We use cookies on this site. By browsing our site you agree to our use of cookies. Close this message Find out more

More in this section Undergraduate

MA2064 TV Genre

Tutor: Cathy Johnson

Teaching: 10 hours lecture, 10 hours seminar

Value: ½ unit - option

Availability: Autumn or Spring

Overview - attendance and readings - teaching and assessment

This course has two central aims:

  • to introduce you to the study of a range of different television genres
  • to explore the applicability of genre theory to television. 

The course introduces you to theories of genre and to some of the different approaches that have been used to study genre in television.  We will look at the sit-com, soap opera, and television news, as well as programmes that pose particular problems for genre theory, such as reality television and long-running series.  Here we will explore how notions of generic conventions/expectations, generic hybridity, genre parody and formats complicate the applicability of genre to television.


Attendance at seminars is, unsurprisingly, compulsory. Attendance will be recorded each week, and failure to attend at least 70 per cent (i.e. seven weeks) without prior consultation or reasonable cause may result in your failing the course. Reasonable cause may include (but is not limited to): illness, family circumstances, transportation difficulties, acts of God, the Apocalypse, etc. Leave of absence on medical or other grounds can only be granted by the Head of Department, Susanna Capon, and only on production of appropriate written explanation (doctor’s/therapist’s letter, etc.). If there is an ongoing problem which is persistently affecting your ability to do your work, you should let your personal advisor know as soon as you become aware of it, so that we can make suitable provision. Don’t just let things slide and assume that you can make up the attendance later with no questions asked.


Each week’s topic and screening is accompanied by 1 or 2 designated readings in the Course Pack, which will form the basis for seminar presentations and class discussion. Purchase of the Course Pack is a prerequisite for enrolment in the course and weekly readings are compulsory.

Students who arrive at a seminar without having read the weekly reading will be asked to leave and an unexcused absence recorded against their name for that session.

Each week the course pack indicates preparation that you should undertake for the seminar, related to the reading in the course pack. The aim of this preparation is to make your reading more focused and to help develop your critical skills. This preparation will form the basis of the seminar, so you will be expected to have undertaken this preparation in advance of the seminars.


The course is taught by means of a weekly screening, one-hour lecture and one-hour seminar.  Each week you will be required to read the assigned articles in the Course Pack, prepare in advance for the lecture/seminar, and attend the screening and lecture. Detailed discussion of the screenings will form a part of each seminar so it is essential that you attend the screening each week, even if it is a programme that you are familiar with.


Final assessment is by means of one 4,000-5,000 word essay to be submitted at the start of the term after you finish the course.

You may incorporate work from your seminar presentations in your essays. I will be available to discuss your ideas, essay structure, secondary reading, etc. in the final two weeks of the course.

Essays should be typed, double-spaced, and in all other regards conform to the style sheet included in the Students’ Handbook. (Marks will be deducted for sloppy presentation.)

If an essay is submitted up to 24 hours late, the mark will be reduced by 10 per cent, subject to a minimum mark of a minimum Pass. For essays submitted more than 24 hours late, the maximum mark will be zero.

Extensions can only be granted by the Head of Department, Susanna Capon, and only on production of appropriate written explanation (doctor’s letter, etc.). Neither I nor your personal advisor can grant them. 

Seminar Papers:

Each week of the course there will be seminar presentations of up to 20 minutes. During the course you will be required to give one presentation. The exact format of your presentation is up to you; but the purpose of the exercise is to offer neither a summary of the weekly reading, nor a film review, but rather to present thoughts, ideas or problems that can help provoke and structure group discussion.


You should take careful note of the regulations regarding plagiarism included with each list of essay questions. As you ought to know by now, plagiarism is a serious offence which will not be treated lightly and which can seriously affect your marks and even delay the award of your degree. If we have any suspicion that work submitted to us is plagiarised, we will immediately refer the issue to the College authorities for further action. If you have any doubts about what constitutes plagiarism, err on the side of caution or (better still) ask. If you are caught plagiarising, this will be indicated in all future references provided by the University (e.g. for job applications).

Week one: What is genre?

In this introductory week we will explore what origins of the term genre, discuss how genre functions as a form of classification, and examine how genre is used to analyse television programmes.

By the end of this session you should be able to:

  • Outline the main definitions of genre.
  • Explain the difference between historical and theoretical genres.
  • Use genre to analyse the television sitcom.


