Summer exam unit 322
Moving image paper
Exam study topic: Television Comedy
Requirements: you need to be able to use evidence from at least two
texts (comedy programmes) that you have studied in detail to answer two
questions about audiences and institutions.
We are studying
• Miranda (BBC)
• QI (BBC)
• The Inbetweeners (E4)
• 8 out of 10 cats (C4)
We will study one specific example of each series – the evidence you
record in the booklet will give you the information to answer the exam
questions so keep it carefully.
You should be prepared to:
• Contrast two texts or discuss one text in more detail using Media Key
• Explain why these channels/stations have chosen these texts to fit their
• Explain why these channels/stations have scheduled these texts on
certain times and days
- Discuss how these texts address their audiences, the nature of these
audiences and the pleasures that are offered by these texts.
The focus for the Questions is clear
4a – requires you to talk about Institutions and Scheduling
(showing the ability to explain, with evidence and understanding, how the
organisers of channels/broadcasters and programmes develop a
recognisable style and target an audience through scheduling times and
locations. You will need to use relevant media language and quote
theories about broadcasting / audience & institutions
4b – requires you to talk about Audience and Audience Generic
(showing the ability to explain – using the 4 texts for evidence and
examples of your understanding – how different audiences respond to
different media texts and how/why they enjoy them. You will need to use
relevant media language and quote theories of audience/ representation
Comedy Show title: MIRANDA: series 1 episode 2.
Broadcaster: BBC 2-later aired on BBC1.
- Genre: Comedy > sitcom
- Duration: 30 minutes
- Timing: 21.00hr
- Day: Tuesday 6th July 2010 (most recent)
Miranda - Miranda Hart
Penny - Patricia Hodge
Stevie - Sarah Hadland
Gary - Tom Ellis
Clive - James Holmes
Mr Clayton - Peter Davison
Director - Juliet May
Producer - Nerys Evans
Miranda is rather British when it comes to sex, or shenanigans as she likes to call it. Trying to overcome her
hang-ups she decides the way forward with Gary would be to create a romantic moment so he'll see her in
a sexual light.
Stevie persuades her to join an evening class to learn French, the language of love. She goes, only to
discover it's run by her old school teacher Mr Clayton, who Stevie then starts dating, much to Miranda's
Miranda then thinks that a tango class would be more romantic for her and Gary, but again things don't
quite go to plan.
Comedy Show title: The InBetweeners : series 1 episode 1.
- Genre: Comedy > sitcom
Will – Simon Bird
Simon - Joe Thomas
Jay- James Buckley
Neil – Blake Harrison.
What’s on the mind of the average sixth-form boy? College, jobs, marriage, that whole bright and exciting
future thing? Or the humpability of anything female in sight?
For Will, Simon, Jay and Neil, it’s humpability all the way.
Marooned in suburbia, The Inbetweeners follows four friends as they navigate the minefield of the
Comprehensive education with their hormones at full blast….The Inbetweeners delves into the psyche of
the British teenage boy and discovers equal amounts of porn, sick and cheap lager.
Source (http://www.e4.com/inbetweeners/about.html )
Episode synopsis – wriiten as a blog entry by mum.
It was a big day in the McKenzie household today – William started his new school. Now it might not be as
fancy as his old school, but it’s much more, i suppose you’d call it, ‘mixed’. And not just in ability but in
income too. I think he was bullied quite badly at his last place; he once came back with his underpants
wedged really quite far up his backside, and once we’d got them out it took three washes to get them clean.
You can watch the series at http://www.seesaw.com/TV/Comedy/p-4663-The-Inbetweeners
Comedy Show title: Qi
Broadcaster: BBC2 then BBC1
- Genre: Comedy > Quiz show/panel show
- Duration: 29 minutes
- Timing: evenings
- Day: various
Stephen Fry, Alan Davies and various guests.
Comedy quiz show full of quirky facts, in which contestants are rewarded more if their answers are 'quite
Source (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006ml0g )
Comedy Show title: 8 out of 10 cats
Broadcaster: Channel 4
- Genre: Comedy > panel show.
- Duration: 37 minutes
- Timing: 10pm.
- Day: Friday 15th October 2010
- Audience -
presenter Jimmy Carr, team captains: Sean Lock & Jason Manford. Various weekly guests.
Jimmy Carr plays host with team captains
Sean Lock and Jason Manford,
plus celebrity guests Carol Vorderman,
Myleene Klass, Russell Kane and Rufus Hound
in a topical and irreverent panel show.
Contains strong language and adult humour.
