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FATHER KNOWS BEST to Mother Knows… Everything

by Adam Adcock

Throughout television history, there has been a vast change in traditions and values in our society.  Media is a powerful tool of persuasion that changes the way we see morality, our ideologies, and the way we view one another.  One of the most significant changes since television has become mainstream in the 1950’s is the way an entire television audience chooses to view and acknowledge a traditional family (Castleman).  When audiences see their favorite television families and how they act on the screen, it show influences the viewers and ultimately, transforms the design and makeup of the traditional family, gender roles, and its values.  The mixing of taboo with popular culture allows television to present new ideas.

When classifying anything, in particular television shows, we use Genre Theory.  Genre comes from the French term for “group”, “family”, “genus”, or “type”.  As a television audience, it is important to know this theory because it will help classify shows making them easier to find through the hundreds of channels in circulation.  Television production is completely dependent on this theory and it is central to the organization and structure of the industry (O’Donnell).  Television’s characters use Genre Theory in a similar way by means of “archetypes.”  Archetypes are generated when characters are portrayed with recurrent patterns of actions that an audience sees subconsciously and relates that action with those of other characters (O’Donnell).  An example of an archetype would be “the hero”.  “The hero” can be classified as any character that overcomes an obstacle in pursuit of a goal that usually is for the good of his community or the entire world (O’Donnell).  Jack from Lost is a prime example of this “hero” archetype.  He takes it upon himself to become leader after his plane crashes on a deserted island leaving a number of survivors.  He is a doctor and makes it his goal to help those in need of medical assistance after the catastrophe, thus benefitting the community on the island.  Archetypes we see today are merely prototypes of original characters within myths such as the original hero, Hercules (O’Donnell).

One genre within television that changes the most is the traditional television family and what audiences view as a “family show”.  Television in the 1950s reveals a family who consists of a working father, a stay-at-home mother, one boy usually involved in sports, and a girl who lives for one thing; a date for the weekend.  These are all stock characters.  Cast in a family pet and wacky neighbors and audiences now have the basic formula for a sitcom.  The audience lacks a sense of complexity and character development however due to governmental restrictions on subject matter (McMahon).  “Television was new to families at this point and like all new guests in people’s houses, it must act as just that; a guest with respect and a consciousness of morality.” (Castleman 10)

In the show I Love Lucy, we are introduced to the Arnaz family.  At first glance, we see traditional family construction, which was a stay-at-home wife, a working father, and the wacky neighbors, but with a few twists.  The neighbors were the Arnaz’s landlords, the husband was a Cuban singer, Lucy actually had dreams of being something other than a wife, and the house in which they live is not in Suburbia, but in a one-bedroom apartment downtown.  This specific change reflects the history at this time as millions of families were leaving the cities and migrating to suburbia to raise their families.  Only the husbands travel to the cities to work and then return home to their families residing in the suburbs (Lawson).

Up until now, audiences nationwide have grown accustomed to seeing the nuclear family shown in shows such as Father Knows Best.  America was ready for a change.  The typical family was white, middle class, following specific gender roles, and was “nuclear.”  On the other hand, why did I Love Lucy gain such a large amount of success if it was so different and taboo?  Lucy was the first woman to ever be shown on the television pregnant.  It was considered taboo in television’s first years (Castleman).  Even though Lucy appears pregnant in some episodes, and the fact that the network airs the scene of her giving birth the very same day she physically gives birth to her real life son, the cast never is allowed to use the word “pregnant.”  Characters referred to Lucy’s pregnancy as her “condition” (Castleman).

So why is the word “pregnancy” such a huge milestone to overcome for the FCC?  The network’s ultimate goal, at this time, is to not offend anyone with their themes aesthetics in hopes that sponsors will buy advertising slots within their specific programming.  Such subject matter as pregnancy could be seen as mature content not suitable for some viewers.  Sexual intercourse is part of pregnancy, and could deter viewers from watching, thus ratings would falter, and in essence, the ad agencies would not be getting their money’s worth in audience numbers (potential buyers of their products).  However, Lucy’s childbirth airing and the show resuming its critical acclaim proves that America is ready to see the pregnant women’s story giving way for other taboos to infiltrate the television waves.

After Lucy’s childbirth episode, audiences are able to see how a family develops and are not just being thrown into a family with no back-story.  With I Love Lucy, we witnessed the world of the Ricardo family before, during, and after the birth of their son.  Television was changing from a typical “dreamlike” family that almost rarely existed, to a more accurate depiction of the postmodern family.  One example would be The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  First debuting in 1970, the show gives America its first glimpse of a family of one.  There was one woman, Mary, who is “making it on her own” (as the opening theme song states).  Family values change in the 1970s and this show depicts this change truthfully.  Suddenly, it is ok for a woman to be a woman, without the title of ‘mother’, making it possible for them to gain success without the help from a man (Douglas).

The 1970s era marks the height of the feminist movement and the goal of women to gain their own independence from men (Lawson).  Women’s issues are not being taken so lightly at this point.  Many women consider the original theme song of The Mary Tyler Moore Show controversial because of its lyrics, “You might just make it after all” (Heide).  By season two, the lyrics change to “You’re gonna make it after all.”  The word “might” depicts feelings of doubt in a time when women were liberated to definitely making it to success.  While being a mother is a huge accomplishment for women, and still a goal, there is a niche demographic of women at this time who want more in life than “The American Dream.”  Now, women are aspiring to become doctors, lawyers, actresses, etc., without children, or a husband holding them back.  Mary Tyler Moore pioneers the way for women to do just this.  Still, television shows are depicting the television family as traditional with their stock characters, but giving the genre more leeway to revolutionize.  We see these post-modern ideologies being illustrated on television, so our own lives become less taboo.  Single women can feel proud to be single and not “stuck” in a family because “if Mary Tyler Moore does it, then so can I.”  That is how powerful television is.

Another television show that is responsible for the transitioning of family tradition is Married…With Children.  In this sitcom, we witness the lives of the Bundy family.  They are the first family to introduce dysfunction amongst family with a comedic ‘raunch’ (Castleman).  In each episode, Al, the husband/father figure, returns home from his job selling women’s shoes and reflects on how much he hates this career.  He usually begins with a bantering story such as, “So a fat woman came into the shoe store today.”  In the late 80s early 90s when the show is at its peek, the storylines and scripts are fresh and original, and attracting a large audience.  Families are starting to move away from the modern ideologies of gender roles, values, and life lessons, and starting to see more androgyny amongst families (Douglas).   The Bundys piece together the missing link between the modern and post-modern family because now we see the father actually mad and fed up at the wife’s laziness and ambition to be a stay-at-home mother.  There is so much irony behind the gender roles here because these characters are similar to their 50’s stock characters, but polar opposites in its representational values.  Peggy Bundy, the housewife, is the epitome of laziness.  She lives by the idea that the woman’s place is the home.  It isn’t necessarily that she believes in the traditional female role of “housewife” but it is just the convenience of the privilege (Stacey, 1996).  Peggy sits on the couch watching Oprah all day eating bonbons and finds refuge in running up Al’s credit card bill while abusing the Home Shopping Network.  She never cooks, never cleans, and especially never claims her children.  She represents a new version of “housewife”, as “the waste of space.”  Al Bundy tries to earn money at his job selling shoes.  The irony behind this characteristic is that now the father figure is depicting the idea of being forced to support his family financially, rather than enjoying the pride within the accomplishment (Stacey).  Al despises his wife’s work ethic and hates giving all of his money away to his family.  He holds a job that is traditional in the fact that he is destined to be there till retirement, but lives paycheck to paycheck never seeming to get ahead.  In his own words, his family “sucks him dry” and he never receives anything in return.

