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Storytelling in the Media

Convergence Age
Exploring Screen Narratives

Edited by

Roberta Pearson
Anthony N. Smith
Storytelling in the Media Convergence Age
Also by Roberta Pearson

John Hartley and Roberta Pearson, editors, American Cultural Studies: A Reader
Edward Buscombe and Roberta Pearson, editors, Back in the Saddle Again: New
Writings on the Western (1998).
Claire Dupre la Tour, Andre Gaudreault and Roberta Pearson, editors, Cinema
Autour de Siecle/Cinema at the turn-of-the-century (1999).
Roberta Pearson and Philip Simpson, editors, Critical Dictionary of Film and
Television Theory (2001).
Sara Gwenllian-Jones and Roberta Pearson, editors, Cult Television (2004).
Roberta Pearson, Eloquent Gestures: The Transformation of Performance Style in the
Griffith Biograph Films (1992).
Roberta Pearson and William Uricchio, editors, The Many Lives of the Batman:
Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media (1991).
David L. Paletz, Roberta Pearson and Donald Willis, The Politics of Public Service
Advertising on Television (1977).
Roberta Pearson, editor, Reading Lost: Perspectives on a Hit Television Show (2009).
William Uricchio and Roberta Pearson, Reframing Culture: The Case of the
Vitagraph Quality Films (1993).
Roberta Pearson and Maire Messenger Davies, Star Trek and American Television
Storytelling in the Media
Convergence Age
Exploring Screen Narratives

Edited by

Roberta Pearson
University of Nottingham, UK

Anthony N. Smith
University of Salford, UK
Introduction, selection and editorial matter © Roberta Pearson and
Anthony N. Smith 2015
Individual chapters © Respective authors 2015
Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition 2015 ISBN 978–1–137–38814–8
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Storytelling in the media convergence age : exploring screen narratives /
[editors] Roberta Pearson, University of Nottingham, UK ;
Anthony N. Smith, University of Nottingham, UK.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references.

1. Narration (Rhetoric) 2. Storytelling in mass media.

3. Convergence (Telecommunication) I. Pearson, Roberta E., editor.
II. Smith, Anthony N., 1976– editor.
P96.N35S86 2014
302.23—dc23 2014023277

List of Figures and Tables vii

Acknowledgements viii

Notes on Contributors ix

Introduction: The Contexts of Contemporary Screen

Narratives: Medium, National, Institutional and Technological
Specificities 1
Anthony N. Smith and Roberta Pearson

Part I Production
1 Super Mario Seriality: Nintendo’s Narratives and Audience
Targeting within the Video Game Console Industry 21
Anthony N. Smith

2 The Muddle Earth Journey: Brand Consistency and

Cross-Media Intertextuality in Game Adaptation 40
Claudio Pires Franco

3 Distortions in Spacetime: Emergent Narrative Practices

in Comics’ Transition from Print to Screen 54
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey

4 Lengthy Interactions with Hideous Men: Walter White

and the Serial Poetics of Television Anti-Heroes 74
Jason Mittell

5 It’s a Branded New World: The Influence of State Policy

upon Contemporary Italian Film Narrative 93
Gloria Dagnino

6 Memento in Mumbai: ‘A Few More Songs and a Lot More

Ass Kicking’ 108
Iain Robert Smith

7 A Case of Identity: Sherlock, Elementary and Their National

Broadcasting Systems 122
Roberta Pearson
vi Contents

Part II Circulation and Reception

8 Storyselling and Storykilling: Affirmational/
Transformational Discourses of Television Narrative 151
Matt Hills

9 Whistle While You Work: Branding, Critical Reception

and Pixar’s Production Culture 174
Richard McCulloch

10 Hidden in Plain Sight: UK Promotion, Exhibition

and Reception of Contemporary French Film Narrative 190
Cécile Renaud

11 Serial Narrative Exports: US Television Drama in Europe 205

Alessandro Catania

12 Multimedia Muppets: Narrative in ‘Ancillary’ Franchise

Texts 221
Aaron Calbreath-Frasieur

Index 238
Figures and Tables


3.1 Digital comics as both temporal and narrative map in

Daniel Goodbrey’s Never Shoot the Chronopath (2007) 64
3.2 Zooming in on the intersection of three parallel
narratives in Daniel Goodbrey’s Never Shoot the
Chronopath (2007) 65


11.1 Distribution of US serial drama in Europe 208


The editors would like to thank the many people who, in one way or
another, helped bring this project to fruition. This book emerges from
an international conference hosted by the Department of Culture, Film
and Media at the University of Nottingham in 2012. We are grateful
to the University of Nottingham Graduate School and School of Cul-
tures, Languages and Area Studies for providing funding for this event.
We would also like to thank the conference committee members, Aaron
Calbreath-Frasieur, Matthew Freeman, Leora Hadas and Sam Ward as
well as those who provided additional help during the event, Linda
Marchant and Sylwia Szostak. Several people kindly chaired panels and
identified promising papers that might be turned into chapters: Mark
Gallagher, Paul Grainge, Paul McDonald, Elizabeth Evans, Debra Ramsay
and Máire Messenger Davies. We are also indebted to William Uricchio
for helpful comments on the book proposal.


Aaron Calbreath-Frasieur received his PhD from the Department of

Culture, Film and Media at the University of Nottingham. His research
examines media franchises in relation to industrial practices, using the
Muppets franchise as the primary case study. He is a former articles
editor for Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies. His pub-
lications include work on world building in franchises and transmedia

Alessandro Catania recently received his PhD from the University of

Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. His research
focused on the way US television drama is distributed and marketed
across key European markets. He has worked as research manager in
several marketing and television-consulting firms and writes about mul-
tiplatform trends for MIPBlog. His publications include work on video
game and film narratives as well as television and cinema marketing.

Gloria Dagnino is a PhD candidate and teaching assistant at the Insti-

tute of Media and Journalism at Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI),
Lugano, Switzerland. Her research interests deal with the interrelation
of economic and cultural aspects within the Italian film industry. Her
thesis focuses on the ‘brandisation’ of movies, particularly through
the practice of product placement. She also collaborates as production
assistant with a Milan-based independent film company.

Claudio Pires Franco is a media research consultant with specialisations

in children’s and youth digital media. He has contributed research to the
design of over 30 digital projects, ranging from websites to digital games
to cross-media adaptations and transmedia projects. In parallel with
this media practice, he is currently undertaking a Professional Doctorate
as part of a multidisciplinary team working in the UNESCO-sponsored
project ‘Crossing Media Boundaries: New Media Forms of the Book’ at
the University of Bedfordshire, UK. He recently co-authored an article
about the book and its digital transformations for Convergence.

x Notes on Contributors

Daniel Merlin Goodbrey is a senior lecturer in Interaction Design at the

University of Hertfordshire, England. A prolific and innovative comic
creator, Goodbrey has gained international recognition as a leading
expert in the field of experimental digital comics. His hypercomic work
received the International Clickburg Webcomic Award in Holland in
2006 while his work in print was awarded with the Isotope Award for
Excellence in Comics in San Francisco in 2005. His smartphone app,
A Duck Has an Adventure, was shortlisted for the 2012 New Media Writing
Prize. His comics can be read online at

Matt Hills is Professor of Film and TV Studies at Aberystwyth University,

UK. He is the author of five books, including Fan Cultures (2002), The
Pleasures of Horror (2005) and Triumph of a Time Lord: Regenerating Doctor
Who in the Twenty-first Century (2010), and the editor of New Dimensions
of Doctor Who (2013). He is currently working on a Palgrave Pivot mono-
graph about Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary as well as writing the book
Sherlock: Detecting Quality TV.

