Monday, January 30, 2017

Core Post Week 4 [#1]

As Tania Modlewski notes in her essay, “The Rhythms of Reception: Daytime Television and Women’s Work,” early daytime television programming reflected the needs of its assumed female audience, in terms of both content and form. Importantly, such programming, including soap operas and quiz shows, were “careful to repeat important elements of the story several times” since “reception itself often takes place in a state of distraction” (73)—programs anticipated that housewives might not be watching the shows with rapt attention, but rather entering and exiting as necessitated by their domestic work.

We might also consider today’s typical audience as watching television (programs) in a similar state of distraction. In addition to people who may simply turn on the television or load a streaming service as a replacement for radio or muzak-like background noise, even primetime television faces competition with an audience that increasingly has mobile and computing devices in-hand. While updates to form can be readily observed in today’s carefully repetitive talent and reality shows, they can also be witnessed on streaming services in particular, where viewers can more freely self-select their programming choices—and their behavior can be more precisely tracked.

Although Netflix does not release their viewership numbers, a cursory glance at their branded Original content demonstrates viewing trends that have proved reliable enough for them to continue producing. In particular, stand-up comedy specials account for at least 50 titles among the first grouping of 267 Original series and films, and stand-up comedy is one of the largest subgenres within the Comedy section. In line with Modlewski’s observations about early daytime TV, the prevalence of stand-up comedy on Netflix seems to indicate a similarly successful mode of engaging with a distracted audience. Like daytime quiz shows, stand-up specials tend to “flow” in a way that easily allows for interruptions and distractions—without a traditional narrative, viewers who miss the beginning of one bit can simply catch up on the next one, without losing much meaning. (Streaming, like DVR, of course also gives the viewers the ability to pause and rewind if needed or desired.)

Although comedy specials tend to use medium or medium close-up shots rather than true close-ups, as Modlewski highlights for soap operas, the facial and physical expressions of the comedian typically account for the media’s primary visual element. For many comedians, these expressions serve as an important form of humor itself (see Kevin Hart, pictured below). Similarly, reaction shots of the comedian's audience allow the viewer at home to read—and hopefully, reproduce—their enthusiastic reactions. Of course, comedy can also usually be heard and understood without visuals, soap-opera-style, from an adjacent room—or perhaps the digital equivalent, from beneath the other windows open on a viewer’s computer.

Importance of close-up/facial expression in stand-up comedy

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