Assignments

A note on plagiarism and guidelines for formatting and citation follow the writing assignments.

Writing Requirements

Students may fulfill these requirements by choosing one of the options listed below. Graduate students and seniors majoring in Literature, Comparative Media Studies or Science, Technology and Society must choose option three. Each option requires that papers be submitted in Class #8 and Class #20.

Students may revise and resubmit the two essays to improve the grade within one week of the date on which the essays are returned. Only the grade on the revision will count toward the final grade in the course.

Option 1: A Course Journal

Keep a journal summarizing the leading arguments and ideas in each week’s class. Illustrate general notions with concrete examples drawn from class discussions, your readings, your own experience of television. Submit installments of your journal as typed papers due on the dates listed above.

Option 2: Two Short Problems

Write an essay of 4-7 double-spaced typed pages on two of the topics listed below. Do not choose more than one question that asks you to summarize the writings of others.

  • Read chapter four of Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form. Then define his idea of “flow” in television and evaluate its persuasiveness. Is American television a good test for his theory? How do technologies such as cable television, remote channel-switchers, video-recorders affect Williams’ notions concerning our experience of television? Is television the only medium in which vastly dissimilar messages jostle against one another? What assumptions about the viewer are implicit in the concept of “flow”?
  • Summarize Gerbner’s argument about the effect of television violence on viewers. Then summarize Horace Newcomb’s response “Assessing the Violence Profile…” [available by request]. Which perspective would you defend and why?
  • Analyze a single episode of a contemporary situation comedy, emphasizing its visual style, its treatment of character, its strategies of comedy. Speculate briefly concerning its place in the line of TV comedy.
  • Summarize Fiske and Hartley’s chapter on “Bardic Television” and discuss the possible value of this perspective for understanding American television. Be sure to give specific examples of TV programming to support your argument.
  • Examine the script of a TV series and write an essay analyzing the writer’s contribution to the episode. How much of the camera’s behavior is controlled by the script? Does the script exploit qualities that belong to particular performers or that have been established in previous episodes? How does the script adapt to the special conditions of television broadcasting? Available scripts include a range of episodes from MTM Productions, QM Productions, a few shows of the 1980s and beyond including Seinfeld.
  • Summarize James Carey’s “A Cultural Approach to Communication” and specify some of the ways in which this perspective applies to American television.
  • Describe and evaluate an episode from a TV crime series. What are the principal themes of the episode? What are its chief formulas for plot and characterization? Try to identify themes, techniques and structural features that have been shaped by the TV medium. Be sure to discuss the “political” assumptions - notions about order, authority, social institutions - that are embedded in the episode. Recommended reading: Fiske and Hartley’s chapter, “A Policeman’s Lot”; Todd Gitlin, “Prime Time Ideology…” in Newcomb; Thorburn, “… TV Acting…” and “TV Melodrama.”
  • Write a succinct account of the laws and regulations that helped to shape the Broadcast Era, drawing on class discussions, Barnouw’s chronology of important dates, encyclopedia entries on networks, cable television, the FCC, the Dumont Network; and relevant material from Hilmes, Hollywood and Broadcasting; Anderson, Hollywood TV; Boddy, Fifties Television; Streeter, Selling the Air.
  • Write an analysis of two or three dramas from the era of live television, giving special emphasis to the visual aspects of each. Recommended reading: Barnouw on “the golden age” of television, Michael Kerbel, “The Golden Age of TV Drama” in Newcomb, third edition.
  • Analyze Amos ’n Andy as a cultural document. What range of stereotypes is exploited in the program? What attitudes toward American life and toward racial differences are assumed in the text? What does the text perceive as the material of comedy? Recommended reading: Ely, The Adventures of Amos ’n Andy; MacDonald, Blacks and White TV.
  • Discuss the evolution of a significant secondary character in a television series of the 1970s or later. Some suggestions: Radar or Hotlips on MASH; Buddy on Family; Mary Ellen on The Waltons; Gloria on All in the Family; any of the prime figures in Friends, the children on The Cosby Show, George or Elaine on Seinfeld, any recurring character in Once and Again, Tony’s mother or son or daughter in The Sopranos.
  • Commercials are often said to be television’s subtlest art form. Choose two or three families of commercials - beer commercials, for instance; telephone commercials; commercials for cars or washday products; commercials for high-tech items such as computers or Web-related services - and analyze them as forms of drama, giving particular attention to the assumptions about American life inscribed in their plots and characters.
  • Drawing on readings and on class discussions concerning television as a carrier of cultural ideologies, write an essay about the theme of technology in science fiction or in medical shows. Possible texts: Medic, Marcus Welby, The Bold Ones, Medical Center, Medical Story, St. Elsewhere, ER; Star Trek and its successors_, The Twilight Zone, The Prisoner, Babylon 5, The X-Files._
  • Compare British versus American forms of television, centering on a single genre: crime series, science fiction, situation comedy.
  • Write an essay on Rod Serlings’s television work: Various live TV dramas, Night Gallery, The Twilight Zone.

