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Television History Essay

By withnoname183 Apr 09, 2011 3597 Words
If television is considered a cultural habit, what new habits are emerging? Draw on the example of one national TV product.

Media has a massive impact on many peoples understanding of history and plays a crucial role upon much of the general public. TV is a notoriously popular format and it is now ubiquitous in almost every single household. Impressions of our history can be perceived through this medium and it is worthy of consideration for various past events e.g. through watching factual documentaries. I will take into account and focus mainly on a very recent form of television programme known as the talent show, primarily on the singing competitions such as pop idol and the x factor. The main aim I have is to explore the way these programmes have been initially received by the general public and how they have grown in popularity. The main issue I will aim to tackle in this essay will revolve around the reality TV genre and how the format has certain perceptions and what qualities must be possessed and required in order for it to be categorised as a reality TV programme.

This essay will aim to interpret any new emerging habits that are appearing in TV broadcasts nowadays by analysing a variety of different sources. I will start from the very beginning of television history, from its infancy to its current pervasive status, and see if I can find a pattern that will correlate to viewing figures and the similar types of programmes being commissioned or coming into fruition. Hopefully there should be a distinct pattern or direct correlation between the two. I will be looking at previous successful TV programmes and comparing them to a few examples of failures within the industry. This is will hopefully enable me to distinguish any new emerging habits in TV programming. I aim to use academic sources and internet sources for my study into this field in order for me to build a thorough case and identify any new emerging trends if at all there are any.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the most powerful form of media were radio, cinema and the dominant one being newspapers. People got to hear about their current affairs from these mediums and so the most recent news or hot debatable topics were spread this way through verbal communication and social interaction. Then in the early 1920’s a new invention came along on the horizon and changed society and the future of media, this revolutionary invention being the television. The Television didn’t particularly have one inventor, but rather it was a contribution of inventors over a period of time, the very first publicly demonstrated television system was by a man named John Logie Baird (1888-1946). He was an inventor and Scottish engineer and introduced the world to its first electromechanical colour television. “By 1924 he managed to transmit a flickering image across a few feet. On 26 January 1926 he gave the world's first demonstration of true television before 50 scientists in an attic room in central London.” (Internet source 1) This certainly paved the way to the future of modern day television but back then these very first images were blurry, grainy and rough opaque objects at best. Nonetheless it was as stepping stone towards something on much grander scale and his work was seen as pioneering. He achieved his place in history and rightfully was placed in a prominent position along with the other inventors of the Television.

The first all electronic television was demonstrated to the public by an inventor named Philo Taylor Farnsworth (1906-1971) who was another pioneer towards the development of the television. His system comprised of an image pick up device known as the image dissector. “In 1927, Philo Farnsworth was the first inventor to transmit a television image comprised of 60 horizontal lines. The image transmitted was a dollar sign. Farnsworth developed the dissector tube, the basis of all current electronic televisions.” (Internet source 2)

The first initial broadcasts in America in the 1920’s paved the way for the future and so in 1922 the British Broadcasting Corporation was set up. Things were halted for awhile with the World War I and didn’t pick up again till 1936 when it is estimated around 25,000 people viewed the broadcasts for the first time. “RCA gives its first television demonstration in four years.  The system is all-electronic, 343 lines, 30 frames per second” (Internet source 3) At this time broadcasts were still in its infant stages and broadcasts were on for a few hours a day. People enjoyed them for a few years up until 1939 when things were halted yet again with the arrival of World War II and so things were placed on hold and broadcasts were stopped. “In the United States, television is allowed to continue broadcasting on a very limited basis at some stations. In England, however, ALL broadcasting comes to a complete halt, until June 7, 1946.” (Internet source 3) During the World War II radio was back in demand and was an extremely popular media format, it remained to be even after the World War II ended because Television sets that were being manufactured at the time were very expensive and were financially inaccessible for the average family. Also broadcasting at this time was still limited to a few hours a day and the reception of the signal quality still being extremely poor delayed and hindered the process of the future of TV. People in and around this era of the Televisions birth often said that it was a pointless technology and that it would amount to nothing. Little did they know that it would go on to revolutionise society and the media format would only go on from strength to strength.

