Since the beginning of time, men and women have always tried to one-up each other. I’m sure cavemen sat around a fire comparing notes about who had killed the biggest animal that day, just like people sit around a dinner table in our modern times comparing and/or bragging about house prices, car size and general knowledge.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the webisode is a concept which has grown in the last few years to become a part of any pseudo-religious television watcher’s list of things to do.
The webisode is a word which didn’t exist until this century, but here it is, courtesy of Merriam-Webster:
an episode especially of a TV show that may or may not have been telecast but can be viewed at a Web site
Ultimately the key feature of the webisode is that it gives the viewer a feeling of being on the inside, of knowing more than others. It gives the die-hard viewer an especially good feeling that they are able to access more content that the regular average-joe’s. Henry Jenkins concurs:
By using different media formats, transmedia create “entry points” through which consumers can become immersed in a story world.’
– Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture, 2006.
The webisode can also help the director add in nuances and plot-lines which can parallel what is happening in the show. In the webisode of The Walking Dead, or any webisode for that matter, there is a distinct feeling of character development in the brief, two minute encounter we have when viewing on the web. We are now able, as viewers of the webisode, to feel as though we are more intimate with those characters than anybody else.
Let’s use a webisode from the popular zombie TV show, ‘The Walking Dead’.
(If you click the hyperlink posted above it will take you to the AMC website, but that content is unavailable in Australia, so YouTube will suffice).
As discussed above, this two-and-a-half minute clip doesn’t not have any direct bearing on the show, but it depicts one key character, Hannah, in a horrid situation where her kids are missing. These little snippets allow the viewer to feel more connected with Hannah, and to know her background more than others who just watch the show on TV on a weekly basis.
The webisode also allows for increased advertising revenue, because it is featured prominently on the webpage, and is a perfect way for advertisers to get extra bang for their buck.
This ‘bang for their buck’ is not necessarily a good thing for the viewers, though, and producers and networks need to wary of leaving the viewer feeling as though they have been duped in to wasting five minutes of their time for a clip which just makes them want to buy something.
Max Dawson adresses this marketing and branding as one of the key features of the webisode, and why networks love it so much:
Nearly all of the digital shorts found on television networks’ and studios’ websites and mobile portals promote something, be it the products of a sponsor who has underwritten a mobisode’s production, an upcoming season premier or DVD box set release, a high concept primetime brand, or all of the above.
While this is a valid point by Dawson, advertising through webisodes can also have some fatal flaws.
One of the paradoxes of having online content in order to make money, is that the online content can easily become pirated and leave you out of pocket. In the case of the webisode, it is not so much about the ‘dirty download’, as main episodes of the season are, because the content is not long enough for people to download and want to watch it on their televisions.
Rather, it become clear even just through research for this article, that there is a whole host of webisode content which is not on official network websites, but on YouTube and other video sharing websites. If the the producers expect to make any money from advertising revenue and the like, then webisodes will need to alter their form dramatically.
But, all money-making and network profiteering aside, the future of the webisode could be huge. Dawson argues that it could become one of the boom features of the internet, in the way that twitter has or flickr has.
Digital shorts were no longer short because technology dictated they must be. Rather, this brevity was transformed into an aesthetic signature that cemented their place alongside the 140-character Twitter tweet, the Flash microgame, and the viral video in what Wired in 2007 called the “new world of one-minute media.”
– Max Dawson, Northwestern University, Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency: Convergence Television and the Digital Short
It harnesses the time-deficcient workers of the modern age and allows them a slice of pleasure in a short block. It is un-intrusive and unpredictable yet doesn’t leave people feeling as though they have been bludging on the internet.
The webisode is not an entirely new concept, though. Many different artists, producers and directors have crossed through multiple platforms in order to get their ‘message’ out there. One needs only to think back to the advent of television, and how musicians immediately jumped on to the box and derived a commercial benefit from it.
Fast forward to 2:35 if you wish to hear the classic Monkees intro song.