The Bundy family sparks an array of other shows with similar characters.  The networks are beginning to change the stock characters that we see today.  We see the typical “dumb oaf father” in shows such as Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, and The Simpsons.  We see one dumb kid, one smart kid, and a stay-at-home mother.  We also are introduced to the personified dog in Married…With Children.  Buck becomes a main character featuring voice over.  He is also, coincidentally, the only one with the common sense in the house.  This is said to be where the idea of Bryan the dog from Family Guy originates (Castleman).  These animals have always been present in the sitcoms, but in post-modern television, they get to be a bigger part of the shows with episodes featuring them as the main character.  They can talk, and nowadays, even offer advice for their human counterparts.

This new form of family, challenges the modern, traditional family saying “life just cannot be that perfect.”  Now it is okay for a father to vent about his problems at home with his friends over a beer (Kelly, 1995).  This new form of television sitcom forces us out of our comfort zones.  Now, families can sit down, relax and watch families bicker and fight, while finding humor in the storyline since this is accurate.  Families can expect imperfections because, “if they can do it on television, then it must be okay” (Stacey).

Fathers, after shows such as Married… With Children, Unhappily Ever After, and The Simpsons hit the airwaves, are starting to feel less pressure with always having to be right.  It makes perfect sense.  Homer Simpson is a beer guzzling fool in most of the episodes of The Simpsons who almost never has a right answer for anything.  The same setup is shown within Peter Griffin from Family Guy.  Al Bundy is a public figure on television living paycheck-to-paycheck complaining about his deadbeat family, but loved them nonetheless.  The definition of archetype states that a recurring character trait is what gives archetypes new characteristics and room for change.  After the Bundys we are introduced to the Connor family in Roseanne, where Dan Connor is also struggling to make ends meet and does not always provide the right answers.   This imperfection is now the new standard for fathers around the United States (Castleman).  When fathers depict the notion that they should have all the right answers and be as perfect as possible, fathers struggle with intense complexes and self-esteem issues if they for some reason lacked a right answer or guided their child in the wrong direction accidentally (Kelly).  Perhaps they cannot afford to send their children to college, like in the Utopia that the 50s television sitcoms portray.  Finally, it is okay.  This is how strong the television sitcoms are.  They can change the way entire populations see themselves.  It has changed the ideology that family life is perfect life.

Apparently the world is now once again ready for a next step in family television.  “It started with Archie Bunker in All in the Family making his racist remarks and establishing some of today’s stereotypes” (Stacey 109).  This show introduces the world to stereotypes in the African-American, homosexual, and immigrant cultures.  This new type of family sparks controversy even today, but it also introduced the tension between a white family with bigot ideologies, and them dealing with the new African-American family that moves in next door (The Jeffersons).  This is one of the milestones of integration in television in the 1970s (Castleman).

Along with stereotypes, we also get a look at gender role reversal in shows such as Who’s the Boss.  We have a man who is the epitome of the male “machismo” prototype, but he is thrown into a successful woman’s household as a housekeeper.  For the love of his daughter, he moves to get her out of the dangers of the Bronx.  He takes whatever job he can find elsewhere.  He transforms from star of the Cardinals baseball team to live-in housekeeper cooking three meals a day and incorporating life lessons he has learned throughout his rough life, into this upper-class household.  These shows are pioneers of their kind and are something that audiences have never seen before.  The history of television illustrates the reasoning behind their success.  They go against the norm and strike up controversy and conversation through their storytelling.  The aesthetics behind each storyline is so complex because we haven’t seen them until now.

If you trace the history of television, you will witness the history of America.  Shows such as Married…With Children, Family Guy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, and Modern Family challenge tradition paving the way for genres in television to morph and transition (O’Donnell).  The nuclear family is one genre that has changed the most, but what if Mary Tyler Moore had not made it after all, without the help of a man (Heide, 1995)?  What if Lucy’s “condition” was not aired (Castleman)?  Would women have the same amount of power as today?  Television changes as society transforms.  America is now able to see these dysfunctional families as depicted in Married…With Children and their post-modern problems and relate, rather than strive to become the perfect, “nuclear” family (Stacey).  The weight is taken off of our fathers with characters in Al Bundy and Homer Simpson, depicting a sense of accuracy within family.  Our mothers have different standards to uphold with much more slack, and room for being right.  Our sons can be free to be gay and our daughters can get pregnant on Prom night, and know that “we all make mistakes sometimes.  Look at what happened to ___”.  The world would be a much different place without these shows transitioning family values from modern suburbia and the nuclear family archetype into a post-modern, imperfect prototype.  What is in store for family television?  Is there anything left to uncover?  Taboos are being unveiled every day and it gets harder to offend or shock anyone.  Perhaps this post post-modern era we live in today marks the end of the traditional family transformation.  What if there is not anything left to change?  Will we grow bored of this new permanent family if more elements are not introduced to this genre?  Will eternal writer’s block from television writers and the lack of new ideas embark a fate meaning the end of family evolution?  Only time will tell.

Works Cited

Castleman, Harry, and Walter Podrazik.  Watching TV:  Six Decades of American Television. Syracuse, New York:  Syracuse University Press, 2003.

Douglas, William. Television Families:  Is Something Wrong in Suburbia? Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003.

Heide, Margaret J. Television Culture and Women’s Lives:  Thirty-Something and the Contradictions of Gender. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.

Kelly, Janice. “Fathers and the Media: Introduction to the Special Issue.” Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, & Practice about Men as Fathers 7.2 (2009): 107-113. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 18 Feb. 2010.

Lawson, Alan.  The American Promise:  A Compact History.  Boston, MA:  Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007.

O’Donnell, Victoria.  Television Criticism.  Los Angeles, CA:  Sage Publications, Inc, 2007.

Stacey, Judith. In the Name of the Family:  Rethinking Family Values in the Postmodern Age. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1996.

Production Theory: Girl Style Now!

By Caitlin McWhirt

The television industry has always been a boy’s club, but with women continually breaking through; creating and running some of the most succesful shows (CSI, anyone?), the question stands, why are so many women still overlooked and undervalued?

All of my life I have been told I could and could not do things because I was a girl. Somehow, I always knew this was malarkey. I actively sought out to challenge these societal constructs, even as a young girl. Once I started writing for television in college, I can count how many times I have been told something like “girls aren’t funny” or “Girls just make better producers” on two hands, which is two hands too many. I wanted to explore different female ran or centered shows to see if these common held ideas about women in creative positions have any affect on the television being made. By applying production theory, women face challenges in the negotiations and production of television programs.