Richard McCulloch is a lecturer in Film Studies at Regent’s University

London. He recently completed his PhD at the University of East Anglia
School of Film, Television and Media Studies and is currently writing
a monograph on the Pixar Animation Studios brand. The bulk of his
research concerns critical reception and media audiences, with particu-
lar interests in fandom, comedy and taste. His work has been published
in Participations, and he is on the board of the Fan Studies Network.

Jason Mittell is Professor of Film & Media Culture and American Studies
at Middlebury College, USA. He is the author of Genre & Television: From
Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture (2004), Television & American
Culture (2009) and Complex Television: The Poetics of Contemporary Televi-
sion Storytelling (forthcoming) and co-editor of How to Watch Television
(2013), as well as numerous essays about media studies. He runs the blog
Just TV.

Roberta Pearson is Professor of Film and Television Studies at the Uni-

versity of Nottingham. She has written or co-written and edited or
co-edited 11 books and numerous book chapters and journal articles,
including her most recent co-authored book, Star Trek and American Tele-
vision (2014). She is currently co-editing the second edition of The Many
Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media.
Notes on Contributors xi

Cécile Renaud is Lecturer in French at the University of Roehampton,

London. Her AHRC-funded PhD thesis is entitled ‘Selling French
Cinema to British Audiences: 2001–2009’ and examines the shifts in
identity, within the viewing contexts of festivals, cinemas and homes,
that French films underwent on crossing the Channel in the era of the
UK Film Council.

Anthony N. Smith’s research connects media content to its industrial

conditions. His published articles in Television and New Media and Criti-
cal Studies in Television each consider US television storytelling practices
in relation to the economic models of commissioning institutions. His
current project is an industrial poetics of video games. He is Lecturer in
Television Theory at the University of Salford, UK.

Iain Robert Smith is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the Uni-

versity of Roehampton, London. He is the author of The Hollywood
Meme: Transnational Adaptations of American Film and Television (2014)
and editor of a book-length special issue of the open-access journal
Scope entitled Cultural Borrowings: Appropriation, Reworking, Transforma-
tion (2009). He co-chairs both the SCMS Transnational Cinemas Special
Interest Group and the transnational research network Media Across
Introduction: The Contexts of
Contemporary Screen Narratives:
Medium, National, Institutional
and Technological Specificities
Anthony N. Smith and Roberta Pearson

The emergence of digital modes of content creation and distribution,

combined with the domestication of Internet technology and digital
consumption devices, has led to the digital integration of the produc-
tion and circulation of narrative content across media. An accompa-
nying industrial shift towards conglomeration has led to horizontally
integrated media corporations disseminating narrative content globally
across myriad media platforms. These technological/industrial condi-
tions have provided new means for content producers and distributors
to construct and circulate screen narratives. These conditions have
also given audiences greater control over the framing of screen narra-
tives and enabled them to more easily generate and disseminate their
own screen narrative content. Media studies commonly refers to these
conditions as the era of media convergence.1 This book investigates
the relationship between screen narratives and varied contexts of pro-
duction, circulation and reception within the media convergence era,
charting the ramifications for storytelling across a range of different
media and national and institutional sites. It considers the manner in
which contemporary media conditions:

• shape the events, characters and settings of screen narrative story-

• inform screen narrative modes of storyworld presentation (such as
particular visual styles and plot structures); and
• influence – via processes of paratextual framing – the potential
interpretations of screen narratives.

Each chapter marks an intervention within scholarship on its own

terms, but combined, they address arguments made by many theorists

2 Introduction

that emphasise the sweeping changes resulting from convergence

and globalisation processes. Many scholars argue that traditional
boundaries – those separating nation from nation, medium from
medium and audiences from production – now have diminished sig-
nificance for scholarly research in media studies. In their introduction
to New Narratives, a collection focussed on digital media storytelling,
for example, Ruth Page and Bronwen Thomas claim, ‘Key concepts
such as those of convergence . . . and remediation [the new media prac-
tice of refashioning earlier media] . . . demonstrate the need to move
beyond fixed categories and boundaries in attempting to respond to
the ever shifting and evolving practices and affordances facilitated by
new technologies.’2 With regard to the specific process of technologi-
cal convergence, Friedrich Kittler argues that the ‘total connection of
all media on a digital base erases the notion of the medium itself’.3
Similarly rethinking conventional divisions but with regard to the pro-
cess of globalisation, Tanner Mirrlees observes that ‘transnational forces
of ownership, financing, production, distribution, textual encoding,
viewer decoding, and cultural use’ combine to generate a ‘form of glob-
ally popular culture that complicates nationalist boxes’.4 This book calls
into question this scholarly emphasis on the blurring of boundaries by
underlining, in particular, the continued importance of media distinc-
tions and national borders to our understanding of the production and
circulation of screen narratives in the media convergence age.
As the field of media studies begins to reconfigure itself to address
the theoretical and methodological challenges of the new millennium,
scholars understandably concern themselves more with change than
with continuity. Technological and industrial convergence, together
with globalisation, has in the past few decades brought about pro-
found transformations not only in the world but in the academy.
Convergence poses challenges for scholars who defend traditional dis-
ciplinary divides between the study of film and television and video
games. They must seek theoretical justification for treating content
often produced by the same technologies and the same global cor-
porations as separate and distinct. The influence of global circulation
upon production and reception poses challenges for scholars who wish
to study national cinemas or television systems in isolation from each
other, given the inevitable degree of hybridity arising from producers
and audiences who are often, in media terms at least, global citizens.
This focus upon change involves the understanding that narrative con-
tent results from complex and often contradictory relationships among
media and nations. It also brings calls such as those quoted above from
Anthony N. Smith and Roberta Pearson 3

Page, Thomas, Kittler and Mirrlees to complicate traditional boundaries

and categories.
We are entirely in sympathy with such injunctions to re-examine our
assumptions in the light of a radically reconfigured mediascape. The
field of media studies and the subfield of media narratology can only
progress by fully embracing transmedial and transnational perspectives.
But the acceptance of the new should not entail the outright rejection
of the old. Historical transformations are uneven in both a temporal
and a geographic sense; an awareness of breaks and disjunctures must
be accompanied by an equal awareness of continuities. Such aware-
ness involves appreciating that transmedial and transnational forces
have actively shaped screen narratives for more than a century. The
new medium of cinema was inherently transmedial, located within a
nexus of old media such as lantern slides and newspapers. The differ-
ence between the early 20th and 21st centuries lies in the technological
and industrial convergence that threatens scholarly distinctions among
media forms. Similarly, global circulation has always influenced local
production and reception; at the dawn of the 20th century, US produc-
ers unashamedly copied their transatlantic counterparts’ film narrative
strategies. The difference between the early 20th and 21st centuries
lies in digital technologies’ capacity for faster and more widespread
circulation than their analogue antecedents enabled.
However, medium and national specificities have also had significant
impact upon narrative content from the first decades of the cinema.
At the turn of the 20th century, early cinema borrowed narrative
strategies from lantern slides and newspapers but reworked them accord-
ing to the medium’s specificity, its ability to project moving images.
In the 1920s, the UK and German film industries both competed with
Hollywood by producing films deeply rooted in their respective national
cultures; as a result the two countries’ responses to American films took
the completely different forms of British heritage and German expres-
sionist cinema. Fully understanding the contemporary mediascape
requires both interrogating boundaries and borders and recognising
their persistence. Appreciating the complexities of globalisation, schol-
ars coined the word ‘glocal’ to emblematise the conjunction of global,
regional, national and local forces. Acknowledging that media con-
vergence breaks down old barriers between producers and consumers,
scholars have coined the term ‘prosumer’ to emblematise audiences’
new productive power. A similar neologism pointing to the persistence
of specificities within convergence would be helpful although we do not
have one in mind (‘pervergence’ sounds a bit unsavoury).
4 Introduction

This book counters recent scholarship’s stress upon change with a

stress upon continuity; convergence and globalisation do not invali-
date the consideration of specificities. The various chapters show that
a range of cultural practices still maintains boundaries between media
and nations as well as between institutions and technologies and results
in a range of contrasting contexts of production, circulation and recep-
tion. The following four sections clarify the relevance of medium and
national specificity, along with specific institutional and technological
ones, to our argument.