AUDIENCE THEORY: TELEVISION CONSUMPTION AND VIEWING
INSTRUMENTS COMPLETE THE CHART BELOW.
METHOD Programmes watched and reason for watching this way
me An adult (specify)
Television in a
Television in my
Streamed via the
On a hand-held
On DVD, multiple
Please note any patterns for viewing in this space
What is a media institution??
Below is a list of media institutions. They are all involved in the ‘work’ of media
BBC Channel 4
The Guardian The Eastern Daily Press
Creation Records EMI
TimeWarner Warp Studios
Heart FM Radio 1
Loaded The Big Issue
In pairs or groups of three
1 outline the type of media work each of these institutions does
2 Draw up a list of similarities and differences between each pair of
Institutions as they appear in the list
3 Present the information for sharing with the class
Your list will need to show that you have considered the following
The size and scale of the institution
The motivation or ‘ethos behind the institution
The working relationships of chain of command in the institution
The type of media products or texts they produce
The intended target audience
The method of distribution / scheduling or exhibition
The following sites may help you in the research:
UNDERSTANDING INSTITUTIONS:PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING
The Broadcasting Research Unit (1985) defined public service broadcasting (PSB) in
terms of eight key principles;
1. Broadcasts should be available to everyone no matter where they live in Britain
2. Across a weekly television schedule programmes should cater for all tastes and
3. Across a weekly television schedule programmes should cater for the needs of
minority groups (especially those groups most disadvantaged in society)
4. Programming should reflect the national identity and the sense of community
of the ‘host’ nation
5. Governors, broadcasters and programme makers should be free from outside
interference and other vested interests, particularity the government.
Impartiality is a key element
6. One main broadcast institution should be funded by ‘the corporation’, or in the
case of the BBC; funding should (continue) to be provided by the licence fee
7. Programme guidelines should be ones which liberate the programme makers-
they should be catalysts for creativity and programming innovation
8. The drive behind programming and scheduling should be the drive for good
programming rather than the highest ratings.
Task; working in pairs
Decades have passed since PSB was defined in these terms.
1 Take each principle in turn and discuss to what extent it remains true for
today’s television programming
2 Rearrange the principles in the order of importance you think they have
3 Make notes on any new principles you think should be added to the list/delete
any you think are no longer relevant.
4 Write your own 10 key principles that would apply to broadcasting today,
remember to consider on-demand services and the role of the new digital ways
of accessing television services in the year 2011.
5 Present your new principles to the rest of the class and be prepared to defend
your ideas in terms of audience, industry and legality.
RESEARCHING AUDIENCE & CONSUMPTION OF TV: THE PUBLIC IN PROGRAMMES
Activity 1: audience research
Study a week’s television listings for the five main channels plus three cable or satellite channels.
Produce a chart showing the following for each channel:
o The number of hours per day, channel dedicated to comedy television
o The scheduling bands comedy programmes are scheduled in.
o The number of repeats
o The target audience for each channel / scheduled timeslot / programme
Using the chart for reference summarise (if it is possible) who the target audience are for each
channel – provide evidence of patterns
Activity 2: audience research part b.
Using the same information/week produce a chart showing the following for each channel
o Programmes with audience participation in the programmes itself
o Programmes with ancillary material for the audience in the form of
Related products to buy
Linked Internet sites
Audience participation outside broadcasting hours
Using the above information try to identify a rank order for the channels showing the proportion
of interactive participation for the audience
Is there a pattern? – what conclusions can you draw from the results?
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AUDIENCE THEORY: Uses and Gratifications
THE GENERIC PLEASURES OF WATCHING COMEDY ON TV.
One concept in media theory is referred to as 'uses and gratifications'
This approach focuses on why people use particular media, 'whatdo people do with media'.
