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Up All Night promotional art
Megan Mullen

Reading your post on the weekend when I’m also watching all the pilots and first episodes of the past week, I’m feeling cautious optimism about the possible return of the sitcom. Not that it’s been completely absent in recent decades—though hardly as it was during the seventies and eighties. The two new ones on FOX, The New Girl and Raising Hope, show some potential if no one wrecks it. Both seem to be using stereotypes (gender in the former, social class in the latter) in ways that, at least mildly, seem to challenge their existence (my money at the moment is on Raising Hope—seems more innovative altogether). Will advertisers catch on? Or could it be that the return of the sitcom could be matching the ambitions of some of the "quality" dramas out there this season? Certain people still watch these, after all.

In my contribution to this week’s theme, I speculated about the possible disappearance of cable-specific program genres. That wasn’t to say that cable can’t still be an outlet for the sorts of programs that are now available in other places. Sitcoms and drama definitely qualify—provided we can afford and still want to pay for cable subscriptions.

The Baby Boomers and even the early end of Gen X have a few good years left—especially what are presumed to be our higher-earning years. Catering to our longer attention spans and desire for well written shows might not be such a bad idea when you think about it.

Sarah Michelle Gellar - Ringer
Sharon Marie Ross

 I agree and have had fun reading blog reviews mentioning the desire to "see Buffy kick ass" during the pilot.  I’ll have to tune in a few more times to see what comes of this—and I wonder if similar reactions are occurring with Ashton Kutcher?  Revenge was the only star return so far that didn’t make me really think of a prior character (Amy from Everwood)—wondering now if tat’s a sign of strength?

Up All Night promotional art
Maria San Filippo

Yet another reason I’ve been feeling stuck in 70s sitcom hell throughout this week’s fall premieres: the Return of the Laugh Track. Can anyone with an ear to the ground of network TV production practices share insight about why could-be hip shows like 2 Broke Girls and Whitney seem compelled to rely on cheesy laugh cues, sweetened or not? I felt like Alvy Singer visiting the control room of his pal Max’s sitcom in Annie Hall.

Sarah Michelle Gellar - Ringer
Jennifer Gillan

Your intriguing comments on nostalgia for a star’s previous roles reminds me of Jane Gaines’ comment that sometimes a character’s costuming has a "visual excessiveness" that calls attention to itself and distracts from the storytelling. When the costume isn’t "subservient to" the narrative, it disrupts it. I wonder if this sometimes applies to an actor’s previous roles. When we see Gellar, we see Buffy, and that excessiveness disrupts the narrative of the episode of the new series we are watching. We keep expecting her to take on Buffy’s vampire slayer moves or to be aided by her Scooby crew. The "seeing double" feeling usually fades once we invest in the new character.  

Steven Boyer

Great post, John!

There are so so many problematic aspects of the VGA’s it’s hard to even know where to begin, but I think you hit on some of the main issues at stake here. 

However, I would suggest that while you seem worried about how the VGAs are presenting games to the world at large, I wonder if we shouldn’t be more concerned with the show’s general irrelevance and insularity. The ratings for the VGAs have been steadily declining over the past few years (see Variety or Gamasutra), with last year’s show reaching about 627,000 viewers. Compared to, for example, the Oscars’ 37.6 million last year, the VGAs are barely even noticeable. At the same time, the VGAs predictably continued to perform in that male 18-34 demograhpic. 

To me, this suggests that, as bad and harmful as they are, the VGAs aren’t even on most peoples’ radar. What is especially dangerous about this, though, is that it continues to ghettoize games, reifying their gender and age-defined subcultural stereotypes. However, for the most part it is not outward facing, but justifies the "bro"-ness of the worst aspects of gaming culture to those who are already invested in it. This insulation has not only meant blatant misogyny (see 2008’s "chrome angels" or 2007’s practice of presenting nominees on painted female bodies), but a continued exclusion of the millions of women (or anyone who does not subscribe to this established subject position) not only from the event, but from the medium itself. 

This continues to deepen the discursive construction of "video games" as only AAA titles, while social/Facebook/Wii titles are not even considered games. Much of this, again, is linked to marketing, as AAA titles seek out large television audiences while Facebook games rely on the built in newsfeed streams to sell their games (and generally have a lower investment to recoup). I don’t know if this will change until we see major shifts in production AND culture to recognize that neither AAA or social should control the definition of "video game." Given Spike’s audience, they don’t have any incentive to change this perception, but it’s troubling on a much broader scale.

Karen Petruska

There have been a lot of people to write about the critic’s so-called power or influence—numerous Master’s theses and dissertations.  The trick with these projects is the amount of text that must be consumed.

My own project is focusing on the 1970s, and I’m still having to read through thousands of documents (thousands for each publication I research), but I’m not sure there’s a better way to account for the work of the critic unless you read it daily.

As you note above, I am indeed trying to position the critic within the rise of television studies, though I frame it more as a question of historiography.  It is good to hear you find it interesting, though, cause the research is trying to kill me.  :) 

What intrigues me about the Critics’ Consensus is that they were purposefully low key—which means it was more difficult to initiate a public conversation.  There was another, more promiment awards show featuring critics as voters during the year the television academy got a divorce (East versus West coasts), and that show was televised.  But there was a lot of drama—critics refusing to participate (NY Times), critics dropping out, etc.  

