Television Glossary David Lavery

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Television Glossary
Television Glossary
Television Glossary
Television Glossary
Television Glossary
Television Glossary
Why TV is Better Than the Movies
(Entertainment Weekly)
1) Women thrive on TV.
2) We care more about TV characters.
3) TV does better with drama.
4) In TV, the writer rules.
5) TV is more fun to talk about.
6) TV deals with mature themes more maturely.
7) TV is more convenient.
8) TV does better with less money.
9) On TV, you can change the channel.

                                    Television Glossary
TV Guide’s Fifty Greatest
                                              26. The Twilight Zone
Shows of All Time                             27. Sesame Street
1. Seinfeld
                                              28. The Cosby Show
2. I Love Lucy
                                              29. Donahue
3. The Honeymooners
                                              30. Your Show of Shows
4. All in the Family
                                              31. The Defenders
5. The Sopranos
                                              32. American Family
6. 60 Minutes
                                              33. Playhouse 90
7. The Late Show with David Letterman
                                              34. Frasier
8. The Simpsons
                                              35. Roseanne
9. The Andy Griffith Show
                                              36. The Fugitive
10. Saturday Night Live
                                              37. The X-Files
11. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
                                              38. The Larry Sanders Show
12. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
                                              39. The Rockford Files
13. The Dick Van Dyke Show
                                              40. Gunsmoke
14. Hill Street Blues
                                              41. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
15. The Ed Sullivan Show
                                              42. Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
16. The Carol Burnett Show
                                              43. Bonanza
17. Today Show
                                              44. The Bob Newhart Show
18. Cheers
                                              45. Twin Peaks
19. thirtysomething
                                              46. Star Trek: The Next Generation
20. St. Elsewhere
                                              47. Rocky and His Friends
21. Friends
                                              48. Taxi
22. ER
                                              49. The Oprah Winfrey Show
23. Nightline
                                              50. Bewitched
24. Law & Order
25. M*A*S*H
                                                                 Television Glossary
Television Glossary
act break: In commercial television, a usually
dramatically justifiable interruption, often offering a
minor cliffhanger, of an episode created in the
narrative by an advertisement.

                                            Television Glossary
activated text: A television
program which generates

                               Television Glossary
adaptation: Transforming a story conceived for
another medium (a novel, a play, a comic
book/graphic novel, a game, a movie) so that it may
be retold in a television series or movie.

                                         Television Glossary
allusion: A conscious, meaningful reference to
another work of art or indeed to anything outside
the television text.

                                         Television Glossary
ancillary text: Both
secondary (criticism,
publicity) and tertiary
(discussion and
commentary occurring at
the fan level) texts.

                          Television Glossary
appointment show: A favorite television program
which a viewer schedules to watch, accommodating
his or her life in order to keep an "appointment"
with it.

                                       Television Glossary
arc: A segment of narrative that constitutes an
identifiable story element or elements for a
character or a series.

“Where’s my arc?”—”The Legend of Tennessee
Moltisanti” (The Sopranos Season One)

                                          Television Glossary
auteur theory: The hypothesis, originating in France in the
1950s as the "politique des auteurs" (as formulated by
Truffaut and others) that a movie, though a collaboration
(Bergman has likened the making of a film to the
construction of a medieval cathedral), is given its essential
identity by one person: the director. The body of films of a
given director--the work of a director like Fellini, for example,
or John Ford, and even that of lesser lights as well--say a
James Cameron or a Spike Lee--will, according to the auteur
theory, exhibit as well the distinctive signature(s) of its auteur
and may be profitably studied as such. Only now emerging in
consideration of televison.

                                                    Television Glossary
Television Glossary
backstory: Narrative history, revealed
retrospectively, of characters and events that have
transpired prior to a story's own present tense.

                                          Television Glossary
basic cable: Those channels available with a "basic
cable" subscription, many of which--AMC, FX, TBS--
have begun to offer their own original programming.

Mad Men
Rescue Me
Breaking Bad
The Walking Dead
The Daily Show and The Colbert Report
Burn Notice
The Shield
                                        Television Glossary
beat: In a television episode, an emotional or
dramatic mini-climax punctuating the larger story.

                                         Television Glossary
boutique television: A new, 1990s concept of
television programming in the cable era in which
programs are developed for small niche audiences
with ideal demographics.

                                       Television Glossary
break: The process of plotting out a single episode
of a television series, positioning beats, act breaks,

                                            Television Glossary
buzz: Cultural talk, at the water cooler and
elsewhere, about a television series or other pop
culture phenomenon.

                                         Television Glossary
cliffhanger: A dramatic, episode-ending or season-
ending, event intended to bring viewers back next
week/next year and to inspire media buzz between
episodes/seasons. The most famous cliffhanger in
TV history was, of course, the "Who Shot JR?"
ending on Dallas (1981).

       Television Glossary
closure: In a narrative, the tying up (at the end of an
episode, at the end of a season, or at the end of a
series) of key narrative strands in such a way as to
produce viewer satisfaction.

                                           Television Glossary
commodity intertext: Both official and unofficial fiction and
non-fiction produced to satisfy the often cultic needs of
television fans to know more—much more—and imagine
more about their favorite programs.

