Mittell’s Television Genre Theory and Louie

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Originally published in Cinema Journal 40, No. 3, Spring 2001, Jason Mittell’s “A Cultural Approach to Television Genre Theory” conceives of television genre as a cultural category rather than merely a textual component. In the decade since the original publishing of the article, television has evolved out of the multi-channel era and into the post-network era. In this new television landscape, genres are no longer a fixed entity1, and there is great academic potential in the in the study of television genres. The text, Thinking Outside the Box: A Contemporary Television Genre Reader, aims to explore and analyze genre in the current television landscape, and the Mittell article, republished in the book, serves as an entry point to such scholarship.

Jason Mittell is an Associate Professor of American Studies and Film & Media Culture and Chair of the Film & Media Culture Department at Middlebury College in Vermont. His 2004 book, Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture is a more in-depth examination of television genre theory.

“A Cultural Approach to Television Genre Theory” argues that the application of film and literary genre theory do not fully translate when analyzing television, because of “the specific industry and audience practices unique to television, or for the mixture of fictional and nonfictional programming that constitutes the lineup on nearly every TV channel. 2” The goal of media genre studies, Mittell asserts, is to understand how media is arranged within the contexts of production and reception, and how media work to create our vision of the world.

Mittell’s argument for the examination of genre within a cultural context is useful, particularly when applied to post-network telev...

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...es Out’.” The A.V. Club, March 17. http://www.avclub.com/articles/lucky-louie-kim-moves-out,53266/

6 Zoller Seitz, Matt. 2011 “The Rough Magic of Louie.” Salon, August 25. http://entertainment.salon.com/2011/08/25/rough_magic_of_louie/

7 Nussbaum, Emily. 2011. “One-man Show.” New York Magazine, May 15. http://nymag.com/arts/tv/upfronts/2011/louis-ck-2011-5/ 8 Mittell, Approach, 43.

9 Mittell, Approach, 42.

10 Wilson, Stacey. 2011 “Top 50 Power Showrunners 2011.” The Hollywood Reporter, October 12. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/lists/louis-ck-247392

11 Ellen Seiter and Mary Jeanne Wilson, “Soap Opera Survival Tactics”, in Thinking Outside the Box: A Contemporary Television Genre Reader (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2005), 138.

12 Mittell, Approach, 55.

13 Mittell, Approach, 56. 

14 Mittell, Approach, 45.

15 Mittell, Approach, 37-38.

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