In this course we will examine three television serials that transcend the common practice of episodic TV entertainment and aspire on a variety of levels to the complexity and import of great literature (Heimat, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica). These are sweeping works of visual fiction that are conceived not as endless serials, but as stories with a beginning, middle, and end. In addition to identifying the marks of aesthetic practices that are unique to this genre, we will address the social, political, and ethical issues raised in novel ways by the shows. We will also investigate the material processes of production of each of the series: how do economic structures, financial constraints, institutional organizations, censorship (explicit or unspoken), and collaborative labor practices help to shape the final product on the small screen (and in the DVD box)? In each case, we will observe the material and social constraints imposed on writing and production from the outside as well as the rhetorical and artistic creation each series manages to achieve despite (or because of) these external forces. At all times we will be concerned with television as a collaborative enterprise, in which the creative ideas of writers, directors, actors, designers, and hosts of production workers must engage at many levels with economic and institutional systems in order to produce a work of art.
We will begin the course with forays into traditional genres that have influenced the form and content of the Tele-Novel. Shakespeare’s history plays, Homer’s oral epics, and Dickens’s serialized novels can be read as vying prototypes and templates for both the collaborative creative processes and the finished episodic wholes of the Tele-Novel. In addition to viewing multiple episodes of the TV shows under discussion, we will also read articles in the history and theory of television. Students will learn to practice both close and distant readings of the shows we watch.