  • Langford, Barry. 2005. ‘“Our Usual Impasse”: the episodic situation comedy revisited’, in Jonathan Bignell and Stephen Lacey (eds.), Popular Television Drama: Critical Perspectives, Manchester: MUP.
  • Mills, Brett. 2004. ‘Comedy Verite: Contemporary Sitcom Form’, Screen, 45(1), pp.63-78


  • Steptoe and Son (BBC, 1962-74), ‘65 Today’
  • The Office (BBC, 2001-3), Season 1, Episode 1.

During the screening you should make notes on the characters, settings, themes, plots, iconography and narrative structures of each series, noting in particular similarities and differences between each. You should also note how the humour works in each sitcom. What is the source of the humour? Who/what do we laugh at? Do we laugh with or at the characters?

Suggested Further Reading: 

On genre theory:

  • Feuer, Jane. 1992. ‘Genre Study and Television’, in R. Allen (ed.) Channels Of Discourse, Reassembled: Television And Contemporary Criticism. London: Routledge, 138-160.
  • Steve Neale. 2001. ‘Studying Genre’ and ‘Genre and Television’, in Glen Creeber (ed.) The Television Genre Book, London: BFI.
  • Creeber, Glen (ed.). 2001. The Television Genre Book, London: BFI.
  • Mittell, Jason. 2004. Genre and Television, London: Routledge.

Most of the writing on genre theory relates specifically to film.  However, it provides the basis for most of the discussions of television genre.  For the key theorisations of genre in Film Studies you should look at:

  • Altman, Rick. 1999. Film/Genre, London: BFI.
  • Neale, Steve. 2000. Genre and Hollywood, London: Routledge.
  • Neale, Steve. 1980. Genre, London: BFI.
  • Tudor, Andrew. 1976. ‘Genre and Critical Methodology’, in Bill Nichols (ed.), 1976, Movies and Methods: Vol. 1, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp.118-126.

On the sitcom:

  • Mills, Brett. 2005. Television Sitcom, London: BFI.
  • Bowes, Mick. 1990 ‘Only When I Laugh’, in Andrew Goodwin and Garry Whannel (eds.), Understanding Television, London and New York: Routledge, pp.128-140.
  • Dyer, Richard. 1992. Only Entertainment, New York and London: Routledge.
  • Grote, David. 1983. The End of Comedy: the Sit-Com and the Comedic Tradition, Hampden: Archon.
  • Marc, David. 1989. Comic Visions: Television Comedy and American Culture, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Morreale, Joanne (ed.). 2003. Critiquing the Sitcom: A Reader, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
  • Neale, Steve and Krutnik, Frank. 1990. Popular Film and Television Comedy, New York and London: Routledge.
  • Neale, Steve and Krutnick, Frank. 2000. ‘Broadcast Comedy and Sitcom’, in Ed Buscombe (ed.), British Television: A Reader, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.278-289.
  • Rowe, Kathleen. 1995. The Unruly Woman: Gender and the Genres of Laugher, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
  • Wagg, Stephen (ed.). 1998. Because I Tell a Joke or Two: Comedy, Politics and Social Difference, New York and London: Routledge.

You should also look at the section on situation comedy in:

  • Glen Creeber (ed.). 2001. The Television Genre Book, London: BFI.
    This week we will look at Jason Mittell’s arguments that genre is better understood as a cultural category, rather than a feature of texts.

Week two: Genre as cultural category

This week we will look at Jason Mittell’s arguments that genre is better understood as a cultural category, rather than a feature of texts.

By the end of this session you should be able to:

  • Explain the ways in which genre functions as a cultural category.
  • Discuss how an understanding of genres as cultural categories might change our understanding of genre theory.
  • Examine the ways in which genres function as cultural categories.

Preparation for the seminar:

  • Explain in no more than 3 sentences what Mittell means by the idea that genres are cultural categories.

Reading :

  • Mittell, Jason. 2004. Genre and Television, New York and London: Routledge, Chapter 1, ‘Television Genres as Cultural Categories’.

Screening :

  • The Avengers (ITV, 1961-69), ‘Death Dispatch’, ‘The Correct Way to Kill’

During the screening you should note the number of different generic references. Consider plot, themes, iconography, narrative structure, characters and settings. To what genre does The Avengers belong?

Suggested Further Reading :
On television history and The Avengers look at:

  • Hilmes, Michele. 2003. The Television History Book, London: BFI.
  • Johnson, Catherine. 2005. Telefantasy, London: BFI.
  • Chapman, James. 2002. Saints and Avengers, London: I.B.Tauris.