Does television content serve or create audience needs? In some ways the theory argues
that watching TV is a partnership between makers and users. Do we laugh at what comedy
shows contain (clever writers surprising us with funnies) – or is it written to make us laugh
(creating a style of humour in order to create an audience) – kind of a chicken and egg
The same TV programme may gratify different needs for different individuals. Different needs
are associated with individual personalities, stages of maturation, backgrounds and social
Denis McQuail (1987: 73) proposes the following typology of common reasons for media use:
finding out about relevant events and conditions in immediate surroundings, society
and the world
seeking advice on practical matters or opinion and decision choices
satisfying curiosity and general interest
gaining a sense of security through knowledge
finding reinforcement for personal values
finding models of behaviour
identifying with valued other (in the media)
gaining insight into one's self
Integration and Social Interaction
gaining insight into circumstances of others; social empathy
identifying with others and gaining a sense of belonging
finding a basis for conversation and social interaction
having a substitute for real-life companionship
helping to carry out social roles
enabling one to connect with family, friends and society
escaping, or being diverted, from problems
getting intrinsic cultural or aesthetic enjoyment
I think that we all bring different approaches to the television each time we use it. All this
‘baggage’ helps shape how we use television and what we expect to get out of it. Including
some or all of following:
age / gender / heritage
education / social status
state of mind/day
beliefs / culture
viewing habits and expectations
boredom may encourage a choice of exciting content
stress encourages a choice of relaxing content. (Zillmann (cited by McQuail 1987: 236)
James Lull (1990: 35-46) offered a different way of coding/grouping the social uses of
television based on ethnographic research.
Social Uses of Television
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Environmental: background noise; companionship; entertainment
Regulative: punctuation of time and activity; talk patterns
Communication Facilitation: Experience illustration; common ground;
conversational entrance; anxiety reduction; agenda for talk; value clarification
Affiliation/Avoidance: Physical, verbal contact/neglect; family solidarity; family
relaxant; conflict reduction; relationhip maintenance
Social Learning: Decision-making; behaviour modelling; problem-solving; value
transmission; legitimization; information dissemination; substitute schooling
Competence/Dominance: Role enactment; role reinforcement; substitute role
portrayal; intellectual validation; authority exercise; gatekeeping; argument facilitation
(Lull 1990: 36)
Finally – how does this relate to a specific such as: Watching TV Quiz/comedy
McQuail, Blumler and Brown (1972) offered the following summary of clusters of 'uses' that
people made of TV quizzes:
Gratifications of TV Quiz Shows: Selected Responses
I can compare myself with the experts
I like to imagine that I am on the programme and doing well
I feel pleased that the side I favour has actually won
I am reminded of when I was in school
I laugh at the contestants’ mistakes
Basis for Social Interaction
I look forward to talking about it with others
I like competing with other people watching with me
I like working together with the family on the answers
The children get a lot out of it
It brings the family together sharing the same interest
It is a topic of conversation afterwards
I like the excitement of a close finish
I like to forget my worries for a while
I like trying to guess the winner
Having got the answer right I feel really good
I get involved in the competition
I find I know more than I thought
I find I have improved myself
I feel respect for the people on the programme
I think over some of the questions afterwards
(McQuail, Blumler & Brown 1972)
McQuail et al. noted that: Social class seemed to be related to gratifications
Most of those who watched quiz programmes for 'self-rating' gratifications lived in
council houses and were working-class.
'Excitement' was most commonly reported as a gratification by working-class viewers
who were not very sociable.
Those who reported 'educational appeal' as the major gratification were those who
had left school at the minimum age.
In contrast, people who reported having many acquaintances in their neighbourhood
tended to see the quizzes as a basis for social interaction.
Sourced from: Daniel Chandler/online at http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/
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Evidence and explanation of how and why Which users and gratifications theories
people watch it (generic pleasures) – carry could the broadcaster / programmers use
out some research into viewing habits and to support the need to schedule it
8 out of 10 cats record your findings here
What factors do the programming schedulers need to take into account when deciding on
airing these 4 programmes
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Hideously middle class: Privately educated BBC controller says it makes too
many sitcoms about well-off families and needs more 'blue collar' shows
By Lara Gould 23rd January 2011
Man on a mission: BBC One chief Danny Cohen says the channel makes too many programmes about
well-off middle class families He's the privately educated Oxford graduate now running BBC1.
But the channel’s new controller Danny Cohen, who lives in North London with his fiancee – an
academic and economist – has decided the Corporation has become too obsessed with the middle
class. And the 36-year-old, who takes home a salary of around £250,000 a year, has vowed to do
something about it – by ordering more ‘blue collar’ programmes to cater for the working class. Mr
Cohen, who presides over a budget of £1.3 billion, has been carrying out an in-depth consultation of
the state of the channel since he was promoted from BBC Three – where he was behind programmes
including Snog, Marry, Avoid and How Drugs Work.
A source says Mr Cohen – appointed to replace outgoing controller Jay Hunt last year – feels the
channel’s output doesn’t reflect the lives of ordinary working people.
He says Mr Cohen believes the channel is relying too heavily on middle class stereotypes and is losing
touch with viewers outside that group.
The findings echo former BBC Director General Greg Dyke’s controversial comments in 2001 that the
corporation was ‘hideously white’.