It takes a lot of people to create just one television show.  People coming from different levels of management converge with one another. They all have different perceptions on what needs to be done to make a successful television show, and they each have to find ways of dealing with each other to get the show finished. Production theory examines the relationships between all areas of television by taking examples in television and breaking them down into categories to analyze them (Theory Overview).

There are three basic levels of analysis within production theory: Macro-level, Micro-level, and mid-range criticisms (Vande Berg 259). Macro- level concerns the big picture such as the networks interacting together or a large company buying news channels. Micro-level involves individual television workers such as the writer, producer, or director. Finally there is mid-range, which deals with just one company or niche market (259).

It is important when studying production theory to take into account the influences within each level and how power roles affect attributes of production. It is impossible to complete a show without working with people from all levels of the business. Within every one show there is someone that holds the power to sway things for their agenda (265). It is interesting to see if the producer, advertiser, or CEO of the network, can all be from separate levels of production theory and may win any particular argument within. It all depends on the show and which one has more power (267-268).

Many people use this theory to delve into how television is made. Who has the power is very important to learn in doing this because it is the person with power that can shape the show greatly. Examining the inner workings of television though production theory can tell you who and where the information or entertainment is coming from and gives you a great appreciation of what all goes into making a television program.

This paper will use production theory to take a closer look at television shows that are run and shaped by women. This means I will look at individual women and examine how she deals with the other forces around her such as the network, director, and other workers on her television show. All these shows have been successful, but several are now cancelled. The act of cancellation alone shows that there has been some sort of conflict between the macro, micro, and mid-range personnel of the shows. I will also examine a show that is healthy and thriving to see why it’s doing so well based on production theory.

On the woman created show, Gilmore Girls, Amy Sherman-Palladino had to constantly parry threats against her job and her show from the network. Once one of the main characters graduated high school and entered college, there was a big question on what would happen in the show since the main story line is the mother and daughter relationship is now long distance. The ratings were slipping due to this change and other events in television that drew attention away. The head of the WB at the time seemed to have it out for the show. The cast and crew had the sense it was over. Sherman-Palladino was sure that if the show were not cancelled, she would surely be fired. Luckily, she had a plan for a big story for the series and a new network head eased the transition in story lines and the show regained its viewer ship (Shaw and Rice).

Later, at the end of the 6th season, Sherman-Palladino’s contract was up with the series (Adalian “Gilmore Exit” 24). There was a merger, turning the WB into the CW and the network was moving toward high-concept shows (Shaw and Rice). They wanted sexy thin super heroes, spies, or mean high schoolers, not a mother daughter duo. The cast’s contracts were up after the 7th season, so the network doubted the survival of the series (Shaw and Rice). The writers, which included Sherman-Palladino, wanted a two-year contract renewal, but the network was not planning on having the show around that much longer. So Amy Sherman-Palladino left her show after the 6th season when her and the network could not agree on a new deal (Adalian “Gilmore Exit” 24). One of the writers, David Rosenthal quickly replaced her to finish out the last season of the series. Since her departure from the series in 2006, Sherman-Palladino has tried to get several pilots picked up. They generated buzz, but none of them have worked out (Adalian “Gilmore Exit” 24). It was not until 2008 when The Return of Jezebel James was bought by the Fox network, but it ran for only one season (Adalian “Gilmore Lands at Fox” 2). She is currently working on a new untitled project with CBS (IMDB.com “Amy Sherman”).

Two shows that are a part of a larger franchise are CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Miami. Women, Carol Mendelsohn and Ann Donahue, created both of these shows. In 2007 they signed a deal with CBS and Alliance Atlantis giving them around $12 million each over four years to continue working with these shows with an option to present new work (Adalian “Killer Coin for ‘CSI’ Czars” 40). This makes them some the highest paid women in the television industry (Adalian “Eye’s High on Femmes Behind ‘CSI’” 1). The productions of these shows seem to go off without a hitch and they are still among the most watched shows on television even after years of being on the air. They even branched off onto a third show, CSI: NY. The chairman of CBS, Les Moonves, calls it “the most successful franchise in television history” (Kotler A33). In interviews about the show, Mendelsohn and Donahue could not be happier about their success with the shows. They seem to have a strong rapport with all the levels of production. Les Moonves sees them as a crucial part of the overall quality of the show and is determined to keep them happy to continue with the show (Kotler A33). Concerning quality, the women both credit the writing as the most important aspect of the show and value the process of writing the show the most (Levine A6). CSI alone employs around 800 people and the ladies make it a mission to foster young talent. “It’s a collective, a family. Mentoring has always been the most important thing to us.” Mendelsohn says (Kotler A1). This gives the idea that these women ran shows are so successful because the women have great relationships with the mid-range and micro levels within their productions.

The last show I will be taking a look at is Roseanne. In this male created sitcom the principal actress, Roseanne Barr, has a lot of creative credit and has often been portrayed in a negative light for speaking out about her feelings on the production making process. Throughout the beginning of the series Barr had issues with the way her character was written in scripts. She had a clear visualization of the character that she had a big hand in conceptualizing, but thinks the writers do not hear the character’s voice the same as she does. This puts strains on the production because Roseanne often did not know her lines because she was dissatisfied with them. This eventually causes a main director to leave the show and other production problems (Mayerle). By Roseanne Barr’s account in her book My Lives it seems like these problems were there in the beginning. She says that both her and the head writer, Matt Williams, were told they were in control of the show by the producers Carsey-Werner. This automatically started a battle with two sides fighting each other for creative control. Barr had trouble gaining creative credit and felt that Williams was not writing her character the way she wanted (Barr). Williams and Barr continued to fight until Barr was able to fire him (Barr). In this situation, it seems Roseanne had the upper hand and was able to oust any opposition to her authority eventually. It seems most of the shows issues were within the micro level with some mid-range as Roseanne also had issue with how ABC president, Brandon Stoddard refused to help her (Barr). In an interview of Barr at the end of the ninth and final season, she reflects on the duration of the series. She speaks her honest opinion on what happened. She felt that ABC saw her show as a liability, but since if won the night in ratings they kept her around. Not without trying to hurt the show however, they changed the show time to 8 PM, when the show would have to compete with the younger, more “family” crowd. She realized this and made storylines more edgy (Rice). She gained more control of the show over time, gaining the executive producer credit. This gave her more control over the scripts than before. She was also able to have say in who would get rehired. She mentions getting the accusation for firing people, but really just let their contract stay un-renewed. She feels a lot of people blame her for not receiving credit (Rice). This seems to me that because she is the most vocal and demands the power, that people often blame her for her problems. Barr later goes on to make an observation on her impact on television, “Before I came along, there were all pretty negative messages about women. And then I turned it around. We could actually say positive things to and about women, those who buy products. That was revolutionary” (Rice). Part of the reason the show did so well was because it appealed to the large demographic of women. It seems to me the root of this problem is the shock of having a fully female show was to Matt Williams, other crewmembers, and the television landscape. Roseanne Barr’s harsh and uncompromising personality may have also attributed to it, but I find it hard to find evidence stating that this idea is not just nothing way of saying people are uncomfortable having a woman take charge.