Medium specificity

The field of transmedial narratology stresses the need to distinguish

between the narratives produced by one media form and those pro-
duced by another; this book fully aligns with this point of view.5 But
what precisely distinguishes one medium from another in the media
convergence age, particularly in terms of its narrative forms? Prior to
the digitalisation of media, a medium could be uniquely characterised
by what Marie Laure Ryan terms its ‘semiotic affordances’ and its ‘tech-
nological support’. For example, film could be distinguished from print
media such as comics due to its particular range of semiotic phenom-
ena (sound, in addition to image and language) and its technological
capacities (such as moving image and synchronised sound).6 Media con-
vergence threatens this paradigm, however, since digital technologies
have given comics, for instance, the same set of semiotic affordances
and technological capacities as film, meaning that digital comics cre-
ators can rely on the use of sound and moving images – a production
circumstance that one of the book’s chapters addresses.
But Ryan argues that a medium can be further defined by its ‘cultural
use’, meaning that a medium is distinguished by the particular ways by
which a distinct media culture shapes narrative producers’ utilisation of
media affordances.7 Ryan’s argument complements Noël Carroll’s claim
that media are defined not merely by the potential of a particular combi-
nation of semiotic phenomena and technological support, but rather by
the particular cultural practices that develop around these phenomena
and technologies.8 Henry Jenkins takes a similar position in claiming
that the term ‘media’ should encompass not only the technologies that
enable the communication of semiotic phenomena but also the distinct
‘cultural systems’ that have developed in relation to them.9 In the media
convergence age, a medium such as film or comics or literature is there-
fore set apart principally through its distinctive modes of production,
Anthony N. Smith and Roberta Pearson 5

circulation and reception, as well as by the economic and institutional

structures underpinning these processes.10
The difference between film and television illustrates this point.
Despite traditional distinctions in technology (the projection of
celluloid, the broadcast of live/recorded content), the respective
semiotic affordances and technological capacities for storytelling of
the two media have proved broadly similar. In the media convergence
age, film and television’s technologies of production (digital cameras,
sound recording and editing) and circulation (DVD and streaming)
have diminished material differences further. Yet fundamental distinc-
tions in production and circulation practices continue to preserve each
medium’s identity, and furthermore have important implications for
each medium’s narrative forms. While film narratives, are – despite
various high-profile exceptions – still typically produced as a single
self-contained text, television narratives are – once again, despite some
exceptions – typically produced as a series of episodes. In contrast
to one-off film texts, observes Jason Mittell, television series ‘offer
ongoing storyworlds, presenting specific opportunities and limitations
for creating compelling narratives’ across multiple episodes and sea-
sons. Additionally, while ‘a film’s exact length and story pacing are
flexible’, (commercial) television storytelling ‘is far more structurally
constrained’, with individual episodes typically segmented so as to
incorporate regular commercial breaks and designed to precisely fit
predetermined slots in an institutionally configured schedule.11 While
technological convergence may appear to diminish media boundaries,
distinct sets of cultural, and more specifically, industrial conditions work
to preserve them.
Crucially, however, while a medium’s industrial practices of produc-
tion, circulation and reception distinguish it from other media, such
practices are at the same time highly variable within a single given
medium. It is this perception of media as unfixed combinations of var-
ied cultural patterns and technological facility that leads Dana Polan to
regard the medium specificity paradigm as untenable. With regard to
film, he argues, the medium is not ‘an object to be fixed in its essence,
its specificity’, but rather an ‘unstable intersection of ideology, technol-
ogy, desire, and so on’.12 However, as Steven Maras and David Sutton
suggest in response, it is still permissible to preserve ‘a central insight
of medium specificity claims – that there are identifiable differences
between one medium and another’, while still recognising a medium’s
high variability.13 Accepting the concept of medium specificity is nec-
essary but not sufficient; we must also account for the contrasting
6 Introduction

conditions of production, circulation and reception within a medium.

To this end we introduce and explore here three further interrelated cat-
egories of specificity within a medium, namely national, institutional
and technological.

National specificity

The media convergence age has accelerated the globalisation of both

screen narratives and their contexts of production. As Doris Baltruschat
observes in her study of ‘global media ecologies’, ‘In the 1990s, changes
to media industries in the form of privatization, deregulation and
trade liberalization laid the basis for media production ecologies, which
network producers, labour and governments into a web of interde-
pendencies that follows the beat of international commerce.’14 But
while it is essential to trace the myriad connections that bind together
national media industries, it is nevertheless important to account for
the national contexts that continue to distinctly inform how narra-
tives are made and received. As chapters in this book attest, nationally
imposed policies, such as film industry regulations, and nationally spe-
cific practices of production and circulation, such as the commissioning
and scheduling of content within national television systems, have
the capacity to influence the construction and understanding of screen
The connection between national contexts and paratextual material
should also be taken into account when considering the meanings that
screen narratives convey. According to Jonathan Gray, a paratext ‘holds
the potential to change the meaning of the text, even if only slightly’.
Promotional materials and ‘behind the scenes’ production reports ‘can
construct early frames through which would-be viewers might think
of the text’s genre, tone and themes’. Journalistic and/or fan commen-
taries ‘might then reinforce such frames or otherwise challenge them’.
Transmedia narrative extensions, such as a tie-in comic book for a tele-
vision series or video game narrative will ‘render the storyworld more
immersive’.15 Yet paratextual material can vary between nations, thus
forming nationally specific sites of narrative reception, as is evident in,
for example, scholarship that illustrates the unique ways in which UK
broadcasters promote US drama series by configuring them to their own
identities; chapters in this book provide further evidence of this nation-
ally specific paratextual reframing.16 However, while national specificity
has significant impact upon screen narratives, so too do the distinct
features of the institution that commissions them.
Anthony N. Smith and Roberta Pearson 7

Institutional specificity

Within a particular media industry, the characteristics of the institu-

tions that commission screen narratives – such as film production and
distribution companies, television production companies and networks,
and video game developers and publishers – can significantly vary, even
within the same national context. An example of such variability is the
very different revenue models underpinning the television and video
games media. The production of television narratives can rely upon sub-
scription fees, advertiser payments and national public funding (or, in
the case of transnational productions, potentially a combination of the
three), while video game revenue sources can range from one-off pay-
ments for boxed retail video games to ongoing subscription fees and/or
‘microtransactions’ for service-based video game content.
These distinctions in industrial conditions have important impli-
cations for narrative. For example, as scholarship on contemporary
US television drama makes clear, production factors such as episode
length, season length, the presence of commercial breaks and mid-
season hiatuses – which have the potential to influence aspects of plot-
ting and/or visual style – vary according to revenue model.17 Other traits
that might distinguish one commissioning institution from another
include an institution’s branding strategies, content circulation tech-
niques (such as those of film distribution and television programme
scheduling) and audience targeting objectives (such as the pursuit of a
particular demographic). Chapters in this book demonstrate the poten-
tial of distinct institutional contexts to shape screen narrative texts and
frame their meaning. This introduction has to this point expanded upon
the concepts of medium, national and institutional specificity but the
argument also depends upon the specificities of the technological dis-
semination of screen narratives and the technological devices by which
they are consumed.

