I felt the concepts surrounding genre and quality television needed to be revisited- it is such a complex and deep pool of interesting examples and information. How does a “type” of television become a genre? Why is genre so important? What attracts people to watching “quality television” and shying away from “trashy” or “bad television”? What do these terms even mean? Who really has the right to define what is good or bad- is it viable? One can see what I mean- these are murky waters.
Genre is a very tricky thing to define. One wouldn’t think so. Crime, Fantasy, Action… simple enough yes? No. Sorry. Mittell states it very well, “Genre definitions are no more natural than the texts that they seem to categorize. Genres are cultural products constituted by media practices and subject to ongoing change and redefinition.”- (Mittell, 2004) As such, Mittell defines a genre as a “cultural category” and where one starts categorizing culture things begin to get messy, the cases are never pure. A television show is defined by three key things in my opinion, a) the broadcaster, the network’s identity and brand b) the target audience and their tastes and c) the genre. Genre fits awkwardly in with the other two- as a network is simply “Channel 10” and the audience is basically a list of demographic requirements. Genre is another beast all together. Consider something such as Game of Thrones (an overly used reference perhaps but oh-so-useful). If a genre is a cultural category then Game of Thrones is for the nerd, fantasy-loving geeks and fans of the original book. Instead mainstream audiences love it too, no one can stop talking about Game of Thrones! While networking and audiences are defined in fairly straight forward manners, genre is interchangeable. . The “fantasy” genre no longer belongs to the nerd audiences and a particular company in the same way a “crime drama” is no longer just for intellectuals and produced by the dudes from Law and Order. Hence the public surprise when renowned television produces did the fantasy genre Game of Thrones.
Yet I cannot say Game of Thrones is a miracle for fantasy everywhere. It is fantasy genre with mainstream techniques. It is high budget, has lots of sexy sex and has some famous faces. It becomes suddenly not about the genre itself, but more so how the genre is executed. If Game of Thrones was done on a smaller budget, with cornier dialogue and with less sex it would not be the show it is today. It would still be the fantasy genre, but a completely different fantasy. More like a day-time mini series.
Due to the vague nature of the genre, “types” of television have become genres of their own. As I said, the execution of these shows becomes more important than the genre itself. The reason for Game of Thrones fandom is not because it is a fantasy show but because it is a “quality television” fantasy show. The high budget, beautiful women, ridiculously good-looking costumes and sophisticated plot make it a “quality television” show and this is where the popularity spouts from.
Welcome to the genre of Quality television, which is even more painful to define than genre. In my opinion, quality television is what Lisa Lewis defines as a “social image” for television. (Lewis, 203) It is what the audience perceives as television worthy of money, time and intellectual persuit. It is television with class. Lewis states, “Quality television is intertwined with the history of quality television as an alternative to the vast wasteland image of television dating back to the 1960s.” -(Lewis, 164) Quality television is the savior for all the starving intellectuals and bored consumers wanting to watch something other than The Prince is Right and The Bold and the Beautiful on television. It often is defined by these characteristics:
- There are notions of auteurism, art, creativity, truth within the show
- The aesthetics are extremely high: the costuming, cinematography and quality of the camera will match that of a movie
- The narrative is complex and long-running
- Normally not driven by schedule… must have Pay TV to view it
- Excellent marketing with high exposure, merchandise available and full box sets of the shows
The brilliance of quality television as a genre means that it can create almost any kind of television show as long as it is executed and sold as quality television. Game of Thrones was legitimized as an acceptable fantasy genre show because it is primarily a quality television genre show- fantasy is the subgenre. There are many more examples of this. The Sopranos has the subgenre of crime, Sex and the City is within the comedy subgenre, The West Wing is within the drama subgenre. But they are all primarily in the quality television genre and that is what bolsters their appeal.
Now, here’s the clincher. Who spotted the appeal of quality television? Who look quality television and made it something elite and desirable… who made a goddamn brand for themselves out of making quality television shows? Welcome to the world of HBO.
What is fascinating about HBO is their unabashed marketing- they basically sell that they are better than everyone else in the television industry. Their quality television shows set them apart. Jaramillo brilliantly suggests, “in the case of HBO’s original programming branding strategies, the frame of reference for is broadcast programming, and HBO is sure to incorporate that into its promotional slogan, “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” The implication is that TV is everything else.”- (Jaramillo, pg: 59, 2002) This is such a cool suggestion and links back to my earlier remarks. Quality television is the answer for all those in need of some “good” television and HBO has delivered that answer.
Just remember that all these quality television shows I have mentioned are the work of HBO. They are not be escaped. HBO have effectively captured “quality television” and made it their brand and genre, for the world to enjoy…
“While scholarly interpretations of what makes HBO original series “quality” television might be open to debate, there can be little doubt that HBO has exploited the discursive ambiguities of defining “quality programming in its marketing strategies.”- (M. Leverette, pg: 32, 2008)
Word Count: 1, 163
Genre and television: From Cop shows to Cartoons, Jason Mittel, Routledge, New York, 2004
The adoring audience: Fan culture and popular media, Lisa A Lewis, Routledge, London, 1992
It’s not TV: Watching HBO in the post television era, M. Leverette, B. L. Ott and Cara Louise Buckley, Routledge, London, 2008