I only mention the issues within women-driven shows. There is certainly an argument for male run shows having similar problems within production. Shows get canceled all the time because of ratings or time slot placements. Even men who run shows have to deal with network heads that do not like them or feel like they could be fired tomorrow. It’s a high stress job. Who is to say that the struggles the women have encountered on the shows I’ve discussed wouldn’t be the same if they were men? Great shows like Arrested Development and Freaks and Geeks have all been canceled and have had public problems with different levels of the production realm. The creator of Freaks and Geeks cites poor promotion and airdates as reasons for the network pulling the plug due to poor ratings (Schneider and Adalian). Although the counter claim has merits, the numbers do not lie. Women are devastatingly underrepresented in the television work force. Of the prime-time workforce alone women counted for only 27% of the workforce, although they can share similar production problems women are obviously less sought out or welcomed in television (Lauzen).

To sum up, I can conclude that the television industry has a lot of people dipping their hands in the production process. From Congress, the network head, to just your sitcom writer – they all play a role in what you watch on television. They also have a great deal of power over who gives you this television. Women ran shows are still rare occurrence and only rarely do the upper heads of the network admire them. They all have to fight for their jobs and sometimes the credit they deserve. With so few women in the industry, it seems like the male majority are not sure how to react to the ones who do make it to a higher position in their field. The women can be seen as incompetent, replaceable, or as mother figures of the production processes. There are many women who can be looked to as role models, but their male colleagues speak of so few with praise in regards to the shows I have selected. It is a competitive shark tank of a career I am entering.

Works Cited

Adalian, Josef, and Michael Schneider. “No Revenge of the Nerds.” Daily Variety [New York]. Print.

Adalian, Josef. “Eye’s High on Femmes behind CSI.” Daily Variety [New York and Los Angeles] 5 Sept. 2003: 19+. Print.

Adalian, Josef. “Gilmore Girl Heads for Exit.” Daily Variety [New York] 21 Apr. 2006: 1+. Print.

Adalian, Josef. “Gilmore Girl Lands at Fox.” Daily Variety [New York] 3 Aug. 2006: 2. Print.

Adalian, Josef. “Killer Coin for CSI Czars.” Daily Variety [New York] 26 Jan. 2007: 40+. Print.

“Amy Sherman – IMDb.” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 15 Dec. 2010. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0792371/>.

Arnold, Roseanne. My Lives. New York: Ballantine, 1994. Print.

Kotler, Steven. “Carol Mendelsohn and Ann Donhue.” Daily Variety [New York] 29 July 2005: A1+. Print.

Lauzen Ph.D, Martha M. “Women in Film and Television International – BOXED IN.” Women in Film and Television International – Homepage 0. 2009. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. <http://www.wifti.org/Highlight.cfm?mm_mmid=15>.

Levine, Stewart. “Csi Dynamic Duo.” Daily Variety 16 Nov. 2004: A6. Print.

Mayerle, Judine. “Roseanne – How Did You Get Inside My House? A Case Study of a Hit Blue-Collar Situation Comedy.” Journal of Popular Culture 24.4 (1991): 71-88. Print.

O’Donnell, Victoria. Television Criticism. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2007. Print.

Rice, Lynette. “Wrapping It Up With Roseanne.” Broadcasting & Cable 14 Apr. 1997: 28-32. Web.

Shaw, Jessica, and Lynette Rice. “Mother of Reinvention.” Entertainment Weekly 11 Feb. 2005. Web.

Vande, Berg Leah R. “10.” Critical Approaches to Television. [S.l.]: Allyn & Bacon, 2003. Print.

Production Theory and Late Night Testosterone

The debate over whether women can be funny has raged in for decades, but Kiley McNutt proves, through production theory, that the time is right for an estrogen invasion in late night.

By Kiley McNutt
Steve, Jack, Johnny, Jay, David, Conan, Joan, Jon, Jimmy, Craig, Bill and Chelsea.  Which of these names doesn’t belong?  Or in other words, which of these names stands out against the others?  That’s right, these are kings of late-night television.  Correction, these are the kings and queens of late-night television.  Late-night television is dominated by male forces in front of and behind the screen and traditionally with the presence and success of very few women.  Critical production decisions on the macro, mid range and micro-levels of Production Theory have resulted in the lack of women working in late night television.

Production Theory assesses the dynamics of individuals, organizations and institutional influence that we see on television by looking into three types of criticism (Vande 259).  Macro-level criticism focuses on big-picture questions with ownership and networks. This criticism looks into how ownership affects what we see on television.  Macro-level also looks into external factors larger than ownership and network such as economic and political factors that affect what we see on television.  Micro-level criticism focuses on pressures faced by television workers, how these pressures affect what the viewer sees on television. Micro-level looks at how the emotional and personal relationships that affect TV workers portray what is on television. Mid-range criticism looks at the dynamics within a company (Vande 259). These criticisms investigate how decisions made behind the scenes affect what the viewer sees on television, things such as network and producer decisions and what material gets used for the show.

In the book, Film Production Theory, referring to the production of cinema going on as usual Jean-Pierre Geuens suggests, “On the surface indeed, nothing has changed and it is business as usual in Hollywood. If we dig a little deeper, though, it is not difficult to see that this background of continuing normality, glamour, and professionalism in the industry in fact hides radical transformations that have influenced the conception, production, distribution, and reception of films in the last thirty some years” (1-2). This suggests that the viewer, unless familiar with Production Theory, is blind to the changes that happen behind the scenes.  They see the changes in front of them but what matters is how the information gets in front of them, the changes throughout the years that affect what the viewer sees.  Production Theory uses an in-depth analysis to study the organization of the production and the decisions that are made.  The gatekeeper concept of Production Theory states that, “at each level, an individual or group of individuals functions as a gatekeeper, controlling what ideas and information get through and what ideas and information are barred”(Vande 259).  Influence and power are factors in decision-making and control in Production Theory.  People are capable of controlling the information they receive on television and how they perceive it.  If they choose to dig deeper, they may come to find material swayed a certain way based on FCC regulations, political ideologies, personal relationships, network ratings and much more.  Production Theory relates to the lack of women working in late-night television in that, decisions made behind the scenes at all levels of control have failed to hire women to work on late-night television.

Macro-level forces such as network competition create suppressors for women to succeed in late-night television.  When there is higher competition between networks, they will experiment by putting a woman in a “man’s role” and the presence of women becomes more prevalent. In a study focused on women in television in the 1980’s regarding women’s appearance in television, David Atkins states that experimenting with the use of women in television is greatest during competitive times for the networks.  In these competitive times, they will experiment by putting women in non-traditional roles (680).  He states, “We would expect that the number and range of series devoted to working women will increase after 1987 as the networks face intensified competition from the nascent FOX network and cable” (680).  This example shows that in higher times of competition, women have a better chance at having a hosting role for late night.

