I’d become a delinquent for a free trip to America

The transformation reality program is one that has become increasingly popular over the last couple of decades. While it showcases the real lives of people, which is a distinctive factor of the reality tv genre, it also incorporates the emotional and dramatic element of the ‘reveal’ which stems from scripted shows such as the soap opera. However, unlike the docu-soap, which used observationalist footage edited together to form a dramatic narrative, the transformation program features the ‘makeover’, which shifts the focus of the reality program from drama and conflict to self improvement and education.

It’s all about the self. While a transformation show may appear to be about the makeover of the certain thing being showcased in the program (be it a person, house, garden, business, pet, job or relationship), it appeals on the whole to the viewer in the context of their own lives. By watching other people improve their lives over the course of an episode or season, and to have the end results shown in the dramatic ‘reveal’, the individual audience member is given a set of choices and options on how they can better themselves in a similar way to achieve the same results. It becomes a form of “social observation” whereby “social issues [are reduced] to questions of individual lifestyle choice” (Lewis, 2009).

So what is lifestyle?  Annamarie Jagose describes it as a “promiscuous concept” that can be seen as “an accretion of personal style achieved primarily through consumption” (2003). The transformation program aims to instruct and educate its audience on what choices they can make to improve their lifestyle, not just concerning themselves with how to act but who to be, as “lifestyle concerns the very core of self- identity, its making and remaking” (Giddens, 1991).

So where do the angry teens come into the picture? World’s Strictest Parents is a show that educates both the children and the parents and becomes a learning experience to improve the lifestyle of an entire family. In the episode screened in the lecture, rebellious teens Corie and Thea are sent to live in Texas with ex-military dad Laval and they learn the hard way that slacking off does not help them in their lives. The episode begins with the teens living at home with their families and demonstrates exactly what is going on in their lives that led them to participate in the show. We see the kids yell at or ignore their parents, stay out late, skip school and even watch as Corie is taken to the hospital for substance overdose. The audience is given pretty clear description of how not to act as a parent as it can be seen that these poor mothers literally have no control over their children.

The episode then moves to America as the kids move in with their new Texan family and are forced to work hard and be polite in order to keep certain privileges such as a phone or clothes. The ‘transformation’ comes first when watching Corie break down during boot camp after skipping school. The boy realises he has been acting stupidly and doesn’t want to be that kind of person anymore. From that point on he has changed entirely and the emotional exchange between him and his mum when he returns home is perfect evidence of the benefits of his new life choices.

Often the reality makeover program operates on a purely commercial basis. They emphasise a stable and preferred way of life within a community  that is “strongly oriented toward [specific] consumer choices and leisure patterns” (Chaney, n.d), encouraging the audience member to purchase certain items that will better themselves and their lives in the ways of the respectable community which has been shown in the program. And although shows like World’s Strictest Parents do not promote commercialism in the same manner, it still acts to influence the viewer to act in a certain way in accordance to given ideals of the society portrayed in the show. Thus the transformation reality show not only transform the contestant or subject of the show but aims to transform the viewers and, in turn, society itself.

– T.Lewis, 2009, TV Transformations: Revealing the Makeover

  A, Jagose, 2003, ‘The Invention of Lifestyle’ in Interpreting Everyday Culture, ed. F.Martin

– A, Giddens 1991, quoted in Jagose

– D C. Chaney n.d, ‘From Ways of Life to Lifestyle’




The death of genres

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

The golden age of the box

Television is a rapidly growing medium, studied and examined as form of both media and cultural studies. AS we begin to enter the digital age, television develops more and more of a greater impact on society, both shaping and being shaped by the culture that grows alongside it. Tv was once thought to follow a one-directional flow model, sender -> medium -> message -> receiver, much like the early ideas behind radio, where it was assumed that the entire audience would receive any message delivered by producers in the same way, no matter who they were or how they received the content. However, today it has become apparent that this is certainly not the case. Not only does the interpretation of the message vary drastically according to who is receiving it, the meaning of any message is also altered by the method with which it is delivered. Thus, as this important notion regarding television and it’s methods and results of communication changed over time, so did the content which was being produced.

