Over the past couple of decades, a new form of television has taken over our tubes, and for many of us dedicated viewers, way too much of our time. It can be defined as a genre, as well as a specific model of storytelling in television, but its rise to dominance can be seen within many of these renowned series that have been released in contemporary American television. It is this idea of narrative complexity that exists with so many current series, that has completely changed the way we are writing, evaluating, and watching TV today. This new model of narrative experimentation with television storytelling has transformed the way we are looking at the medium’s past, as well as the range of capabilities that are possible for the future.

In recent years, the traditional episodic and serial forms of television have shifted into more complex narrative based programs, transforming the medium for both the producers and consumers alike. Television has been reluctant to explore the possibilities of its potential as a narrative medium, preferring instead to stick close to the shore of linear chronological presentation and objective point of view (Jacobsen, 2006). However, in the past decade, some of the most raved about TV series like The Sopranos and The Wire, have taken on this ‘novelistic’ approach of storytelling, contributing immensely to our viewing pleasure. Jason Mittell’s, “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television”, tackles this idea of narrative complexity in television today very well, breaking down its distinctive attributes and patterns of comprehension.

“This programming form (TV storytelling) demands an active and attentive process of comprehension to decode both the complex stories and modes of storytelling offered by contemporary television. Audiences tend to embrace complex programs in much more passionate and committed terms than most conventional television, using these shows as the basis for robust fan cultures and active feedback to the television industry.” – Jason Mittell

Prior to reading Mittell’s thorough article, I hadn’t really thought of why exactly these narrative complex TV series had gained such popularity in recent years, but then I got to thinking. Before I was introduced to a few of the most popular novelistic-based TV series, like Entourage and Boardwalk Empire, I cannot say that I was the biggest TV watcher. Sure, I would catch an episode of Seinfeld or The Simpsons every once in a while, but I never passionately followed one particular series. However, once the HBO TV Network magically appeared in my life, my TV viewing skyrocketed. Never before had I been so addicted to a television show, nevertheless, any type of entertainment medium for that matter. The thrilling plots, the intertwined characters, the gripping cliff-hangers, so many aspects of these TV series were keeping me at the edge of my seat and bringing me back to watch more. My newfound love for television was all because of this previous idea of narrative complexity. This model of storytelling television was keeping me engaged and focused like never before, boosting my appreciation for TV considerably. As Jeff Sconce has put it, “U.S. television has devoted increased attention in the past two decades to crafting and maintaining ever more complex narratives, a form of “world building” that has allowed for wholly new modes of narration and that suggests new forms of audience engagement” (Lavery, 2011).

Jason Mittell mentions many factors that have contributed to the rise of narrative complex TV series, but I found the two most accurate ones to be the writer’s role and media technologies. Because of these long-form television episodes/series, television writers are taking advantage of every opportunity to spice up the plot, and draw the viewer deeper into the story world. Television’s structure allows the writers to fit much more content into the scenes, knowing that they can just address the next series of events in next episode. They don’t have to cut out crucial commentary, or leave out scenes because of a time limit, like with films. As Mittell put it, “The extended character depth, ongoing plotting, and episodic variations are simply unavailable options within a two-hour film” (2012). Media technologies have also helped contribute to the rise of these narrative complex TV series. Whether it is webisodes, or message boards, fans are turning to other forms of media to gain more insight and interact with other viewers. It’s a way for these die-hard fans to gain even more knowledge within a particular program, which is very useful in order to follow narrative complex TV series.

“Technological transformations away from the television screen have also impacted television narrative. The internet’s ubiquity has enabled fans to embrace a “collective intelligence” for information, interpretations, and discussions of complex narratives that invite participatory engagement.” – Jason Mittell

Aside from Mittell’s meticulous examination of narrative complex TV shows, I found Heather E. McLendo’s, “Setting the Stage for Lost: A deconstruction of complex television narrative”, to be quite accurate. Although, she has focused specifically on the three elements that contribute to the complex narrative of Lost, I think you can apply them to almost all quality TV shows. The first factor introduced is the mysterious plot, which is this idea of a plot turn that occurs about halfway during a show that increases the drama and furthers the development of the characters and their relationships. The second factor is the slow secretion of the characters, whereas the long, drawn out investment of the characters brings you deeper into the story world and grabs yours attention. Lastly, the third factor is the breathtaking element that comes from the story unfolding before our eyes, and coming together immaculately in the end. The great investment that we as viewers put into the intertwined story world, makes the end result that much more rewarding.

