Genre Study (Discussion)

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Television on genre

  1. Group 4: What dilemma do genre scholars face when trying to define a genre? Explain the theoretical way of escaping that dilemma and the historical way of escaping it. Within your group, conduct a survey to determine what its "cultural consensus" is for the definition of the sitcom. You may wish to refer to sitcoms we've seen in class.
  2. Groups 5 & 1: Genres may be defined based on their stylistic schema. Explain that phrase and how it might be used to define a genre. Provide an example.
  3. Groups 6 & 2: Genres may be defined by their subject matter--specifically, their narrative structure. Explain how Kaminsky and Mahan articulate the police show's narrative structure. Can you think of recent police shows that exemplify this?
  4. Group 3: Genres may be defined by their subject matter--specifically, their themes. Explain the "binary oppositions" (thematic structure) that Hurd finds in the police show. Can you think of recent police shows that exemplify this?

Jason Mittell on Dragnet and genre

Mittell writes that he wants to explore "how the generic categories of
  • police show,
  • documentary,
  • film noir, and
  • radio crime drama

were all activated within and around the program. Dragnet not only drew upon these categories in its textual conventions, formal properties, and encoded meanings, but also in its larger cultural circulation in the 1950s and 1960s, activating discourses of generic definition, interpretation, and evaluation." (124)

  1. Groups 5 & 1: Mittell links the documentary and the semi-documentary, police-procedural film with Dragnet. What key connections does he see there? What elements assert Dragnet's "authenticity"? Can you see these in "The Big Shoplift" episode?
  2. Groups 6 & 2: According to the Mittell chapter, what stylistic conventions (what Television calls "stylistic schemas") can be found in Dragnet? (Hint: his term, "formal," refers to stylistic aspects of television.) For example, how does Mittell interpret the acting style of Dragnet and its "line editing"? Mittell refers to the style of TV crime dramas that were broadcast live--such as Martin Kane, Private Eye (although he uses other examples such as Man Against Crime). How does he characterize them? Do you observe this in Martin Kane? How is Dragnet different?
  3. Group 3:
    • What narrative pattern does Mittell see in Dragnet? Outline it as Kaminsky and Mahan do.
    • How does it compare/contrast with the Kaminsky and Mahan model?
    • Can you see this in "The Big Shoplift" episode?
  4. Group 4: How does Mittell apply the idea of oppositions? What is his point about "mediating figures"? Is Sgt. Friday one? Does "The Big Shoplift" episode support his argument? How does this fit with Hurd's notion of binary oppositions?

All groups

  1. List two strength(s) of genre analysis. List two weaknesses of this approach.
    • Group 1:
      • w: trouble with boundaries between genres;
      • s: helps understand related programs;
    • Group 2:
      • s: provides a beginning for analysis;
      • w: can be reductive;
    • Group 3:
      • s: methodical understanding of narrative;
      • w: ruins surprise in narrative; trouble dealing with variation
    • Group 4:
      • s: gives you a framework for understanding a TV show;
      • w: a systematic approach to TV; labelling a TV show limits its potential audience
    • Group 5:
      • s: conventions allow you to know what to expect
      • w: really "boring";


  1. Jeremy G. Butler, Television: Visual Storytelling and Screen Culture (NY: Routledge, 2018).
  2. Jason Mittell, Genre and Television: From Cop Show to Cartoons in American Culture (NY: Routledge, 2004).

External links