Now Mr Cohen wants to see the commissioning of more comedies such as Bread, which followed the
working class Boswell family in their Liverpool terrace home, and Birds Of A Feather, about two sisters
living in Chigwell, Essex, whose husbands were in prison.
The source said: ‘Danny is not reinventing the wheel. But he feels the BBC has lost its variety and
become too focused on formats about comfortable, well-off middle-class families whose lives are
perhaps more reflective of BBC staff than viewers in other parts of the UK.
‘One of his priorities is getting more programming that reflects the different social classes and what he
describes as ‘blue collar’ comedies. In the past, programmes like Porridge, Birds Of A Feather and
Bread were about real working families and the workings of their lives.
‘And series like Only Fools And Horses and Steptoe And Son were an affectionate portrayal of working-
‘Danny is conscious that there are no programmes like that on BBC1 at the moment and is making it a
priority to change that.’
Days numbered?: Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner with the children from outnumbered which is set in
Chiswick, an affluent part of West London
Sources say Mr Cohen has singled out programmes like the BAFTA-nominated series Outnumbered and
long-running sitcom My Family as symptomatic of the problem.
Outnumbered – set in an affluent South London borough – has been described by critics as ‘exquisitely
middle class’. It stars Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner as put-upon parents Pete and Sue Brockman – a
teacher and a part-time personal assistant – who are ‘outnumbered’ by their three unruly children.
They live in an imposing Victorian terrace house set in fictional Limebridge but the show is filmed on
location in Wandsworth, South West London.
My Family, set in leafy Chiswick, West London, stars Robert Lindsay as dentist Ben Harper and Zoe
¬Wanamaker as his wife Susan, a mother of three who works in an art gallery and has an MBE for
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Popular: Ronnie Barker In a scene from the 'Porridge', the type of sitcom that Mr Cohen would like to
see more of
Classics: David Jason and Co in the Eighties comedy Only Fools And Horses which follows 'Del Boy' and
Rodney as they struggle to make a living
Hard times: Diana Dors, Wilfred Brambell and Harry H Corbett in Steptoe and Son, which followed the
lives of two rag and bone men
Yesterday Jimmy Perry, co-writer of BBC’s wartime favourite Dad’s Army and Hi-de-Hi, said
programmes shouldn’t be categorised by class.
‘In a room full of people there are all sorts. You can’t say, you watch this and you watch that. You can’t
tell people what to watch and what to like. You can’t lay down orders.
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JEREMY LLOYD: Blue collar comedy?
How patronising, foolish and old-
By Jeremy Lloyd 24th January 2011
A producer friend of mine recently sent the BBC a script for a new comedy I have written called Care Of
The Savoy. It’s about two businessmen rather down on their luck thanks to the credit crunch.
Once regular guests at the Savoy Hotel, they have been reduced to living in cardboard boxes by the
tradesman’s entrance where they are looked after by staff who remember them from better-off days.
They had been very good tippers.
Word came back that the BBC executives had found it funny, which was gratifying, but that it was not
‘blue collar enough’, which was both disappointing and puzzling. I had never heard of blue collar
The good old days: David Jason and Co in the Eighties comedy Only Fools And Horses
Now, though, I am starting to understand. According to information leaked to The Mail on Sunday, the
new BBC1 controller, Danny Cohen, is worried that the Corporation and its comedy are ‘too middle
He believes the current offerings, including shows such as My Family and the sharply observed
Outnumbered, do not reflect the country as a whole, especially in the current austere climate.
As a result, he is launching a drive for comedy that he believes will reflect ordinary life – shows such as
Bread or Birds Of A Feather.
Don’t get me wrong, both programmes were fantastic and deserved their
success. But they were successful because they were funny, not because they focused on a certain
class or section of society.
Danny Cohen is missing the point. Comedy is not about the differences between us – rather it is the
glue that holds us all together.
Someone with money can laugh at the same things as someone without it. We can all enjoy watching
Mrs Bouquet, a woman constantly trying to be better than she is in Keeping Up Appearances, just as
we can all appreciate the Royles, a family conspicuously short of social airs or graces.
In the same way, we can laugh at Yes Minister just as loudly as we laugh at Only Fools And Horses.
They are shows that can be enjoyed by everyone.
The definition of a good comedy is quite simple. It relies on good writing, good acting and a good ear
Experience and observation help, of course. When I wrote Are You Being Served?, it was based on the
three years I spent working at Simpsons, the grand department store in Piccadilly.