There is no doubting the entertainment value that comes from these narrative complex TV series, however, it can be somewhat obscure as to why exactly we enjoy these shows so much. If you break it down little by little, there are plenty of factors that go into creating successful narrative-based shows, putting them safely in the category of ‘quality TV’. We may not realize it while we’re actually watching an episode, but so much thought goes into each little line of dialogue or prop placement. Bravo, narrative complex TV.

“What does Game of Thrones and Twitter have in common? They’re both told with 140 characters.” – The Great, Matt Loads – (I hope I didn’t butcher that joke too badly)

References:

Jacobsen, C. (2006). How TV Met Narrative Sophistication. Available: http://flowtv.org/2006/10/reunion-the-nine-24-narrative-flashback-arrested-development-the-office-how-i-met-your-mother/. Last accessed 8th Oct 2012.

Lavery, D. (2011). Lost and Long-Term Television Narrative. Available: http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/firstperson/long-term. Last accessed 8th Oct 2012.

McLendon, H. (2011). Setting the Stage for Lost: A deconstruction of complex television narrative. Available: http://heathermclendon.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Lost-as-complex-narrative_McLendon.pdf. Last accessed 8th Oct 2012.

Mittell, J. (2012). Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling, pre-publication edition. Available: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/mcpress/complextelevision/. Last accessed 8th Oct 2012.

In week nine, we discussed this idea of the dispersal of quality TV and complex narratives, specifically focusing on the highly successful AMC series, Mad Men. The term ‘complex narrative’ has been brought up many times before in this course, but it is to no surprise that it was mentioned again this week with defining Mad Men as a quality TV show. As brought up in week nines lecture, “Complex television employs a range of serial techniques, with the underlying assumption that a series is a cumulative narrative that builds over time, rather than resetting back to a steady-state equilibrium at the end of every episode” (Mittell, 2012). We see this time and time again in critically acclaimed shows such as The WireGame of Thrones, and of course, Mad Men. Similarly in all these quality TV series, the plot develops very slowly over time, and is very character-centered. These two factors, along with the emphasis on building exceptionally submerged story worlds, creates a viewing experience that is impossible to turn away from. And, even from only watching one episode out of the five seasons that have run of Mad Men, I believe it is safe to label it under the category of a complex narrative.

One of the scenes that really stuck out to me in our lectures viewing of Mad Men was Don Draper’s presentation and sales pitch to Kodak for the “Carousel” slide projector. For those of you that have watched this scene, you know that the scene is much more than just a presentation; it is an incredibly moving speech by Don that explores the gaping chasm between the man he has been and the man he wishes to be (Tocci, 2012). Don uses the “Carousel” as a time machine, going back and recollecting on some of the most blissful moments in his past. He uses the notion of “nostalgia” to pitch the wheel, not the notion of “new”. By sincerely touching on some of his most personal memories, Don creates a relatable feeling of reminiscence that everyone in the room can connect with (both in the shows story-world, and our own world as viewers). It is this prior knowledge and investment within the characters lives that we as viewers find so rewarding when watching scenes such as this one. Mad Men’s complex narrative makes each characters actions and motivations that much more worthwhile, because we have watched every episode leading up to a certain point in the narrative and devoted our time to understanding each characters back-story. As Jason Mittell has put it, “Since Mad Men‘s slow moving plot lacks the suspenseful cliff-hangers that often drive serial narratives … our investment in the storyworld is lodged in the characters’ struggles and motivations” (2010). We as viewers get to watch more and more layers of Don’s life unravel within each episode, which is easily the biggest driving force behind Mad Men’s narrative complexity. And, it is this particular scene that uncovers more of Don’s character than perhaps any other in season one. So, it is for this reason that I wanted to break down and textually analyze everything that assembles this unforgettable scene from Mad Men’s “The Wheel”.

 

The scene kicks off with some casual introductions between agency directors, Don Draper and Salvatore Romano, and the two Kodak executives, Joe Heraman and Lynn Taylor. After a bit of small talk between the newly acquainted men, the two Kodak executives cut to the chase and begin talking business. They ask if the agency has come up with a good marketing campaign for the wheel, emphasizing that they understand the difficulty in doing so, because of the wheels reputation as “unexciting technology”. Don acknowledges the Kodak executives sales pitch of the wheel, in that, ”Technology is a glittering lure”, but he also introduces the idea that technology can be much more then just that. Don states, “There’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.” Don then shares a bit about his first job working at a fur company, and the insight he gained from an old, pro-copywriter, named Teddy. Don explains, “Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is “new”. But, he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia; it’s delicate, but potent.” It’s this exact idea of “nostalgia” that structures the entire base of Don’s marketing campaign with his presentation of the “Carousel”.

