” and the list really does go on (Tsjeng).

Interestingly enough this upcoming January, MTV is remaking Skins and many critics are wondering how true to the stories they will be. “The British-made version that airs on BBC America is censored for language and nudity. It will be interesting to see how sanitized the MTV version might be (Zurawik).” The series will take place in Baltimore, and although the original writers are still on board, even they admit that there are changes being made so that the stories can fit the American audience. One major change that has caused arise among original fans of the UK series is that producers felt that the homosexual character of Maxxie would be better suited in America as a girl (Autostraddle.com).

With today’s access to sites like Netflix and Hulu, TV shows have become easily accessible to audiences all over the world. For American teens, this means that they get the chance to see what life is like for their peers over in the UK. However, it also allows parents to check out what going on, and just like every teen show that airs in America, the Parents Television Council also have put in their two cents about E4’s hit. In one article PTV council member, Christopher Gildemeister, addresses the relationship between the teens and authoritative figures. He references one episode in which socially awkward and late bloomer, Sid, learns that he is in danger of failing an important class. His teacher gives him the opportunity to write a paper in order to save his grade. However instead of listening to his teacher and his father, Sid sneaks out to a party. Instead of disciplining his son and sitting him down for a one on one talk, like they do in America, Sid and his father get into it. They throw the “F” word around along with many other curses with out hesitation and although on BBC America these words would be bleeped out, in the UK they are not (Gildemeister).

For Gildemeister this is just the top of the list of things he doesn’t like about Skins. He touches on authoritative figures again when he talks about the relationship between characters Chris, a student and his teacher Angie.  “After repulsing a fellow adult teacher’s advances, schoolteacher Angie grabs teenage student Chris, kisses him and proceeds to have vigorous sex with him,” (Gildemeister). This relationship went on for about two seasons, and in the end there were no severe consequences. Angie simply decided that she wanted to move on when an ex-lover, that was actually her age, came back into her life (Shiffer, Clough,“Maxxie and Anwar”).

It’s understandable that this would raise red flags for parents, but in a subsequent post Gildemeister met again with the topic when a young British Teen wrote a letter expressing her feelings on the show. She fought back claiming that Skins did not promote bad behavior or foul language, it just portrayed what life as a teen these days is really like. “You don’t understand it: We do. It was made in Britain, for British teenagers. It uses our slang, our culture: it incorporates our fears and our hopes. What seems farfetched and unrealistic to you is real and true-to-life for us. We all know a Sid or a Tony; this makes the programme work,” (qtd. on parentstv.org). Although Gildemeister can’t and won’t agree with the Skins’ fan, I can’t say that her statement isn’t true.  After all, I was not a teenager in Britain.

Even so, I can use my knowledge of what it was like to be an American teenager, and here in America parents and teachers have the last say. Skins may have gotten praised for its raw depiction of teen sexuality but American shows like The O.C. have also contributed new ideas to the genre. The O.C., which was also created by Josh Schwartz the creator of Gossip Girl, was one of the first shows to make adult characters a prominent part of the story in a teen drama. “Sandy Cohen does not just disappear after he brings Ryan home to Newport Beach. He is an integral part of the storylines, a laid-back father who plays video games with his kids and surfs to clear his head,” (notablebiographies.com).

This also allows insight as to what role a parent plays in an American teen’s life. In The O.C., Sandy and Kirsten were very present in their kid’s life.  Therefore their son, Seth, was very well behaved and excelled in school. Where as Ryan’s mom picked up and left, abandoning him. However the fact that the orphaned and troubled Ryan was able to make something of his life regardless, demonstrates the idea that hard work always pays off. Not to mention that Ryan, luckily had two responsible role models to look after him (Schwartz, Liman, “Pilot”).

So far I have touched on many of the differences in culture between the United States and the United Kingdom. But there is also one major difference that I have not included, and this is the law of each country. In the United States the legal drinking age is twenty-one, a person must be nineteen to purchase cigarettes, and the age of consent varies between 16-18 years. The use of illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine is not tolerated along with the abuse of prescription drugs (justice.gov).  For the United Kingdom the legal age to purchase alcohol is eighteen, to have a glass of wine or beer with a meal in public a person must be sixteen and to drink in the privacy of your own home you must be over the age of five. One must be over the age of eighteen to smoke cigarettes, and the age of consent is sixteen. Like the United States, the use of illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and the abuse of prescription drugs, are not tolerated (legislation.gov.uk).

These variations make a huge difference for the stories that revolve around teenagers. In Skins, the teens are often seen at pubs and bars. The show is also infamous for their lavish parties in which they wreck homes and drink themselves to a stupor. Characters buy and deal drugs, and in one season even get into major trouble with a local drug lord (Brittain and Elsley, “Tony”). To the American viewer this may seem extreme and out of the ordinary because even though programs, such as Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill, show teens consuming alcohol, because they are not of age yet it is not shown to this extent. If writers wish to include a relaxed party scene they imply that the characters are drunk without showing beer bottles or liquor. This is one of the reasons why foreigners often point out the infamous “red cup” that American teens hold in party scenes.  In One Tree Hill the character of Peyton tries cocaine and her friends nearly disown her, and beg her to get help (Schwahn, Dickson, “Truth, Bitter Truth”). And although the characters of Gossip Girl are seen smoking marijuana, it is an extremely touchy subject (Schwartz, Wharmby, “In the Realm of Basses”).