Technological specificity

Arguing against a paradigm of technological determinism, Raymond

Williams reminds us that social and industrial practices shape the
innovation and utilisation of media technologies.18 However, it is also
important to acknowledge that differing approaches to technology
across cultures lead to nations and/or institutions innovating and using
technologies in divergent ways. In the media convergence age, the tech-
nological modes of circulation and platforms of consumption not only
8 Introduction

vary across media but also within a medium. Television programmes can
be circulated via linear scheduling, digital streaming services and repack-
aged as DVD box sets, and can also be consumed via a range of different
screen technologies. Video games, too, are circulated via both digital
download and physical discs, while the need for video game hardware
manufacturers to distinguish their products ensures the differentiation
of hardware affordances such as graphical processing capacities (which
render storyworld activity) and user interface technologies (such as
touch screens, motion controls and virtual reality headsets).
These variations in modes of circulation and platforms of consump-
tion have the potential to structure screen narratives, as producers
ensure that their content complements the specificities of their tech-
nologies. For example, as part of their respective analyses of 24: Con-
spiracy (2005), a transmedia extension of the television drama series 24
(2001–2010) intended for mobile devices, Max Dawson and Elizabeth
Evans each note the ways in which the webisodes’ style was configured
for a small display; the composition is comprised of a shallow depth
of field and a high rate of extreme close-ups, while the trademark split-
screen sequences of the television series are omitted.19 By addressing, for
example, contrasts in consumer hardware, chapters in this book further
examine the connections between contemporary screen narratives and
their specific technological contexts.
Through its linking of screen narratives to their national, institutional
and technological contexts of production, circulation and consump-
tion, this book takes what David Bordwell terms a ‘historical poetics’
approach to storytelling in the media convergence age.20 Related schol-
arship concerning contemporary screen narratives that adheres to this
approach includes Mittell’s work on US television practices, Evans and
M.J. Clarke’s respective books on transmedia television, Glen Creeber’s
study of ‘small screen aesthetics’ in the digital era and Idrek Ibrus
and Carlos A. Scolari’s collection concerning ‘crossmedia innovations’.21
We hope this collection will make another valuable contribution to this
field of historical poetics.

Book structure

The book’s chapters all discuss contemporary screen narratives and

contribute to debates about adaptation, fandom, paratexts, transmedia
storytelling or other topics currently high on the film and televi-
sion studies agenda. Aside from this, the chapters may at first glance
appear to have little in common, ranging widely across subjects such
Anthony N. Smith and Roberta Pearson 9

as Bollywood to European art cinema, UK and US television and digital

comics and video games. The chapters also draw their case studies from
a range of geographical areas: the United States, Japan, India and sev-
eral European countries. But collectively this very diversity speaks to the
ways in which the specificities of a medium, a nation, an institution or
a technology shape screen narratives.
As argued above, convergence and globalisation do not render the
consideration of specificities invalid; indeed a full understanding of
these forces requires not only challenging boundaries but also acknowl-
edging continuities. This is not, of course, to claim that Bollywood
narratives have no relevance to Hollywood ones or BBC television pro-
grammes to US ones. Quite the reverse in fact; together the jigsaw pieces
of specificities produce a broader picture that makes such relevancies
even more apparent. The chapters in this book form part of that jigsaw.
Some provide an explicit comparison of production and/or reception
across media or nations or institutions or technologies. Others pro-
vide an examination of a discrete instantiation of production and/or
reception in a particular medium, nation, institution or technology;
these chapters implicitly call for comparison by highlighting factors
such as government policies or technological affordances that could
well be explored in another context. Comparative or implicitly com-
parative research on specificities illuminates the forces of convergence
and globalisation to a fuller extent than does denying the persistence of
The book’s chapters are grouped into two parts, the first named
‘Production’ and the second ‘Circulation and Reception’. We realise
that this very labelling risks defending the boundary between pro-
duction and consumption that industry practice has weakened and
scholars have attacked; as noted at the outset convergence enables con-
sumers to reframe existing narrative content and produce their own
in ways impossible in the analogue era. However, since none of the
contributors to this book concern themselves other than in the most
tangential manner with the productive power of the audience, the pro-
duction/circulation and reception division makes sense for this book at
least. The chapters fall rather neatly into these two groups. Those in
the first part look at the production of narrative texts with reference to
media content providers (e.g. the BBC, CBS, AMC, Nintendo and comics
publishers), national markets (e.g. the United States, the United King-
dom, Italy and India) and digital technologies (video games and comics).
The chapters in the second part examine the ways in which circula-
tion conditions the reception of narrative content for different media
10 Introduction

(e.g. film and television) in different national or international contexts

(the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Italy). The common
focus is on the ways in which paratexts influence audience understand-
ings of a particular screen narrative’s genre, storyworld or cultural value
and meanings.
The first three chapters in the first part examine the relationship
between digital narratives and the institutions and practitioners that
create them, showing that storyworlds result not only from the tech-
nologies’ affordances but also from their creators’ assumptions about
a medium, a technology and/or an audience. In ‘Super Mario Seriality:
Nintendo’s Narratives and Audience Targeting within the Video Game
Console Industry’, Anthony N. Smith looks at the links between nar-
ratives, technologies, marketing and audiences in Nintendo console
games, employing a historical poetics approach rarely adopted by game
studies researchers. He connects the changes in Nintendo’s storytelling
practices to changes in its audience-targeting strategies. Nintendo tried
to establish dominance of the console market over its competitors, Sony
and Microsoft, by aiming its content not only at ‘hardcore’ gamers but
at a new segment of more ‘casual’ gamers; this strategy required recon-
figuring the company’s narratives and technologies to appeal to both
audience segments. The chapter offers a clear instantiation of the ways
in which institutional practices give rise to screen narratives distinct
from those produced by competitors within the same medium.
In ‘The Muddle Earth Journey: Brand Consistency and Cross-Media
Intertextuality in Game Adaptation’, Claudio Pires Franco uses his case
study, the BBC’s adaptation of the 2004 humorous children’s book Mud-
dle Earth by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, to challenge adaptation
studies that still adhere to a concept of ‘fidelity’ to the source text and
depend solely on textual analysis. He argues that scholars must attend
to practitioners’ own articulation of ‘fidelity’ in terms of ‘brand consis-
tency’, a term that better characterises the production practices of media
institutions. Using BBC documents and an interview with a BBC pro-
ducer, he traces the adaptation from book to cartoon to online game.
Franco analyses the ways in which media specificities together with
the producers’ conceptions of brand consistency and their child audi-
ence resulted in similarities and differences between the source text, the
cartoon and the game. He concludes that adaptations should be seen
as arising from interconnected processes of cross-media intertextuality,
medium-specific affordances and production contexts.
In ‘Distortions in Spacetime: Emergent Narrative Practices in Comics’
Transition from Print to Screen’, Daniel Merlin Goodbrey examines the
Anthony N. Smith and Roberta Pearson 11