Don then starts the slideshow, as the camera pans over the lit-up faces of those present in the room, and the dramatic, background music commences. Old pictures of Don and his family come up on the slides, as Don delivers his sales pitch to the Kodak executives. Throughout the shot, the camera alternates between Don speaking, the picture slides, and a close-up of the wheel switching the images. Between each passionate line that Don delivers, is the distinct sound of the wheel changing slides, and another shot of one of Don’s past memories appearing before the room. Each line comes so fittingly with another picture, and a past memory that continues to haunt Don of a better time in his life. It’s a shot-reverse-shot that keeps the viewer in constant contact between Don’s luminous figure and the images that are projected from the wheel. As Tommaso Tocci claims about Don in this scene, “He’s the man behind the curtain, now. He’s getting closer to the darkness that’s being eating at him while simultaneously distancing himself from it by literally projecting it on the wall. Look how he disappears in the dark background of the room, firmly in charge of the narrative. Confident, composed, assured while he exposes himself (2012). The last image that appears on the wall is a blank slide, possibly portraying the feeling of emptiness that Don now has to bear with among his family. The emotional, Harry Crane, has to leave the room to hide his tears, and the slideshow ends in perfect unison with the background music. The scene concludes with Herman Phillips wishing the Kodak executives, “Good luck at your next meeting”, and a shot of the two men gazing in awe. In the end, and due in big part to his preparation for the Kodak pitch, Don realizes he’s got a great family and that he’d be wise not to risk losing it as he did with his first family (Hall, 2007).

“Teddy told me that in greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. Takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the Carousel. It lets us travel the way, a child travels. Round and round, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.” – Don Draper’s Speech from the “Carousel” slideshow

The narrative complexity of Mad Men cannot be denied, and the “Carousel” scene is a great example of this. It combines deep emotion, character development, and a submerged story-world all into one powerful and harmonized shot. The “Carousel” scene has made such an impression because it encapsulates not only the themes and storylines of every character in the first season, but also the different layers that the series has taught us to look out for (Tocci, 2012). This three-minute shot is only one scene out of many, many more, that have helped define Mad Men as a quality television show, and one that is raved about throughout the entire world.

References: 

Hall, S. (2007). ‘Mad Men’ Season Finale A Genuine Kodak Moment.Available: http://www.adrants.com/2007/10/mad-men-season-finale-a-genuine-kodak-mom.php. Last accessed 2nd Oct 2012.

Mittell, J. (2010). On Disliking Mad Men. Available: http://justtv.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/on-disliking-mad-men/. Last accessed 2nd Oct 2012.

Mittell, J. (2012). Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling, pre-publication edition. Available: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/mcpress/complextelevision/. Last accessed 2nd Oct 2012.

Tocci, T. (2012). VIDEO ESSAY – MAD MEN Moments: The Carousel.Available: http://blogs.indiewire.com/pressplay/video-essay-mad-men-moments-the-carousel. Last accessed 2nd Oct 2012.

  • Hannah Jenkins Television Cultures Online Journal – Week 9 – Mad for Mad Men

Hannah, this is a really good analysis! I also chose to write my week 9 blog entry on Don Draper’s memorable sales pitch / speech of the “Carousal”, but I like how you tied that into the ending of this particular episode. I agree completely with your break-down of Don’s speech, and I especially like what you said about “the slides in this scene, records of “happy” family life conjures thoughts of how pictures can obstruct the much grimmer reality of life.” We, as the viewers, can’t help but reminisce on our past when watching this scene, bringing a sense of nostalgia, just like with Don.

Also, I really like your analysis of the different lighting that was used for the two ending renditions of this episode. The lighting is subtle, but definitely makes a difference in the mood. I also noticed, that with the first rendition ending, the background music that was playing during the scene of Don’s speech, carries over to the beginning of the first scene. However, it does not carry over into the second rendition. This is perhaps trying to further portray that Don’s intentions are good, but the actual reality is much harsher. Of course Don would like to come home to his family after reminiscing on those old photograph slides on the Wheel, and spilling out some of his inner emotions, but in the end, his family had already left.