Option 3: Term Paper

Write an essay, 8-14 double-spaced typed pages, on one of the topics given below, delivering installments devoted to aspects of your subject in the classes specified above.

  • Pick a performer - not David Janssen - whose career spans the history of television and describe the evolution of his/her career. Be sure to discuss the genres of programming in which your performer has appeared and to relate her/his characterizations to the evolution of television in general. Some possibilities: Mary Tyler Moore, Elizabeth Montgomery, Robert Young, James Garner, Harry Morgan, Bill Cosby.
  • Describe several series by a single producer, production company or creative team, emphasizing their similarities in visual style, subject matter and ideology. Discuss changes or developments among your series and speculate about their historical or cultural context. Some possibilities:
    • Lorimar
      • The Waltons, Eight Is Enough, Skag, Knots Landing, Dallas, Falcon Crest.
    • Mark VII Productions (Jack Webb)
      • Dragnet, Adam 12, Emergency.
    • Aaron Spelling
      • The Mod Squad, The Rookies, SWAT, Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Vegas, Beverly Hills 90210.
    • QM Productions
      • The Untouchables, The Invaders, The Fugitive, The FBI, Cannon, Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco, Most Wanted, Dan August.
    • MTM Productions
      • The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, Phyllis, The Paul Sand Show, The Tony Randall Show, Lou Grant, WKRP, The White Shadow, Hill Street Blues, Bay City Blues, St. Elsewhere.
    • Norman Lear [Tandem Prods., TAT Prods, etc.]
      • All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Hot-L Baltimore, Fernwood 2 Night, All that Glitters, Good Times.
    • Garry Marshall
      • The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy.
    • Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz
      • Thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, Once and Again.
    • David E. Kelley
      • LA Law, Picket Fences, Alley McBeal, The Practice, Boston Public.
    • Stephen Bochco (and often David Milch)
      • Hill Street Blues, Bay City Blues, Cop Rock, Hooperman, NYPD Blue.
    • Wolf Films
      • Law and Order, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Dragnet (2003 version).
    • Fox Channel shows
      • The Simpsons, Married… With Children, Martin, The X-Files, Malcolm in the Middle, Titus.
    • WB Network shows
      • The Wayans Bros., Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dawson’s Creek, Charmed, Gilmore Girls.
    • UPN Network shows
      • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (after its move from the WB), Moesha, Enterprise.
  • Discuss the treatment of blacks on American television from the 1950s to the present, drawing material from Barnouw, MacDonald, Ely, encyclopedia entries. Be sure to consult entries on: Amos ’n Andy, The Nat “King” Cole Show, I Spy, Julia, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Roots, Cutter, Tenafly, East Side/West Side, Good Times, Bill Cosby’s shows, Moesha, Martin. Available on tape: Beulah, East Side/West Side, Julia, Sanford & Son, The Jeffersons, Baby, I’m Back, Amos ’n Andy, I Spy, The Jack Benny Show, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Roots, King, other relevant programs.
  • Drawing on information culled from assigned reading and supplemented in class discussions, write an essay on television in America from 1948-1960. Be sure to include an account of the nature of prime-time programming in this period and to discuss the major corporate, governmental and technological influences on such programming.
  • Consult the entries on Universal Studios in the NY Times Encyclopedia of Television, entries on TV movies and other Universal series in Brooks and Marsh and Alex McNeil (Total Television); review Barnouw on “telefilms” and other relevant reading. Then write an essay on The Name of the Game and The Bold Ones, giving particular attention to the subject-matter, ideology and visual style of these series. Be sure to comment on the relation between the series’ themes and the historical context of the late 1960s.
  • Describe the development of situation comedy from its radio days through television of the 1970s (and beyond if you choose). Consult encyclopedia entries on Desilu Studios, I Love Lucy, Amos ’n Andy, Jackie Gleason, The Goldbergs, and relevant later series including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, That Girl, The Brady Bunch, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, MASH, various Garry Marshall shows.
  • Write an essay contrasting comedy series of the 1970s with those of the 1980s and 90s. Among the later shows: The Cosby Show, Cheers, Seinfeld, Mad About You, Frazier, Friends, Malcolm in the Middle.
  • Discuss the treatment of women in at least three situation comedies from different decades, giving special attention to the ways in which marriage and sexual attitudes are dramatized.
  • Discuss the role of children in at least three series from different decades. What kinds of problems do the children in your shows typically confront? Possible choices: Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, One Day at a Time, Family, James at 15, Roseanne, Married With Children, Malcolm in the Middle, The Gilmore Girls.
  • “All in the Family” might serve as a general title for most television comedy from 1950 through 1980. Choose two or three representative series from at least two different decades and write an essay examining their treatment of family life, giving special attention to the relations between children and parents and between husbands and wives. How are families imagined and dramatized in your texts? What implicit and explicit virtues are displayed by adults and their children in the shows you have chosen? Where is moral authority located in these families?
  • A variation on question 5 above: write an essay discussing the development of the made-for-television film, using The Name of the Game as a precursor example and drawing on our archive of TV movies.
  • Write an essay about the treatment of historical events in TV movies and mini-series. Some possibilities: Roots, Holocaust, The Awakening Land, Kill Me If You Can (Alan Alda playing a famous death-row murderer), King, I Will Fight No More Forever, Kent State, The Missiles of October, Band of Brothers.
  • Compare a significant contemporary series from a major network - The West Wing, say, or Once and Again - with an HBO series such as Six Feet Under or The Sopranos. What do the differences between these programs signify about today’s television environment?
  • In recent years many TV series have made intense use of the Internet, creating Web sites to provide background on characters and sometimes entire plots that are not available to TV viewers. Choose one or two such programs and discuss the cultural and aesthetic significance of their hybrid natures.
  • Write an essay about The Sopranos in relation to the film and TV traditions out of which it comes. Is it a gangster story? A family melodrama? How does this series exploit the medium of television?

