TCF 311
Critical Studies in Television

Spring 1999 (3 credit hours)

Instructor: Jeremy Butler
Office: 430C Phifer Hall, 348-6350
Office hours: TT 2-3:00, MW 3-4:00


Grades Online:

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Course Objectives:

The objective of this course is to introduce the student to television critical studies, or what is commonly called, within academics, "television criticism" (a parallel with literary criticism).

We will seek, first of all, to understand television as a unique meaning-producing medium--dissecting television's narrative and non-narrative structures and its uses of mise-en-scene, cinematography/videography, editing, and sound. Second, we will confront the critical methods that have been applied to the medium over the past 20 years: semiotics, genre study, ideological criticism, cultural studies, and so on.

Our goal is to become more intelligent, alert, critical viewers of television.

Course Requirements:

The student's grade will depend upon two separate components:

  1. Three critical analyses of TV programs, based on the principles presented in Television: Critical Methods and Applications. Worth 25 points each.

    Each student will choose his/her programs, but Analysis One must be on a fictional drama (soap opera, police show, etc.), Analysis Two must be on a nonfiction aspect of TV (sports program, commercial, news program, etc.), and Analysis Three must be on a fictional comedy show (a sitcom, probably).

    Analysis One is due 20 February and will be discussed in class. Each student must bring a videocassette of the TV program he/she analyzed to class. Analysis Two is due 26 March and Analysis Three is due 23 April.

    These analyses must be typed and will be graded based on conceptual rigor and fluency of writing style. Any use of outside sources must be properly cited (that is, use footnotes). A bibliography and the credits (principal cast and crew) for the programs analyzed must be provided. (One online source for TV credits is the Internet Movie Database: . See links below to credits for programs used in class.)

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  2. An open book, open note final exam--worth 25 points. It will cover Channels of Discourse, plus chapters 9, 10, and 11 in Television. The final exam period is Saturday, 8 May, 2-4:30 p.m. (No early exams will be given.)

    Please note: This is a seminar class which depends heavily upon students having done the readings and being prepared to discuss them in class. If the majority of the class fails to do a reading assignment then an in-class essay may be assigned and factored into the grading as part of the final exam score.

Posting of Grades:

Student grades will be posted (by the last four digits of your student ID number) on the TCF Department Web site ( If you do not wish your grade to be posted in this manner, please notify me in writing.

Current grades are available here.

Course Schedule

(subject to changes announced in class)

Date Topic/Screening Readings
1/7 Introduction to the Course
The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68)
1/12 TV Structure, Narrative Structure Butler, chs. 1, 2
1/14 Characters, Actors, Stars Butler, ch. 3
1/19 Beyond and Beside Narrative
Cops (1989-), The Real World (1992-), CBS/NBC news
Butler, ch. 4
1/21 Mise-en-Scene
Northern Exposure (1990-95) Illustrations
Butler, ch. 5
1/26 Cinematography/Videography
He Said, She Said (1991), The Larry Sanders Show (1992-98)
Butler, ch. 6
1/28 Editing: Single Camera Mode
Northern Exposure (1990-95)
Butler, ch. 7
2/2 Editing: Multiple Camera Mode
Seinfeld (1990-98) , All My Children (1970-)
Butler, ch. 7
2/4 Sound
Movie Magic (1994-)
Butler, ch. 8
2/9 A History of TV Style Butler, ch. 9
2/11 Special Topics I: Music Television Butler, ch. 10
2/16 Special Topics II: Animation
Steamboat Willie (1928), Pigs Is Pigs (1954),
The Flintstones
Butler, ch. 11
2/18 **Analysis One Due in Class** Butler, ch. 13
2/23 Critical Methods: An Overview Butler, ch. 12;
Allen, Introduction
The Wonder Years (1988-93), Discussion Questions
Allen, ch. 1
3/4 Narrative Theory
Homicide (1993-)
Allen, ch. 2
3/9 Audience-Oriented Criticism Allen, ch. 3
Genre Study
Roseanne (1988-97), Murphy Brown (1988-98)
Allen, ch. 4
Ideological Criticism
Cagney and Lacey (1981-88)
Allen, ch. 5
3/25 Psychoanalytic Criticism Allen, ch. 6
3/26 **Analysis Two Due: 4:45 p.m., TCF Office**  
3/29-4/2 Spring Break  
4/6 Psychoanalytic Criticism, Cont.  


Feminist Criticism
The Real World (1992-), Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991),
Justify My Love
On the Madonna controversy (Laurie Schultze)
(username/password: tcfuser)
Allen, ch. 7
Cultural Studies, Ethnography
My So-Called Life (1994)
Allen, ch. 8
4/22 Postmodernism
The Simpsons (1989-) Illustrations
Allen, ch. 9
4/23 **Analysis Three Due: 4:45 p.m., TCF Office**  
4/27 Postmodernism, Cont.
Twin Peaks (1990-91)
Allen, ch. 9
4/29 Course Summary  
5/8 **Final Exam: Saturday, 2-4:30 p.m.**  

Reading List:

Available at Local Bookstores:
Channels of Discourse cover Television Cover
  1. Robert C. Allen, Channels of Discourse, Reassembled, second edition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992).
  2. Jeremy G. Butler, Television: Critical Methods and Applications (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1994).
(Note: The above listings follow the guidelines for footnotes specified in Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Citations in a bibliography use a slightly different format. You must use Turabian or another recognized style guide when creating citations in your papers. For Web or other online citations, use a guide such as The Columbia Guide to Online Style by Janice R. Walker and Todd Taylor [Columbia UP, 1998].)

Academic Misconduct Policy:

All acts of dishonesty in any work constitute academic misconduct. The Academic Misconduct Disciplinary Policy will be followed in the event of academic misconduct.

Disabilities Accommodation Policy:

To request disability accommodations, please contact Disabilities Services (348-4285). After initial arrangements are made with Disabilities Services, contact Jeremy Butler.

Last Revised: April 22, 1999