  • The Book is Now Over – Week 9 – “Mad Men”: Don’s Character Progression in “The Wheel”

Wow, spot on breakdown here! I agree, you can definitely see a progression in Don’s character just through this one episode alone. I haven’t viewed much of Mad Men either, but I think this is very accurate from what I got from it. I can only imagine the crazy character development that occurred with Don from the very first episode, to the very last!

I’m really glad that you brought up a bit about the song played in the background of the last shot of this episode, Bob Dylan’s – “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”, as I also noticed this choice of sound editing. The first line is, “Well, it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe”, which I believe does fit appropriately with Don’s situation with his family. However, I think some of the other lines in this song depict this particular situation even better.

I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’, walkin’ down the road,

I once loved a woman, a child I’m told

I give her my heart but she wanted my soul

But don’t think twice, it’s all right

I think these lines fit especially well with the troubles Don is having with his wife, Betty. There is obviously a feeling of disconnection and lost-love between them, and this song is about the despair that comes from this. But, then again maybe it’s best to “not think twice, it’s all right”, which Don is doing precisely at the end of the episode, as he sits there and feels bad for himself, instead of getting in his car and driving to meet his family.

  • Hannah Jenkins Television Cultures Online Journal – Week 6 – Girls as princesses, boys as knights…think again!

Hannah, once again a very solid post that I agree with 100%. I found Ginia Bellanfante’s NY Times review of “Game of Thrones” not only weak and sexist, but simply WRONG! Only an inexperienced viewer like Bellanfante would come to the contentious points that she has claimed about GoT being, “boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.” If you have watched more than merely a trailer of Got, you would know that the sex and romance is only a tiny fraction of the content within the series. Can girls not like dragons, sword-fights, and medieval kingdoms, Bellanfante?

I think you addressed this really well when you said, “I know the fantasy genre may not be for everyone but the success of GoT comes down to the writers, the unworldly characters of zombies and dragons, the complex combination of blood, sex, medieval fighters and the cliff hangers at the end of each episode that keep you wanting more.” This should in no way be an issue about sex and gender, simply because GoT is an awesome story-line, with awesome characters, doing awesome things. Enough said!

As all of us should know, reality TV has taken over our tubes incredibly in the past ten or so years, establishing itself as a dominant genre of primetime television. Big BrotherAmerican Idol and Survivor are just a few of these reality TV series that have had great success and taken off throughout the entire world. And, there are more and more renditions, as well as original reality TV programs being released all the time. As brought up in the lecture, ‘What ties together all the various formats of the reality TV genre is their professed abilities to more fully provide viewers an unmediated, voyeuristic, yet often playful look into what might be called the “entertaining real”. This fixation with “authentic” personalities, situations, and narratives is considered to be reality TV’s primary distinction from fictional television and also its primary selling point’. I believe this statement by Ouelette & Murray is so spot on, in terms of defining what exactly reality TV is, as well as why SO many people find the genre so appealing and entertaining. Although there is a TON of editing and post-production that goes into creating reality television, it comes off as an authentic, unscripted view into the lives of others, where anything can happen. It’s the voyeurism that comes with having an inside look into the lives of others and their problems/situations, that has made this genre of television blow up in recent years and distinguish itself from other fictional television shows.

In Su Holmes’ novel, “Understanding Reality Television”, she introduces three distinct factors that define reality television: 1) Live videotaping, 2) Properly editing the taped material into a presentation that can be hyped as reality, and 3) trying to mimic real life events by varying types of ‘dramatic reconstruction’. I found that Holmes’ analysis of these basic elements that structure reality television to be actually quite accurate. Reality television can be just that simple; round up a group of strangers, put them in a house together, and let the rest unfold in front of the viewers eyes. However, out of the three factors that Holmes gave to define reality television, only the first one is actually “reality”. Whereas live videotaping is of course, live and “real”, the last two factors aren’t truly reality. The post-editing and staging (dramatic reconstruction) that is executed in reality TV is in fact simply another version of fictional television, just to a lesser degree. There is actually very little, if not any, live videotape footage that is aired on television that has not been edited to make the events seem more dramatic, therefore making it more entertaining for the viewers at home. These reality TV shows can make an entire episode, hell, an entire series, off of hardly any content, whatsoever (*see below*).

The fact is that although reality TV may come off genuinely authentic, there is actually very little authenticity to it. The people, the situations, the drama, it is all edited and filtered in whatever way possible, to make entertaining television. But, then again, if it entertains us so much, why should we actually care if it is edited in such a way? Reality television is in fact the least mediated and scripted genre of television today, but it is simply untrue to think that is 100% real. It provides us with an inside perspective into the crazy/not-so-crazy lives of complete strangers, and all in the comfort of our own living room.

