An internal conference on the future of television studies involving television researchers in the School of Performing and Digital Arts who will discuss their work and the future direction of television studies both within the School and the discipline more generally. Keynote speakers will be Professor John Ellis (the author of Visible Fictions) and Professor Catherine Johnson (now Huddersfield University, formerly RHUL Drama and Media Arts, and author of Online TV).
The event will take place on 8 June at Stewart House, Senate House.
The programme and notes for the event may be found below.
REGISTRATION & COFFEE
KEYNOTE: “TELEVISION AS A MEDIUM: VISIBLE FICTIONS REVISITED AFTER 40 YEARS”
Prof John ELLIS
PANEL: DOING TELEVISION HISTORY
Participants present their past and planned research, followed by a discussion of future priorities and projects in TV histories
Prof John HILL, Dr Nick HALL, Dr Lez COOKE, Dr George GUO, Jessica BOYALL, Katie CROSSON and Rose BAKER
KEYNOTE: “THE FUTURE OF TELEVISION STUDIES”
Prof Catherine JOHNSON (Huddersfield University)
Response: Prof James BENNETT
PANEL: RESEARCHING THE TELEVISION INDUSTRY
Participants present their past and planned research, followed by a discussion of future priorities and projects.
Dr JP KELLY. Prof Amanda MURPHY, Prof Peter RICHARDSON, Prof Victoria MAPPLEBECK, Helen LITTLEBOY, Dana HAJAJ (unable to attend), Teale FAILLA (unable to attend)
RECEPTION in CHANCELLOR’S HALL, including farewells to retiring Media Arts staff Prof John Ellis, Prof Mandy Merck, Gail Pearce
My book Visible Fictions: Cinema, Television, Video (Routledge) was originally published in autumn 1982, coinciding more or less with the broadcast of my first production, the Visions series on cinema for the new Channel 4. Visible Fictions tried to apply the cinema semiotics developed by Screen magazine to the understanding of the aesthetics television. Apart from Raymond Williams’ pioneering Television: Technology and Cultural Form from 1974, there was little available in this area. In the four decades since then, television studies has prospered, so my paper today attempts to assess the contribution made by Visible Fictions.
My first academic article specifically on television was published in a collection entitled Popular Television in Britain (1991) in which I discussed the rise of pop music television in the 1950s. This paved the way for further historical studies that have sought to identify significant turning-points, or moments of possibility, within television history. These have included accounts of the ‘experimental’ television dramas of the Langham Group, the fusion of drama and documentary in the work of Ken Loach and Ken Russell, the politically ‘radical’ drama of Roy Battersby, the beginnings of ‘troubles’ drama, the impact of ‘controversial’ works (such as BBC Scotland’s Scotch on the Rocks) and the economic and artistic connections between film and television. I was also a co-founder of the AHRB Research Centre for British Film and Television Studies (which inter alia funded research on the beginnings of television in Northern Ireland) and (with Lez Cooke as Co-I) was the PI of the AHRC-funded ‘Forgotten Television Drama’ project devoted to recovering a ‘hidden’ history of ‘forgotten’ and critically neglected television works. This has been allied to a commitment to increasing access to broadcasting archives, making historical programming better known (through public screenings, events, online postings, restorations and DVD releases) and working collaboratively with institutions such as the BFI and Northern Ireland Screen to promote television heritage and secure awards for postgraduate research (Play for Today at 50, UTV in the 1960s). Along with James Bennett and John Ellis, I am Co-Director of the Centre for the History of Television Culture and Production: https://www.tvcentre.org.uk. The Forgotten Television Drama blog may also be found here: https://forgottentelevisiondrama.wordpress.com
Given unlimited time and funding, the research project I would embark upon tomorrow would be a study of the history and social and cultural impact of television transmitters, masts, and towers. This would explore overlooked labours of construction, design, and maintenance in order to make visible the hidden histories of these installations, and to shed new light on moments of transition in television: for example, from analogue to digital, and from over-the-air to fibre transmission.
Aside from this, I recently completed a history of Pact, the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television. This book-length project, which was commissioned by Pact, documents the history of the institution over its first thirty years. I am now exploring, with Pact, how this project will be disseminated – and how elements of the underlying research might be developed into broader future projects.
Finally, I recently published (with Jeannine Baker) research into the work of women camera operators at the BBC during the 1970s (see Baker and Hall, “Rigged Against Them: women camera operators at the BBC during the 1970s and 1980s”, Women’s History Review 31.4) and we are intending to pursue further research into the work of women in technical and engineering roles over the coming years.
