CTCS 587: Television Theory

Professor Tara McPherson
Pronouns: she, her, hers
SCB 104, Tuesday 10:00 - 1:50 p.m.
Office Hours: Weds. 1:30-3 + by appointment
TA: Heather Blackmore,

Course Description + Goals:
This course examines various methodologies and theories through which scholars have engaged television over the past several decades. We will consider TV through a variety of lenses: as a technology, as a cultural experience, as text, as ideology, and as industrial practice. We will focus primarily on U.S. television, but we will also examine the medium’s global contexts at key junctures. Our goal will be to investigate not just television and its myriad forms but, first and foremost, the history of academic engagements with this popular medium.

Upon completion of the class, you will have improved you ability to analyze television through aesthetic, formal, and cultural registers. You will also have a solid understanding of the ways in which intellectuals and scholars have grappled with television’s place in American culture, including a variety of methodologies that have been utilized in the study of television. Finally, you will better grasp the ways in which television shapes cultural representations of self, other, nation, race, gender, sexuality, temporality, and place.

Required Texts:
All course texts will be available online on Blackboard.

Some sites to know:

In Media Res
Critical Studies of Television Online

Class Requirements:

Online Blog participation (25%):
During the semester, you will be required to post at least 15 times to a class blog. At least five of these posts should be in the form of weekly reading responses (approximately 350-400 words). These core responses should engage critically with the course materials for that day and should demonstrate both a grasp of the material and your own considered response to the same. Simply saying you liked or didn't like something or providing a straight summary of the readings is not sufficient; you should demonstrate careful, analytical thinking, engaging the materials but also moving beyond them. Feel free to draw on resources outside of the course as well, integrating them into your discussions and analyses, but these five posts need to engage the course readings at some level. These 5 responses should be posted by 6 p.m. on the evening before class. Please include “Core Response” in your header. Your other 10 posts can take the form of responses to fellow students’ posts, updates on the state of television, shorter looks at shows you like, etc. These need not be long. Ideally, the blog will become a communal space for the class, one used to address and ponder course themes and to point your peers to interesting materials. You are, of course, expected to read the blog regularly and are encouraged to post more frequently if the spirit moves you.

Participation + Attendance (10%):
It should go without saying that students are expected to attend all classes and to arrive at class prepared and ready to participate (i.e. having finished and thought about the day’s materials.) Absences will significantly affect your grade. Additionally, all assignments are due on time; late assignments will rarely be accepted.

Class Presentation + Critical Commons Posting (25%):
Once during the term (beginning in week 3), you will do an 8-minute presentation during class. This presentation should include one clip (of no more than 3 minutes) and an explication of the clip in relation to that day’s readings. This is your opportunity to present a clip from material we haven’t covered in class. You should then clearly detail how your clip connects to the day’s assigned readings and/or screenings. TIME YOUR PRESENTATION. You will be cut off when your time is up. Within the week following your presentation, you should upload your clip to Critical Commons, along with your analysis. (We will discuss + experiment with Critical Commons soon )

Final project (40%): We will discuss your final project in more detail later in the term. This project might consist of a traditional seminar paper (approximately 16-20 pages in length), but topics and formats for this assignment are open for discussion. You might, for instance, decide to create a series of posts for a site like Flow or MediaCommons. Alternately, you might create a lecture on Critical Commons or a video essay. You will also present your final project in a very brief format in our final class meeting.

Course Schedule:

1/10: Week 1: Introduction to Class

Screening: Marshall McLuhan, recorded by ABC Radio National Network on June 27, 1979

1/17: Week 2: TV: Form, Time + Ideology
Raymond Williams, Television: Technology + Cultural Form (esp. Chapters 1-4)
Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage (browse it all but read p. 122-138); quickly scan “Television: the Timid Giant” pg. 340-372 in Understanding Media
Jane Feuer, “The concept of live television: ontology as ideology”

1/24: Week 3: TV + Publics
Horace Newcomb + Paul M. Hirsch, “Television as a Cultural Forum”
Todd Gitlin, “Prime Time Ideology: The Hegemonic Process in Television Entertainment”
Heather Hendershot, “Parks and Recreation: The Cultural Forum”

1/31: Week 4: TV + the Family
Lynn Spigel, “The Suburban Home Companion: Television and the Neighbourhood Ideal in Post-War America”
Pat Mellencamp, “Situation Comedy, Feminism and Freud: Discourses of Gracie and Lucy”
Tania Modleski, “The Rhythms of Reception: Daytime Television and Women’s Work”
George Lipsitz, “The Meaning of Memory”

2/7: Week 5: Critical Comons/Scalar Workshop

2/14: Week 6: TV + Screens
Beatriz Colomina, “Domesticity at War”
Margaret Morse, “An Ontology of Everyday Distraction”
Anna McCarthy, “Television While You Wait”

