Genres are not a natural part of television. They are constraints, “cultural products constituted by media practices and subject to ongoing change and redefinition” (J, Mittell, 2004). And while perhaps originally the basic genres of ‘drama’, ‘comedy’, ‘reality’ etc. may have been sufficient in categorising the programs being made when television was first created, in today’s ever changing landscape of tv, the wide variety of shows do not so easily fit such confined dimensions.
Nowadays, programs, channels and producers strive to step outside the primal confines of the basic genre categories and produce something within the realm of ‘quality tv’, a term which today is near synonymous with shows belonging to certain American cable networks such as HBO or AMC. The simplistic categories of ‘drama’ or ‘comedy’ are being traded for the newly branded ‘hybrid-genre’ shows such as the ‘dramedy’, ‘rom-com’, ‘sci-fi fantasy’ , ‘procedural’ or ‘teen drama’. This shift in genre definitions in the late ’80s marked a move away from creating content for the mass market and towards the “previously ignored niche audiences” (Jaramillo, 2002) and specific demographics which had never yet been targeted as specific viewers. This stimulated the rise of the brand differentiation strategy whereby channels such as HBO have, as previously mentioned, become associated with producing a distinct quality or category of shows (Lury 2009).
In this sense, channels which produce their own unique brand of quality television have not only begun to create new audience but have formed their own genre. While shows such as Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, or Girls are all vastly different from one another, they are all distinctly HBO shows. But perhaps they are HBO because they are different. each of these shows has been directed towards its own specific audience, an audience that has potentially been created by the show itself. Thus, rather than be aimed towards the vast majority, a show such as Girls is considered quality television because it targets a specific group of people who have never yet been considered as an audience, they are women in their early to mid twenties.
So, what genre is Girls? We have already established that one can consider it to fall into the HBO genre, but what does that actually mean? In the mid 1990’s, HBO began to introduce the “long form drama” (Jaramillo, 2002) style of narrative that soon took rise across other US networks. Shows following this style have moved away from the “conventional episodic and serial forms that typified most American television since its inception” (Mittell, cited in Dunleavy, 2009) and Girls is no exception. The show follows the lives of the characters as a progressing narrative where the actions and events of each episode have present and realistic consequences and effects on the following episodes. The show also presents a “preoccupation with white, urban, middle class perspectives” (Morris, 2014) representative of both the characters and the audience and is emulated throughout the majority of HBO programs. But what classifies it as an HBO genre is it’s lack of any other distinct genre qualifications.
Girls can be described as neither solely a drama or a comedy as it tends falls under both categories, often at the same time. It’s a romance show that is anti romantic, it depicts the dull and often unfortunate events that happen in reality while being a scripted show and is character driven by characters that fit no normal character stereotypes. Most closely, Girls can be regarded as an ‘indie’ show whose themes of drama and comedy have been purposefully mixed to create a hybrid. The show can go from funny and lighthearted dinner conversations to painfully realistic and depressing discussions about abortions within the space of a 21 minute episode. Thus, rather than the typical drama or comedy where the storytelling emerges from the situation and the characters are forced to react, in Girls, the individual and unique characters drive the show and the events which occur happen around them.
– J, Mittell 2004, Genre and television
– J, Mittell 2009, cited in Dunleavy, “Television Dram”
– Jaramillo 2002, “the family racket”, Journal of communication inquiry
– Lury, 2009
– B, Morris 2014, lecture slides for Tv cultures, RMIT