impact of technology on comics narratives. While both Smith’s and

Franco’s chapters address producers’ use of new technological capacities
to enable new forms of storytelling, Goodbrey argues that practitioners’
adherence to the narrative forms of an old medium can militate against
their employing the technological affordances of a new medium to pro-
duce new narrative forms. Digital comics permit a complete remediation
of the techniques for the representation of time and space employed in
print comics. But the established comics publishers have been slow to
exploit this capacity; their comics largely continue to depict time in
terms of limited space. By contrast, independent webcomics publish-
ers such as Goodbrey himself have experimented with the new means
of temporal representation that digital comics enable. By examining the
manner in which comics practitioners have responded to the great tech-
nological shifts of recent decades, the chapter offers a unique insight
into the relationship between narratives and their changing contexts
within the convergence era.
The case studies presented in the next three chapters of the first
part all speak to the persistent specificities of national and/or institu-
tional production contexts. First is Jason Mittell’s ‘Lengthy Interactions
with Hideous Men: Walter White and the Serial Poetics of Television
Anti-Heroes’. Mittell’s chapter discusses the rise of the anti-hero on
US cable channels, thus illuminating not only national specificity but
institutional specificity as well. He argues that the anti-heroes of long-
form serial dramas such as The Sopranos (HBO, 1999–2007) and The
Shield (FX, 2002–2008) resulted from the television industry’s realisation
that such protagonists, markedly different from the likeable heroes of
network dramas, served to distinguish cable channels from their broad-
cast competitors. Mittell uses the narratological concept of alignment
with fictional protagonists to account for the pleasures that audiences
derive from spending long periods in the company of such ‘hideous
men’. He first surveys the many prominent examples of anti-heroes on
US cable television, from Tony Soprano to Don Draper (Mad Men [AMC,
2007–present]) to our favourite serial killer Dexter (Showtime, 2006–
2013). This survey is followed by an in-depth study of one of the most
‘hideous’ of all anti-heroes, Walter White of Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008–
2013), a character whose moral stance and narrative arc arise from the
specificities of the US long-form cable serial drama.
Gloria Dagnino also addresses a specific national context, but for film
rather than television. Her chapter, ‘It’s a Branded New World: The
Influence of State Policy upon Contemporary Italian Film Narrative’,
examines the impact of Italian film policies upon the nation’s cinema.
12 Introduction

Dagnino first details how the Italian government has sought to encour-
age private investment in the film industry through a combination of
tax credit and product placement incentives. She then moves on to her
case study, the 2012 comedy, The Commander and the Stork, written and
directed by Silvio Soldini, who has a reputation as a cinema ‘auteur’.
Contrasting The Commander and the Stork with Soldini’s earlier films,
Dagnino argues that the product placement deal with the company
ILLVA Saronno, the makers of Disaronno liqueur, significantly impacted
upon the film’s narrative through the insertion of a scene that had the
sole purpose of promoting the alcoholic beverage. Dagnino’s chapter,
the first to address product placement in the context of Italian media
production, provides a telling example of the effect of institutional
regulatory strategies upon film narratives in specific national contexts.
Like Mittell and Dagnino, Iain R. Smith and Roberta Pearson speak
to national and institutional specificities, but unlike them, do so in a
comparative context, Smith by exploring the adaptation of an American
independent film into a Bollywood one and Pearson by contrasting the
current UK and US television adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. Smith’s
chapter, ‘Memento in Mumbai: “A Few More Songs and a Lot More Ass
Kicking” ’, uses an historical poetics approach to account for the differ-
ences in narrational modes between Memento (2000) and Ghajini (2008),
the latter an adaptation of the former. Drawing on Tejaswani Ganti’s
analysis of the ways in which Indian producers modify American films
to meet the expectations of Indian audiences, Smith shows that the
Bollywood film made three significant alterations to its source text,
expanding the narrative, intensifying emotions and adding songs.22
This was achieved with the addition of a lengthy flashback sequence
detailing the relationship of the hero to his murdered fiancée. This
‘parallel track’ strategy permits the film to retain Memento’s core story
(albeit reworked into chronological order) in its primary narrative ‘track’
while simultaneously conforming to the conventions of Bollywood cin-
ema in its secondary narrative ‘track’. Smith’s case study concerns the
transnational dynamics in operation in the remaking of texts across dif-
ferent national and regional contexts. He argues that Ghajini and similar
Bollywood remakes result not from an essentialist ‘Indianisation’ but
from a transnational cultural exchange in which a globally circulating
media form interacts with local narrative traditions and a local industry.
Pearson’s chapter, ‘A Case of Identity: Sherlock, Elementary and Their
National Broadcasting Systems’, uses the current UK and US television
adaptations of Sherlock Holmes to argue for the continued persis-
tence of national differences even in the age of globalisation. Pearson
Anthony N. Smith and Roberta Pearson 13

asks why BBC1’s Sherlock (2010–present) outperforms CBS’ Elementary

(2012–present) in both national prominence and audience share. First
addressing the national context, the chapter presents data that reveal
that while there is a much lower percentage of drama on UK free-to-air
channels than on their US counterparts, it takes on greater impor-
tance. The chapter moves on to institutional specificities, in the form
of BBC1 and CBS branding and scheduling strategies, showing how
these contribute to quite divergent adaptations of the same source text.
Finally, the chapter relates the institutions’ branding strategies to the
two programmes’ genres. Pearson concludes that the special versus rou-
tine status of drama in the United Kingdom and the United States,
together with differences in branding, scheduling and generic conven-
tions, encourage Sherlock’s audience to expect something completely
different, a distinctive programme viewed at a special time of the year
and Elementary’s audience to expect something completely familiar, a
standard programme viewed on a weekly basis.
Pearson’s chapter, straddling production and reception, forms a bridge
between the book’s two parts. The first three chapters in the second
part examine how producer or distributor or critical or fan paratexts
inflect the reception of screen narratives in specific ways in specific
national and/or institutional contexts. First is Matt Hills’ ‘Storyselling
and Storykilling: Affirmational/Transformational Discourses of Televi-
sion Narrative’. Hills, like Pearson, discusses Sherlock but contrasts it
with its BBC stable mate, Torchwood (2006–present) rather than with
its transatlantic counterpart. He suggests that the former’s status as
a flagship public service programme, its established brand value and
its positioning as event television insulated it from severely critical
discourse, whereas the latter, a more niche programme initially aired
on BBC3, enjoyed no such protection. These institutional specificities
resulted in Torchwood being subjected to what Hills terms critical and fan
‘storykilling’ paratexts that contested the producers’ paratexts; he terms
these ‘transformational’ discourses. By contrast, the alignment of critical
and fan paratexts with producers’ paratexts results in an ‘affirmational’
discourse, as has largely been the case with Sherlock.
The next chapter, Richard McCulloch’s ‘Whistle While You Work:
Branding, Critical Reception and Pixar’s Production Culture’, offers
an example of affirmational discourse in another country, the United
States, and another medium, film. The alignment between Pixar’s pro-
motional paratexts and critical paratexts shows that perceptions of
Pixar’s institutional specificity reinforce perceptions of the specificity of
its screen narratives and vice versa. Both Pixar and critics attribute the
14 Introduction

studios’ imaginative stories to the unique operations of its Emeryville,

California, headquarters; the paratextual depictions of Emeryville reify
intangible brand values, the creativity, fun and artistry that suppos-
edly set Pixar’s films apart from those of its competitors. Critics fre-
quently support their positive evaluations of the Pixar films by invoking
the production culture that gives rise to such distinctive narratives.
Pixar’s institutional specificity serves as an effective branding strat-
egy, one that overcomes the ‘kids only’ stigma often associated with
Cécile Renaud’s ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: UK Promotion, Exhibition and
Reception of Contemporary French Film Narrative’ addresses national
specificity through an examination of the distribution of French films
in the United Kingdom, a market heavily dominated by Hollywood
and long considered difficult for foreign-language films. Distributors
respond to the UK audiences’ supposed reluctance to read subtitles
with marketing paratexts that reconfigure the narratives and genres of
French films in ways that potentially make them more appealing. The
chapter uses the UK distribution and marketing of Michael Haneke’s
Hidden/Caché (2005) as a case study. Renaud details distributor Artificial
Eye’s paratextual reshaping of the text’s meanings in release windows
from cinema to DVD box set, with the film variously re-characterised
as European art house, thriller and star vehicle. The study reveals that
the specificities of national reception contexts may require paratextual
reworking of narrative meanings to match different audience segments’
pre-existing expectations.
Like Renaud’s chapter, Alessandro Catania’s chapter shows that trav-
elling texts take on different meanings in response to the national and
institutional specificities of distribution and reception. ‘Serial Narrative
Exports: US Television Drama in Europe’ examines the importation of
US serial television dramas into three European markets: France, Italy
and the United Kingdom. Catania demonstrates that the practice of
windowing, that is releasing a programme on different platforms at
different times in order to maximise profits, frequently prevented inter-
national viewers accessing the transmedia stories that had accompanied
the programmes in the United States. Importantly, it was these mar-
kets’ established broadcast logics, not inferior technological capacities,
that militated against transmedia storytelling and resulted in viewers
in different countries experiencing the same programme in different
ways. Catania suggests that his analysis has implications for theories of
textuality and paratextuality in multiplatform narratives and the very
definition of transmedia within global television markets.
Anthony N. Smith and Roberta Pearson 15