Joan Rivers was the focus of an experiment in 1986 when her late night show premiered as the first female late-night talk show host. In the book, Television Talk: A History of the TV Talk Show, Joan Rivers’ show was analyzed from a business perspective. Fox was a brand new network that launched in 1986 and was eagerly trying to take over much of the viewing audiences.  Fox took a great leap of faith on Joan Rivers, who had a tremendous amount of success as a permanent guest host on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, evening out his polite humor with her raunchy gossip talk.  The failure of Joan Rivers’ show is blamed on the lack of talk show experience by the Fox network executives, the bad blood between Rivers and Carson and Rivers brash personality that was seen as off-putting to some (Timberg 131-134).

There are far fewer female writers than male writers on late night television as a result of Mid-Range components of Production Theory.  Men being the talent of late night television, affect the hiring of female writers for their shows.  As of November 11, 2009 there were no female writers on The Jay Leno Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Late Show with David Letterman.  Late night has been considered a male-haven with advertisers, talent and a male dominated staff.  Late night television was considered a man’s safe haven after a long day of work, where daytime television was meant to attract women.  On the contrary, while men make up the majority on screen, women make up the majority of the audience.  The New York Times article suggests that women make up over 50% of the late night audiences for most networks (Carter 1).

The most obvious difference between men and women on the production side is the amount of women writers on a show, compared to the amount of writers total on a show.  “One woman who does have a late night show, Chelsea Handler on the E Channel, has five women writers on her staff of 10” (Carter 2).  This statement suggests that when a woman runs the show from the talent perspective, there will be more female writers.
On the contrary, in a letter addressed to the public, the women of The Daily Show spoke out addressing issues of sexism and accusations of the lack of females on the production staff.  The women pointed out that they make up 40% of the production staff including producers, writers, editors, crewmembers, correspondents and researchers.  They claim that there is no sexism in the hiring process and that all employees are indispensible and hired on ability. “Jokes and concepts come from our studio department, our field department, our graphics department, our production department, our intern department, and our control room. Jon’s rule is: the strongest idea and the funniest joke win every single time, no matter who pitches it–woman or man, executive producer or production assistant. And of course none of these jokes and ideas would get to air without the layers of production talent working behind the scenes” (The Daily Show).

While it’s true that generally there are less female writers than male writers in late night, fewer women apply for the positions as writers for television than men according to Bill Carter’s article.  If women aren’t applying for the positions, it’s difficult to make an argument that there are fewer female writers because there aren’t enough women to choose from to hire (2).  On the contrary, seeing that late night television has traditionally been a man’s world could be viewed as intimidating for a female comic writer.  The perception that men run late night television can seem daunting to women attempting to break into the industry.  Female writers need to be more prevalent in order for late night television to appeal to its entire audience and while there are some late night shows that do employ a great deal of women, it is few and far between.  Also, one could argue that Jon Stewart being Jewish sympathizes with the gender minority, being that Judaism as a religion is considered a minority. Chelsea Handler (who is also Jewish) hires women because she, like Jon Stewart, doesn’t see gender boundaries.

In an interview with Katie Couric she asks Chelsea Handler, “Is it hard for women in stand-up comedy?” Chelsea replies, “No. It’s easier…If you’re funny, you’re funny and you’re going to be funny. There’s truthfully less women out there doing it. I have female comedians on my show all the time that are hilarious” (@katiecouric). Chelsea Handler has become successful as a stand-up comedian and late night host with the help of five women writers and female stand-up comedians frequently sitting by her side at her daily roundtable.  While her comment disputes the argument that it’s more difficult for women, it also supports it.  She is a woman who hires women because she sees funny instead of female and she has become outrageously successful with her female supported staff.

Societal perceptions at the macro-level of production theory have made it more difficult for women to break into the industry due the perception that women are “not funny”.  Women have historically been taught to be a lady, a mother and silent.  Breakout women such as Joan Rivers, Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball and Phyllis Diller have changed these perceptions for women such as Chelsea Handler to succeed.  This age old idea is still a struggle for women pursuing comedy in late night television.  There is also an internal struggle at a micro level that funny women face in becoming successful stand-up comics due to this larger, external perception.   The macro-level criticism directly affects the micro-level in that the large societal perceptions have become expectations of the public and instilled a false belief in women that they struggle with internally (micro).
In Susan Horowitz’ book Comic Appeal, Sex Appeal, and Power she points out an article from a 1909 newspaper stating “Measured by ordinary standards of humor, she is about as comical as a crutch…A woman was made to be loved and fondled.  She was certainly not made to be laughed at” (4).  Regina Barreca supports this claim by stating, “Comedy written by women is perceived by many critics as trivial, silly and unworthy of serious attention.  These reactions might appear understandable, given that women are writing outside the locus of power and authority” (6).  These two authors point out the historical idea that women are not expected to be funny nor powerful and if the two combined is preposterous.  I think women are intimidated by this idea of breaking into the male domain of humor.  Few women have the courage to use their humor to their advantage to entertain audiences and are enabled by this traditional viewpoint.  Horowitz points out, in an article by Nancy Walker “To be a woman and a humorist is to confront and to subvert the very power that keeps women powerless, and at the same time to risk alienating those upon whom women are dependent for economic survival” (6).  Since comedy is seen as a male profession, for a woman to pursue such an occupation, with talent nonetheless, would that make men who are unable to succeed in a male-dominated profession, feel like less of a man?  Is a woman less of a woman for not succeeding in a female dominated profession?  When I’m identifying “male” and “female” professions, society has taught me that is what they are on a macro-level of analysis.

First women need to become comfortable with their humor and get the courage to expose them as the opposite of a 1950’s prototype.  Once women are comfortable the next step is breaking into the business.  Getting a start in comedy was more difficult for women than men,  “As female stand-up comics, Diller and Rivers met with tremendous resistance.  Stand-up comedy was – and to an extent, still is – a male profession.  Many male comics got their start doing comedy in strip joints – and audiences were used to equating men with humor and women with stripping” (3).  Women are being even more objectified by having to stand in front of an audience of drunk, horny men and cross all acceptable barriers of comedic perception.  Women are in a strip club to be looked at, while the men are to be laughed at.