Television has been around for a relatively short amount of time considering its life span and has massively affected the routine and day-today lives of almost every individual on the planet. It is now ubiquitous in almost every single household, places of business and any other significant institution. Its impact on human society has been immense and can be seen to be expressed in many different forms including the social sphere, leisurely activities, for knowledgeable purposes and for the experience and enjoyment of entertainment. It is around us all the time and the ever-growing popularity of the medium will ensure its survival for years to come, far ahead into the future. The whole notion of the Television truly took flight after World War II, around the 1950’s, when broadcast television started to break out of its infant stages and when normal families were able to purchase a set and watch TV at home with their families. The most notable occasion is that of the Queens coronation in 1953 which saw an estimated 27 million people tune in to watch the Queen take the throne. “1953 June 2nd, Televising of coronation, seen by c. 27m viewers” (Internet source 4)

The main purpose of the TV is that it provides us with a source of entertainment and daily news that are both local and national so that keeping up to date with current events is never to inaccessible. Since the development of TV there has been a gruelling process of many trials and tribulations over the past 50 years in TV programming. The result leading up to different types of genres coming into fruition in the programmes aired on the TV such as sitcoms, soaps and reality TV. It has become deeply rooted into our social sphere and is very much included in the routine of our day to day lives providing us with information for gossip and news therefore it is evidently a cultural habit for this main reason.

The reality TV genre is an aspect of television programming that displays situations that have not been scripted and can contain situations that are humorous, a visual documentation of current events and most often revolve around ordinary people in place of paid actors. “We can thus call television an essentially realistic medium because of its ability to carry a socially convincing sense of real” (Fiske. Television Culture. pg 21), this demonstrates that television is a projection of an external reality. The first type of the reality genre was seen mainly in game shows in early television broadcasting but has recently expanded from the year 2000 and onwards with the introduction of shows such as Big brother, Pop Idol, X factor, Britain’s got Talent and other forms of talent shows that essentially give the average, ordinary everyday normal person a shot towards stardom and fame. An important aspect of this genre is that it has the ability to make stars of its contestants.

“New genres emerge at the same time as old ones change. The genre that has most recently become the subject of viewers’, reviewers’ and academics’ interest is Reality TV. Reality TV is a generic hybrid: it adopts constructed situations (like holding the contestants in the specially built Big Brother House), and is thus like sitcom in being based on a particular setting and featuring characters who cannot escape from it. Reality TV is obviously like documentary, in as much as it is a factual form with an ostensible concern to investigate human behaviour and relationships using a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ camera style. It is also like drama in its sequential flow based around detailed exploration of character. It is like the game show in being based on competition, where contestants compete to stay on the show and usually compete for a prize. It is like the talk show in being a means for reflecting on social issues (like how contestants will react to someone of a different sexual orientation or someone with a very different social background) and usually foregrounds opportunities for the contestants’ personal confession (as in Big Brother’s Diary Room). It is like lifestyle television in its emphasis on making and changing the persona, and showing that people can change and learn from their surroundings and from each other, and that social relations are changeable.” (Bignell & Orlebar. The Television Handbook. Pg 70)

Reality TV is very fast becoming a genre that is recognised in its own field and there are many elements that add to the appeal of this increasing trend. It is a genre that falls into a distinct group and is a prime example of how different types of genres can mix and emerge to develop a new type of category all together. Reality TV offers us as an audience the image of a perceived contemporary society, through the programmes social and emotional interactions. The appeal is that this format can exploit certain characteristics and when compared to older genres can bring back the excitement and unpredictability that other programmes have begun to loose or have lost over a period of time. “The reality genre has mass appeal. Popular series such as American Idol in the USA or I’m a celebrity… in the UK have attracted up to and over 50 percent of the market share, which means more than half the population of television viewers tuned into these programmes. To achieve such ratings these reality series have to be all round entertainers.” (Hill. Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. Pg 2)