                                                 Television Glossary
continuous serial: "The storylines of most
'continuous serials' . . . [are] deliberately left hanging
at the end of each episode; nearly all plots initiated
in a continuous serial were designed to be infinitely
continued and extended. . . . the individual episodes
of a continuous serial have much more of a linear
feel, leading regular viewers to believe they 'could
not miss an episode.' . . . in a continuous serial,
narrative change is all" (Dolan).

                                             Television Glossary
convergence culture: "The . . .
ways the business landscape is
changing in response to the
growing integration of content
and brands across media
platforms and the increasingly
prominent roles that
consumers are playing in
shaping the flow of media"
(Convergence Culture

                                  Television Glossary
co-optation: The absorption or expropriation of
formerly oppositional ideas or practices into the
service of ideological discourse. Godfrey Reggio's
1983 film Koyaanisqatsi, for example, was intended
as an indictment of the insanity of modern American
culture, but its visual style has now become
prominent in contemporary advertising.

                                        Television Glossary
connotation: The suggestive or associative sense of
an expression that extends beyond its literal
definition. A second order system of signification
which uses the denotation of a sign as its signifier
and adds other meanings, other signfiers, often
ideological in nature. A picture of Barack Obama
denotes the actual person but connotes radically
different meanings on the political left or right.

                                          Television Glossary
continuity: The ongoing logic and order of a
narrative. Since television and movies are routinely
shot out of order, making certain that props, sets,
costumes, mise-en-scene, action, etc. are consistent
and seem to follow naturally out of one another is a
major problem for a film director or showrunner.

                                         Television Glossary
credit sequence: That segment of a movie or
television episode's beginning in which the credits
appear, either as titles overlaying the action or
separately, outside the diegesis.

Memorable Credit Sequences:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Sopranos
Northern Exposure
Mad Men
Big Love

                                          Television Glossary
couch potato: "A person who spends much time
sitting or lying down, usually watching television"

The child of a couch potato? . . . .

                                           Television Glossary
couch potato: "A person who spends much time
sitting or lying down, usually watching television"

The child of a couch potato? A tater tot.

                                            Television Glossary
cult tv: Television which attracts and sustains a
usually small but rabid audience, the members of
which begin to use the show in cultish fashion.
According to Reeves: "By the 1990s, there were
generally two types of cult television shows. The
first type, in the tradition of Star Trek, is comprised
of prime-time network programs that failed to
generate large ratings numbers, but succeeded in
attracting substantial numbers of avid fans. Twin
Peaks is the most outstanding recent example of
this category. Shows of the second type first appear
on cable or in fringe timeslots and are narrowly
targeted at a niche audience. Comedy Central's
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) and MTV's
Beavis and Butthead (B&B) exemplify this category
of cult programming that was never intended to
appeal to mass audience."

                 Television Glossary
cumulative narrative: "Like the traditional series
and unlike the traditional 'openended' serial, each
installment of a cumulative narrative has a distinct
beginning, middle, and end. However, unlike the
traditional series and like the traditional serial, one
episode's events can greatly affect later episodes. As
Newcomb puts it, 'Each week's program is distinct,
yet each is grafted onto the body of the series, its
characters' pasts'" (Reeves).

                                           Television Glossary
denotation: The literal meaning of an expression.
The first order of SIGNIFICATION. A photograph of
Barack Obama denotes (is) Barack Obama.

                                         Television Glossary
diegesis: The fictional world of a narrative--for
example, a television series; the "actual" world of
the story created by a narrative.

                                           Television Glossary
dramedy: A 1970s programming innovation in which
comedy and drama are merged.

                                      Television Glossary
episodic serial: "[A] hybrid narrative form, combining the
dramatically satisfying finitude of the episodic series with the
linear narrative development of the continuous serial,"
presenting "narratives that were limited in length but multi-
episodic in form . . ." (Dolan). Tulloch and Alvarez identify a
closely related narrative form which they deem the episodic
serial. Episodic serials exhibit continuity between episodes
but only for a limited and specified number (ix). The subject
of their study, Doctor Who, serves as an example, as does
another famous British series, The Prisoner. Horace
Newcomb uses a different designation for essentially the
same narrative manifestation: "cumulative narrative.”

                                                  Television Glossary
episodic series: “In an ‘episodic series’ (e.g., I Love Lucy or
Star Trek), an individual storyline almost never stretched
beyond the limits of a single episode. To a certain extent,
routine viewers of an episodic series watched in the secure
knowledge that, whenever something drastic happened to a
regular character like Lucy Ricardo or James T. Kirk in the
middle of an episode, it would be reversed by the end of the
episode and the characters would end up in the same general
narrative situation that they began in. . . . The individual
episodes of an episodic series tends to have a circular feel to
them, always returning back to their given comedic or
dramatic 'situation' . . . . in an episodic series, narrative
change is minimized . . ." (Dolan). Each episode tells an
independent, discrete, stand-alone story that adds little or
nothing to the cumulative memory of the show over
                                                 Television Glossary
fan fiction: Stories written by viewers (and often
posted on the web) which make use of a television’s
show’s characters in new, sometimes improbable
situations. See also slash fan fiction.

                                        Television Glossary
Executive Producer: The
title customarily held by
a series’ showrunner.
Although the credits
may list several Eps, the
last named is usually the
person in charge.

                            Television Glossary
fan-scholar. Matt Hills' term (Fan Cultures) for a fan
whose interest/enthusiasm for the work he/she
obsessively follow exhibits the kind of academic
rigor ordinarily expected of an academic scholar. See
also scholar-fan.