Aaron Calbreath-Frasieur’s ‘Multimedia Muppets: Narrative in

“Ancillary” Franchise Texts’ also interrogates theories of textuality
and paratextuality but this time in terms of the specificity of a
large, multimedia global franchise. Surveying discussions of paratexts
and transmedia storytelling, Calbreath-Frasieur notes that scholars fre-
quently construct hierarchies of connected media texts, seeing some as
primary and others as ancillary. He contends, however, that any origi-
nal narrative content, even if designated as ‘promotional’ or paratextual,
should be considered integral to an understanding of the Muppet story-
world. Despite cultural predilections to value one medium over another,
we should be wary about designating the content of any medium
within the franchise as inherently superior to the content of any other
medium. Calbreath-Frasieur argues against the tendency to hierarchise
texts based on their economic or narrative value, asserting that the
Muppet films may have no more inherent importance to the franchise
than Muppet YouTube videos. Each in its own way could be consid-
ered a primary text since each individual component of the franchise
expands the Muppet storyworld. The chapter demonstrates that the
specificities of franchise institutions require a rethink of the common
academic distinction between texts and paratexts and of transmedia
The chapters’ case studies all connect contemporary screen narratives
to their contexts and in doing so offer a new perspective on recent trans-
formations in screen media culture. The consideration of the specificities
of media, nations, institutions and technologies reveals the complex
nature of storytelling industries and emphasises the need to account
for screen texts’ specific production, circulation and reception contexts
within the age of convergence and globalisation.

1. Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Col-
lide (New York: New York University Press, 2006); Graham Meikle and
Sherman Young, Media Convergence: Networked Digital Media in Everyday Life
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Michael Latzer, ‘Media Conver-
gence’, in Handbook on the Digital Creative Economy, eds. Ruth Towse and
Christian Handke (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2013), 123–133.
2. Ruth Page and Bronwen Thomas, ‘Introduction’, in New Narratives: Stories
and Storytelling in the Digital Age, eds. Ruth Page and Bronwen Thomas
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2011), 7. On the topic of remediation, see
Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media
(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999).
16 Introduction

3. Friedrich Kittler, ‘Gramophone, Film, Typewriter’, in Literature, Media, Infor-

mation Systems, ed. John Johnson (Amsterdam: G + B Arts International,
1997), 31.
4. Tanner Mirrlees, Global Entertainment Media: Between Cultural Imperialism and
Cultural Globalization (London: Routledge, 2013), 8.
5. Marie-Laure Ryan, ‘Introduction’, in Narrative across Media: The Languages
of Storytelling, ed. Marie-Laure Ryan (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press,
2004), 1–40; Marie-Laure Ryan, Avatars of Story (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 2006), 3–30. Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, ‘How the Model
Neglects the Medium: Linguistics, Language, and the Crisis for Narratology’,
The Journal of Narrative Technique 19, no. 1 (1989), 157–166. David Herman,
‘Towards a Transmedial Narratology’, in Narrative across Media: The Languages
of Storytelling, ed. Marie-Laure Ryan (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press,
2004), 47–75.
6. Ryan, Avatars of Story, 18–23. For more on semiotic affordances in relation to
narrative, see Jason Mittell, ‘Film and Television Narrative’, in The Cambridge
Companion to Narrative, ed. David Herman (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 2007), 156–162.
7. Ibid., 23–25.
8. Noël Carroll, ‘The Specificity of Media in the Arts’ [originally published,
1986], in Film and Theory: An Anthology, eds. Toby Miller and Robert Stam
(Malden: Blackwell, 2000), 44.
9. Jenkins, Convergence Culture, 13–14.
10. On varying economic structures between media, see Helen Fulton, ‘Intro-
duction’, in Narrative and Media, by Helen Fulton, with Rosemary Huisman,
Julian Murphet and Anne Dunn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2005), 3–4.
11. Mittell, ‘Film and Television Narrative’, 163–165.
12. Dana Polan, ‘Film Theory Reassessed’, Continuum: The Australian Journal of
Media and Culture 1, no. 2 (1988), 15.
13. Steven Maras and David Sutton, ‘Medium Specificity: Re-Visited’, Convergence
6 (2000), 103, 109.
14. Doris Baltruschat, Global Media Ecologies: Networked Production in Film and
Television Kindle edition (London: Routledge, 2010).
15. Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers and Other Media Paratexts
(New York: New York University Press, 2010), 2.
16. Janet McCabe, ‘Creating “Quality” Audiences for ER on Channel 4’, in The
Contemporary Television Series, eds. Michael Hammond and Lucy Mazdon
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005), 207–223; Paul Grainge, ‘Lost
Logos: Channel 4 and the Branding of American Event Television’, in Read-
ing Lost: Perspectives on a Hit Television Show, ed. Roberta Pearson (London:
I.B. Tauris, 2009), 95–118.
17. Mark C. Rogers, Michael Epstein and Jimmie L. Reeves, ‘The Sopranos as HBO
Brand Equity: The Art of Commerce in the Age of Digital Reproduction’, in
This Thing of Ours: Investigating The Sopranos, ed. David Lavery (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2002), 42–57; Amanda D. Lotz, ‘If It’s Not TV,
What Is It?: The Case of U.S. Subscription Television’, in Cable Visions:
Television Beyond Broadcasting, eds. Sarah Banet-Weiser, Cynthia Chris and
Anthony Freitas (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 85–102;
Anthony N. Smith and Roberta Pearson 17

Michael Z. Newman, ‘From Beats to Arcs: Toward a Poetics of Television Nar-

rative’, The Velvet Light Trap 58 (Fall 2006), 16–28; Anthony N. Smith, ‘TV
or Not TV? The Sopranos and Contemporary Episode Architecture in US Net-
work and Premium Cable Drama’, Critical Studies in Television 6, no. 1 (Spring
2011); Anthony N. Smith, ‘Putting the Premium into Basic: Slow-Burn Narra-
tive and the Loss-Leader Function of AMC’s Original Drama Series’, Television
and New Media 14, no. 2 (March 2013), 150–166.
18. Raymond Williams, Television, Technology and Cultural Form (London:
Fontana, 1974), 14, 124, 130.
19. Max Dawson, ‘Little Players, Big Shows: Format, Narration, and Style on Tele-
vision’s New Smaller Screens’, Convergence 13 (August 2007), 236. Elizabeth
Evans, Transmedia Television: Audiences, New Media and Daily Life (New York:
Routledge, 2011), 124–130.
20. David Bordwell, ‘Historical Poetics of Cinema’, in The Cinematic Text: Methods
and Approaches, ed. R. Barton Palmer (New York: AMS Press, 1989), 369–398.
21. Jason Mittell, Complex Television: The Poetics of Contemporary Television
Storytelling (New York: New York University Press, forthcoming); Evans,
Transmedia Television; M.J. Clarke, Transmedia Television: New Trends in Net-
work Serial Production (London: Bloomsbury, 2012); Glen Creeber, Small Screen
Aesthetics: From Television to the Internet (London: BFI, 2013); Idrek Ibrus
and Carlos A. Scolari, eds., Crossmedia Innovations: Texts, Markets, Institutions
(Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2012).
22. Tejaswini Ganti, Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema (London:
Routledge, 2004).
Part I
Super Mario Seriality: Nintendo’s
Narratives and Audience Targeting
within the Video Game Console
Anthony N. Smith

