Beyond and Beside Narrative (Discussion)

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Bill Nichols' terms

Explain film scholar Bill Nichols' sense of the following terms:[1]

  • historical world or historical reality
    • Why does he prefer this term to "reality"?
  • social actor
    • Why does he prefer this term to "individuals" or, simply, "people" in non-narrative works?

Modes of representation

Television depicts historical reality and addresses itself to the viewer about that reality through four principal "modes". Individual genres and programs are not limited to one single mode, but instead draw upon each as needed.

Explain the principles behind each mode, drawing examples, as the book does, from the following. Links to clips are on Blackboard.

  1. Expository: Commercials and news coverage of a 1992 incident in Goražde during the Balkan War--side-by-side presentation of the coverages, password: tcf123abc! (be sure to include exclamation mark)
  2. Participatory: The Price Is Right and Who Wants to be a Millionaire
  3. Observational: Cops
  4. Reflexive: The Daily Show in Iraq
  1. Group 1: Expository (or rhetorical)
  2. Group 2: Participatory (in older work, Nichols referred to this mode as "Interactive")
  3. Groups 3: Observational
  4. Groups 4: Reflexive

Applying "modes of representation"

News stories about coronavirus vaccine: NBC and Fox

Compare/contrast: What differences do you see in NBC's and FoxNews' coverage about a possible COVID-19 vaccine being released right before the presidential election? (Links to videos are on Blackboard.)

Specifically, find one video clip or other source that is used by both NBC and FoxNews. Are there any differences in how it's presented? Is it edited differently? Does narration positions it differently? What effect do you think those differences have? Do they change the meaning of the source?

  • NBC News, 'COVID Hits Hollywood', 2020-09-20, view screenshots
  • NBC News, 'Vaccine Optimism and Confusion', 2020-09-20, view screenshots
  • FoxNews, 'Health Officials Downplay Expectations for COVID vaccine', 2020-09-03; this story includes a short piece about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson testing positive for COVID-19; view images

Storage Wars: "A Tale Of Two Jackets" (2012)

In discussing these questions, refer to specific scenes, dialogue, shots, graphics, etc. in Storage Wars.

  1. Group 1: Expository (or rhetorical)
    • How does it argue for a certain interpretation of these events?
    • How does it shape our understanding of them?
    • Is it different from/similar to the news coverage of Goražde? Is it different from/similar to commercials?
  2. Group 2: Participatory (in older work, Nichols referred to this mode as "Interactive")
    • How do social actors participate in the creation of television?
    • Does the TV world interact with the historical world?
    • Is it different from/similar to social actors in game shows?
  3. Groups 3: Observational
    • Do the producers just observe these events or do they appear to stage or manipulate them?
    • How is this show different from/similar to Cops?
  4. Groups 4: Reflexive
    • Is it TV about TV? Does it make you aware of TV as TV?
    • Is it different from/similar to The Daily Show's Iraq bit?


  • Jarrod Schulz and Brandi Passante: "The Young Guns"
  • Darrell and Brandon Sheets: "The Gambler" and his son
  • Dave Hester: "The Mogul"
  • Barry Weiss: "The Collector"
  • Dan and Laura Dotson: auctioneers
  • Nabila Haniss
  • Jeff Jarred

College Football: Alabama vs. Duke (in Atlanta) on ABC

8/31/2019. Announcers: Steve Levy, play-by-play; Brian Griese, color/analyst; Todd McShay and Molly McGrath, sideline reporters. On-demand from SEC Network.

  1. Group 1: How is the expository mode apparent in this game?
    • What function do statistics, graphics and replays serve? Be as specific as possible.
  2. Group 2: How is the game turned into a narrative, a story?
    • Do Brian Griese's comments in this game fit the generalization? Be as specific as possible.
    • Are the "social actors" turned into characters?
  3. Groups 3: Do the book's generalizations about the play-by-play announcer apply to Steve Levy in this broadcast? Be as specific as possible.
  4. Groups 4: How do football's time and space fit the time and space of television?
    • Provide examples from this broadcast.
  5. All Groups: What function do the sideline reporters (Todd McShay and Molly McGrath) serve? How does their function compare with that of the play-by-play announcer and/or the color commentator? Why don't women do play-by-play or color for (most) football broadcasts?

Divorce Court, 1960


  1. Jeremy G. Butler, Television: Visual Storytelling and Screen Culture (New York: Routledge, 2012).


External links