References:

http://books.google.com.au/books/about/Understanding_Reality_Television.html?id=wYCCP4XLF94C

In this weeks lecture, we watched the last episode of Mad Men’s season 1, titled “The Carousel”. Although this was the first time that I had watched Mad Men, it did not take me long to figure out why this show has been praised so highly. It had fantastic writing, acting, and cinematography, bringing the triple threat to this ‘quality TV’ show. So, for this weeks blog entry, I wanted to focus on a particular scene from this episode, and textually analyze it. And, I figured what better scene to do this with, than Don Draper’s breath-taking speech and sales pitch of Kodak’s “Carousel” slide projector. This scene definitely stuck out to me the most from the entire episode, and with good reason. From the background music, to the lighting, this scene was planned and executed brilliantly. In summary, creative director, Don Draper, presents an emotional sales pitch to two Kodak executives for the marketing of their new slide projector. However, I wanted to take the time here to give a close textual analysis of the scene.

 

The scene starts off with some casual introductions between Don Draper, Salvatore Romano and the two Kodak executives (Joe Heraman and Lynn Taylor). After a tiny bit of small talk between the newly acquainted men, the two Kodak executives break the ice and start talking business. They ask if the agency has figured out a way to work the wheel into a good marketing campaign, emphasizing that they understand the difficulty in doing so, because of the wheels reputation as “unexciting technology”. And, from here on, it’s the Don Draper show.

Don acknowledges the Kodak executives sales pitch of the wheel, in that, “Technology is a glittering lure”, but he also introduces this idea that technology can be so much more then that. Don states, “There’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.” Don then shares a bit about his first job working at a fur company, and the insight he gained from an old, pro copywriter, named Teddy. Don explains, “Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is “new”. But, he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia; it’s delicate, but potent.” It’s this exact idea of “nostalgia”, that structures the entire base of Don’s marketing campaign with his slideshow and the “Carousel”.

Don then starts the slideshow, as the camera pans over the lit-up faces of those listening in the room, and the dramatic, background music kicks in. Old pictures of Don and his family come up on the slides, as Don delivers his inspiring speech. Camera shots alternate between Don speaking, the pictures on the slides, and a close-up of the wheel switching images. Between each intense line that Don delivers, is the distinct sound of the wheel changing slides, and a shot of another one of Don’s past memories appearing before the room. Each line comes so fittingly with another picture, and a past memory that haunts Don of a better time in his life. It’s a shot-reverse-shot that keeps in constant contact between Don’s luminous figure and the images that are projected. The last image that appears on the wall is a blank slide, possibly portraying this feeling of emptiness that Don now feels with his family. The emotional, Harry Crane, has to leave the room to hide his tears, and the slideshow ends in unison with the background music. The scene concludes with Herman Phillips wishing the Kodak executives, “Good luck at your next meeting”, and a shot of them looking a bit in awe.

“Teddy told me that in greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. Takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the Carousel. It lets us travel the way, a child travels. Round and round, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.” – Don Draper’s Speech from the “Carousel” slideshow

You do not have to be a die-hard Mad Men fan to truly enjoy and appreciate everything that this scene presents. It combines deep emotion, character portrayal, and story development in a powerful and harmonized way. It captures both this time of advertising in the 1960’s, as well as the emotional distraught of Don Draper all in one, three-minute clip. If this scene alone hooked me on Mad Men, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the series has to offer.

References:

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Big Love is yet another HBO series that has been framed and characterized as ‘quality TV’. And, although I definitely recognized the complexity of the narrative within the few episodes we watched in class, it seemed to have an overwhelming investment in melodrama. Melodrama, the main form of drama that drives most soap operas, has influenced the structure of many TV series today, especially these narrative complex ones that have contributed to the great success of many HBO’s series. However, soap operas have been historically associated with many lowbrow assumptions, bringing a negative perception to the genre. And, in watching a few episodes of Big Love, I could see some of the characteristics that are associated with soap operas low value forms of storytelling.  