At the conclusion of Super Mario Bros. (1986), the archetypal

side-scrolling platform game, the player-character Mario confronts his
arch-nemesis Bowser for the first time. The demonic monster Bowser –
King of the Koopa – awaits Mario upon a drawbridge spanning a lava
sea. The player’s game-long narrative goal is Mario’s freeing of Princess
Peach by defeating Bowser, her captor;1 the player must guide Mario
beneath the Koopa King, who hops up and down hurling axes, having
him then leap upon a larger glowing axe hovering at the opposite end
of the drawbridge. Successful completion of this task results in the dis-
integration of the drawbridge and Bowser’s descent into the lava below
upon which Mario enters an adjacent room where Peach awaits. Screen
text conveys her highness’ gratitude – ‘Thank you Mario!’, confirming
that the hero’s ‘quest is over’.
The Kyoto-based company Nintendo developed Super Mario Bros. for
its first home video game console, the Nintendo Family Computer,
released in Japan in 1983 and rebranded and launched in the West as
the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985. The company has
developed further Super Mario games on each of its subsequent home
and handheld video game hardware platforms. One of many such games
is New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009), developed for the Nintendo Wii (the
company’s fifth-generation home console, which launched worldwide
in 2006). The game not only reprises the two-dimensional side-scrolling
platform-game formula of Super Mario Bros., like many other Super Mario
games, it also appropriates the specific narrative goal of the original

22 Production

game, Mario’s rescue of Peach. Additionally, New Super Mario Bros. Wii
closely replicates many more specific narrative details from the original
game, including its final showdown scenario between Mario and Bowser.
Following the template established by the original game, the Koopa King
awaits the player character at the far side of a lava-spanning bridge;
again, the player must guide Mario beneath the bounding Bowser, dodg-
ing the latter’s deadly projectiles (this time, fireballs), and have Mario
jump upon a large button (which has replaced the glowing axe) that
collapses the bridge, sending Bowser hurtling below.
But on this occasion the quest isn’t over. The awaiting princess is
revealed as an imposter, not Peach but rather a Magikoopa – a sorcerer
servant of Bowser – adorned in blonde wig and the princess’s trademark
pink dress. The Magikoopa sprinkles mystical dust over the lava into
which its master fell, causing Bowser – now at least 20 times his pre-
vious size – to rise from the fire. To free the genuine Peach, the player
must navigate Mario across a set of moving platforms, with a marauding
Bowser in hot pursuit, towards a second button, which – once pressed –
collapses the lava sea floor beneath Bowser’s feet.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s replication and variation of narrative con-
tent from the initial entry in the Super Mario series of games dovetails
neatly with Nintendo’s broad industrial goals in recent years, specifi-
cally its audience-targeting strategies. As I go on to detail, the company
has, from the mid-2000s onwards, aimed to attract a wide audience
of both children and adults new to console gaming, while simultane-
ously appealing to dedicated video game consumers (so-called ‘hardcore’
gamers).2 New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s reprisal of the basic narrative for-
mula from the original Super Mario Bros. is appropriate for new gamers,
as it offers a discrete and coherent narrative experience (Bowser kidnaps
Peach, Mario rescues her). Yet New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s playful vari-
ations on narrative elements previously established within the series,
such as its reworking of the original Mario–Bowser showdown, have
the potential to surprise and delight dedicated players familiar with
prior Super Mario games.3 This chapter explores further the connections
between Nintendo’s video game narratives and audience-targeting aims.
It details in particular how a specific mode of serial storytelling, emerg-
ing from Nintendo’s engagement with its back catalogue of games and
ongoing innovation in video game technologies, serves to target these
two distinct audience segments.
This chapter contributes to the games studies literature concerning
the unique ways in which video games convey narratives, which I
define as storyworlds – that is, spatio-temporal models of story that
Anthony N. Smith 23

incorporate characters, props, actions and settings – and their presenta-

tions.4 As such studies make clear, video games are, at the level of textual
artefact, not narrative objects per se, but rather interactive systems that
facilitate the emergence of fictional narrative through the playing of
games; controlling characters and props, players instigate actions within
settings, and from this process video game storyworlds are conveyed via
screens.5 Although important, this work typically neglects the indus-
trial circumstances that inform video game narratives. These studies
therefore usefully articulate how fictional narratives emerge from video
games, but fail to account for the interplay of creativity, industry and
technology that contribute to their formations. Taking an ‘historical
poetics’ approach that links storytelling strategies to their conditions
of production and circulation, this chapter accounts for the ways in
which a significant industrial practice – namely, audience targeting –
can inform narrative.6 Combining evidence of production – in the form
of insights from Nintendo personnel – with narratalogical analyses of
the company’s games, the chapter explores the ways in which Nintendo
narratives are configured to meet the requirements of both new and
experienced gamers. To contextualise this case study, the chapter first
establishes the specific industrial conditions for the recent development
of Nintendo’s software.

Nintendo narrative contexts

Nintendo operates within the video game console market, a specific

sector of the video game industry concerned with the production, distri-
bution and consumption of games intended for the home and portable
console hardware devices currently manufactured by the oligopoly of
Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. The institutions that typically drive
video game development in this sector can be divided into three dis-
tinct categories: the development studios (that create video games in
code form), publishers (that often fund development studios, as well as
manufacture, market and distribute the hard copies of video games) and
the console hardware manufacturers (that build, market and distribute
video game platforms). Publishers and development studios most typi-
cally operate separately from hardware manufacturers, releasing ‘third-
party’ games for hardware manufacturers’ platforms (and paying licence
fees to the hardware manufacturers on the basis of game sales). But it is,
in addition, common practice for a given hardware manufacturer to seek
market differentiation by developing and publishing its own ‘first-party’
games exclusively for its own platforms.7 Understanding the contexts
24 Production

of Nintendo’s video game narratives requires understanding the com-

pany’s wider goals and strategies for the hardware for which it designs
its games.
In the mid-2000s, Nintendo wanted to regain the home-console hard-
ware market share it had conceded to Sony and Microsoft over the
previous years. Nintendo had been, with the NES and its successor –
the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), dominant within this
market in the late mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s (over its chief rival
Sega).8 But competition from Sony (which entered this market in 1994
with the PlayStation) and Microsoft (whose first console, the Xbox, was
released in 2001) led to a decline in Nintendo’s share.9 By the early
2000s, Nintendo had descended into third place in terms of home con-
sole market share (behind Sony and Microsoft) due to the poor sales of
its fourth home hardware device, the Nintendo GameCube (released in
Nintendo responded to the competition by reconfiguring its audience-
targeting strategies for both its hardware and software. Part of Sony and
Microsoft’s success had been built on targeting teenage and adult gamers
with ‘mature’ narrative content, such as the third-party series Grand
Theft Auto, with its violence and lawlessness, and Microsoft’s first-party
series Halo, a militaristic science fiction saga. As Nintendo company
president Satoru Iwata admitted in 2002, there was a widespread per-
ception that Nintendo and its content were heavily skewed towards
a pre-teen demographic in comparison to its rivals.11 The company
needed to change this perception in order to increase the consumption
of its hardware (and thus software) by appealing more successfully to a
teenage and adult audience.12 But rather than focusing exclusively on
those ‘hardcore’ consumers who had gravitated towards rival hardware,
Nintendo instead prioritised a potentially far wider audience of adult
gamers who might not purchase consoles because of their associations
with young men and/or typically high levels of game difficulty.13 This
broad target group included female gamers and older players, two demo-
graphics that console manufacturers and console game publishers have
often neglected to address.14
To this end Nintendo conceived of two new hardware systems – the DS
handheld console (released in 2004) and the Wii home console (released
in 2006) – that would enable the company to distinguish itself from its
competitors and simultaneously appeal to non-traditional gamers. The
contrast in console user inputs between Nintendo and its competitors
most obviously illustrates this point. User inputs have generally become
progressively more complex and prohibitive since the days of the NES,
Anthony N. Smith 25

