21L.432 | Spring 2003 | Undergraduate

Understanding Television


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Overview

The subtitle of this course for the spring 2003 term is “American Television: A Cultural History.” The class takes a cultural approach to television’s evolution as a technology and system of representation, considering television as a system of storytelling and myth-making, and as a cultural practice, studied from anthropological, literary, and cinematic perspectives. The course focuses on prime-time commercial broadcasting, the medium’s technological and economic history, and theoretical perspectives. There is much required viewing as well as readings in media theory and cultural interpretation.

Fours weeks will be devoted to the technological and economic history of American television. These classes will also examine the theoretical perspectives from which scholars and policy-makers have considered our television system. The remainder of the semester will be devoted to a study of the evolution of television’s fundamental genres of storytelling: situation comedy, westerns, police and private-eye programs, and other forms of melodrama. These categories of storytelling will be studied in a context that emphasizes their continuities with story-forms that developed in other media, such as film, the stage, and prose fiction.

Grading Includes

Written Assignments
One Midterm Quiz
One Final Exam


Informal lectures and discussion. Much in-class analysis of passages from TV programs.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2003
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Videos
Written Assignments