Pop idol was the original reality programme which gave ordinary people a shot at super stardom and fame ‘with its celebritisation of the ordinary person’ (Holmes & Jermyn. Understanding Reality Television. Pg 114) through enabling people to go through stages in a singing competition, which saw the groups being evicted as the weeks progressed. “The appeal of reality programming lies partly in how seemingly ordinary people are suddenly ‘especially remarkable’ and how that celebrity status is endorsed by the spectacle of their widespread public presence” (Biressi & Nunn. Reality TV: Realism and Revelation. Pg. 148)

The main reason that this show became successful was because it had a universal appeal and was family orientated. People loved the fact that it gave the average Joe off the street a shot at fame and the audience was there from the very on set to see them make it. Its format was then adapted and other idol series started to catch on all around the globe such as American Idol, Canadian Idol and Australian Idol. “The Idol format is a reality TV contest with the aim to find a ‘pop idol’ and recording artist through staging nationwide auditions. The more interesting moments in these auditions are broadcast to showcase broken dreams and shattered egos. Each week, the public and a group of four judges vote off one contestant out of the final ten until the winner is made the ‘Idol’ for a particular television cycle.” (Moran. TV formats worldwide: localizing global programs. pg 132)

So we can see that the general public had a genuine interest towards this type of programme and even prompted people who had never sent a text with their mobiles to text in to the show to vote for their favourite contestant. This was indeed a ground breaking event which gripped the attention of the public. “Few can argue with American Idol’s success. By the final weeks of its second season in 2003, FOX broadcasting Company was receiving more than 20 million telephone calls or text messages per episode, casting verdicts on the American Idol contestants.” (Murray & Ouellette. Reality TV: Remaking television culture. pg 343)

Other programmes similar in nature to this then started to be released such as fame academy but which were not as successful and other celebrity revolving shows such as strictly come dancing which managed to get just over 9 million viewers. Another popular show that revolves around the talents of ordinary people is Britain’s Got Talent where people can perform any type of act and does not necessarily mean that they have to sing in the contest. “Reality TV is a catch-all category, and popular reality programming draws on a variety of genres to create ratings winners. There is something for everyone in the reality genre.” (Hill. Reality TV: Audiences and popular factual television, pg 14). The most popular by far of these types of reality TV programmes is the X factor which gave contestants the ability to audition regardless of age whereas pop idol had a strict age limit which opened up the restrictions and limitations.

The X factor is undoubtedly the most popular singing contest that is being broadcast at the moment, the last final show managed to draw in a staggering 15 million viewers in the UK. “The figures, confirmed by ITV, BBC and Sky, showed a peak audience of 12.8 million, a 50% share of the TV audience, watched the squabbling between the judges on X Factor while strictly peaked with 9.3 million, a 38% share. The hit ITV show, which was broadcast between 8.00pm and 10.00pm, averaged 11.3 million viewers, a 44% share, with one million more viewers tuning in last night compared with the equivalent show last year.” (Internet source 5). It is an interactive experience and it enables the viewers at home to choose who they wish to stay on and the act with the least amount of votes must face a final show down and have a sing off. The winner is chosen by the judges on their performance and the loser is sent home. This is continued up until the final three acts when ultimately a winner is crowned and takes home a singing contract worth a million pounds. It has created many successful artists such as Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke. Even the runner ups are able to produce a career directly as a result of appearing on the show such as the boy band JLS and solo artist Susan Boyle. “After The X Factor, JLS were signed to Epic Records. They released their debut single "Beat Again" in 2009. With this song, they sat at number 1 on U.K. Singles chart. They also prepare for their first studio album.” (Internet Source 6)

