Course Introduction: Television, according to one of its foremost scholars (Jason Mittell), has long been “the primary medium that
defines American culture,” (2008) both in the United States, and arguably abroad as well, since many American TV shows are exported,
and thus help define much of the nation’s image for hundreds of millions of non-Americans too.
Though thiscourse will not neglect U.S. television as a business (actually a $100 billion+ industry),
and a rapidly-changing one at that (some analysts argue that the advent of on-demand/on-line streaming is already changing
the nature of the medium forever), the main focus will be on the last half century + of U.S. television programming itself,
and how television shows both responded to and also helped shape American “identities,” particularly in the areas of family, race,
class, gender and sexual orientation. Given the complexity and volume of the subject matter, our major areas of analysis
will be “limited” to the predominant Situation Comedy (sitcom, including animated shows) and Drama genres
[with shorter forays into children’s programming, soap operas, variety shows, advertising and even sports and news
programming where relevant and useful], seeking to address such questions as:
How did early Network Era – sitcoms like I Love Lucy (1951-1957), Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963) and The Flintstones (1960-1966) help
reflect and define gender and family in the post-WWII boom years, and how did those images change in light of
the epochal social shifts of the 1960s and 70s in shows like The Brady Bunch (1969-1974) and the Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977).
And how did both network and cable TV shows “negotiate” fundamental changes in race and class relations in the United States
in the post-Civil Rights Era, particularly in landmark programs like All in the Family (1971-1979) and The Cosby Show (1984-1992)?
And how has the “new convergence” era (network, satellite, cable and now digital-streaming/on-demand TV) redefined the way America(ns) “sees” itself, in
shows such The Wire (2002-2008), Breaking Bad (2008-2013), Mad Men (2007-2015), The Good Wife (2009-2016) or The Simpsons(1989-present).
Course Requirements: There will be some in-class program viewing and analysis along with regular discussion of readings
(in lieu of a textbook, students will read a common set of short essays, texts of which will be posted to our online Learnweb platform
throughout the semester) and some written exercises. Students will also be expected to do a circa 20-30 minute class presentation
(either singly or in pairs, depending on enrollment) on a particular TV show in its context(s) [a list of potential presentation topics/programs and related sources will be
provided], and there will be a 7-9 page Term Paper (shorter than normal as doing some written exercises during the semester too) due after the end of the
Semester Vorlesungszeit in which students will do an extended analysis of one or two TV programs (probably 3-5 episodes total) of their choice.