1. Television culture has emerged from just watching television to writing about it and being curious on how it is made. Television has the potential to be an audio visual communicator connecting audiences to themes found in several shows, these themes are then molded by the viewer in order for them to relate to it in one way or another. Watching television is no new thing; however what is new is the lens in which we now watch television. Whether we are seeking relatable content to then create meaning to or to not relate at all. The meaning making behind watching a show is most successfully communicated through and created from its characters. The way audiences react to what is on screen is analyzed and interpreted by media scholars. In Television Entertainment, Jonathan Gray writes, “As humans we demand other things from television” and I’d like to argue that we can retrieve more of this by focusing on costumes (Gray 48). The purpose of my video essay was to explore how the character design which includes costumes serve as a different way of meaning making in TV programs.

    An important part of television and the focus of my research takes up a category within the mise-en-scene. Costumes are deemed as one of the ways to revoke meaning from. It's not that costumes are not talked about as much as they should but specifically animation isn't given the same attention a costume in live action would receive. The character design in animation is relevant to the costumes. A costume is anything attached to its character in a show a hat, a cane, or necklace are all part of the character design.

    Usually, animated characters only have one distinct look. One distinct character design thus one outfit. Unlike live action, which calls for a new outfit for every scene. In Friends Rachel Green is a fashion icon but the audience does not look at just one specific outfit as what her identity is attached to, she has a variety of looks. In animation we have one central outfit and any others featured in the show don’t stem away from the original design. It is important to note how animators don’t design a character with a single outfit or a limited range of “looks” to simplify the animation process. Instead, having a single outfit is a very valuable design choice which helps to reflect the character’s personality and to tell the clearly and more explicitly due to the few costume changes.

    My research also surrounds around the relationship dynamic between a characters costumes and their identity. Through this work I'm am looking at style and design choices in specifically 2-D animations. Character design is an integral part of visual storytelling but is often ignored by its viewers. When there are explosions, crying, and yelling on screen not many people look at what the character is wearing especially since they have most likely worn that episode before. Regardless of the lack of costume changes these costumes are a part of the character design and are the central representation of a character's identity, it is a marketing tool, and a passage for additional meaning making.

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  2. If an interviewer was to go up to random people on the street and ask, “what do you think is the best show on television right now?” What shows do you think people would offer up as the best? Game of Thrones? The Good Place? Something else on HBO, Netflix or Hulu? According to Rolling Stone’s list of the top 20 shows of 2018, the best two are The Americans and Atlanta. Both shows are produced by FX, a network owned by Disney/ 20th Century Fox that is known for creating “premium” content akin to HBO or Showtime. This was not always the case, when the network first launched, the goal of FOX was to go after a female demographic, “When FOX executives decided to launch FX in 1994, the plan for the new cable network was to go after women and go after them during daytime hours” (Schlosser 2018). Their planned failed because advertising revenue was minimal for non-primetime programming. So the network pivoted towards a male demographic with primetime shows. Former FX president, Peter Liguori described the programming strategy as bringing men to a network with primarily female viewership, “When you look at our prime time demos, it's a 50-50 audience. Off-network series like NYPD Blue and The X-Files, along with shows like Ally McBeal and The Practice, skew heavily towards women. So what we have done with baseball, NASCAR and Toughman is try and make a conscious effort to bring men to the network, too" (Schlosser 2018). Although the network claimed to be trying to move towards a 50/50 demographic, their programming choices said otherwise, “It would seem that with shows that feature scantily clad women in bathing suits, a late-night talk show addressing male issues and sports like NASCAR and Toughman, FX's target audience would surely be young men” (Schlosser 2018). The last decade has seen this shift towards a wider range of programming, including movies and sports, cement FX as a ‘quality’ network.
    Real Housewives of Atlanta is produced by the network Bravo!. In the early 2000s, Bravo was transformed into a pop culture centered network after being absorbed into NBC Universal, with programming such as fashion, makeover, and celebrity shows (Himberg 2014). Bravo has set different goals for the niche branding of its network that are vastly different from FX. With appeals to a particularly upscale, material, and techy demographic, Bravo has approached marketing with unique campaigns, “ With a separate website dedicated to the “affluencer” campaign, Bravo is transparent about its brand, unabashedly flaunting the network’s desire for wealthy, high-tech consumers hungry for the latest trends” (Himberg 292). Former Bravo president, Lauren Zalzanick emphasized Bravo’s focus on digital engagement with fans and providing spaces for fans to interact and express opinions, “This emphasis on digital aspects of programming is part of the network’s appeal to affluent, educated, and tech-savvy adults with high levels of disposable income, who Zalaznick calls “affluencers.” In a 2007 interview, she described “affluencers” as “consumers who spend just as much time blogging about their favorite shows as they do watching them” (Himberg 292). The critical reception of shows produced by FX and Bravo is as disparate as the branding strategies employed by the two networks. As previously mentioned, some of FX’s content is lauded as the best of television while Bravo programs don’t really receive positive review. So what has led to FX and Atlanta being so critically legitimated while Bravo and Real Housewives of Atlanta are delegitimated?