They may not have been the greatest actors of their generation but the Monkees certainly made the most of the 58 episode they had on free to air television. A perfect example of cross-promotional marketing which helped propel their product. Think of cinema, even, and The Who and their rock opera ‘Tommy’, or Elvis and his many incarnations as romantic poster boy in film.
The webisode cannot afford to be as expansive and extended as a rock opera or a silly television sitcom, for the target audience would never have enough time (or patience) on the internet to look for too long. these 2-5 minute broadcasts serve as just a little carrot at the end of a stick.
Dawson, M 2008, Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency: Convergence Television and the Digital, Northwestern University, Shorthttp://bgock.com/maxdawson/research_files/Ch_10_Dawson_Revised_DUKE.pdf
Jenkins, H 2006, Convergence Culture, http://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=RlRVNikT06YC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=Henry+Jenkins,+Convergence+Culture,+2006.&ots=9A6Ahw_yQt&sig=HIB7Fyre18Ahi2dzONz13re56e4
Globalisation is making the world smaller. But when you make a place smaller, you make it busier. Especially the television screen.
When I was in year ten, I went on a trip with 9 of my classmates to Alabama.
We went to what is known as the US Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville. A bizzarre locale for a meeting point of some of the world’s brightest minds.
At ‘Space Camp’, we spent our first, captivating morning in a room with Dr. Georg von Tiesenhausen, a former rocket scientist and the man responsible for the design of the first lunar rover. His first question was, “What is Space?”
Six years later, I’m giving a completely different answer to what Dr. von Tiesenhausen would expect.
While the Curiosity rover on Mars would suggest our space has enourmous potentiall for exploration, our personal space, especially regarding television, is diminishing with every NASA mission.
While the original small screen of the 1950’s may have had a substantial amount of Australian shows on it, Australian TV of this generation is competing with shows from around the globe. American TV, Brithish TV, Japanese TV – you name it, we’re competing with it.
What this atrophy of the market also means, is that TV stations are adopting the motto, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’.
Iwabuchi has something to say on the same topic:
As Ang and Stratton (1996:22-4) argue, we have come to live in “a world where all cultures are both (like) ‘us’ and (not like) ‘us’,” one where familiar difference and bizarre sameness are simultaneously articulated in multiple ways through the unpredictable dynamic of uneven global cultural encounters.
– K Iwabuchi, Discrpant Intimacy: popular Culture Flows in East Asia in Asian Media Studies (2008)
The globalisation of television has meant that cultures are unbearably similar, and the ‘sheep’ mentality of wanting to be like the cool kid in class means a lot of the products we see on our screens are targeted not locally, but internationally, with producers looking to capitalise on any sort of international foothold they can get.
Take a look at this as an example:
Now, nobody can say that character of Chris Lilley’s, who is an otherwise astute judge of comedy and his audience, was devised to please an Australian audience. S.Mouse was created to please Americans, and any enjoyment Australians derived from these little skits was just a by-product.
But, while it would seem better for television in the long run if countries were to retain there own culture at the forefront of television programming, not everyone agrees.
Barbara Selznick advocates the “global village” which is an inevitable by-product of the co-production of television shows, and argues that by pooling the knowledge and resources of people from all over the world we can create better, more modern, programming.
The creation of programming that does not foreground nationalism or speak to the people of a particular nation has numerous benefits in the increasingly international media environment. For example, global broadcasters can can use such programs to fill air time on their stations around the world. And producers can share resources to create higher quality programming. Culturally, co-productions have the potential to usher in the “global village” in which programming with universal themes unites people around the world.
– Barbara Selznick, “Global Television: Co-Producing Culture”
One of the main downfalls of Selznick’s argument there is the argument about sharing resources ‘to fill air time on their stations’. It is not a good enough reason to put low quality drama’s or comedy’s on our screens simply to fill air time. Why not invest in the Australian television culture and create an Australian version day time television or more Australian comedy’s?