                                          Television Glossary
Finales—seasons, series.

                           Television Glossary
flashforward: Jum
ping ahead to
events which will
happen in the
diegesis' future

       Television Glossary
flashback Jumping backward in time to an event
that transpired before the story's current diegesis.

                                           Television Glossary
flexi-narrative. The last two decades of television have seen
the spread of what Robin Nelson terms a “flexi-narrative,” a
“hybrid mix of serial and series forms . . . mixtures of the
series and the serial form, involving the closure of one story
arc within an episode (like a series) but with other, ongoing
story arcs involving the regular characters (like a serial)” (82).
The widespread appeal of the flexi-narrative is not difficult to
understand, for it “maximises the pleasures of both regular
viewers who watch from week to week and get hooked by
the serial narratives and the occasional viewers who happen
to tune into one episode seeking the satisfaction of narrative
closure within that episode” (Nelson 82).

                                                    Television Glossary
flow: Raymond Williams’ designation for the overall
system of television--"the defining characteristic of
broadcasting, simultaneously as a technology and as
a cultural form" [Wikipedia]. We do not just watch
programs, Williams argued; we watch television as a

                                          Television Glossary
homage. A spoof, "send-up" of another work of art,
usually done in admiration of the original rather
than for purposes of ridicule.

                                        Television Glossary
iconography: Patterns, continuous over time, of
visual imagery or symbols, of recurrent objects and
figures, representative of a particular institution,
system, genre. A given religion, for example, has its
own iconography, but so too does, say, a Western

                                           Television Glossary
interpretive community: The idea, pioneered by
Stanley Fish, that "[s]imilar readings are produced . .
. because similarly located readers learn a similar set
of reading strategies and interpretive codes which
they bring to bear upon the texts they encounter"

                                           Television Glossary
intertextual: The tendency--typical of
postmodernism--of texts not merely to allude to
other texts but to depend upon the similarities,
differences, and contrasts between texts in order to
establish their own signification. "Intertextuality
should not be, but frequently is, used to refer to the
intentional allusion (overt or covert) to, citation or
quotation of previous texts in literary texts" [The
Literary Encyclopedia].

                                           Television Glossary
                                         Television Glossary
jumping the shark: The "defining
moment" when a television program
"has reached its peak" and begins to
go downhill. Named after a moment
in Happy Days when its most
memorable character (The Fonz)
takes part in a shark jumping contest.
See the Jump the Shark website:
least objectionable programming (LOP): The old
school notion that a television program capable of
retaining a viewer’s apathetic attention; one not
likely to be surfed away from.

                                         Television Glossary
lifeys. Neal Gabler's term (in Life, the
Movie: How Entertainment
Conquered Reality) for those
entertainments (the Simpson trial,
the death of Princess Diana, the
impeachment trial of President
Clinton, etc.) "written in the medium
of life, projected on the screen of life,
and exhibited in the multiplexes of
the traditional media"; "the new
blockbusters that preoccupy the
traditional media and dominate the
national conversation for weeks,
sometimes months or even years at a
time" (5).
                                            Television Glossary
Mary Sue: in fan fiction, a character who represents
the identity of the author inserted into the story line
of a series. "Superstar," a Season Four episode of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is a perfect example.

                                           Television Glossary
megagenre: A large, all encompassing, umbrella
genre, having little or no distinct subject matter or
style or iconography or formulae. The megagenres
of television, for example, might be thought of as
drama, comedy, animation, reality television.

                                            Television Glossary
miniseries: A miniseries is a narrative drama designed to be
broadcast in a limited number of episodes. If the distinction
is maintained between "series" (describing a group of self-
contained episodes) and "serial" (a group of interconnected
episodes), the term "miniseries" is an acknowledged
misnomer, for the majority of broadcast material presented
in the genre is in fact produced in serial form. There are, of
course, exceptions. Boys from the Blackstuff (1982), for
example, consisted of five narratively independent, but
interlocking, episodes which culminate in a final resolution.
The miniseries may also be seen as an extended telefilm
divided into episodes" (Encyclopedia of Television). See
episodic serial.

                                                  Television Glossary
mise en scéne: All those aspects of a visual narrative
that pertain to arrangement of images in a frame.

                                          Television Glossary
mobisode: "[A] term first coined by Daniel Tibbets
then trademarked by his employer, Fox Broadcasting
Company, for a broadcast television episode
specially made for viewing on a mobile telephone
screen and usually of short duration (from one to
three minutes)" (Wikipedia). A new factor in multi-
platform storytelling.

                                        Television Glossary
montage: The often rapid juxtaposition of images,
cutting from one to another to create an effect.
Eisenstein believed it to be the essence of film art.

                                            Television Glossary
multi-platform (or cross-platform): Originally a
designation for software capable of running on
different operating systems, now refers as well to
media forms appearing on multiple media. Lost, for
example, is incarnated not just on television but in
books, videogames, board games, websites,
internet-based "alternative reality games," cell
phones, music CDs, and DVDs.

                                          Television Glossary
must-see TV: Phrase
created by NBC to
describe/market its
1990s Thursday night
lineup, which included
Seinfeld and ER.