What these two efforts lead me to ponder is how much of our bitching about awards shows derives from its presence on television—once an awards show is inserted into an established form of commodity exchange (audience for ad dollars)—is it impossible for the awards show to fulfill its primary function without compromise or taint?

Yet we always come back to your post that started the week—with the distribution power of television, awards programs DO set the conversation.  Sure, we complain about the injustices, but isn’t that part of how we develop our sense of value within any media system—through conversation, debate, even anger?  

Awards programs seem a Catch-22, but perhaps a purposeful one.

Kyle Barnett


Thanks for your post and for gathering us to talk over media awards shows this week.

Your post is fascinating on a number of fronts. The Patty Duke clip is unsettling, a glimpse of someone unwilling or perhaps bewildered by what she’s within. I was also interested on the effects of the Critics’ Consensus governing rules on its decisions and its larger societal impact. So many questions to ask. For instance, did the refusal to divide awards by genre mean that drama was privileged over comedy? 

However, what really fired my imagination is the role of the Critics’ Consensus in a longer move towards legitimizing television as a cultural form worthy of analysis. Has anyone traced the critical rise of television from early criticism in newspapers (e.g., Jack Gould at the New York Times) and academic work on the subject through to the present day? I imagine a Bourdieu-style field in which the Critics’ Consensus would’ve been most welcome. Who were the players in that field?

When the Critics’ Consensus is founded, the first TV studies panels at what was then known as the Society for Cinema Studies were still decades away. But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, TV criticism is certainly on the rise. Horace Newcomb’s TV: The Most Popular Art and Raymond Williams’ Television, Technology and Cultural Form both arrive in 1974 (if memory serves, Newcomb worked as a television critic for newspapers). Was the impact of the Critics’ Consensus limited to newspaper criticism? Did the TV industry even notice? Did it have a role in the rise of TV as "serious" subject?

Of course, mentioning Newcomb here leads us to the Peabody Awards, which predates some of the awards shows we’ve discussed this week (the first Peabody awards were given in 1941). I think the Peabodys serve as another example of critics talking back to the industry writ large. My comments here amount to a desire to trace this talking back to its beginnings. Of course, that would be no small project.

Natalie Portman accepting her Oscar
Anne Helen Petersen

The gendered reception of the Oscars is *huge* — I always refer to it as my "Female Superbowl" and make the same sort of spectacle for it that others (men and women, but mostly men) do for important sporting events.  There simply is no other event that brings together so many subjects of gossip and glamour in one place, and if you’ve ever seen a group of women (and fashion-inclined men) watching the red carpet, you know the sort of reaction this spectacle encourages.  (Oh my GOD, LOOK AT HER DRESS, etc. etc.)  

But the reception is always negotiated, as you point out.  I don’t listen to the announcers on the red carpet; I (and the people with whom I’m watching) make our commentary.  Same goes for the ceremony itself: its meaning is as much how audiences reacted to it at home as what actually happened on stage.  

Natalie Portman accepting her Oscar
Kyle Barnett

Annie, your post has me imagining an Ien Ang-style study of Oscars viewers. Perhaps some ethnographic research exists? What I love about your post and Karen’s comment is that they focus on Portman and other female celebrities. To what extent is the kind of Oscars-viewing a gendered reception experience? How deeply are the responses of female viewers tied up in levels of alternating identifications with female celebrities? Perhaps this is too obvious to mention, and I know I’m playing the male/straight dolt here, but…

I’d be hard-pressed to recall a dress that Gwyneth Paltrow has ever worn and vaguely recall that Natalie Portman was pregnant and effusive on the Golden Globes. It reminds me that what I love about The Oscars is not the show itself. It’s the responses of those watching the show with me, particularly in terms of the show’s complicated layers of gendered significations.


Natalie Portman accepting her Oscar
John Vanderhoef

This kind of discussion, although valuable, always raises a certain amount of sympathy within me for the stars scrutinized first by the media, then by the fans, and ultimately by those who study these reactions.  But your post brings up an excellent point, Anne, and one that is often taken for granted.  While the media certainly helps shape our perceptions of celebrities outside of the silver screen - poparazzi anyone? - and while wardrobes are picked over endlessly, few acknowledge the powerful influence an actor or actress’s "performance" at an awards ceremony can have over the popular conception of that person.

This also brings up the loaded concept of authenticity, something that is vital to the legitimacy of these awards but which is always nonetheless precarious at best. How authentic are these awards when the dresses are painstakingly brooded over, every word and gesture of the attendees are analyzed, speeches are considered as performance, and it’s almost a given that a "pity prize" will go out yearly to an older and revered performer who has yet to claim his or her trophy? This again harkens back to the tension between authentic recognition and televised entertainment. However, if part of authenticity is the errors we make in judgment, in the sometimes stupid things we say when we’re in love or on the spot, then we can start to make a case that the Oscars are authentic even as they remain manufactured and orchestrated, are imperfectly awkward even as they affect a dignified air. 

Do we watch award ceremonies to see performers be recognized or humiliated? Do we watch them to see performers at their best - or worst? And as Karen suggests, is this judgment ultimately up to how these "performances" are read?