Like the subject of sex, American producers feel they must justify why characters act out, making examples of them, or using dramatic back-stories to make it acceptable. For instance in Gossip Girl, episode 12 of season 1, Serena and Blair decide to throw a party at the school pool.  They intended it to be just their closest girlfriends, but word gets out and soon nearly half the school is present. The party gets out of hand quickly; students are drinking alcohol, taking drugs, and running about the pool recklessly. When a student gets seriously injured the party comes to a halt and Dan Humphrey steps up, calling the ambulance and taking the blame for the party. Later in the episode viewers discover that the injured student nearly died, with the schools reputation at risk Dan is in danger of being expelled (Schwartz, Wharmby, “School Lies”).

On the other side of the spectrum, Skins makes Gossip Girl look like an after school special. On urban dictionary, a site for defining the slang and terms of young adults, the term “skins party” has already been coined. It is, “A party inspired by the British E4 Drama, Skins.  These parties usually involve large amounts of drugs, alcohol, sex and loud music. After the skins party, the guests usually wake up in somebody else’s house completely disorientated,” (Urbandictionary.com).  For the Skins’ kids parties like these are a common occurrence, and usually happen at least once an episode.

Obviously the party scenes are much more racy in the United Kingdom as opposed to the United States, however what I wish to point out is not so much the parties, but the aftermath. Because parents aren’t a prominent role in the UK show, it is very rare that there are repercussions to the destruction caused by the parties. If the kids of Skins had thrown a party at the school pool like in Gossip Girl, I doubt that they would get caught or even in trouble, and if they did it would most likely be used as comic relief.

It is also important to understand the differences of education in each of these two countries. In the United States a child must go to school completing grades K through twelve. This is the minimum amount of schooling a child must undergo, typically they are five years old when they begin, and seventeen to eighteen when they finish (ed.gov). In the UK, children attend school from the age of five to sixteen. Once they complete those years they have the option of continuing for another two years, this is called sixth form. If they complete sixth form then they can choose to continue on to what we would consider a College or University (educationuk.org).

Like I noted earlier this idea of the American Dream, hard work will pay off, is extremely important to the culture. Even with the recession and economic issues it is encouraged that students continue with their studies after high school. In shows like Gossip Girl and The O.C., where the characters grew up in fast paced and glamorous cities, they feel the pressure to attend Ivy League schools and either follow in their parents footsteps or surpass them. While in Skins, the stories are based less on the weekdays and time spent in school, and more on the nightlife and weekends. Although we see them in school, the teachers and class work is often portrayed as a joke.

In season three creators, Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, made the decision to replace the whole cast with a new generation of faces. In the premiere of season three the new students arrive at their new school and immediately are brought into the gymnasium. There an assembly is held, where the head mistress discusses the rules of the school. Although at first the adults seem in control and intimidating, the student body quickly breaks out into a riot when the character of James makes a scene by pulling down his pants. He’s obviously punished, but in comparison to what kind of trouble he would be in, in America, what he receives is equivalent to a slap on the hand (Elsley, “Everyone”).

Yet again, using Gossip Girl as an example, this kind of acting out would most definitely result in a suspension or quite possibly expulsion and news such as this would be catastrophic not only for their parents but for the teen characters as well. Being that I am familiar with the characters of Skins, I feel that being expelled would only result in more extravagant parties and careless acts. Although it may not seem realistic, I find that that’s the charm in the writing of the show.  “In a world where the grown-ups are ridiculous caricatures of adult authority or entirely absent, it’s the teenagers who are left to sort out the resulting mess themselves,” (Tsjeng).

I often hear people criticize teen television saying things like, “Well when would a kid be allowed to do that,” or “Where are their parents right now?” My question to these people is exactly the same, when was the last time a plane crashed on an island with almost forty survivors, or what about the group of friends from downtown New York who spend all their time in a coffee shop, when exactly do they go to work?  No matter what genres a television show falls under, the whole point of the stories is to entertain. A viewer is supposed to suspend their belief to a certain extent, and if a show is written well the unrealistic aspects will tie together so nicely with the cultural ideologies that a viewer will start to believe that these stories could happen or would happen.

In the end I realize that there are many more differences than the three that I have researched. I could even find differences between two shows created in the US but set in different states. However all these variations do not make separate sub genres, because despite it all, the similarities all send the same message. Take away the accents; plot devices, the extravagant party scenes, and controversial sex scenes. What remains is a group of adolescence trying to find their place in life. It’s about that feeling of falling in love for the first time and making mistakes that for once bear consequences to heavy to carry. At the end of the day it’s about being a teenager.

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