Once women have now accepted the fact that society doesn’t view them as “funny” and they are able to stand in front of an audience of people they have to fight their own internal demons.  In multiple articles it’s mentioned that female stand-up comics are forced to find their “inner nature at war with what’s expected from a ‘real girl’” (Horowitz 6).    Carol Burnett confessed to avoiding production meetings on her show The Carol Burnett Show because she didn’t want to appear as “not nice” or unfeminine (3).  Macro-level forces such as social perceptions of women create internal battles for women and what’s expected of them versus what they desire.  Joan Rivers has said she doesn’t like funny women, that she doesn’t think she is funny but witty. Karen Babbitt has admitted to sacrificing femininity for comedic approval.  “Funny women have to achieve a delicate balance – projecting enough power to take control of the audience and enough vulnerability to be non-threatening” (Horowitz 13).  I agree with Horowitz and the fact that men can let loose when they are in front of an audience but women have to be cautious not to threaten or they’re violating an unwritten standard.  Forces such as these become internalized in these women and in a sense I think that women are keeping themselves from fulfilling these comedic roles.  Women have to let their own boundaries down and be willing to cross societies boundaries.  Women who have done so have become incredibly successful.  Carol Burnett said, “The idea that it’s not feminine to clown around is old hat.  Just be you” (Horowitz 5).  Today we see women like Chelsea Handler, Wanda Sykes and Sarah Silverman who are just as, if not more uninhibited than the men of comedy.

If societal perceptions at the macro-level could be changed, women would be able to change their own perceptions at the micro-level.  Instead, women are fighting off their internal demons and forcing society to look at them and change their perceptions.  Female comedians speak about their struggles of being both funny and attractive.  Joan Rivers says, “Men don’t want you to be funny. I think they’re terrified that you might be smarter than they are…” (French).  She goes on to say that when she is in front of a man, she inhibits herself the way she wouldn’t in front of an audience. Susan Horowitz quotes Michael Iopoce with, “We must ‘let our guard down’ to laugh. If we laugh too hard, we become ‘helpless’ or ‘weak’ with laughter.  In our society, men are conditioned to avoid this at all costs. They are more reluctant to laugh than women, perhaps because they have been conditioned to avoid appearing weak, helpless, or just plain silly”(9).  Women like Joan Rivers keep their guard up when around men so men don’t have to let their guard down… an internal struggle (micro), which is a direct result of a bigger, societal perception of the roles of men and women on a macro level.

Will a female ever appear on a major network as a late-night talk show host?  I think Chelsea Handler has the most potential to becoming the next prime-time network late night host.  In response to a question regarding bringing women onto a primetime network for late-night comedy Chelsea Handler responded that she was approached by a prime-time network and said, “I didn’t think I was really ready to graduate to that particular point and I’m not really sure that that’s where the future of late night is…cable is so much of a better medium for me. You get away with a lot more, standards of practice is why.” She continued by saying, “I get to say things that I probably wouldn’t be able to say on network television and I get to have opinions…that are more pointed…Jay Leno has to be nice to everybody” (@katiecouric). Chelsea Handler is known for her foul mouth and harsh outlook on celebrities, changing that would change the format of her show as well as the audience.

While I agree that Chelsea appeals to a certain audience and gets away with the format of her show due largely in her ability to voice her opinion and force a “bleep” every few minutes, ratings do not lie.  At the 2010 VMA’s, Chelsea Handler brought in 11.4 million viewers as the host, the most since 2002’s VMA’s and the third highest ratings in VMA history (TVbythenumbers).  Being that Chelsea had a larger audience, she had to appeal to more people and she was able to do so.  She wasn’t doing her normal hosting gig on E Network where she gets away with whatever she wants and her audience members have a specific taste for her.  Chelsea fans do have a specific taste and that’s honest, raw, uninhibited comedy where the host not only teases the celebrities and politicians, but the company she keeps as well as herself.  “What is it about this woman that resonates beyond the relatively puny numbers of ‘Chelsea Lately’ …and the confines of concert venues … that are not always best in class? It can’t simply be the fact that she’s a woman in a male-dominated field, although she is only the second woman after Joan Rivers to have her own late-night show. Beth de Guzman, editor in chief of paperbacks for Grand Central, which published ‘Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang,’ talks of an ‘absolute fearlessness’ in Ms. Handler’s comedy while Simone Handler-Hutchinson believes her sister has developed a cult-like following in part because ‘fans like to live vicariously through Chelsea.  She’s smart, she’s got guts, she likes to party’” (Barnes).  Fearless is what a woman needs to be in order to be a successful late-night host.   In my life time, I hope to see a fearless woman take the state next to the “big boys” on primetime network late-night television.  As seen with the VMA’s, Handler can wear many different masks to appeal to a wider audience if she chooses to do so.

Macro level criticisms are seen in the economy and social forces that internalize battles for female stand-up comics with potential.  Micro and mid-range criticisms show the lack of women behind the scenes in late night television and the ability to get more women in front of and behind the late night train.  Production theory assesses these situations and suggests that these types of influences have a great deal of powerful affects on the women in the late-night television industry, or lack there of.  In assessing these theories and criticisms, it will help the push in making women more prevalent in the late night comedy business.

Bibliography

Atkin, David J., Jay Moorman, and Carolyn A. Lin. “Ready for Prime Time: Network Series Devoted to Working Women in the 1980s.” Sex Roles 25.11-12 (1991): 677-85. Print.

Barnes, Brooks. “I’m Chelsea Handler. And You’re Not.” The New York Times. 9 Apr. 2010. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/11/fashion/11handler.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1>.

Barreca, Regina. Last Laughs: Perspectives on Women and Comedy. New York: Gordon and Breach, 1988. Print.

Carter, Bill. “Among Late-Night Writers, Few Women in the Room.” New York Times. 11 Nov. 2009. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/12/business/media/12women.html?_r=1>.

“Chelsea Handler.” Interview by Katie Couric. Www.youtube.com. 9 Mar. 2010. Web. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwRl9TEnukc>.

“Chelsea Handler – TVbytheNumbers.” TV Ratings, TV Nielsen Ratings, Television Show Ratings | TVbytheNumbers.com. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. <http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/?s=chelsea handler>.

French, Dawn. “More Girls Who Do Comedy – Joan Rivers 1/3.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. 12 Oct. 2008. Web. 4 Dec. 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4gpfyjRkqQ&feature=player_embedded#!>.

Geuens, Jean Pierre. Film Production Theory. Albany: State University of New York, 2000. Print.

Horowitz, Susan. Queens of Comedy: Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett, Joan Rivers, and the New Generation of Funny Women. Australia: Gordon and Breach Publ., 1997. Print.

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Timberg, Bernard, and Bob Erler. Television Talk: a History of the TV Talk Show. Austin, TX: University of Texas, 2002. 131-35. Print.

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“Women of The Daily Show Speak.” The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Official Website | Current Events & Pop Culture, Comedy & Fake News. Web. Nov. 2010. <http://www.thedailyshow.com/message>.

Creating A Global Culture Through Transnational Media

by Vanessa Hobson

Television, which originated in the early 1950s, began as a medium through which radio shows became visual and news was shared throughout communities.  The broadcast capabilities of television were restricted and localized at the time of its invention.  It was not possible to see the same programming in different countries.  Television’s reach has since soared past individual communities and can now be enjoyed around the world.  The way people view television has also changed over the past sixty years.  It began as a medium in which families would collectively enjoy variety shows, game shows, and news.  While television is still enjoyed in groups by some, many people watch television alone whether it’s on an actual television or on the Internet.  Television has evolved and expanded immensely since its birth, and as it changes, its viewers change as well.  Throughout this paper, I will discuss the effects of media’s expansion into the shared worldwide market on individual culture and united global culture.  Using the theory of postmodernism and production theory, this paper examines the possible long term effects of globalizing mass media.  Globalization of television, while it can be simultaneously global and national, drowns out the voice of certain cultures, eliminates narrative quality, and promotes large corporations.