Lez Cooke (Honorary Research Fellow, Media Arts)
From 2013-17 I worked as Co-Investigator on the AHRC-funded Forgotten Television Drama project with John Hill and Billy Smart. Although the project ended in 2017 we’ve kept the blog going and I’ve curated two more seasons of Forgotten TV Drama at BFI Southbank to add to the two seasons we did during the project. The most recent one in May 2023 was ‘Rediscovering the Half-Hour Television Play’. 18 plays were screened in six themed sessions spanning 40 years of half-hour drama on British television, including early work by Andrew Davies, Stephen Frears, Andrea Newman, Dennis Potter, Ridley Scott and Michael Winterbottom, plus experimental plays and regional drama. The purpose of the season was to highlight the forgotten history of the half-hour play, which once provided an opportunity for new writers and novice directors to break into television. During the 1960s-70s over 1000 half-hour plays were broadcast on UK television, yet today Inside No.9 is the sole survivor of the form.
I’ve also been editing the memoirs of John Finch, a Granada TV writer responsible for serials such as A Family at War and Sam which attracted 20 million viewers in the 1970s, but who is today largely forgotten. It’s part of ongoing work recording and editing the television experience of writers, producers and directors. I’ve also been writing chapters for the project book, ‘Rediscovering Forgotten British Television Drama’, which hopefully will soon be completed.
As a scholar with a background in British Cultural Studies, I have been fascinated by television as a medium and its role in shaping values and identities. My initial research interests in television were informed by the work of David Morley and his approaches to understanding TV audiences. My doctoral research focused on the production and reception of historical television series in East Asia, with a particular focus on Mainland China. This work has resulted in the publication of several chapters based on my PhD thesis.
Recently, my research has centred on the history and current state of transnational media flows. I am interested in understanding how media texts, production techniques, and technologies are exchanged and adapted across national borders. Specifically, I have been exploring the ways in which the US and UK influenced TV series productions in China in the early 1980s, and how these interactions reflect larger issues of techno-nationalism in transnational media production.
My long-term goal is to write a monograph that rewrites the history of cultural and dramatic adaptations in Chinese film, television, and online media, with a transnational and transcultural approach. The book aims to explore the relationships between particular media representations and their geographical and spatial settings, representing a historical-spatial shift in the study of media culture.
Overall, my research seeks to shed light on the complex interplay between national/cultural identity, media production, and audience/user reception in a globalised media landscape.
Last year, as part of StoryFuture’s Storytrails initiative, I partnered with the production agency NoGhost to produce the Virtual Reality documentary Off the Record which strove to investigate the construction of British South Asians’ diasporic identities through music, via the optic of dance culture. Granted privileged access to the BBC and BFI archives, the project presented a unique opportunity to reimagine the potential of television archives within the contemporary mediascape. We used this opportunity to reanimate scenes from critically acclaimed productions, including Gurinder Chadha’s documentary I’m British But…, together with historic newsreel footage and extracts from current affairs programmes such as Nationwide (the BBC series, famously deconstructed by David Morley and Charlotte Brunsdon) in an immersive space, mobilising an approach that, in seeking to challenge racist narratives perpetuated in the mainstream, resonated with the Black Audio Film Collective’s methodology of remixing media archives into multi-layered narrative compositions. Focusing on the role and representation of women in the Black Workshops, my PhD research continues to explore these themes, considering, for example, how changes in television culture and programming has compelled the male members of the Workshops – most notably Isaac Julien and John Akomfrah – to, in the words of Rod Stoneman, ‘take refuge in the gallery space,’ and the impact this development has had on the Workshops’ women members.
I have recently submitted my doctoral thesis ‘Replay for Today: Revisiting Play for Today (1970-1984) at Fifty’. The thesis questions Play for Today’s historical remembrance and the ways its plays have been selectively canonised, re-reading the strand as strand and assessing its myriad representations of sexual violence, joy and sentimentality. My ongoing research delves into sentimentality and popular realisms; Carol Bunyan’s lost work; and de-canonisation in television studies.