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  3. In looking at the specific shows, such as Stranger Things or San Junipero, I found a heavy emphasis on 1980s media. Specifically, cinematic media. I provide an outline of this in my video essay, comparing and contrasting specific 1980s films with their contemporary references in these shows. Jeremy Butler writes about this collective understanding of the hierarchy of media in reference to Miami Vice. He highlights the biases that came to light when critics were first reviewing the 1980s show, writing that “strata of aesthetic status, the hierarchy of screen media, were brought into sharp relief by Miami Vice…” He describes how cinema was often ascribed more respectability, and respectability for broadcast television came only when equating television with cinema. He writes that “we gaze intensely at film but glance casually at television.” This seems to hold true for many of the shows I examined. Critics often cite Stranger Things as a selection of films for the small screen. The show is revered for its similarities to cinema. In referencing films like E.T. and Stand By Me, even the shows creators show a proclivity towards the cinema of the 1980s, as opposed to the television. Glow’s Allison Brie presents a similar sentiment when describing the show, saying that “even when I watch [Glow], the feel and look of it is more like an ‘80s movie than like anything on TV right now.” Associating these shows with 1980s films as opposed to 1980s television shows serves as a way to mark these shows as quality television. It’s as if referring to these shows as cinema pieces of television provides a legitimization that is not inherently or regularly afforded to television programming.

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  4. Edited by Andres Penso

    My video essay is an exploration of the representations of rural America with special attention to how violence functions within the framework of quality television. For those unaware of what quality television is, it is defined as a term used by television scholars, television critics, and broadcasting advocacy groups to describe a genre or style of television programming that they argue is of “higher” quality due to its subject matter, style or content. Some famous examples include HBO’s The Sopranos and Game of Thrones with other shows such as Breaking Bad to Lost. All shows fall underneath this framework with one of the reasons being its violent subject matter. Lately, there has been some discussion that quality television can be compared to that of movies. HBO’s President, Richard Plepler, describes the final season of Game of Thrones as six movies, and Twin Peaks: The Return that aired on Showtime two years ago, was awarded 2017’s second best film by the film journal Sight & Sound.

    All of this leads me to my main argument: The violence depicted in the TV shows, Twin Peaks and Fargo, fantasizes rural American settings for the purpose of entertaining urban audiences. Twin Peaks is often considered by critics as the pioneer of quality TV for pushing the boundaries of what can be shown on TV, especially violence. Inspired by the Coen Brothers film of the same name, Fargo is regarded as contemporary, quality TV for weaving together a complicated plot filled with violence, balance out with a touch of dark humor. I used both seasons of Twin Peaks and did not use any footage from The Return. The Return, while an excellent addition to the Twin Peaks series, is more focus on Dale Cooper’s journey back to Twin Peaks and less about the town of Twin Peaks struggling with the dark reality of Laura Palmer’s death. Fargo has three seasons, and I only used the first one. The first season focuses more on the violent consequences affecting Bemidji, Minnesota while the other two seasons have different narratives and more about the rivalry between two cities (Season 2) and two brothers (Season 3).

