Editors Sarah Cardwell, Jonathan Bignell and Lucy Fife Donaldson discuss their new edited collections, ‘Moments in Television’, which form part of The Television Series.
Why ‘moments in television’?
The idea of focusing on specific moments comes in part from the aims of The Television Series: to explore the creativity of particular instances of TV, understanding them as part of the vast landscape of television. These new books attempt in some sense to capture moments, to convey the excitement that television can create.
‘Moment’ has the meaning, drawn from physics, of an impactful turning-force that shifts a text or a viewer in a new direction. The word also has evaluative implications, when a programme is argued to be representative of a moment in time, a tendency or an innovation. ‘Moment’ welds the methodology of close analysis (central to The Television Series and the Moments collections) onto arguments for aesthetic achievement or historical importance, or both.
We always want to place television itself, and its programmes, at the centre. In each chapter in the ‘Moments’ books, the moment is the starting-point and the inspiration, not proof of a pre-conceived argument or a test-case for a particular theory. This is in the spirit of television aesthetics, an approach to TV which has inspired and shaped these new collections.
Why a ‘binary’?
We refer to the title of each book as a ‘binary’: – two conceptual terms presented either side of a forward slash. The word ‘binary’ is perhaps a little clunky and imperfect. But the two words and the dividing slash are there to provoke as well as to allow flexibility in what the Moments books can do.
The ‘binary’ structure provokes by suggesting that the two words might be opposites, or two sides of the same coin. We wanted to spark debate within each book about the concepts named in their titles (complexity, simplicity; substance, style; sound, image) and to encourage contributors to engage metacritically – that is, to query how the particular terms tend to be used, how they might be used differently and how they relate (or not) to one another. The terms we chose are ones we felt would benefit from that kind of analytical attention – perhaps because they are used somewhatuncritically in TV studies (anything can be ‘complex’), or undervalued (what’s wrong with ‘simple’?), or employed to distinguish and separate approaches within TV studies (a concern with ‘style’ is central to evaluative criticism), or used hierarchically (’image’ over ’sound’). We wanted our contributors to scrutinise and reconsider the terms of each binary and how they might be better used.
But we also wanted the binary to be flexible and to open up genuinely new ways of thinking about specific programmes. That’s something else the slash does: it is non-specific, and acknowledges any number of variations in how the two words might relate.
Tell us about the cover design
The covers were a team effort. They were created by MUP, who gave us lots of opportunities to pitch in with ideas. In fact, it was Jonathan who came up with the idea of using a pixel motif which forms the pattern on each book. The ‘pixels’ are close up images of actual TV screens, so they connote attention to overlooked or crucial details of television. Each cover uses a variation on the red, green and blue that make up TV pictures; the primary colours of light. In this way we use something utterly televisual, but it’s an update on the traditional ‘TV set’ cover.
Sarah and Lucy were keen for the slash to form part of the image, given its importance to the books’ approach. So, on each cover, the pixels run on a diagonal, emphasised by the black spaces between each band of colour. The pixels and diagonal slashes together convey a subtle sense of movement and direction, and evoke the idea of an instant, a moment in time.
You mentioned TV aesthetics earlier, and you refer to it in the Introductions. Would you say these books fall within ‘television aesthetics’ specifically?
The umbrella series, The Television Series, has always shared principles and premises with TV aesthetics: a focus on close analysis, an awareness of TV’s ‘art history’, attention to creative practices and individuals’ contributions, etc. But the Moments collections take a step further towards television aesthetics.The evaluative and appreciative mood of the books, their interest in metacriticism and their general conception of TV as an art amongst other arts comes from TV aesthetics.
This impetus came out of the established and developing specialisms of we three editors. Importantly, though, these books aren’t TV aesthetics books per se. We’d describe them as inspired by that perspective, but the contributors mostly come from other traditions and approaches, and bring with them myriad interests and expertise. We are thrilled that the books exhibit such enthusiastic engagement, from diverse areas of TV studies, with matters often considered particular to TV aesthetics. In a way, the Moments books constitute a potential bridge between mainstream TV studies and TV aesthetics, and that is to the benefit, we believe, of both.
What’s next for the Moments in Television collections and The Television Series?
The fourth Moments book – Epic/everyday: moments in television – has just been submitted to MUP and should be published late 2022 or early 2023.
In The Television Series, we aim to commission some new monographs in the original strand, looking at length and in depth at the work of key creators of fictional (dramatic/comedic) TV. We’re always interested in receiving proposals, and authors can contact us informally to discuss whether a potential subject would work in the Series (and to check that the creator in question hasn’t already been covered).
We’re also interested in receiving proposals for the ‘genre’ strand in The Television Series. We’re particularly on the lookout for an original, up-to-date book on soap opera – one that takes a fresh look at the genre from the kind of perspective we’ve talked about above.
Find out more about the series here.