Television is no longer one set of defined structures and rules which must be adhered to by all producers, writers and directors, it has become so much more than that. It is a mix of not only every genre but every medium, incorporating the live to air, real time presentation of content that attracted audiences to radio and combining it with the narrative possibilities of film. And today, tv has extended far beyond the realms of simply being a box in the living room, it has become a social experience, an addiction for viewers who simply can’t get enough of their favourite shows. Producers keep their audiences hooked not just with cliffhangers at the end of episodes or seasons but with online content, by releasing episodes online to allow for binge watching, by getting stars and writers to attend fan conventions, by allowing the viewer to be as immersed as possible in the world of their show.

This progress has led to the rise of entirely new genres of storytelling, specifically, reality television and long form, complex narrative television. Shows such as Big Brother played a major part in the changing of the television landscape immersing us in a world of fully interactive television. Viewers are not only using the lives of others as their own form of entertainment but are actively involved in the constants futures (within the show). The evolution of television became a reflection of the evolution of society which in turn was impacted by the new cultures and traditions created by television. The rise of the complex narrative not only changed the landscape of television but of society.

The documentary “Hollywood: the rise of television series” discusses the evolution of television in regards to the impact received from the complex narrative. Viewers began hungering for increasingly interesting and mentally stimulating content and producers and writers started delivering. The progress of the content of tv can be seen clearly when comparing television in the 2000’s to that of the 60’s and 70’s, a time in which characters would never have even imagined to be having sex or using vulgar language. Today however, as was discussed by the writers interviewed for the documentary, characters not only do these things, but often it’s these actions which drive the story. Characters are given depth and history which is revealed slowly over the course of a season or even series with significant plot points planned far in advance. Programs and time slots are streamed to satisfy particular viewer interests and demographics rather than the original model of every show being delivered to every viewer as a single demographic. The concept of the nuclear family has faded tremendously with the progression of society into the modern day and television has grasped this wholeheartedly and used it to it’s advantage, consistently moving forward as a prominent medium of influence within society.

A bridge between nations

Travel the world without leaving your living room couch, that’s the appeal of television to it’s viewers. Although the majority of shows which top the ratings charts here in Australia are home made, as a nation we are still provided with a great number of international shows, primarily from the USA, which create not only a multicultural viewing experience but a multi-national one, spreading across a great geographical landscape. Television shows are no longer limited to small studios with backdrops and sets, they can be filmed across the world, showcasing a dynamic range of locations, countries and cultures that the average tv viewer often never gets to experience in person for themselves. Most people may never leave the country or even city in which they are raised and thus television creates a channel for it’s viewers to experience these spaces for themselves in such a way that the spaces they see become familiar to them.

What is it about it’s use of space that makes tv such an interesting topic? Television allows for a space to be both real and imaginary at the same time. By showing the world through its programs, it creates a mediated

imagesversion of the world, allowing viewers to feel as if they are a part of a certain place without having ever been here. I can relate to this from personal experience. Until July of 2012, I had never been to the United States. However, from all the television that I watched, I felt as if I lived there myself, knew the various cities and landmarks like my own neighbourhood. But upon arriving in New York, i realised this was not the case. While I did recognise various things like Times Square or the Statue of Liberty, they were different to how I had imagined, different to what I had seen on the television (The Statue of liberty, for example, was a lot smaller than I had thought) and this made me realise that the things we see and the places we feel we are a part of on a television show are just that, a television show. But is that the sole reason why we watch international television, to experience new places?

Globalisation is occurring world wide and television is only helping to speed up the process. The broadcasting of international shows featuring not only foreign spaces but cultures has created a link between the worlds nations that has never been so strong. And even though it is often thought that the world is dominated by American traditions and culture, these things have seeped into every country from dozens of other countries across the globe as well. We currently live in a world where, through globalisation, foreign cultures are both like us and not like us, cultural identities are constantly changing and the once clearly defined borders between nations and cultures has been dropped. So, why do we watch foreign television?