Postmodernism has been defined in many ways.  Some describe it as a period of transformation that began with architecture and led to artistic and literary innovation.  Others argue that the term postmodern doesn’t really mean anything due to the fact that it is used to describe such a wide range of works and styles.  One of the most important things about postmodernism is that it is the period that follows modernism which is defined as a time of modern character, tendencies, or values.  Modernist ideas developed out of a series of enlightenment theories that initially questioned classic customs and morals while introducing science and technology into almost every aspect of life. “Modernism during the nineteenth and twentieth century describes the breeding of a progressive school of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve, and reshape their environment” (Klaver, 78).  The concept of modernism rejects tradition while encouraging free speech, experimentation, and radical thinking.  People who led this progressive lifestyle and held on to its values were called modernists.

Postmodernism and modernism are often described as being two different stages of the same movement even though they have some important differences.  Postmodernism began after the devastation of World War II and was seen as a reaction to modernism.  People started to mistrust the political, economic, and social implications of the modernist movement.  Postmodern theorists criticized modernism for its rationalism, causality, and search for universal themes.  For this reason, postmodern thinkers formulated a new school of thought based on an unscientific and irrational thought process (O’Donnell 283).  Postmodern thinkers give absolutely no merit to anything that has been written in the past and are interested in making their own belief system based on what they have seen and experienced.  They also believe that there is no universal truth that can be discovered.  Postmodern thought includes the critique of all other ways of thinking in the past and present.  Therefore many forms of literature and art have become subject to analysis and postmodern criticism, which has involved the questioning of the form and representation and the redefinition of texts (Klaver, 79).  Even television has been criticized using postmodern values (Klaver, 73).  Postmodernism favors reflexivity, self-awareness, and is extremely skeptical of elaborate thought systems or stories that control people’s thoughts.

Postmodern techniques are prevalent in today’s media, including radio, cinema, and television.  Postmodernism on television is characterized by anything that goes against what is traditionally expected from visual narrative.  Each television genre has a specific structure that is followed and has been proven successful in the past.  When creators, directors, and writers deviate from this structure, postmodern television emerges. Recently, television has not only bent the structural rules of genre, but they have begun to create hybrid genres that blur the lines of separation between genres.  This is obvious in reality television, docudrama, dramedy, and mockumentary.  Any show that does not have immediate resolution and holds the viewer in suspense beyond one particular episode or season can be considered postmodern.  In television, specific channels or even networks can be considered postmodern.  MTV is one that has been studied continuously as a result of its post-modernity and ability to revolutionize entertainment worldwide (O’Donnell, 187, 191).

Production context criticism addresses many different areas including news and entertainment, power and equity, and globalism and localism.  Globalism is an ongoing process by which regional societies, economies, and cultures have become integrated through a network of worldwide communication.  Through globalism, national economies intermingle with the international economy and cause socio-cultural evolution.  There was a time when cultures stayed within a single country, city, or even just a single town for hundreds of years without coming in contact with anyone outside their own group. Modern transportation, Internet communication, and international business affairs have made it possible for cultures to interact in ways they never have before.  “An increasingly integrated and complex global system of exchange has emerged as a result of globalism” (Turpin 245).

After the idea of globalism, a new way of life called glocalism emerged.  Glocalism is a mix between globalism and localism, which refers to communities that can simultaneously think globally and act locally.  The globalist portion of the word refers to the ability to think outside the box and become aware of more than what is in your immediate vicinity.  The local part encourages people to remain aware of their culture, class, or status while learning about others.  “The term glocalization has its roots in Japanese commercial strategy and comes from the word dochakuka which simply means global localization” (Turpin 245).  Localism is often neglected because globalization now presents an omnipresent power.  The term glocalism highlights the fact that globalism is important, but it is made possible because of localism.  “A global sense of place coexists with a deep suspicion of unalloyed localism” (Turpin 245).  There have been many debates about globalism, localism, and glocalism as it relates to culture, capitalism and consumerism.  Some believe that “overt globalism will never sell in a market that trades on the romances of postmodern difference” while others feel that “postmodern glocalism is averse to global capitalism” (Turpin 245).  Localism, which well served colonial interests, is seen by some as a hindrance to global culture.  There is always room for change, which is why there are now modern and postmodern localist ideas that take the current state of our world into consideration without completely disowning the original values of localism.

Globalization in the television industry is often done through remaking fictional series in countries other than where they originated.  Remaking international television shows for the American market has been exceptionally common despite past failures.  Successful shows that were remade for an American audience include Ugly Betty, Coupling, and The Office.  Once shows are selected to be remade, they undergo a huge transplant “in which one national system acts as an encoder and the foreign system functions as decoder.  The particular technology that is transferred is the message that is communicated from one system to another” (Griffin, 155).  The transplant process involves changing the show so that it will be appealing to the market in which it will air.  This process includes changes to the dialogue, set design, wardrobe, characters, plot lines, and uncountable other adaptations.

Psychological studies have shown that mass media has the ability to influence culture through tons of subliminal and overt messages.  Television specifically manipulates culture through portrayal of ideal body image, gender roles, and perception of beauty.  A study in 2001 proved that gender roles are introduced in early childhood and remain prevalent through adult programming. Children that participated in the study perceived most cartoon characters in the stereotypical ways.  Boys were violent and aggressive while girls were domestic, interested in boys, and concerned with appearances (Thompson and Zerbinos 429).  When asked to describe which characters they like, boys picked characters that were depicted as being strong, caring, and pretty.  Further studies showed that adults are subjected to the same messages in television shows that are targeted towards them.  Psychologists observed that thin female characters in television situation comedies were more likely than heavier female characters to be praised by male characters, and less likely to be insulted by male characters in ways deliberately tied to evocation of “canned” and supportive audiences laughter (Canton and Harrison 52).  Not only are these messages reinforcing stereotypes in adults, they will eventually be cultural notions that are enforced on children who are influenced by their parents.  The values that are expressed in media have the power to influence society’s opinion on an innumerable number of things including culture, politics, body image, and religion.