                         Television Glossary
mythology: For Barthes, investigation into
the acquired connotative meanings of
cultural signs in order to divest them of
their acquired, taken-for-granted
meanings. For example, television,
though an object of wonder at the
beginning of its history, is now a
commonplace; its significance now so
caught up in the culture's semiotic system
that it is difficult to describe or explain. A
mythology of TV would seek to decode it,
to make its connotations again fresh and

                                                 Television Glossary
narrattee: The specified or unspecified person to
whom a narrator is supposedly speaking. May
include "the live studio audience" before which a
television show was filmed, the perfect listener (the
host of a talk show, the anchorman/woman to
whom reporters tell their tale), or the "laugh track"
which represents the audience's idealized response.

                                          Television Glossary
narrative redundancy: The tendency, common to
serial narratives like soap operas, to repeat/review
previous kernel events in the story.

                                          Television Glossary
narrative special effect: Jason Mittell's term for an
original form of storytelling--Lost's surprise
introduction of flash forwards, for example, or its
final season "flash sideways"--intended to provoke
buzz and generate fan involvement.

                                           Television Glossary
netlet: Any of the newer, smaller networks (UPN,
the WB, now the CW) which do not yet offer a full
schedule of daily programs.

                                         Television Glossary
niche audience: A carefully targeted demographic
with narrow interests likely to be attracted to a
particular kind of programming and easily targeted
by advertisers.

                                         Television Glossary
nighttime soap: Melodramas like Dallas (1978-1991)
and Dynasty (1981-1989) which attempted to
translate the previously daytime-only genre of the
soap opera into primetime.

                                       Television Glossary
non-synchronous sound: Sound that does not have
a visible source in the film's diegesis.

synchronous sound: Sound which seems to have a
source in the images on screen and in the film's

                                       Television Glossary
one-er: A long, unbroken take of a scene involving a
movie camera but no cutting, which shows the
unfolding action without interruption.

                                         Television Glossary
pastiche: Describes a work of art made up almost
entirely of assembled bits and pieces from other
works. According to Frederic Jamieson, the
characteristic form of expression in postmodernism.

                                        Television Glossary
pay-off: A satisfying return at a later point in the
story, offering some sort of closure, to a narrative
crux/conundrum introduced earlier.

                                            Television Glossary
pilot: "[A] sample episode of a television show,
[which] acts as a model for new programming which
may be chosen by networks for [future scheduling]"
(Encyclopedia of Television).

                                       Television Glossary
podcast: "[A] series of digital-media files . . .
distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds
for playback on portable media players and
computers" (Wikipedia). Many television shows
inspire their own official (Ron Moore's podcast
commentaries for each episode of Battlestar
Galactica for example) or unofficial/fan-produced

                                          Television Glossary
postmodernism: A cultural style or sensibility, a
response to and evolution from modernism, which
exhibits--indeed embraces--disunity, superficiality,
self-referential, intertextuality, parody, pastiche,
recombination, irony, indifference, discontinuity,
disrespect, alienation, meaninglessness.

                                          Television Glossary
previously on: A recollective montage, ordinarily
preceding the teaser and the credit sequence, of
moments from already aired episodes of a television
series relevant to the episode to follow, intended to
get viewers caught up on the narrative so far.

                                          Television Glossary
prime-time: The major, evening television viewing
hours, ordinarily 8-11 p.m., ET or 7-10 p.m., CT.

                                        Television Glossary
producer's medium: Characterization of television in
the 1970s and 80s, a period in which powerful
producers like Steven Bochco were seen as the
individuals primarily responsible for the creation of

                                          Television Glossary
producerly: John Fiske's designation
(Television Culture) for a text which
"does not produce a singular reading
subject but one that is involved in the
process of representation rather than
a victim of it," treating its "readers"
"as members of a semiotic democracy,
already equipped with the discursive
competencies to make meanings and
motivated by pleasure to want to
participate in the process" (95-96).

                                          Television Glossary
production values: The
quality (or lack thereof)
of the visuals, sound,
special effects, etc. of a
movie or television show-
-all those things that are
dependent on
technology, expertise,
and money.

                             Television Glossary
quality television: A new concept in 1970s
programming, often credited to Grant Tinker and
MTM Enterprises, that held that intelligent, well
written, sophisticated programs, not LOP, would be
most likely to retain viewers.

                                        Television Glossary
   Characteristics of
   Quality Television

“Preface”--“The Golden Age
of Television" to "Quality TV”
(Robert J. Thompson,
Television’s Second Golden
Age: From Hill Street Blues to
ER. New York: Continuum,

                                 Television Glossary
Robert J. Thompson’s Characteristics of Quality Television (1996)

1. Quality TV is best defined by what it is not. It is not
"regular" TV. The worst insult you could give to Barney
Rosenzweig, the executive producer of Cagney & Lacey,
was to tell him that his work was "too TV.” Twin Peaks was
universally praised by critics for being "unlike anything
we'd ever seen on television." In a medium long
considered artless, the only artful TV is that which isn't
like all the rest of it. Quality TV breaks rules. It may do
this by taking a traditional genre and transforming it, as
Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, and Moonlighting did to
the cop show, the doctor show, and the detective show,
respectively. Or it may defy standard generic parameters
and define new narrative territory heretofore unexplored
by television, as did thirtysomething and Twin Peaks.