Selznick does make a good point about universal themes in her article, although nobody can say that these themes are so universal that watching an American show will make Australian’s sit up and take notice of their own lives. As shallow as it may sound, Australians would identify far more easily with a show like ‘The Shire’ than with something like ‘Geordie Shore’.
It is also intruiging to view television shows which come from other cultures, and how they have elvoved with globalisation.
In many cases, a program which may originally have been consider to be a cult hit, and have an underground viewership, have become a staple in the TV diet of Australian viewers. I’m thinking of programs like Inspector Rex and Iron Chef here, which have developed from a mild viewer-base to have a loyal following amongst fans.
Personally, the program which personofies the copy-cat nature of transnational television insudtry is one of my own favoutites, the Japanese hit MXC.
This hypnotic, mesmerising, almost-hallucinogenic extravaganza of a show originally aired in Japan in the late 1980’s. It pioneered the ‘pain is funny’ genre to the point that once the globalisation of TV really took off in the 90’s a whole host of replica, Americanised versions of the show came out. there have even been rumors that MXC was the catalyst for the creation of YouTube, a vehicle for painful yet funny online videos since 2005.
And let’s be clear on one thing – Wipeout first went to air in 2008.
As far as globalisation goes, this trend is not necessarily a bad thing, but this ‘Space’ of ous is getting smaller, and our ideas less unique, as out television culture’s evolve.
And by the way, Dr. von Tiesenhausen is still chugging along at 98 years of age. When he was born TV didn’t exist and space, of any sort, was still the unknown.
Iwabuchi, K 2008, Discrpant Intimacy: popular Culture Flows in East Asia in Asian Media Studies, Feb 2011, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9780470774281.ch2/summary
Selznick, Barbara J 2008, Global television : co-producing culture, Temple University Press, Philadelphia
People may say they have been confronted and brainwashed in to watching reality TV and have inherited this poor form of television from the producers of the 1990s, but we all have a choice – to watch reality TV or not to watch it?
Personally my definition of reality television differs dramatically from the definition offered by scholors. I define reality TV as ‘a show you can watch and fully understand while still playing snake on your phone’.
Holmes quotes Dunkley (2002), who has a different view:
Dunkley (2002) foregrounds Reality Tv’s strong relationship with the history of television’s entertainment programming because he is intent on constructing its formal, historical, ethical and cultural distance from the documentary form.
In this sense, Holmes, through dunkley, is juxtaposing the reality genre from the documentary genre.
When we watch the inane simplicity of reality contestants and their heartfelt, and ubiquitously tearful confessions, we are seeing something that is not a documentary. It is an edited version of the truth. It is a white lie.
No one can tell me that the conversations between Whitney and Lauren on ‘The Hills’ are completely natural and unobscured by the presence of the camera.
It is an interesting paradox of reality TV that the camera is there to capture the ‘truth’ and roll film on all aspecs of Jessica Simpson’s life with Nick Lachey, yet the most powerful oerson involved in that show is neither Nick nor Jessica, but the editor who cuts ut moments. It is lying by omission.
Holmes elaborates on this notion of the line between fact and fiction:
This isn’t to say that the concept of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ have absolutely no meaning in themselves at all any more; but rather that (as reality TV clearly demonstrates), since these terms are always under ‘reconstruction’ and negotiation, our definitions of the relationship between television and realism, ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’, and ‘factual’ and ‘entertainment’ shows must also adapt.
It is this distortion of the truth which reality television has mastered and used to lure viewers into believeing ‘plot’ scenarios which may not even be true.
If you take a look at this brief video by Charlie Booker from BBC Four, we can see how easy it is for the line between fact and fiction to become blurred.
As you can see, this ‘reality’ show is really anything but, and when we see the supposed personalities which these people have, we are seeing a misconstrued aspect to their being, one suiting the producers of the show.
So when we see what people consider reality television shows, think about whether or not the person on your TV screen is really as dumb, smart, polite or smarmy as they appear to be.
What an American name.
Pete is the epitome of Mad Men, and the epitome of what life was like for the men of 19060’s America.