International media could eventually begin to eliminate individual cultures and encourage a new global culture to emerge.  Public opinions are created and affected by things we see and hear from the media.  Television has the ability to shape its audience’s belief system about things as simple as the music they like, and as complex as their opinions about war. Ethnic communities have been constructed over time and are constantly evolving.   Cultures transform for many reasons, including economic stance and technological advancement.  Money and technology allow people to do things that they have never been able to do before.  Technology specifically has the ability to change the way people acquire information and therefore change a culture entirely.  Changes in the way people gain information have historically had a huge influence on cultures, religions, and ideologies. In pre-modern times, people got their information from storytellers because they could not read.  Everyone’s idea of truth was based solely on what they heard because they couldn’t go and get information on their own.  People just had to believe what they were told.  During the Renaissance information was written down, but most people couldn’t read and therefore they received information and truth from the king or Pope.  As the years went on, literacy improved and people were able to get their own information and interpret it however they wanted.  Literature was the new way that people gained information.  They read the bible, newspapers, books, and anything else they could to acquire knowledge.  Although traditional literature is still available and has proved to be a great source of information, new technology has brought about a host of alternate options from which people can receive truth.  Transnational media and Internet viewing options allow people from all over the world to view the same media and have access to the same information.  Over time, this will produce a global culture of people who all receive information and truth from the same source.

Individual cultures are built and sustained based on many things, including similarities in food, language, literature, and fashion. “National identity is based on the idea that inhabitants feel a sense of unity based on their residence in a shared national space” (Morley 489).   Although people will never know or come in contact with most of the people in their country, they share important ideologies and ways of life that keep them unified.  Almost everything that helps to maintain cultural identity is influenced by media.  Television has historically articulated national identity.  While mimicking the truths of society, television also creates truth.  Impressionable viewers not only watch the news for information, they watch sitcoms, dramas, and reality shows and subconsciously gain truth about the community to which they belong. When globalization occurs in media, global culture will undoubtedly follow.  Global media will promote a mindset that will be shared by people around the world which could slowly mold all of the separate cultures in to one.  I think of the world like America in its early days.  This country was a place that ethnic groups from all over the world called home.  Although Americans are all still different, over the years we have assimilated into one collective national culture.  This was made possible because of the beliefs we share and the media that we have in common.  Some people may argue that the world is much bigger than America and so assimilation to this degree is not possible.  While the world is much bigger, travel has become so much faster and easier since the time when people migrated to America.  The ability to quickly travel the world and interact with different cultures has supplemented international media in efforts to create global culture.

In addition to creating a global culture, buying international media could significantly sacrifice quality.  “The practice of selling television program formats to overseas markets, and adapting them to appeal to national sensibilities, has seen a marked increase in recent years” (Griffin 160).  The process of preparing television shows for transcontinental travel is intricate and involves adaptation in order to fit into national identity.  Although this has been proven to be successful with programs like Ugly Betty and The Office, there have been many failures due to inability to recreate quality and humor in a new home.  In efforts to design a new program with the same premise but a different cultural identity, developers make changes in situations, characters, and context.  Humor doesn’t necessarily transfer from culture to culture.  Figurative language and other jokes are immersed in their respective cultures and cannot be relocated.  “Americans just don’t get it!” That was the complaint of fans and critics when the announcement was made that an American version of The Office would be produced.  They ranted that it was a “suicide mission” (Griffin 162).  People feared that it would flop just like American remakes Cracker, Coupling, and Men Behaving Badly.  Despite all of the complaints made about the transplantation of The Office, the American remake was successful based on visual humor that can be understood by multiple cultures.  The jerky shots, individual interviews, and occasional broken fourth wall are production techniques that helped solidify The Office as a successful American sitcom. The Office has been exported more than 60 times and officially adapted for American, French, and Canadian audiences (Griffin 163).  Some may argue that the adaptations made in order assure that a program appeals to its new audience eliminate the chance that global culture will emerge due to transnational media.  While adaptations are made, transplanted programs still have roots in their place of origin.  Transplanted shows retain many important structural concepts and messages from their original development.  Also, programs that are remade create interest around the original program.  Americans who like The Office take interest in its British predecessor and many even claim that they like it better than the remake.

Instead of being concerned with preserving local culture, the purpose of global television is to generate revenue for multinational corporations.  The global media is currently dominated by five giants: Time Warner, Disney, Bertelsmann, Viacom, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (Morley 501).  In 1997, Time Warner managed to generate 24 billion dollars in revenue.  The other giants followed closely behind and this trend continued for the following thirteen years of sales (Morely 505).  Many of these corporations, though located in the United States, are making billions of dollars producing global content and show no signs of slowing down.  Television Business International just released an article stating that Time Warner’s HBO is close to completing a $160 million deal to buy Disney and Sony out of HBO Central Europe (1-2).  Major corporations, even if they are on top, are constantly finding new ways to expand through global production.  In order to compete, top corporations have goals to “get bigger so they dominate markets and their competition cannot buy them out, and have interests in numerous media industries such as film, book publishing, music, and television” (Turpin 248).  If five companies have this much worldwide influence and their main goal is revenue rather than preserving actual culture, they are encouraging an eventual evolution into a single global culture. Skeptics might dispute this statement by stating that US programming that is allocated for a certain number of broadcasting hours abroad, but it is not the only thing being viewed by citizens of other countries.  While it is true that some countries do not depend heavily on American imports, many minority countries do.  Minority countries rely on foreign programming, yet their voices are the ones that are most likely being drowned out by the majority.  “Local communities are subject to Western ideals under the disguise of differentiation or appeal to local customs, traditions, and attitudes” (Turpin 248).  One argument against the idea that western content will overshadow local culture is that America is such a diverse country and therefore, views of multiple ethnicities are being shown in terms of character and storyline.  I disagree on the terms that these characters and story lines, while they look diverse, are still portrayed through the lens of giant capitalist corporations.

Television has come a long way since its inception and it shows no sign of slowing down.  The type of content that we see on television has evolved from variety shows to sitcoms and dramas, all the way to reality shows.  Our methods of watching television have changed as well.  Instead of living in homes with one television, now families have one or more television sets per person.  In addition to individual television viewing, people have their own personal computers where they can also watch television shows at their leisure.  People no longer have to plan their day around what programs they want to catch.  Websites like Hulu, Fancast, and Youtube have made it possible for viewers to have access to almost any television show at any time.  These changes in television, as well as the expansion and globalization of the market, will change the way individual cultures are constructed.  Narrative structure and quality will also be under new development due to online postings and Internet advertisements.  Television is changing immensely, but even as television has evolved, the major corporations that control content have remained the same.  It will be interesting to see if that changes as technology advances.  For now, no one can compete with the proven mass media giants.  Television worldwide is dependent upon content from corporations like Viacom, Murdoch’s news corporation, and Time Warner.  Until media distribution becomes more diverse, globalization of mass media will continue to mold a single global culture.

Vanessa R. Hobson is a 21-year-old Senior at Columbia College Chicago.  She will be graduating in May 2011 with a B.A. in Television Writing and Production.  She has been very successful in her studies, but her background in media production extends far beyond the confines of a college learning environment.  She has worked as an intern for Chicago’s Weigel Broadcasting in On-Air Promotions where she focused on promotional writing and production.  Following her stent at Weigel broadcasting, she interned with MTV Networks: Nickelodeon Creative Advertising in New York City as an assistant to the network’s writer/producers.  Aside from production, Vanessa is a dancer, choreographer and mentor at St. Mark United Methodist Church where she takes pride in leading by example.  Vanessa is very goal-oriented and lives by the quote “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

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