Rose Baker: Ulster Television in the 1960s: the unknown history
Working primarily with partner organisations Northern Ireland Screen and PRONI, this research uses written documentation, recently digitised archive footage and its present-day exhibition, to investigate the first decade of Ulster Television (1959-1969) and its ongoing legacy. The first indigenous independent broadcaster on the island of Ireland, UTV, described by its first managing director as a ‘fun factory’, set out its stall as an ambitious, modern, and in many ways progressive purveyor of light entertainment. However, UTV quickly developed strands on news and current affairs, and this research examines how well-served the population of Northern Ireland was in terms of its representation of the issues of the day, and as an alternative to the BBC, using both lost programmes and existing UTV-made documentaries.
Sharing the archive with audiences through various forms of exhibition deepens its continuing relevance to the present-day. This research explores ideas about the politics of archive with relation to the UTV archive in particular, the significance and purpose of an archive in a place with such contested history, the interplay between material and viewer, past and present, and how the material fits into the context of the existing exhibition landscape of Northern Ireland.
James Bennett (respondent to Catherine Johnson): Studying TV when there is no ‘box in the corner’
I used to be a TV scholar. Partly I am no longer because of changes in my role at the College but partly it is because I am increasingly less certain what ’television’ is. And by implication – what it isn’t. My work on television always focused on its transition. In particular, to becoming a ‘digital’ media – where schedule was replaced by algorithm, choice was recast as ‘interactivity’ and ‘flow’ moved to ‘user flow’. But when I taught television to undergraduates I always started with the structure of the schedule, drawing on Ellis’ work, to demonstrate how production economics, aesthetics, text and audience were still driven by the segmentation fo audiences across day parts. That ability of television to define and settle the quotidian always fascinated me. It’s where Silverstone, Spigel, Williams, Brunsdon and even Ellis’ work always had much to say
But does television define the ordinary and everyday anymore? As it has become a ‘Digital media’ is television simultaneously ubiquitous and less important? For future work how does television grapple with the constant question of where its edges are, what might be distinctively ’televisual’ in the metaverse and – probably more importantly – what can we TV Studies teach us about the metaverse?
RESEARCHING THE TELEVISION INDUSTRY
My current research focuses on the production and distribution practices of video-on-demand (VOD) platforms. I am particularly interested in understanding the intricate sociotechnical dynamics that underpine and shape these practices, and their impact on the television industry more broadly. My recent work in this area has also been concerned with the ways in which different technologies and approaches can be leveraged to meet specific public service or commercial goals of various VOD platforms. In the course of undertaking this research, I have developed several innovative methodologies that facilitate the archiving and analysis of VOD interfaces, allowing for a more comprehensive exploration and understanding of the “datafication” of the TV industry.
Future research will build on the above but will more closely examine the role and application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) within the television industry. Not only do I plan to investigate how these processes influence production and distribution practices, but I will explore the integration of AI and ML techniques within the discipline of television studies itself. This includes examining ethical considerations associated with using AI to generate code for analysing VOD platforms, amongst many other possible uses. In other words: can we use AI to study AI? This upcoming work will be the subject of a paper that I will present at a research event hosted by Aarhus University in Denmark later this month.
Amanda Murphy: TV and the Metaverse: how compatible are they?
The 2d into 3d Lift and shift
We have put TV people into the metaverse (literally -3d scans of them, mo cap versions/ also upskilled them )
We have put TV (literal TV sets and archive footage) into the metaverse (in Storytrails- AR trails)
But are TV and the Metaverse good bed companions when it comes to placing 3d into 2d?
And can the challenges…. of pipelines and workflow and budgets and capabilities and competencies be overcome?
Will AI solve it?
I am a well-established Principal Investigator in the field of cinematic visual effects & in camera visual effects (ICVFX) for virtual production. I am the founding director of two EU funded multi-disciplinary labs: The Visual Effects Research Lab (University of Dundee 2008 to 2013) & the Games & Visual Effects Research Lab (University of Hertfordshire 2013 to 2021). Current research investigates real time cinematic visual effects and game engine integration within virtual production for film and television. The main outcomes of this work are practice based in the form of films which consider design as a narrative function of worldbuilding and thus power storytelling within an ICVFX context. Using a mix of analogue elements: constructed sets, human actors and performers, and digital technologies: led volume screens and high-resolution game engine assets, the research helps to drive innovation in the screen industries. This is achieved by simplifying complex multi-platform workflows, democratising world building technologies and offering creative teams a de-risked space (lab) in which to experiment and innovate. Back in the real world I have directed and produced hours of content across film and TV starting my career in 1991 at production company @Radical Media. Most recently I directed the third short film in the Slaughterbots series for the campaign group Future of Life Institute which tells the story of how A.I launched nuclear weapons annihilate us all.