TheBridgeBronBroentitlesbridgeInternational shows such as Broén/Bron (The Bridge) provide a combination of both the familiar and unfamiliar to their audiences. While an audience will always be most comfortable watching a show which represents their own nation or culture, an appeal arrises in discovering those of another country. In The Bridge, viewers are treated to an exploration of Denmark and Sweden through the unfamiliar Scandinoir television style, a style which includes strong female leads whose only care seems to be about their job, dreary and colourless landscapes and sets and characters who are to the point with no love lost on witty office banter and, of course, the foreign languages. However, this unfamiliar style is delivered through the use of the familiar, a crime narrative. Viewers watch as the familiar story unfolds, a murder, a police detective, suspects and a cliff hanger but these are all delivered through foreign techniques. This combination of the familiar with the unfamiliar is what allows the audience to feel at ease watching international television. Even the potential for viewer alienation at the concept of two countries sharing a bridge as a border is extinguished with the prevalence of the comfortable, a crime must be solved, the story must continue. The chance for discomfort is shed at the inclusion of the familiar and thus the viewer can immerse themselves in and experience places in the international community without ever feeling too far away from home.

Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!

Tv is run by schedules. With dozens of channels airing content 24/7, the schedules hold everything together. However, these schedules aren’t just for the tv stations to use, they also act as the schedules for the lives of the nation. Tv presents a schedule for the viewers who sit every night at 6pm to watch the news, the families who gather at 5:30pm to watch the game shows, or the teenager who leaves their room at 10:30 on a monday night to watch the latest episode of  dexter. Even for myself, my weeks are run by my television schedules. I know that Mondays is Amazing race and Once upon a time, Wednesdays are Supernatural, S.h.i.e.l.d and The Flash, Thursdays are Survivor and Arrow,  Fridays were Legend of Korra (the season just finished and wow it was awesome) and Saturdays are Saturday Night Live. But, being an Aussie, I don’t get these shows live on my tv and have to resort to sourcing them elsewhere and this often results in my viewing of my programs either later in the day or week than they were originally aired.

What we do have here however, in the great land Down Under, is an abundance of shows which push live events, must see reveals and spectacular performances. Yes, I’m talking about live television. Audiences love live tv and television producers love delivering it. However, live television isn’t just limited to watching watching people sleep or brush their teeth in real time on Big Brother, it covers talent performances and result shows (i.e X factor, House rules), major events (i.e Glasgow Commonwealth Games, political elections) or even programs as ordinary as breakfast tv or the news. It not only allows the average viewer at home to experience the extraordinary but it lets them feel that the ordinary can be a spectacle too.

An example of such a show is Sunrise, a breakfast show which airs live, every morning on Channel 7. Sunrise presents itself as a live to air show and goes out of it’s way to let it’s viewers know that it is in fact live. Examples of this, as can be seen in the image below, include the live time being consistently present on screen, the current temperature in each of the states also shown and a rolling ticker of news headlines given throughout the duration of the episode.Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 10.31.44 pmHowever, it’s not just the graphics that contribute to Sunrise’s presentation of itself as a live program but various other elements at work as well, as can be seen in the excerpt here from a recent episode (5:33-11:25). Most obvious is the almost candid nature of the show, portraying a sort of ‘anything goes’ feel that one associates with the unpredictability of live television. The anchors can make mistakes (and often laugh about it too), the cameras or studio equipment can often be seen in shots, passersby in the street often stare in or wave through the rear window, even the language itself, with the anchors always welcoming back the viewers from the ad break, acknowledging that this is a television program that airs live with ads.

The idea behind these techniques is that rather than looking perfect, live tv is meant to appear immediate, it gives the viewers a chance to witness or be a part of something that they otherwise would not be able to without their television sets. The viewers want to feel included and the set up of the live program plays into that. This concept stems back to the idea of television as not only a family building unit but a nation building one. Television acts as a major factor in the creation of a social identity, the individual stations and producers want the entire nation watching their program and the best way to achieve this is to deliver their content live. The live event will bring the nation together and the viewer does not want to miss out on a potential spectacle. As a collective, television creates a national schedule, creating shared experiences for the entire public. Shows such as Sunrise use this, they present relatable content to their viewers and push the notion of ‘live’ to draw them in and create a linked audience across the nation.