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1. Read these articles carefully – try to identify what is fact and what is opinion. In the space
below make some notes on what you think the two writers think of the comedy programming
the BBC provides now.
2. Sum up in two sentences what are the conventions of BBC comedy programmes based on the
a. My Family
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20 March 2011
Writing TV Situation Comedy
Situation comedy is a dramatic form, which means that a script must tell a story. Philip Larkin
put it neatly when he said a satisfying story had a beginning, a muddle and an end. New writers
often start at A and get to Z in a straight line. The muddle in the middle is what makes a story
It is useful to think of organising a story in three acts. The first act (from three to five pages of
a 30-minute script) sets up the major story of the episode, and introduces the major sub-plot.
The final act (again, three to five pages) resolves both main plot and sub-plot. The middle act
develops the narrative but, around halfway through the script, pushes things off into an
unexpected direction. The audience should always want to know what is going to happen next,
and be intrigued.
Involvement in a story depends on the characters through whom it is told. Whether the
characters are heightened a lot or a little, they need to be recognisably human, behave in ways
that people behave in life rather than in an artificial sitcom world, have personalities which will
generate comic conflict and disagreement, and have tones of voice which are immediately and
When planning a new idea, the characters should come first and if they are the right
characters they will arrive with their world attached. Don't say: "Estate agents (or libraries, or
dating agencies or undertakers) are funny, so I'll set a comedy in that world and then people it."
Think about the people first, give them histories, test them out in different situations where
they are under pressure and see how they react, think about what makes them happy or scared
or angry, write monologues for each character in that character's tone of voice, find ways of
exploring them fully. Make the people authentic, put them in an authentic world and then find
their comic tone.
It's useful to write a storyline before embarking on a script. Describe what happens in each
scene, remembering that each scene should be a mini-drama in itself, and should move the
story or sub-plot forward. When the storyline is working satisfactorily, then start on a script.
Tailor your script to its intended market. If you are writing a sitcom to be recorded with a
studio audience look at examples and note that there are generally three large sets and perhaps
two small ones, that there is a limited amount of location taping, and that the action generally
happens over a short period of time - because every different day demands a change of costume
that slows down the recording.
If you are writing a comedy to be shot entirely on location, then try to avoid complicated
set-ups. Location shows use one camera, and every angle has to be covered. Look analytically
at a sequence in this sort of show, and see how many shots go to make it up.
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Television Comedy – a brief history
Television comedy has its roots in British radio shows developed in the late 1940s and the early 1950s.
At a time when radio was in its infancy, comedy shows such as Hancock’s Half Hour and Around the
Horn provided entertainment for the family when television had very basic programming and was not
broadcasting at all hours of the day.
Many of the more popular radio shows transferred to television, with less successful ones staying on
the radio. In this period in the UK there were only two, later three television channels. Viewing figures
in this era were a lot higher than they are today and a show for the whole family to sit down and watch
was a real family event. Even some of the more popular television comedy shows achieved listening
figures of up to 30 million, a figure that many television broadcasters in the modern age would love to
get even close to. Television comedy in its infancy usually had one writer-performer who sometimes
would also direct. Occasionally a pair of writers would be employed to write a show, as in the case of
Galton and Simpson.
American television comedy began with shows such as I Love Lucy and Bilko, which have been popular
in the United States for very long time and remain so today. These shows were usually written by a
team of writers rather than an individual, this is why this type of comedy is often said to be more
superior to its British counterpart. Others would argue that allowing one writer, or a pair of writers, to
develop a story, plot and most of the jokes binds the show together in a more cohesive manner.
Television comedy does not necessarily have to take the guise of the traditional sitcom format. Many
other types of comedy shows, such as sketch shows and variety shows have also enjoyed great
exposure over the years. Occasionally movie spin-offs from television comedy would enjoy a cinematic
Modern television comedy is very different from the material that it originated from in terms of
language and sexual connotations. All of these things have led to what some may argue is the dumbing
down of television comedy. Others would argue that it gives the writers more freedom to write what
they want, and what we know as the decline of the sitcom is often cited as a symptom of the dumbing
down of television. Some might say that television comedy can be described as lewd and aims for the
lowest common denominator, others argue that one tends to look back on comedies from 30, 40 or 50
years ago with rose-tinted spectacles. The comedies that are repeated the most often now are the
most popular; broadcasters don’t show all the ones that didn’t quite come up to scratch. (it could be
argued that:) We are most likely not living in an era where things are getting worse, but in an era
where much has stayed the same.
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PAGES FOR NOTES
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