Victoria is a BAFTA award winning artist and director, who has worked in film, VR and immersive audio. Her works explore autobiographical stories which ask universal questions about our relationship with technology, parenting, health and wellbeing. Victoria is passionate about the innovation, intimacy and diversity of smartphone filmmaking. In 2017 Victoria wrote, filmed and directed Missed Call, a smartphone short which explores the ways in which our lives are lived and archived through our mobile phones.
Victoria is currently in post production on MOTHERBOARD, the first iPhone feature documentary which charts the joy, pain and comedy of raising her 19 year old son Jim alone. MOTHERBOARD has received production funding from WFTV, Autlook Film Sales and OKRE. MOTHERBOARD follows Victoria and Jim’s journey as they navigate their way through two generations of absent dads, Victoria’s breast cancer and Jim’s turbulent teen years. MOTHERBOARD begins with a personal story but it also tells a universal story. It will explore, the diversity of contemporary family life, teenage mental health issues and the impact of chronic illness on family life, opening up new conversations about the ways in which parents and young people can ‘rescript’ rather than ‘relive’ trauma and loss.
Personal website: https://victoriamapplebeck.com
Helen Littleboy: Industrial Production and Collaborative Agency in the BBC series Hospital
To begin a discussion of the complexities of authorship questions in the context of contemporary documentary television practices, a scene from the BBC series Hospital (2017) is instructive. The gaggle of surgeons and managers looks familiar from commonplace factual medical programming. However, as its reception evidenced, something different is communicated here. Hospital was termed “paradigm shifting” at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival (2018) and whilst its dramatic storytelling and characterisation are recognisable tropes, here their deployment produces purposeful audience affect in response to the deadly impact of austerity in UK health service provision.
UK Documentary makers have long lamented a creeping ‘death’ of the author, and television, once their chief patron, is accused of restricting voices (Archer, 2005). How, therefore, should Hospital ‘s authorship be understood? As the series’ executive producer, Littleboy will provide a forensic examination of industrial conditions – where Caldwell’s definition of TV production as “necessarily collaborative” (2008) holds, but the impact of new practices requires further scrutiny. The examination of a short scene, where four shooting and directing teams collide, aims to move towards a better understanding of contemporary TV documentary authorship, asking: who, of the 50 or so personnel who generated footage for this series, the many involved in its editing, and not forgetting those performing on screen, should be named as its authors?
My creative practice-based project explores the experiences of British-Arab actors in the UK. Through the utilization of autoethnography, interviews, and critical analysis, I aim to develop a screenplay that challenges existing narratives of British Arabs. I am conducting a thorough investigation into the historical images of Arabs prevalent in British film and television, as well as exploring the complex relationship between British-Arab actors and the roles they have been expected to play. Through a combination of analyzing existing representations, conducting interviews with British-Arab actors, and reflecting on my own experiences as a British-Arab actor, I intend to lay the foundation for the creation of a TV drama series. This series will be grounded in the authentic experiences of British-Arab actors, with a particular emphasis on the challenges and discrimination faced by female actors due to the intersectionality of gender, ethnicity, and class. By bridging the gap between the analysis of representations and the lived experiences of British actors, this project aims to contribute to a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of British-Arab experiences within the entertainment industry and society at large.
Teale Failla: Tuning out and breaking down: the mental health crisis and skills shortage in the UK television industry post Covid lockdown and sustainable solutions in wellbeing leadership
My PhD project investigates the mental health and wellbeing crisis faced by workers in the UK television industry, the effects Covid has had, and solutions that create a positive work environment. This study is born out of my MBA dissertation on leading creative teams, using the UK television industry as a case study. What was most notable in that study was not just the positive effects of good leadership on creativity, profit and sustainability, but the devastating effects of poor leadership which has led to a mental health crisis that the industry is now beginning to take seriously.
Sexual harassment, bullying, systemic bias, long hours and low pay go relatively unmonitored, providing a working environment no other industry would tolerate. The Film and Television Charity released The Looking Glass Report in 2020 which found that 63% of both freelance and full-time workers have considered leaving the industry, and over half have contemplated suicide due to these problems. Covid has exacerbated these pre-existing issues, which has produced a major talent gap in the industry.
Whilst report after report surfaces outlining the problems, my project will be the first to present solutions for leaders through the use of interviews, surveys and case studies of production companies and networks. The aim is to provide industry leaders a model of well-being leadership that provides a nurturing work environment, resulting in happier crews, more creativity, better productivity and higher profits.