                                                     Television Glossary
Robert J. Thompson’s Characteristics of Quality Television (1996)

2. Quality TV usually has a quality pedigree. Shows made
by artists whose reputations were made in other, classier
media, like film, are prime candidates. Furthermore,
directors of small art films have a better chance of making
quality TV than directors of blockbuster movies. John
Sayles's Shannon's Deal and David Lynch's Twin Peaks
both got the quality nod by most critics; Steven
Spielberg's SeaQuest DSV did not. As the genre developed
through the 1980s, a few creators who'd worked
exclusively in TV also became associated with this
designer label television. Since Hill Street Blues, for
example, any show with Steven Bochco's name on it is
presumed quality (NYPD Blue) until proven otherwise
(Capitol Critters). In all of these cases, the creators
usually insist upon and get a much greater degree of
independence from network influence than is typical in the
production process of commercial TV.
                                                     Television Glossary
Robert J. Thompson’s Characteristics of Quality Television (1996)

3. Quality TV attracts an audience with blue chip
demographics. The upscale, well-educated, urban-
dwelling, young viewers advertisers so desire to
reach tend to make up a much larger percentage of
the audience of these shows than of other kinds of

                                                     Television Glossary
Robert J. Thompson’s Characteristics of Quality Television (1996)

4. Desirable demographics notwithstanding, quality shows must
often undergo a noble struggle against profit-mongering networks
and non-appreciative audiences. The hottest battles between Art
and Commerce, between creative writer-producers and bottom-
line-conscious executives are often played out during the runs of
these series. With some obvious exceptions, these shows seldom
become blockbusters and their survival is often tenuous, at least
at the beginning. Their futures often hang in the balance between
network noblesse oblige (the renewing and promoting of a low-
rated show) and network stupidity (scheduling it in a deadly time
slot). When a quality show does become a hit, it is often after a
long struggle and some unusual circumstances. Hill Street Blues
reached the top twenty-five only after it won a record-breaking
batch of Emmy Awards; Cagney & Lacey was canceled three times
on the way to ratings respectability; NYPD Blue debuted strongly
after its forbidden language and nudity were reported in nearly
every paper in America and a handful of stations refused to air
the show.

                                                     Television Glossary
Robert J. Thompson’s Characteristics of Quality Television (1996)

5. Quality TV tends to have a large ensemble cast.
The variety of characters allows for a variety of
vlewpoints. Since multiple plots must usually be
employed to accommodate all of the characters.

                                                     Television Glossary
Robert J. Thompson’s Characteristics of Quality Television (1996)

6. Quality TV has a memory. Though it may or may
not be serialized in continuing story lines, these
shows tend to refer back to previous episodes.
Characters develop and change as the series goes
on. Events and details from previous episodes are
often used or referred to in subsequent episodes.

                                                     Television Glossary
Robert J. Thompson’s Characteristics of Quality Television (1996)

 7. Quality TV creates a new genre by mixing old
ones. When describing Northern Exposure's creolized
generic heritage, for example, Betsy Williams says
that while the show "is usually billed as a drama ... it
functions more as an hour-long ensemble comedy
with a slight nod to the medical franchise, another to
primetime melodrama, another to the fish-out-of-
water sitcom, and still another to the sixties'
“magicom.” All quality shows integrate comedy and
tragedy in a way Aristotle would never have

                                                     Television Glossary
Robert J. Thompson’s Characteristics of Quality Television (1996)

8. Quality TV tends to be literary and writer-based.
The writing is usually more complex than in other
types of programming.

                                                     Television Glossary
Robert J. Thompson’s Characteristics of Quality Television (1996)

9. Quality TV is self-conscious. Oblique allusions are
made to both high and popular culture, but mostly to
TV itself: Moonlighting, for example, could bury an
obscure reference to a play by Eugene O'Neill right
alongside a direct address to the camera about the
fact that Moonlighting had been airing a lot of reruns
lately. Both the classier cultural references and the
sly, knowing jabs at TV serve to distance these
programs from the stigmatized medium and to
announce that they are far superior to the typical
trash available on television.

                                                     Television Glossary
Robert J. Thompson’s Characteristics of Quality Television (1996)

10. The subject matter of quality TV tends toward
the controversial. St. Elsewhere presented the first
prime-time series story about AIDS, and other
quality series frequently included some of
television's earliest treatments of subjects like
abortion, homosexuals, racism, and religion, to
name a few. The overall message almost always
tends toward liberal humanism. So consistent have
these shows been in this regard that it is hard to
imagine a right-wing "quality TV" series. "Quality TV
is liberal TV," Jane Feuer making no bones about it,
wrote in MTM: Quality Television.

                                                     Television Glossary
Robert J. Thompson’s Characteristics of Quality Television (1996)

11. Quality TV aspires toward "realism."

                                                     Television Glossary
 Robert J. Thompson’s Characteristics of Quality Television (1996)

12. Series which exhibit the eleven characteristics listed above are usually
enthusiastically showered with awards and critical acclaim. Since the 1980-
1981 season, shows of the type described in this list have dominated the
best drama category for most major entertainment awards. Emmy Awards
for best drama went to Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law four times each,
Cagney & Lacey and Picket Fences twice, and thirtysomething and Northern
Exposure once each. Best Drama Golden Globes for the same period went
to Hill Street twice, L.A. Law twice, Northern Exposure twice, and
thirtysomething, China Beach, and Twin Peaks once each. Peabody Awards
went to Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, L.A. Law, thirtysomething, China
Beach, Twin Peaks, and Northern Exposure. The award for best dramatic
episode was given by the Writers' Guild of America three times to Hill
Street Blues and Moonlighting, twice to Cagney & Lacey and China Beach,
and once each to Miami Vice, St. Elsewhere, and thirtysomething. A survey
of college professors and TV critics conducted by the Siena Research
Institute in 1990 named Hill Street Blues the best television drama ever,
and when the editors of TV Guide compiled an "All Time Best TV" list in
1993, the all-time best drama went to St. Elsewhere and the all-time best
cop show to Hill Street Blues." When this author asked TV critics from the
388 largest circulation daily newspapers to name the best prime time TV
shows of all time, Hill Street Blues came out on top.