Week three: Soap opera as a gendered genre?

This week we will continue to consider how genres function as cultural categories and explore the relationship between textual attributes, modes of address and the cultural construction of genres. We will focus on how ‘soap opera’ operates as a cultural category that tends to be gendered, and consider the ways in which academics have engaged with soap opera as a ‘gendered’ genre that primarily addresses (and appeals to) women.

By the end of this session you should be able to:

  • Explain the main codes and conventions of the television soap opera.
  • Explain why and how academics have argued that soap opera is a woman’s genre.
  • Debate whether television soap opera should be understood as a gendered genre.

Preparation for the seminar:

  • Drawing on the reading and the screening, list the main formal characteristics of television soap operas.
  • Using this list, give examples of 2 drama series that you consider to be soap operas and 2 drama series that you consider not to be soap operas, giving reasons for your choices.


  • Hobson, Dorothy, Soap Opera, Cambridge, Polity, 2003, Chapter 4.
  • Allen, Robert C., ‘Bursting Bubbles: “Soap Opera”, audiences, and the limits of genre’, in Ellen Seiter et al. (eds.). 1989. Remote Control: Television, Audiences and Cultural Power, London: Routledge, 1989 pp44-55.


  • Coronation Street (ITV, 1960-); Hollyoaks (Channel 4, 1995-)

Suggested Further Reading:
There is a vast amount of academic writing on the television soap opera, and you should look in the library for further reading in addition to the suggestions below.
If you want to write on soaps and gender you should look at the rest of Hobson’s book and:

  • Geraghty, Christine. 1991. Women and Soap Opera, Oxford: Polity.
  • Brunsdon, Charlotte.1981. ‘Crossroads: Notes on a Soap Opera’, Screen, 22(4).

You should also look at:

  • Allen, Robert C. 1995. To be Continued… Soap Operas Around the World, London: Routledge.
  • Allen, Robert C. 1985. Speaking of Soap Operas, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Brunsdon, Charlotte. 2000. The Feminist, the Housewife, and the Soap Opera, Oxford: OUP.
  • David Buckingham. 1987. Public Secrets: Eastenders and its Audience, London: BFI.
  • Stempel Mumford, Laura. 1995. Love and Ideology in the Afternoon: Soap Opera, Women, and Television Genre, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Dyer, Richard et al. (eds.). 1981. Coronation Street, London: BFI.
  • Hobson, Dorothy. 1982. Crossroads: The Drama of a Soap Opera, London: Methuen.
  • Geraghty, Christine. 2000. ‘The Construction of a Community’, in Ed Buscombe (ed.), British Television: A Reader, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Week four: : Genre as an industrial construct

Insert your content here

This week we will consider how genres function within the television industry, and their role and place within television production.

By the end of this session you should be able to:

  • Debate the different ways in which the television industry uses genre as a concept.
  • Explain the ways in which genre functioned within the production of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
  • Examine the use of genre in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Preparation for the seminar:
In addition to attending the screening and doing the reading, please do the following preparation for the seminar:

  • Undertake research into the ancillary merchandise and on-line texts (such as websites) available for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What do these imply about the series’ use of genre and its audience appeal?


  • Johnson, Catherine. 2005. Telefantasy, London: BFI, Chapter 4, ‘Quality/Cult Television’.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB, 1997-2001, UPN, 2001-03),‘The Witch’ and ‘Once More, with Feeling’
During the screening you should make notes on the characters, settings, themes, plots, iconography and narrative structures of the programme. To what genre does the programme belong?

Suggested Further Reading:
On Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

  • Kaveney, Roz. 2002. Reading the Vampire Slayer, London: I.B.Tauris.
  • Lavery, David. 2004. ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, in Glen Creeber (ed.), Fifty Key Television Programmes, London: Arnold.
  • Wilcox, Rhonda V. and Lavery, David (eds.). 2002. Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer?, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield.
  • Wilcox, Rhonda V. 2005. Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, London: I.B.Tauris.
  • Slayage: the On-Line Journal of Buffy Studies, www.slayage.tv
  • Edition 17 of Slayage (5.1) is devoted to ‘Once More, with Feeling’.
  • Davies, Glyn and Dickinson, Kay. 2004. Teen Television, London: BFI.