A Note About Plagiarism

Plagiarism – use of another’s intellectual work without acknowledgement – is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else’s work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student’s own work.

If you borrow another person’s phrasing, that material must be enclosed in quotation marks. If you use ideas conceived by others but reformulate them in your own prose, then you must acknowledge your collaboration in one of two ways: explicit acknowledgment in the body of your text (“As Lionel Trilling argues in his introduction to Pride and Prejudice,…”) or in a footnote fully citing your source.

For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution consult the style guides available in the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Website on plagiarism.

Guidelines for Formatting and Citation

There are many accepted formats for citations and footnotes. I prefer the following simple principles.

Italicize (or underline) titles of books, plays or feature films; use quotation marks to indicate titles of poems, stories or articles. Novellas or long stories that have been published in individual bindings are italicized as if they were full-length texts. So: Conrad’s short story “Youth” is placed in quotation marks as is Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming,” but Heart of Darkness (a novella), Lord Jim (a novel), and Modern Times (a feature film) are italicized.

Use parenthetic citations instead of footnotes wherever possible. For instance, in citing quoted passages from the primary text under discussion, the first reference should include full title, place and date of publication, and a page citation; thereafter, only the page citation is necessary. E.g.: (Heart of Darkness, London, 1898, p. 6). In the next citation: (p. 8). Note that the period concluding the sentence goes outside the parenthesis citing the page number(s).

An alternative to this practice: the first reference to the text can be footnoted, which note can include the remark “Subsequent parenthetic references are to this edition.”

If you cite secondary works in footnotes, use the following format: David Thorburn, Conrad’s Romanticism (New Haven, 1974), p. 17. Note that publisher is not required.

Most Important: Do not repeat information unnecessarily. For example, if your text reads “As David Thorburn suggests,…..,” then the footnote should not repeat the author’s name; if you also mention the book title in your text, then the footnote should include only the place and date of publication and the page number.

Formatting Quotations: When quoting material, integrate the quoted passage into the body of your own text using quotation marks if the passage is not longer than four lines. If the passage is longer than four lines, indent an extra five spaces left and right, forgo the quotation marks, and use single spacing.

Use an ellipsis (three spaced dots) to indicate omitted material. If the omission begins after a complete sentence, retain the original period and then introduce the ellipsis.

Use square brackets [ ] to indicate your additions or changes in the original material.

Examples below.

Quoted Passage Integrated into your Text

The Shadow Line repeatedly dramatizes scenes of tense conversation and even verbal coercion between the young protagonist and a series of older figures. As David Thorburn writes, “Though all his people are orphans, Conrad remains one of the great portrayers of the anguished impotence of fatherhood. One of his defining subjects is maturity’s useless generosity toward the young.“¹

Extended Quotation, Separated by Indentation from your Text

George Eliot’s power to create and sustain an intimate communion with her readers, her sad stringent awareness of how society shapes and constrains us, her respect for the ordinary heroism of daily life, her moral wisdom and generosity–all this is crystallized in the final paragraphs of her greatest novel:

Certainly those determining acts of… [Dorothea’s] life were not ideally beautiful. They were the mixed result of young and noble impulse struggling amidst the conditions of an imperfect social state, in which great feelings will often take the aspect of error, and great faith the aspect of illusion. For there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it….
Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature… spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.²

¹ Conrad’s Romanticism (New Haven, 1974), p. 45.

² Middlemarch, ed. Gordon Haight (Boston, 1956), pp. 612-13. First published 1871-72.

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