2/21: Week 7: TV + Audiences
Ellen Seiter, “Qualitative Audience Research” in Allen and Hill, The TV Studies Reader
Henry Jenkins, “Star Trek: Rerun, Reread, Rewritten, Fan Writing as Textual Poaching”
Mark Andrejevic, “Watching Television without Pity: The Productivity of Online Fans” TV and New Media 9:1: 24-46

2/28: Week 8: TV, Ethnicity + Race
Herman Gray, “The Transformation of the Television Industry and the Social Production of Blackness,” Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for Blackness
Christine Acham, “The Cosby Show: Representing Race” in How To Watch TV
Jennifer Esposito, “What Does Race Have to Do with Ugly Betty? An Analysis of Privilege and Postracial (?) Representations on a TV Sitcom.” Television and New Media 10.6

3/7: Week 9: TV + Reality
Laurie Ouellette and James Hay, “Makeover TV: Labors of Reinvention”
Chad Raphael, “The Political Economic Origins of Reali-TV” in Reality TV: Remaking Television
Anna McCarthy, “Reality Television: A Neoliberal Theater of Suffering” Social Text 93:25 no. 4, winter 2007

3/14: Spring Break

3/21: Week 10: TV + Post-Feminism
Sarah Banet-Weiser, “What’s your Flava? Race and postfeminism in media culture.” In Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the politics of popular culture
Angela McRobbie, “Post-Feminism and popular culture” Feminist Media Studies, 4:3
Jess Butler, “For White Girls Only? Postfeminism and the Politics of Inclusion.” Feminist Formations 25:1 Spring 2013

3/28: Week 11: TV + Genre
Jason Mittell “Television Genres as Cultural Categories”
Jane Feuer, “Melodrama, Serial Form and Television Today” in Screen 25:1 (1984)
Michael Kackman, “Quality Television, Melodrama, and Cultural Complexity”
Tara McPherson, “Techno-Soap: 24, Masculinity, and Hybrid Forms”

4/4 Week 12: TV + Industry Studies
John Caldwell, “Convergence Television: Aggregating Form and Repurposing Content in the Culture of Conglomeration”
Henry Jenkins, "The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence" International Journal of Cultural Studies 7.1: 33-43.
Jennifer Holt, “Vertical Vision: Deregulation, Industrial Economy and Prime-Time Design,” in Quality Popular Television

4/11: Week 13: TV + the Globe
Michael Curtin,”Thinking Globally: From Media Imperialism to Media Capital” (in Holt + Perren)
David Morley, “Where the Global Meets the Local: Notes from the Sitting Room”
Shanti Kumar, “Is There Anything Called Global Television Studies?” (Kumar + Parks, Planet TV)

4/18: Week 14: Post-TV
Amanda Lotz, “Television Outside the Box: The Technological Revolution of Television”
Lisa Parks, “Flexible Microcasting: Gender, Generation, and Television-Internet Convergence”
Aymar Jean Christian, OpenTV; read about it at:
Recommended: Tara McPherson, “Reload: Liveness, Mobility and the Web” The Visual Culture Reader, 2nd Edition, Ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (New York: Routledge, 2002), 458-470.

4/25: Week 15: Student Presentations

Required University Caveats + Info:

Academic Conduct

Plagiarism – presenting someone else’s ideas as your own, either verbatim or recast in your own words – is a serious academic offense with serious consequences. Please familiarize yourself with the discussion of plagiarism in SCampus in Section 11, Behavior Violating University Standards Other forms of academic dishonesty are equally unacceptable. See additional information in SCampus and university policies on scientific misconduct,

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Support Systems

A number of USC’s schools provide support for students who need help with scholarly writing. Check with your advisor or program staff to find out more. Students whose primary language is not English should check with the American Language Institute, which sponsors courses and workshops specifically for international graduate students.

The Office of Disability Services and Programs provides certification for students with disabilities and helps arrange the relevant accommodations.

If an officially declared emergency makes travel to campus infeasible, USC Emergency Information will provide safety and other updates, including ways in which instruction will be continued by means of blackboard, teleconferencing, and other technology.

Course Exam, Project and Paper Retention Policy

It is the responsibility of all students in Critical Studies courses to retrieve all papers, projects, assignments and/or exams within one academic year of completion of a course. These records may be essential in resolving grade disputes and incompletes as well as assist in verifying that course requirements have been met. The Critical Studies Division will dispose of all records from the previous academic year in May of the current academic year. No exceptions. Please be in contact with your TA or Professor about collecting these documents while you are taking the course.

Recording the Class:

Recording or videotaping course lectures or discussion is strictly prohibited without prior consent of the instructor. In the event that the instructor approves recording for a student’s personal use, these recordings may not be shared or circulated.

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