The last episode of the first season of Mad Men, ‘The Wheel’, highlighted the pressures that the men of that era found themselves under and how men, like Pete Campbell, felt the need to keep their issues bottled up and to themselves.
Sure, Pete may have shown himself to be a chauvinistic and self-centred ad man throughout the first season, but it is important to recognise the fragilities that lie below the exterior of evert ‘tough man’ of the 1960s.
Pete is known as the smart-arse Madison Avenue type.
But beneath this exterior lies another type of man.
Have a look at this video from earlier in season one and see how Pete acts when he is in the home. There is an attempt by Pete to be the alpha male in the house, but the we can sense an underlying uncertainty and want in his voice. He wants to be recognised as a man:
Pete is telling his wife what to do, bossing her around as if she is a malleable toy, yet the motive behind his bossiness is a complete juxtaposition to his antics. He is insecure about his place as a writer, and the competitiveness inside him governs that he should be considered a better writer than his work colleague – Ken Cosgrove.
Now we come to the crux of Pete’s year at Sterling Cooper.
in ‘The Wheel’ we are presented with Pete’s ongoing paradoxical situation rght at the start of the episode.
In order to be a strong 1960s man, Pete needs to bring in accounts to Streling Cooper. But to do that, in this episode at least, he will need to suck up to his Wife’s father, a denigrating exercise for Pete, to say the least.
The most pertinent line of the opening exchange between Pete and his father-in-law, Tom, is when Tom says “The only family and business you should be mixing is the production of a child.”
Further on in the episode we find out that Pete has successfully brought in the account of Clearasil, his Father-in-law’s company. He tells the boys in the office that he has brought in this business as though it was all his own hard work, but the dramatic irony we have as viewers is the knowledge that he has stooped the being slave to the whims of his father-in-law in order to gain an advantage at work.
It is for this reason that Pete Campbell is the epitome of the American advertising men depicted in the show. We have seen what Don is combating in his personal life, but through Pete we get an idea of what the other, second-tier boys are up to. Through Pete we can just imagine the personal lives of men such as Harry Crane and Ken Cosgrove.
One of the last events involving Pete is his ‘reward’ for bringing in the Clearasil account.
He is congratulated by Don on bringing in new business, but the irony is that while Pete is thinking the congratulations are all for his good work, the congratulation by Don is also a self-directed one because of the fact that he always knew the family would be worthwhile in the long run.
Once again, while Pete believes he has earned the praise of Don, Don is really just using Pete as a malleable toy.
The reward Pete gets is an Ayn Rand book.
The irony is not lost here, as Rand was an advocate of a psychological system known as Ethical Egoism, which says people should choose to do what is in their own self interest. If anything, Pete is a psychological egoist (a person who doesn’t chose, but just does things in their own self-interest), but either way, we can see the link between Rand’s philosophy and Pete’s own ethics.
Pete will probably never read the book anyway, because it doesn’t interest him.
Big Love is a not a great show, nor is it a soap opera.
Big Love highlights the idea that not every ‘quality’ serial is automatically loved by everyone.
And one of the key factors in the reason why I don’t enjoy Big Love, but can appreciate it’s quality, is it’s subject matter.
The fact is that with more and more shows tageting the HBO market of high-end drama, producers, writer and directors are all striving to find unique subject matter to define their show and distinguish it from all others.
The danger with make a show so novel is that it will immediately alienate a whole host of viewers who simply do not find that subject interesting.
The fact is that just because I absolutely adored The Sopranos, does not mean that the subject matter of gangster-come-psychologically damaged father does not immediately appeal to my Mum in the same way that Big Love does.
But they are both quality dramas which are quite distinguishable from soap operas.
Both are only once a week, soap opera’s are every day.
Both have complex plot lines, soapies have convoluted and often irrelevant tangents.
The icing on the cake is that both have reasonable outcomes and endings. Soaps have what is commonly known as ‘Deus ex machina’, the contrived and generally unbelievable outcome to a problem which seemingly had no solution.
