The death of Television?!

Here’s a seemingly simple question: What makes televsion a genre of its own? Oh that’s simple… it’s the physicality of the box itself yeah? It’s an object that we control using a remote, 95% of the time it is square shaped… that’s it yeah?! HA. I think not. Television is so broad and I feel keeping it purely in the realm of the television box itself would be a huge yet common mistake. It is similar to claiming the genre of a book lays purely in the realm of the pages… yet we all know that is not so. If that WERE so people would not claim Kindles are “book holders”… yet they are. The genre of the book exists beyond the the original medium- it is arguably EXPERIENCE that defines the book. The same notion is attached to television. We watch television on our computers when downloading our favourite shows, we watch television when watching the online news reports attached to an online article. Television screens on moving billboards in the city… if television was purely existing on the box at home it would be a rather different world. Academic writer John Hartley on television studies takes the same perspective on television. He comments that the “central cultural experience of modernity has been change” and television is no exception- television exists beyond the class coloured box as it adapts to the modern world. Television according to Hartley stretches from phone, to YouTube, to flat screens… so on so on. It has “physically migrated” from the household to cafes, streets, waiting rooms, clubs, offices and other spaces.

So what does define television? Since it seems to be so broad.

Arguably a large aspect of the genre is surrounding its temporal nature. Movies are to be watched in one sitting. When we experience a movie- it is normally uninterrupted. We are trapped in the movie theatre in total darkness and minimal conversation surrounding us. Only when the movie is over is there a sense of closure- stopping the movie five minutes from the end would result in feeling empty, unfulfilled and as if one has been denied a sense of catharsis. Television often preys on these very feelings! A television episode will cut off right as something interesting or revelatory happens- it leaves the viewer feeling frustrated, cheated and ultimately hankering for MORE. Thus the audience member will tune in next week.

The importance of time in television doesn’t stop there. Many shows- including breakfast shows, news reports, live presenter-orientated shows such as Rove or The 7.30 Report revolve around time. Morning shows and the news are DAILY- they revolve solely around what is relevant and in occurrence on that particular day of the days closely surrounding it. A news report only remains relevant and interesting for as long as it is on- the sell of it, is that it is providing information on that particular moment. While a great movie is watch-able, relevant and exciting 60 years later, no one is going to record and watch a television episode from that long ago. The only circumstances when past television news becomes relevant is for the sake of research or retrospect- the viewing is always tied to that particular time frame.

Beyond this is the temporal importance of entertainment television… more specifically shows that broadcast LIVE. Big Brother, Masterchef, Australian Idol, Survivors… what do all these enormously successful television shows that created viewing phenomenons have in common? Their excitement hangs on them being live viewings, the audience is watching reality unfold before their very eyes- anything can happen! The extrordinary event of a live screening of a success reality television show goes beyond the viewing, it is a mass social event. People narrate their feelings on the internet as they watch the show. In the advertisement breaks friends and family discuss what they have just seen… more irritating individuals discuss what they are seeing while watching it. Families gather around the screen and cheer on their favourite individuals- it’s almost like being at the football! The temporal importance of the television genre is clear perhaps most poinently through the excitement of live television… there is simply nothing else like it. This extends beyond live television to episode premiers of a much loved or high anticipated television drama episode… so much of television is about the now, from television news, to live reality shows, the premier screenings- even the advertisements on television show off the NEWEST and most RECENT products to hit the market. Television is about immediacy… it ties together a nation in such a major way.

Australia’s Big Brother was a national phenomenon when first released almost a decade ago- classic live reality TV.

So, when the recent yet common speculation that television is dead as a medium is voiced- I tend to feel a little sceptical. It holds the assumption that the Internet has completely defeated the genre of television. That with the means to access any television show online, the rituals of television will vanish eventually- if not quite soon. Yet how can this be so? All the aspects of television I discussed above cannot truly be experienced outside of the physical television. No family will gather around a computer to watch a premier episode on a computer; when people watch the final episode of Master Chef they watch it on the screens. The London Opening ceremony overall had almost 5 million views on television in Australia alone. The atmosphere, environment and size of the television creates a situation for families and individuals to watch programs in an open and comfortable way computers cannot compete. On top of this, the familiarity of television cannot be beat. Television governs our lives in everyday ways we take for granted. In the morning it gives us the weather and morning TV Hosts greet us like members of the family. In the evening television reminds us when to start cooking dinner as we settle into a familiar night with our favourite shows and recognizable advertisements. Television is the ultimate household friend and family member- a companion that isn’t replaceable.

External sources:

Reading from RMIT library-

Olympics stats:

Big Brother Image:


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