                                                              Television Glossary
 Characteristics of Quality
Television Revisited (2007)

Robert J. Thompson, “Preface” to
Quality TV (edited by Janet
McCabe and Kim Akass [London:
Tauris, 2007]).

                                   Television Glossary
  Characteristics of Quality Television Revisited (2007)

•Quality shows are no longer
“specialized offerings of the

                                                   Television Glossary
 Characteristics of Quality Television Revisited (2007)

The “quality TV aesthetic” has
spread “like a virus”

                                                  Television Glossary
Characteristics of Quality Television Revisited (2007)

Quality TV is now part of a
“massive repackaging strategy
across generic lines,” a
“retooling comparable to the
switchover to colour three
decades earlier”

                                                 Television Glossary
 Characteristics of Quality Television Revisited (2007)

Quality TV is now “a super-
genre, a formula unto itself”

                                                  Television Glossary
    Characteristics of Quality Television Revisited (2007)

Although cable television is now
seen as the “test kitchen” for
Quality TV, it followed the lead of
more experimental network
television in the 1990s.

                                                     Television Glossary
     Characteristics of Quality Television Revisited (2007)

“The precise definition of ‘quality TV’ was
elusive right from the start, though we
knew it when we saw it. These shows
were generic mongrels, often scrambling
and recombining traditional TV formulas
in unexpected ways; they had literary and
cinematic ambitions beyond what we had
seen before, and they employed complex
and sophisticated serialized narratives
and inter-series ‘mythologies.’ Back in
the 1980s we breathlessly celebrated
these new aesthetic approaches and
challenges being taken on by a medium
that had changed very little since the
1950s. But by the century’s end, these
innovations had become formulas.”

                                                      Television Glossary
RCD: A remote control
device, any gadget used to
control a television set (or
other electronic device) at a
surfing: Using an RCD to move back
and forth across the cable spectrum
looking for something of interest.
Sometimes called grazing.

zap: To skip past segments (usually
commercials) of a recorded television

zip: To move rapidly through a
recorded television program.

                  Television Glossary
readerly: Roland Barthes’
designation for a "text"
requiring the active
participation of the reader
in the “production” of
uncertain meaning.

             Television Glossary
reality television/reality programming: any
program which makes use of real people as
performers in (usually) contrived situations or

                                          Television Glossary
programming: Todd
Gitlin's term (Inside
Primetime) for the
production of a
television program by
together other,
existing forms.

                        Television Glossary
scholar-fan. Matt Hills' term (Fan Cultures) for an
academic whose interest/enthusiam for the shows
he/she investigates exhibit certain fannish
behaviors. See also fan-scholar.

                                          Television Glossary
season: A single "year" of a television show or series, ordinarily
stretching, in the US, from September to May. In the UK and
elsewhere abroad, known as "series.”

                                                    Television Glossary
self-referentiality: The tendency of a work of art to
become self-conscious, to call attention to itself--its
conventions, structure, signification--as part of its
own discourse.

                                            Television Glossary
sequential series: Once the continuous serial broke
free from its daytime prison, migrating to prime-
time first in the form of night-time soaps lik e Dallas,
the sequential series was born: television schedules
were quickly populated by shows “that, had they
been made a decade earlier, would almost certainly
have been constructed in almost purely episodic
terms,” series which “could very often not be shown
in an order other than their original one, since
events in one episode clearly led to events in
another” (Dolan).

                                            Television Glossary
serial: "[A]ny narrative with an open-ended story"
(Dolan). Linear, as opposed to the episodic series’
inherent circularity, the continuous serial makes
narrative change its raison d’etre.

                                          Television Glossary
showrunner: The mastermind, answerable both to the
controlling network or production company and to the
production team, from directors of photography to writers
and directors, in charge of the overall daily management of a
television series.

                                                Television Glossary
sitcom: A television-specific form of comedy in which the
main characters (often members of an ensemble cast)
become involved in a "situation" or situations from
which they will be extricated by the end of the episode.

                                           Television Glossary
(NBC, 1989-1998)

  Television Glossary
The Sitcom
A comedic television genre
(originating in radio), ordinarily 30
minutes in length, in which a
group of characters, related by
family, a workplace, or as friends,
exhibiting little or no development     Sitcom Traits
as individuals, encounters and           Exportable and seemingly
seeks to resolve on a weekly basis      universal in appeal;
a situation (or situations) in which
                                          Tolerant of commercial
they find themselves embroiled.         interruptions;
Sitcoms on American television are
often accompanied by laugh                Dependent on gags, slapstick, and
                                         Episodic but customarily without
                                         Often the site of controversy

                                                          Television Glossary
Type of Sitcom    Example(s)
Workplace         Mary Tyler Moore, The
                  Office, 30 Rock

Family            The Simpsons, Modern

Friend Familes    Seinfeld, Friends, How I Met
                  Your Mother

Unruly Woman      Roseanne
Gay and Lesbian   Will & Grace
                                   Television Glossary
Seinfeld and the Sitcom

 •Originally rejected by NBC chief
 Brandon Tartikoff as “too New
 York, too Jewish”

 •A show about nothing.