Since being first aired in 2004 it has now become a world wide franchise and was produced to replace the successful pop idol series mainly because Simon Cowell wished to own the rights for his own show via his own production company SYCOtv. It is a singing contest where talented singers are chosen from the public auditions which are held nationwide. “The X Factor 2009 final proved to be a big ratings draw, despite disappointing figures for Saturday’s performance show. An average of 15.62 million (53.2%) people watched the two from 19:30 last night which saw Joe crowned the winner of the series. The show peaked at an astonishing 19.11 million viewers (61.9%) when the result was announced at 9:20PM, up on last year’s peak of 14.6 million when Alexandra was crowned the winner.” (Internet Source 7) SYCOtv also owns the rights to the Got Talent shows which have had massive success not only in the UK but across the globe, it is the only modern day reality TV format that has had a No.1 TV show in the UK and the US at the same time. “SyCo TV this week is celebrating the fact that on Tuesday 12 June it had the No.1 TV show in both the US and UK at the same time with its Got Talent show - an incredible achievement for a TV production company, and a first for any modern reality TV format. The format continues to grow globally. It's been commissioned worldwide and is set to air in 40 countries by the end of the year.” (Internet Source 8)

This can be clearly seen if we look at the rising viewing figures that these types of programmes are receiving. The public loves the fact that they can witness the birth of a star and that they have a part to play by being given the chance to vote. It has definitely struck a chord around the world. These figures indicate that the most popular TV programmes at the moment are the reality TV types which are family orientated and are interactive for the viewing audience at home.

|Series[pic]|Series premiere[pic] |Series finale[pic] |Episodes |Average UK viewers | | | | |(inc. results shows)[pic] |in millions | | | | | |(inc. results shows)[pic] | |Series 1 |4 September 2004 |11 December 2004 |23 |7.40 | |Series 2 |20 August 2005 |17 December 2005 |30 |8.73 | |Series 3 |19 August 2006 |16 December 2006 |26 |8.27 | |Series 4 |18 August 2007 |15 December 2007 |27 |8.57 | |Series 5 |16 August 2008 |13 December 2008 |30 |10.51 | |Series 6 |22 August 2009 |13 December 2009 |31 |13.00 | |Series 7 |21 August 2010 |12 December 2010 |TBA |TBA |

(Internet source 9)
Here we can see that as the show progresses, the viewing figures start to slowly increase in the millions.

Through conducting research into reality TV programmes I have found that Television is indeed a cultural habit and a new habit that has emerged from the medium is in the form of the talent show where the general public are given a shot to become famous and that through an interactive experience it has the ability to attain some of the highest viewing figures in broadcasting annuals. It is a fairly new trend that has truly evolved over the past ten years. The trend initially emerged from the Pop Idol series and has taken off successfully from there. As long as the general public keep showing an interest towards each series and their votes generate enough revenue, the programmes will keep on being commissioned and we can expect to see more from this genre in the future. It has taken the world by storm and I am sure its format will mean that it will also receive high viewing figures from people in other countries which for example can be evidently seen in America. So in conclusion there is sufficient evidence and figures to conclude that with the growing demand for such reality genre shows there will be more programmes being produced just as long as there are high viewing figures to back them.



Biressi, Anita. Nunn, Heather. Realtiy TV: Realism and revelation. Wallflower Press. 2005

Bignell, Jonathon. Orlebar, Jeremy. The Television Handbook. Routledge. 2005

Fiske, John. Television Culture. Routledge. 1987

Hill, Annette. Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. Routledge. 2005

Holmes, Su. Jermyn, Deborah. Understanding Reality Television. Routledge. 2004

Moran, Albert. 2009. TV formats worldwide: localizing global programs. Intellect. 2009

Murray, Susan., Ouellette Laurie. Reality TV: remaking television culture. New York University Press. 2009

Internet Sources:

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