    To help structure my video essay, I used Victoria E. Johnson’s, Heartland TV: Prime Time Television and the Struggle for U.S. Identity, research. Her work deals more with the identity of the Midwest and how TV has been more in tune with the values of the Midwest. While my video essay does not deal with Midwestern identities, Johnson’s Heartland Myth Framework was of great use:

    “Energized particularly in times of cultural transition or perceived cultural threat or tension, the Heartland myth provides a short-hand cultural common-sense framework for “all-American” identification, redeeming goodness, face-to-face community, sanctity, and emplaced ideals to which a desirous and nostalgic public discourse repeatedly returns.” (Johnson 5)

    I then broke down the framework into three parts:

    1.Energized particularly in times of cultural transition or perceived cultural threat or tension

    2.The Heartland myth provides a short-hand cultural common-sense framework for “all-American” identification, redeeming goodness, face-to-face community, sanctity, and emplaced ideals

    3. To which a desirous and nostalgic public discourse repeatedly returns.

    My interpretation of the myth is that individuals within the Heartland are characterized by specific values. And when something threatens those core values, there is always an attempt to return back to those values as they are comforting. Although the Pacific Northwest is not part of the Heartland, rural settings still share these values such as face-to-face community. I then broke down this framework into three parts that my video essay follows:
    1. Rural Settings
    2. Violence
    3. Magic Realism

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  5. A Video Essay By James McArthur

    Statement Excerpt:

    This video essay explores the theatrical device of direct address within television narratives. Television shows are usually constructed to create a fictional yet realistic world, following a constructed story world that the filmmakers have created. In general, television has specific formal rules in place that should never be broken within fictional naturalistic narratives. Within fictional naturalistic narratives, characters are supposed to be unaware of the presence of the audience or the camera itself. There is not supposed to be a camera within their fictional world. Direct address breaks televisual rules. If direct address breaks the rules, then the question is raised “Why use direct address within television narratives?” The answer to this question is that direct address is a powerful theatrical convention that creates a relationship between the character of a narrative and the viewer. By using direct address, the filmmakers make a deliberate decision to involve the audience into the world of the narrative. Within this statement and video essay, three television shows will be examined in terms of their use of direct address. These three shows are The Office, House of Cards, and Malcolm in the Middle. Each of these shows use direct address as a powerful convention to form a relationship with their viewers.

    Three shows were analyzed in terms of their use of direct address within television. These shows were The Office, House of Cards, and Malcolm in the Middle. The Office is a mockumentary. House of Cards is a political drama. Malcolm in the Middle is a family sitcom. In order to form this video essay, other scholarly sources were needed to form a foundation in understanding the use of direct address within television and these specific shows.

    Direct address has been used for a variety of reasons in the realm of television. A notable example of direct address can be found within the mockumentary genre of television such as The Office. A mockumentary is a motion picture or television program that takes the form of a serious documentary in order to satirize its subject. According to Jane Harkness, "These shows function as intersections between the real and the unreal as they effectively parody documentaries. They play with the boundary between fact and fiction by looking and feeling real, but occasionally flagging themselves as fictional. They are also wildly successful" (Jane Harkness). Shows that fall within the mockumentary genre often use direct address to make the fictional world feel real. Within the mockumentary genre, documentary crews are in this fictional world and present the characters as real. Mockumentaries differ from other genres such as dramas and family sitcoms because they use the documentary mode of production. The documentary crew functions within the fictional world and is an additional layer between the characters and the viewers.

    Malcolm in the Middle is a family sitcom that also utilizes direct address. Malcolm in the Middle was a popular family sitcom in the early 2000s. Malcolm in the Middle received critical acclaim even though it used the unconventional use of direct address through the main character of Malcolm. Direct address is arguably used the most within the comedy genre. It is often used to make a joke. In Malcolm in the Middle, direct address replaces the traditional laugh track. Direct address is also used within Malcolm in the Middle to place the show within the real world and make Malcolm a relatable character to the viewers. According to Matt Crowley, "Unlike most sitcoms at the time, Malcolm In The Middle was filmed in the now-ubiquitous single-camera style — allowing for more intense and uncomfortably funny moments without the relief of a laugh track" (Matt Crowley). A key element of Malcolm in the Middle is its humor. Direct address allows the audience to be in the space with Malcolm and highlighted moments of humor for the audience.

    House of Cards is a political drama that utilizes direct address. House of Cards received positive reviews and several award nominations even though it used the unconventional theatrical condition of direct address. The show is set in Washington D.C. and is the story of a congressman Frank Underwood. Frank Underwood is the main character of the show and directly addresses the audience. Within House of Cards, direct address is used to allow the audience to understand the thoughts and methodologies of Frank Underwood. Through the use of direct address, Frank Underwood invites the audience into his world. Frank Underwood as a character consistently lies and deceives other characters within his world. However, with the audience, Frank Underwood is honest and truthful to the audience.

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