Big Love has a very interesting storyline, and one that could be very appealing to certain generations without a doubt. It hits on many of the topics that create a captivating series; family, marriage, love, religion, politics, oh, and of course polygamy.. Big Love invites you into a world unlike your own, which is so crucial for a successful TV series. We see this in plenty of HBO’s programs, including Game of ThronesThe Wire, and The Sopranos, which are also characterized under the term ‘quality TV’. However, when watching the brief bit of Big Love, I did not find myself hooked like I had been when first watching some of the other HBO shows previously listed. With Game of Thrones, it took me all but fifteen minutes to be drooling over the “awesomeness” that was coming from my TV, but with Big Love, I was only drooling because I was quickly falling asleep. Although Big Love uses similar principles of narrative complexity that are obviously present in shows like Game of Thrones and The Wire, it lacks density. The idea of a Mormon family practicing polygamy in today’s world addresses the issues of family values, and tradition vs. normality, but for how long can they keep this plot-line interesting and suspenseful? The show lasted five seasons, so they must have been doing something right, but I just didn’t see it with the brief viewings that we watched.

Jason Mittel writes, “I believe that soap viewers are less likely to watch an episode straight through with their full attention aimed at the screen than for primetime viewers.. The primetime shows I’m most interested in explicitly discourage such viewing strategies & textual redundancies – their plots and enigmas are constructed to reward viewers who watch every episode carefully, and they refuse redundancy and repetition for dramatic effect.” And, I believe it is for this reason that I was not quite captured with Big Love’s story-line. It seemed way too drawn out and exaggerated, even for a narrative complex show. Some people like being able to just hop right in the middle of a series and be instantly gratified, but it is not as rewarding as dedicating yourself to a series every detail and it all unfolding magically at the end. Maybe I should not be so quick to judge since I have not even seen two full episodes of Big Love, but my initial response is not nearly what it was for some of HBO’s other series.

References: 

http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/content/more-thoughts-soap-operas-and-television-seriality

Over the past couple of decades, televisions way of storytelling has changed drastically. The traditional episodic and serial forms of television are shifting into more complex narrative based programs, transforming the way we look at TV. Some of the most raved about TV series in recent years, like The Wire and Game of Thrones, have taken on this ‘novelistic’ approach, contributing immensely to our viewing pleasure. Jason Mittel’s, “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television”, tackles this idea of narrative complexity in television today very well, breaking down its distinctive attributes and patterns of comprehension.

Prior to reading Mittel’s article, I hadn’t really thought of why exactly these narrative complex TV series had gained such popularity in recent years, but I got to thinking. Before I was introduced to a few of the most popular novelistic-based TV series, like Entourage and Boardwalk Empire, I can’t say I was the biggest TV watcher. Sure, I would catch an episode of Seinfeld or SportsCenter every once in a while, but I never passionately followed one particular series. However, once the HBO TV Network magically appeared in my life, my TV watching sky-rocketed. Never before had I been so addicted to a television show, nonetheless, any type of entertainment medium. The thrilling plots, the intertwined characters, the gripping cliff-hangers, so many aspects of these TV series were keeping me at the edge of my seat and bringing me back to watch more. My new found love for television was all because of this previous idea of narrative complexity. This model of storytelling television was keeping me engaged and focused like never before, boosting my appreciation for TV considerably.

“This programming form (TV storytelling) demands an active and attentive process of comprehension to decode both the complex stories and modes of storytelling offered by contemporary television. Audiences tend to embrace complex programs in much more passionate and committed terms than most conventional television, using these shows as the basis for robust fan cultures and active feedback to the television industry.” – Jason Mittel

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*** The illustrated guide to the MANY character relationships in Game of Thrones ***

Jason Mittel mentions many factors that have contributed to the rise of narrative complex TV series, but I found the two most interesting ones to be the writer’s role and media technologies.

Because of these long-form television episodes/series, television writers are taking advantage of every opportunity to spice up the plot, and draw the viewer deeper into the story world. Television’s structure allows the writers to fit much more content into the scenes, knowing that they can just address the next series of events in next episode. They don’t have to cut out crucial commentary, or leave out scenes because of a time limit, like with films. As Mittel put it, “The extended character depth, ongoing plotting, and episodic variations are simply unavailable options within a two-hour film.”

Media technologies also have helped contribute to the rise of these narrative complex TV series. Whether it is webisodes, or message boards, fans are turning to other forms of media to gain more insight and interact with other viewers. It’s a way for these die-hard fans to gain even more knowledge within a particular program, which is very useful in order to follow narrative complex TV series.

“Technological transformations away from the television screen have also impacted television narrative. The internet’s ubiquity has enabled fans to embrace a “collective intelligence” for information, interpretations, and discussions of complex narratives that invite participatory engagement.” – Jason Mittel

 References: 

http://justtv.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/mittell-narrative-complexity.pdf