 •Sought to always override
 normal sitcom conventions.

 •Governed by the motto: “no
 hugging, no learning.”

      Television Glossary
“Seinfeld was not really about how
evil humanity is, though it's about
that to some extent. The show is
really about the joy of charting, in
exquisite, unrelenting, almost
celebratory detail, the infinitely
variegated human interactions that,
closely watched, will ultimately tell
the story of the disintegration of our
--Bill Wyman,

                                         Television Glossary
“What relief to encounter comedy which
does not mistake itself for anything else.
Its characters are free to start from zero
each time, free to indulge the marvelous
shallowness which is the privilege of the
creatures of farce. Nothing counts here,
nothing has consequences: as one of the
show’s writers (Larry Charles in
Entertainment Weekly) has observed, the
crucial guideline is that the characters do
not learn from experience and never
move beyond what they intrinsically and
eternally are.”
--Geoffrey O’Brien, “The Republic of
                                              Television Glossary
slash fan fiction: Fan fiction which links together, usually in
sexual situations, pairs of characters who are not so involved
in the diegesis. In slash fan fiction, Mulder and Skinner might
become lovers, or Spock and Kirk.

                    Buffyverse Slashes
    Fan Name                   Slashes:
    Spuffy                     Spike and Buffy
    Gawn                       Giles and Dawn
    Ganya                      Giles and Anya
    Spander                    Spike and Xander
    Clawn                      Clem and Dawn
    Spangel                    Spike and Angel
    Buffilow                   Buffy and Willow
    Fangel                     Faith and Angel

                                                  Television Glossary
soap opera: “The term “soap opera’ was coined by the American press in
the 1930s to denote the extraordinarily popular genre of serialized
domestic radio dramas, which, by 1940, represented some 90% of all
commercially-sponsored daytime broadcast hours. The ‘soap’ in soap
opera alluded to their sponsorship by manufacturers of household
cleaning products; while ‘opera’ suggested an ironic incongruity between
the domestic narrative concerns of the daytime serial and the most
elevated of dramatic forms. In the United States, the term continues to
be applied primarily to the approximately fifty hours each week of
daytime serial television drama broadcast by ABC, NBC, and CBS, but the
meanings of the term, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, exceed this generic
designation.”—Robert C. Allen, The Encyclopedia of Television

Existing contemporaneously with the episodic series, ghettoized,
however, in the very different mediacosmos of daytime television,
continuous serials told stories that “were by contrast, deliberately left
hanging at the end of each episode; nearly all plots initiated in a
continuous serial were designed to be infinitely continued and extended”
(33)—Marc Dolan
                                                           Television Glossary
spec script: A script, customarily for a different
show, submitted as part of an application to become
a member of the writing staff for a television show.

     Television Glossary
spin-off: "The spin-off is a television programming
strategy that constructs new programs around
characters appearing in programs already being
broadcast. In some cases the new venue is created
for a familiar, regular character in the existing series
(e. g. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. from The Andy Griffith
Show). In others, the existing series merely serves as
an introduction to and promotion for, a completely
new program (Mork & Mindy, from Happy Days)"
(Encyclopedia of Television).

                                            Television Glossary
Significant Spin-Offs
From All in the Family (1971–1979)
Maude (1972–1978)
Good Times (1974–1979)
The Jeffersons (1975–1985)
Checking In (1981)
Archie Bunker's Place (1979–1983)
Gloria (1982–1983)

From Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009)

From Buffy the Vampire Slayer

From Cannon
Barnaby Jones

                                        Television Glossary
Significant Spin-Offs
From The Carol Burnett Show
Mama's Family

From Cheers (1982–1993)
The Tortellis
Frasier (1993–2004)

From The Cosby Show (1984–1992)
A Different World (1987–1993)

From CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (since 2000)
CSI: Miami (since 2002)
CSI: NY (since 2004)
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
The Colbert Report

From Dallas (1978–1991)
Knots Landing (1979–1993)
                                                   Television Glossary
Significant Spin-Offs
 From Doctor Who (1963–1989, 1996, 2005– )
K-9 and Company (1981)
Torchwood (2006–2009)
The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-)
K-9 (2009, 2010-)

From Dragnet

From Grey's Anatomy
Private Practice

From Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
Xena: Warrior Princess

From JAG (1995–2005)
NCIS (2003-)
NCIS: Los Angeles (2009-)
                                             Television Glossary
Significant Spin-Offs
From Law & Order (1990–2010)
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999– )
Conviction (2006)
Law & Order: Los Angeles (2010– )
Deadline (2000–2001)
Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001– )
Crime & Punishment (2002–2004)
Law & Order: Trial by Jury (2005)
Paris enquêtes criminelles (2007– ) — an adaptation of Criminal Intent
Law & Order: UK (2009– )

