Genre Study (Discussion)

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Television on genre

  1. Group 4: What dilemma do genre scholars face when trying to define a genre? Explain the theoretical way of escaping that dilemma and the historical way of escaping it. Within your group, conduct a survey to determine what its "cultural consensus" is for the definition of the sitcom. You may wish to refer to sitcoms we've seen in class.
  2. Groups 5 & 1: Genres may be defined based on their stylistic schema. Explain that phrase and how it might be used to define a genre. Provide an example.
  3. Groups 6 & 2: Genres may be defined by their subject matter--specifically, their narrative structure. Explain how Kaminsky and Mahan articulate the police show's narrative structure. Can you think of recent police shows that exemplify this?
  4. Group 3: Genres may be defined by their subject matter--specifically, their themes. Explain the "binary oppositions" (thematic structure) that Hurd finds in the police show. Can you think of recent police shows that exemplify this?

Jason Mittell on Dragnet and genre

Mittell writes that he wants to explore "how the generic categories of
  • police show,
  • documentary,
  • film noir, and
  • radio crime drama

were all activated within and around the program. Dragnet not only drew upon these categories in its textual conventions, formal properties, and encoded meanings, but also in its larger cultural circulation in the 1950s and 1960s, activating discourses of generic definition, interpretation, and evaluation." (124)

  1. Groups 5 & 1: Mittell links the documentary and the semi-documentary, police-procedural film with Dragnet. What key connections does he see there? What elements assert Dragnet's "authenticity"? Can you see these in "The Big Shoplift" episode?
  2. Groups 6 & 2: According to the Mittell chapter, what stylistic conventions (what Television calls "stylistic schemas") can be found in Dragnet? (Hint: his term, "formal," refers to stylistic aspects of television.) For example, how does Mittell interpret the acting style of Dragnet and its "line editing"? Mittell refers to the style of TV crime dramas that were broadcast live--such as Martin Kane, Private Eye (although he uses other examples such as Man Against Crime). How does he characterize them? Do you observe this in Martin Kane? How is Dragnet different?
  3. Group 3:
    • What narrative pattern does Mittell see in Dragnet? Outline it as Kaminsky and Mahan do.
    • How does it compare/contrast with the Kaminsky and Mahan model?
    • Can you see this in "The Big Shoplift" episode?
  4. Group 4: How does Mittell apply the idea of oppositions? What is his point about "mediating figures"? Is Sgt. Friday one? Does "The Big Shoplift" episode support his argument? How does this fit with Hurd's notion of binary oppositions?

All groups

  1. List two strength(s) of genre analysis. List two weaknesses of this approach. Email to . Best responses are boldfaced by Dr. Butler.
    • Group 1:
      • s: (1) Genre analysis can help in identifying what to expect from various genres. (2) By establishing genre characteristics, it allows people a basis for future shows and a guideline for fitting into that certain genre.
      • w: (1) There are always going to be outliers that fit into more than one genre, or don't fit into any specific genre. (2) People can use different methods in their analysis which can lead to varying conclusions or results
    • Group 2:
      • s: (1) If you wanted to make a genre show, it would be pretty easy because you would have a guide of characteristics and conventions to follow. (2) Genres leave more room for character development.
      • w: (1) Shows within genres can be too similar. (2) Genres make the actual quality of shows harder to differentiate.
    • Group 3:
      • s: (1) Helps to understand and analyze the subject more. (2) It creates a good guideline to go by.
      • w: (1) It can be marginalizing. (2) Narrowing, already influenced by genre so it can blur lines easily.
    • Group 4:
      • s: (1) It enables the viewer to recognize likeable traits of genre and find similar content. (2) When you group similar shows together it can be easier to gather meaning from the genre as a whole rather than an individual.
      • w: (1) Forced perspective through labeling a genre. It can create expectations for audiences. (2) It can be difficult to analyze a show that goes against normal genre expectations.
    • Group 5:
      • s: (1) It's a good way to group shows together that enables viewers to find new information. (2) Continuous study allows us to see the constant and follow a genres progression over the years.
      • w: (1) Having rigid categories can be very restricting to creators/showrunners because they can be pigeonholed into a specific set of tropes. (2) Judging media solely based on how the story is told ignores the diversity that a lot of shows have.
    • Group 6:
      • s: (1) It's what makes a TV show great or bad depending on your opinion. (2) It's what makes a TV show scary, funny, sad, happy etc.
      • w: (1) Doesn't make you magically good at making TV shows. (2)You can lose originality if you focus too much on the genre.


  1. Jeremy G. Butler, Television: Visual Storytelling and Screen Culture (NY: Routledge, 2018).
  2. Jason Mittell, Genre and Television: From Cop Show to Cartoons in American Culture (NY: Routledge, 2004).

External links