On serial/series television drama:

  • Creeber, Glen. 2004. Serial Television: Big Drama on the Small Screen, London: BFI.
  • Hammond, Mike and Mazdon, Lucy. 2005. The Contemporary Television Series, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (includes a chapter on Buffy).
  • Jancovich, Mark and Lyons, James. 2003. Quality Popular Television, London: BFI.

Week five: News as narrative

This week we shift from fiction to factual programming with the first of two weeks on television news.  We will begin by thinking about the formal structure of news bulletins.  Is news a genre?  Is news a reflection of real life?  Is news constructed?  If it is constructed does it have a narrative and generic codes and conventions?  You will be asked to analyse a news bulletin in the screening, so pay particular attention to Justin Lewis’s article on ‘Analysing Television News’ in your reading.  In addition to the weekly screenings you should endeavour regularly to watch as many of the different news bulletins on television as possible over the next two weeks.

By the end of this session you should be able to:

  • Explain the main codes and conventions of television news.
  • Debate whether television news is a genre.
  • Debate the theories explaining the relationship between television news and reality.

Preparation for the seminar:

  • Watch as many different news programmes/bulletins as you can and be prepared to discuss their similarities and differences.


  • Lewis, Justin, ‘Studying Television News’ and ‘Analysing Television News’ in Glen Creeber (ed.), 2001, The Television Genre Book, London: BFI, 2001, pp.108-114
  • Bourdieu, Piere, On Television and Journalism, London: Pluto, 1998, Part One, ‘In Front of the Camera and Behind the Scenes’.


  • Two evening television news bulletins

Week six: Reading week

A reading week is not a week off, but rather is a chance for you to look over what we have learnt so far on the course, engage in some further reading/viewing and prepare for the rest of the course.

 As this is a course where the issues are built up over a number of weeks this is a good chance to make sure you have fully understood what we have covered so far and to catch up on anything you have missed. You should also start thinking about your essays.

Week seven: News, democracy and the public sphere

This week we will continue our analysis of television news by exploring how the choices made in the construction of the news might affect our understanding of the world.
What role does new play in our lives? Why is it constructed in certain ways and what are the consequences of this? Are all news bulletins the same?  Where does news come from?

By the end of this session you should be able to:

  • Discuss the impact of television news on the public sphere.
  • Debate the social and political function of television news and how well it achieves this function.

Preparation for the seminar:

  • In no more than 3 sentences explain what the term ‘public sphere’ means. Give an example a public and a private sphere to exemplify your definition.


  • Harrison, Jackie, Chapter 1, ‘TV News and Public Spheres, Fragmentation and New Sub-Genres’, Terrestrial TV News in Britain: The Culture of Production, Manchester: MUP, 2000, pp.18-42.


  • Selection of news programmes from different British channels.

Suggested Further Reading for Weeks 8 and 9:
In addition to looking at the rest of Harrison’s book, you should look at:

  • Schudson, Michael, ‘The Sociology of News Production Revisited’, in James Curran and Michael Gurevitch (eds.), 1991, Mass Media and Society, London: Edward Arnold, 1991, pp.141-159.
  • Cohen, S. and Young, J., The Manufacture of News, London: Constable, 1983.
  • McNair, B., News and Journalism in the UK, London: Routledge, 1999.
  • Tumber, Howard (ed.), News: A Reader, Oxford: OUP, 1999.
  • Lichtenburg, Judith, ‘In Defence of Objectivity’ in James Curran and Michael Gurevitch (eds.), 1991, Mass Media and Society, London: Edward Arnold, 1991, pp.216-231.
  • MacGregor, Brent, Live, Direct and Biased?: Making Television News in the Satellite Age, London: Arnold, 1997.
  • Street, John. 2001. Mass Media, Politics and Democracy, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Week eight:  The sitcom and sexuality, guest lecture by Professor Loman

This week we will have a guest lecture by Professor Loman who will draw on his academic and professional expertise in television to talk about the representation of gay and lesbian identities in the US sitcom. 

To be confirmed and provided before reading week.

Extracts from: Soap, Ellen and Will and Grace.

Week nine: Reality television as drama? 

This week we will shift from looking at fiction to examining a form of factual programming – reality television. We will consider whether reality television should be understood within existing definitions of documentary or whether it is better understood as combining the conventions of drama and documentary.

By the end of this session you should be able to:

  • Debate the cultural and social value of reality television
  • Debate the use of genre in reality television.