From Life on Mars (2006–2007)
Ashes to Ashes (2008–2010)

From Beavis and Butt-head

                                                                Television Glossary
Significant Spin-Offs
The Andy Griffith Show (1960–1968)
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964–1969)
Mayberry R.F.D.."(1968–1971)

From The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977)
Lou Grant (1977–1982)
Phyllis (1975–1977)
Rhoda (1974–1978)

From M*A*S*H (1972–1983)
Trapper John M.D. (1979–1986) (legally a spin-off
From the M*A*S*H film; see article)

From The Practice
Boston Legal

From The Six Million Dollar Man
The Bionic Woman
                                                    Television Glossary
Significant Spin-Offs
From Soap (1977–1981)
Benson (1979–1986)

From Star Trek (1966–1969)
Star Trek (1973–1974) – animated series
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999)
Star Trek: Voyager (1994–2001)
Enterprise (renamed Star Trek: Enterprise in Season 3) (2001–2005)

From Stargate SG-1
Stargate Infinity | Stargate Atlantis | Stargate Universe

From The Tracey Ullman Show (1987–1990)
The Simpsons (1989– )

From The X-Files (1993–2002)
The Lone Gunmen
Millennium                                                     Television Glossary
spoiler: Information, avidly sought by some fans,
available in advance of airing, about narrative
developments in an ongoing story.

From The Laverytory, Friday, February 23, 2007


As one long intrigued by spoilers—I am by
inclination a “spoiler whore” (see Emily Nussbaum,
“Must See Metaphysics” [New York Times 22
September 2002])--I found the following query on the
Television Without Pity website intriguing. (For the
uninitiated a “spoiler” is advance knowledge of an
upcoming development in a narrative, especially a
television series. If, before it airs, I find out that on an
upcoming episode of Lost Claire is going to die as
the result of boredom, that would be a spoiler.)               Television Glossary
spoiler: Information, avidly sought by some fans, available in advance of
airing, about narrative developments in an ongoing story.

From The Laverytory, Friday, February 23, 2007

    TWoP asks: “Have you been boning up on your Tacitus to try to
    anticipate Rome spoilers?”

Spoilers are customarily acquired by other means—visiting spoiler sites on
the web, for example, or reading Michael Ausiello’s column for TV Guide—
than delving into the works of a great Roman historian. The future course
of Veronica Mars or Grey’s Anatomy or Battlestar Galactica is not set in
stone. The writers of such series need not worry about continuity with the
historical record as they come up with a way to write Dr. Preston Burke out
of the story (and the homophobic Isiah Washington off the headlines). But
when the show’s main characters are Julius Caesar and Octavian and
Marc Antony, the narrative is, within limits, proscribed. If, in the final
episode of Rome’s first season, J. C. had fended off his assassins, Brutus
and all, and remained emperor, now that would have been a spoiler of an
entirely different kind.
                                                                 Television Glossary
spoiler whore: A fan who actively seeks out and/or
propagates spoilers.

                                        Television Glossary
super-narrator: The voice, usually, speaking for the
network and outside any particular program, whose
voice-over gives us directions about "staying tuned.”

                                          Television Glossary
syndication: "[T]he practice of selling rights to the
presentation of television programs, especially to
more than one customer such as a television station,
a cable channel, or a programming service such as a
national broadcasting system" (Encyclopedia of

                                          Television Glossary
tabloid television: Any exploitative program, usually
in the form of a talk show, dealing with sensational
subject matter.

                                          Television Glossary
target audience: The demographic group a studio
and its marketers presume will show up for a certain

                                         Television Glossary
tease/teaser: The opening segment of a television
episode, customarily coming after the previously on
and before the credit sequence, offering an
introduction to/setup for the story to follow.

                                         Television Glossary
telephilia: A love for television.

                                     Television Glossary
television culture: Culture
(high and low) created and
sustained by television’s
circulatory system.

                              Television Glossary
Television Genres

                    Television Glossary
Television Genres
       Action       Animation     Children’s     Cop Shows
      Costume      Documentary     Drama         Educational
       Drama                                    Programming
     Fantasy TV    Game Shows    Infotainment      Lifeys
     Made for TV     Medical      Miniseries       News
     Procedural     Reality TV      Sci-Fi      Soap Operas
       Sports       Talk Shows   Telenovelas     Westerns

                                                    Television Glossary
voice-over: When the voice of one of the characters
speaks over the narrative on the sound-track,
helping to tell the story. Dexter, for example, uses
frequent voice-over, as does Desperate Housewives.

                                         Television Glossary
water cooler show: A program which is likely to be
talked about in public, generating buzz, after its

                                         Television Glossary
webisode: "[A]n episode of a television show that
airs initially as an Internet download or stream as
opposed to first airing on broadcast or cable
television" (Wikipedia). A new factor in multi-
platform storytelling.

                                          Television Glossary
WGA: "The Writer's Guild Of America (WGA)
founded in 1912 is the official trade union and
collective bargaining unit for writers in the film and
television industries and actively monitors working
conditions for writers" (Encyclopedia of Television).

                                           Television Glossary
writerly: Roland Barthes’
designation for a traditional
"text" with conventional,
seemingly fixed meanings.

                                Television Glossary
writers room: The inner
sanctum where the
writing staff of a
television series
collaboratively creates
episodes, arcs, and

                          Television Glossary

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