Television and Radio Criticism

Narrative Structure: Television Stories- Sheva L

In part one of the October second reading, written by J. Butler, the author intends on breaking down television and its many narrative structures. Narrative structures are just another way of saying ‘how the story is told’ and in some cases ‘why the story is told in that way’. However, he has to talk about the history and origins of television. Butler calls it “the recipe that created that reality”. This begins with the film industry and their first interactions with television.
He starts off with Theatrical Film as the first of his four “Principal Narrative Modes.” He goes into describing the heavy tension and animosity between the two mediums, that would later result in an alliance that made both industries successful. Films had to be incorporated into television and that change is the core of why television is the way it is today, even with their similarities and differences in narrative components. He clearly distinguishes the typical patterns found in classical Hollywood cinema. This is the basis of his description because it’s the most common in the industry as far as structure is concerned. Although he does mention the nonclassical forms throughout the article, the norm is seen as what reigns. These patterns are single protagonist, exposition, motivation, narrative, cause-effect chain, climax, and resolution. Out of all seven patterns, the one that felt most important was the last. The resolution pattern of film is closure. This is when the narrative questions are answered at the end. The opposite is aperture, which appears in television, horror movies, and nonclassical films. The narratives of these conclude with a vague ending. He then gives insight on the process of theater film being reproduced for our tv screens. Scenes have been removed and/or lengthened, broadcast standards are strict, and commercials. Commercials seem to be the most damaging because of the distractions it imposes on the viewer when the content is not meant to be structured that way. “The appearance of TV commercials within classical films add a distracting, narratively detrimental element (Butler, 30).”
The second narrative mode is The Made-for-TV Film or MOW. MOW was coined by the industry and means “movie of the week”, in terms of the earlier formats of a TV-produced film. One of my main concerns when reading about the evolution of this mode over time was the lack of understanding by viewers that this was different from the regular motion pictures we see in theaters. The distinction between made-for-tv film and theatrical film have begun to blur. Even I, who majors in both Film and Television/Radio, can admit to not always distinguishing them as being different. He talks about the narrative structure of the MOW and the format that it is required to have. MOW bases their structure on the limited time they have between commercials, so they set up the narrative chain into segments. This allows for a different narrative structure than film, but the same objective is trying to be achieved – keep the viewers’ attention. As Butler stated before, the use of commercials can be distracting to one but, with MOW, it is meant to still keep the audience locked in and engaged with its intricate aesthetics. One important factor to mention was how they do this. They use small climaxes before each commercial. This heightens the need for the storyline. It is like the saying “being on the edge of your seat” in how it gets the audience to keep watching. However, this is not always effective for every MOW. Recently the BET network premiered their two-night biopic special, The Bobby Brown Story. I found it very hard to watch and keep interest with all of the pointless and unrelated commercials. I was frustrated and decided to watch it on the BET app, where I still had to watch commercials in between but it was limited to just one per break.
In my conclusions, I believe J. Butler’s thesis to be a serious of questions. The first is, “How is the story put together?” The second is, “What are the components of the story and how do they relate to each other?” The final is, “Why are these stories put together in terms of narrative structure?” I respond to this article by saying I feel it is a great way to breakdown the different narrative modes and explore the details, or ingredients, so small that make up what we view as an audience.

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