Preparation for the seminar:
In addition to attending the screening and doing the reading, please do the following preparation for the seminar:
List the conventions of drama that Piper argues are being used in Wife Swap. Consider whether these conventions are used in any other reality television programmes you have watched.


  • Piper, Helen. 2004. ‘Reality TV, Wife Swap and the Drama of Banality’, Screen, 45(4), pp.273-286.
  • Holmes, Su and Jermyn, Deborah. 2004. ‘Introduction: Understanding Reality TV’ in Su Holmes and Deborah Jermyn (eds.), Understanding Reality TV, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, pp.1-32.

Wife Swap (Channel 4, 2003-)

Further Reading:

  • Biressi, Anita and Nunn, Heather. 2005. Reality T>

Week ten: Essay planning and tutorials 

I will be away at a conference in Philadelphia in the first half of Week 10 and so there will be no lecture/seminar. However, I will be holding essay tutorials in the second half of Week 10 which you should sign up for. You should bring to the tutorial your ideas and a rough plan of your essay, and you should be prepared to discuss the initial research you have undertaken for your essay.

Essay tutorials are compulsory and if you miss an essay tutorial this counts as a missed seminar. I will also hold a small number of essay tutorials in Week 11, only for those students planning to write an essay on Week 11’s topic (Genre Parody).

Week eleven: Genre parody 

In this final week we will return to our examination of the use of generic conventions and expectations by looking at two different instances of genre parody.  First, we will refer back to the first two weeks of the course on the sitcom and look at The Simpsons. As an animated sitcom, The Simpsons is certainly a generic hybrid but can it also be understood as a genre parody? Second, we will look at the parody of the conventions of television news in The Day Today.  In both instances we will be engaging with debates about whether television parody is a subversive strategy or an example of postmodern pastiche.

By the end of the session you should be able to:

  • Explain what a parody is and how it works
  • Debate the difference between parody and pastiche in relation to theories of postmodernism
  • Debate whether The Simpsons and The Day Today could be considered as either parody or pastiche.

Preparation for the seminar:

  • Drawing on the rest of the course, list the generic conventions of the news genre that are used by The Day Today and the generic conventions of the soap opera used by The Simpsons.


  • Grey, Jonathan, 2006, Watching With the Simpsons, Routledge, London and New York. This reading is not currently in the course pack but will to be provided at the start of the course.


  • The Day Today (Channel 4, 1994)
  • The Simpsons (Fox, 1989-)

Suggested Further Reading:

  • Dan Harries. 2000. Film Parody, London: BFI.
  • Hutcheon, Linda. 1985. A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth Century Art Forms, New York: Methuen.
  • Hutcheon, Linda. 1988. A Poetics of Postmodernity: Essays in Postmodern Theory and Culture, Ohio: Ohio State University Press.
  • Collins, Jim. 1992. ‘Postmodernism and Television’, in Robert C. Allen (ed.), Channels of Discourse, Reassembled, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Foster, Hal (ed.). 1985. Postmodern Culture, London: Pluto.
  • Jencks, Chris (ed.). 1992. The Postmodern Reader, London: Academy.
  • Mittell, Jason. 2001. ‘Cartoon Realism: Genre Mixing and the Cultural Life of The Simpsons’, The Velvet Light Trap, no.47, Spring 2001, pp.15-28.
  • Conner, Steven. 1989. Postmodernist Culture: An Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Giddens, Anthony. 1991. The Consequences of Modernity, Cambridge: Polity.
  • Harvey, David. 1989. The Condition of Postmodernity, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Bignell, Jonathan. 2000. Postmodern Media Culture, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Rick Altman, ‘A Semantic/Syntactic Approach to Film Genre’, reproduced in Film/Genre, London: BFI, 1999.  You should also look at the conclusion where Altman reassesses this article.
  • Wells, Paul. 2002. Animation and America, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Fredric Jameson, ‘Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’, New Left Review, no.146, 1984.
  • Henry, Matthew. 2003. ‘The Triumph of Popular Culture: Situation Comedy, Postmodernism and The Simpsons’, in Morreale, Joanne (ed.). 2003. Critiquing the Sitcom: A Reader, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

Comment on this page

Did you find the information you were looking for? Is there a broken link or content that needs updating? Let us know so we can improve the page.

Note: If you need further information or have a question that cannot be satisfied by this page, please call our switchboard on +44 (0)1784 434455.

This window will close when you submit your comment.

Add Your Feedback