Think of the problems in The Wire. The problem in actually getting that wire tap. It took episodes and episodes to resolve.
The same with The Sopranos. The number of episodes in the first season to figure out who the rat was.
They were legitimate problems with legitimate solutions.
The difference on soap operas is that while an episode may end in drama and have a cliff-hanger conclusion, there is often the easy option of bringing someone back to life, or let them escape from jail etc. to help the writers out of their block.
Mittel suggests that the success of the soap opera in the 1980s led producers to experiment more with serialised content, and test viewers on whether or not they would have the week-long attention span required for that type of TV.
But that’s where he concedes the connections end:
I don’t think the contemporary primetime narrative complexity that I write about has much in common with or influence from soap operas, except through their common connections to 1970s and 1980s primetime serials. They are distinctly different in production method, scheduling, acting style, pacing, and formal structure. In reading interviews with, and talking to, primetime creators, I’ve never seen any reference to soap operas as a point of inspiration or influence. Likewise, there is almost no crossover between creative personnel between daytime and primetime drama.
Jason Mittel, 2009, ‘More thoughts on soap operas and television seriality’,
I agree with Mittel and his differentiation of the two television forms.
So what if my Mum likes Big Love and I don’t?
Sure, we may not like some of the primetime narratives on our box, but that doesn’t make them soapies.
Let me just start this blog entry by saying that the time I spent in southeast Asia watching Friends throughout last year will be the basis for much of my argument. Although much of the viewing was done in glorious sunshine, and in unceremonious states of hangover-related disrepair, that classic sitcom will prove to provide some pertinent points.
But I will start my argument at home.
When we arrive home from a long day at the office, or a day full of activity at uni, or hard work on the training track, we want to relax, so we turn on the TV. Sometimes we watch our shows on out laptops in bed as an even more relaxing exercise.
But are our favourite shows still relaxing and enjoyable?
As my friends and I turn to more ‘high-end’ dramas in our search for the television’s pinnacle, we are finding more and more often that each episode of these cinematic TV shows are in fact very complex and not always very relaxing.
With the narrative complexity involved in all the modern day HBO series’ or FX instalments, television is moving away from the well-worn path of insular and isolated episodes, with plot lines and character-driven episodes losing ground on the leaders.
But, in this man’s humble opinion, the best episodes of any television show are always understandable in and of themselves.
That is not to say that television shows such as The Sopranos, Breaking Bad or Mad men are not worth watching because their story lines are too complex (Incidentally, I enjoy all three aforementioned shows). Rather, they are much more enjoyable to watch when the focus of the episode is on a plot line which does not rely too heavily on previous episodes.
What I mean is this – would they ever be shown in an Asian cafe ad nauseum as Friends is? The answer is no, because they rely too heavily on the audiences own ability to recall information from past episodes (and probably because they would not set the right mood for any vacating Westerners).
My point is, the best episodes may be complex, but they are also the episodes which don’t rely too much on other episodes.
Most people would be able to sit down and watch a sitcom and enjoy it without having any prior knowledge of the show.
The above clip is funny regardless of whether or not you watch Friends.
Mitell argues that the progression of complex narratives invites the audience to engage with a TV show, and to create a kind of fictional relationship with the characters and plot scenarios.
Narratively complex programming invites audience to engage actively at the level of form as well, highlighting the conventionality of traditional television and exploring the possibilities of both innovative long-term storytelling and creative intraepisode discursive strategies.
In what he has said in his article, Mitell has not purely focused on the storytelling, but also the ability for a TV show to grab somebody’s attention on an episode by episode basis.
To be engaged overall is obviously an objective most people have when committing to a programme, but we also don’t want to be left in the lurch waiting for next week’s instalment. It was always a bugbear of mine to be attached to a show only for the end of the episode to leave you on a knife’s edge.
And that does happen in Breaking Bad, but if you look at this clip below, you will understand why the show is so much better when the any understanding of the scene can be derived purely from what you’ve seen in the preceding 40 minutes.