with Sony and Microsoft console controllers each incorporating two

thumb sticks and a myriad of buttons. But the DS and Wii each pos-
sess a highly intuitive and accessible mode of input; the former via a
touch screen, the latter via motion control.15
Just as the Wii and DS systems were configured for a target audi-
ence of non-traditional gamers, so too were many of the first-party
games that Nintendo developed for the system. Wii Fit (2007), which
requires the player to carry out light physical activities while standing
upon the Wii Balance Board motion-sensor device, is one such title.
As Steven E. Jones and George K. Thiruvathukal observe, the game’s
goal of health improvement (which challenges common perceptions
of video games being unhealthy) was specifically conceived for and
marketed towards women who might be averse to traditional ‘hard-
core’ console games.16 But, while developing new titles tailor-made
for a non-traditional gamer audience, the company has also main-
tained its constituency of ‘hardcore’ gamers by consistently producing
its more traditional content, chiefly in the form of new instalments
for such long-running series as Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda.17
As Iwata acknowledged, while Nintendo’s ‘primary goal’ became the
‘expansion of the gamer population’ through appeals to non-traditional
gaming audiences, the company nevertheless remained committed to
developing ‘the games most enjoyed by our core fans’.18
Yet, reflecting Nintendo’s broader industrial goals from the mid-
2000s onward, developers have been motivated to ensure that these
more conventional games are also accessible to non-traditional gamers.
Approaches to user input in the development of Super Mario Galaxy
(2007), a three-dimensional platforming game produced for the Wii by
Nintendo’s in-house development group, the Entertainment & Analysis
Division (EAD), illustrates this.19 As the game’s director Takao Shimizu
notes, the company’s aims since the release of the DS and Wii ‘to make
games that can be enjoyed by anyone, from the age of 5 to 95’, drove
his team to ‘make Super Mario Galaxy a game that can be enjoyed by
anyone as well’.20 To this end, EAD opted, for example, to limit the
amount of different buttons that the player is required to press so as to
have Mario perform actions in the game.21 With the input configuration
for the earlier Super Mario Sunshine (2002), which was developed for the
GameCube, four distinct Mario actions are mapped on to four different
buttons. With the input configuration of Super Mario Galaxy, however,
two actions (jump and crouch) are mapped onto two buttons. Yet
Super Mario Galaxy players can have Mario perform additional actions
via motion control functionality – a slight wiggle of the Wii Remote
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controller, for example, prompts Mario to spin in midair; according to

Shimizu, this control scheme ensures that game play is ‘more intuitive,
even for those people who usually don’t play video games’.22
This example of Super Mario Galaxy indicates how the development
of Nintendo’s first-party games in the Wii/DS era reflected the com-
pany’s targeting of two distinct audience constituencies. Nintendo’s
development of a three-dimensional platforming game (a genre that the
company had helped pioneer with its Super Mario 64 [1996]) is aimed at
dedicated gamers but the efforts to reduce the complexity of the con-
trol scheme targets a wider audience of players lacking experience with
such challenging games. Having established the importance of hardware
to Nintendo’s marketing strategies, the chapter moves on to specifically
consider how aspects of the company’s fictional narratives serve these
audience-targeting objectives.
This case study focuses on two of Nintendo’s most famous video game
series: Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda, appropriate choices given
their richer narrative content relative to many other Nintendo games.
The study includes not only Super Mario and Legend of Zelda games
developed for DS and Wii, but also those developed for these consoles’
successors, the Wii U (launched in 2012) and the 3DS (launched in
2011); each of these latter systems has in many ways been designed
to continue Nintendo’s objective of addressing ‘hardcore’ players, while
also targeting a wider non-traditional gaming audience.23 As the follow-
ing case study details, developers of Super Mario and Legend of Zelda
have in recent years consistently relied on a highly specific mode of
serial storytelling to strongly engage the former audience segment, while
simultaneously not alienating the latter segment.

Seriality in Nintendo narratives

Understanding the Nintendo developers’ approach to serial storytelling

first requires considering more generally how serial texts operate. In the
simplest terms, a serial text is a sequence of narratively connected tex-
tual instalments, with the distribution of each new instalment usually
separated by an interval from the last. The instalments of many serial
texts in video games, as well as in film, comics and television, narra-
tively connect on what Robert C. Allen labels the ‘syntagmatic axis’,
meaning that connections form via chains of related events.24 A clear
example of this type of serial text in video games would be Microsoft’s
Halo series. For example, at the conclusion of Halo 3 (2007), the game’s
player character – a cyborg soldier named Master Chief – enters into
Anthony N. Smith 27

cryonic sleep within his damaged craft as it drifts in space; at the

beginning of Halo 4 (2012), Master Chief is awoken from his sleep as
enemy alien forces attack his wrecked vessel. These two games thus seri-
ally connect via a coherent chronological sequence of related actions
within the Halo storyworld. For Microsoft, the implementation of the
conventional syntagmatic serial mode within the Halo series enables
it to appeal specifically to a committed ‘hardcore’ gaming audience;
the series’ sprawling narrative, which not only extends across multi-
ple games, but also tie-in novels and comic books, is appropriate for
a target market of highly dedicated consumers who will likely play the
series’ multiple instalments, and also perhaps engage with its transmedia
extensions. The opportunity to delve further into Halo’s intricate syntag-
matic serial narrative – and discover ‘what happens next’ subsequent to
previously played instalments – has the potential to increase the attrac-
tiveness of each new Halo instalment to consumers within this audience
Super Mario or Legend of Zelda games, however, have always typically
avoided making explicit serial connections to other instalments within
their respective series along the syntagmatic axis. Each Super Mario and
Legend of Zelda game, if played from beginning to end, typically intro-
duces and concludes a self-contained dramatic conflict. Most (although,
not all) Super Mario games begin with Bowser’s kidnapping of Peach and
conclude with Mario’s rescue of her. Legend of Zelda games, the first of
which debuted in Japan in 1986, also often (although, not always) reiter-
ate a similar ‘damsel in distress’ storyline. Many games within the series
begin with a magical villain descending upon the peaceful kingdom of
Hyrule and kidnapping its princess, Zelda; these games conclude with
the player character – the young adventurer, Link – defeating the vil-
lain and rescuing Zelda. In Umberto Eco’s terms, the narratives of these
Nintendo series typically retain an ‘iterative’ quality; each game rep-
resents ‘a virtual beginning, ignoring where the preceding event left
off’, presenting a self-contained tale that fails to convey a progression
of events beyond itself.25 He observes, ‘The very structure of time falls
apart [as a consequence of this narrative mode] . . . that is, the notion of
time that ties one episode to another.’26
Because Nintendo intends that contemporary Super Mario and Legend
of Zelda games attract both an audience of dedicated gamers familiar
with these series, but also a far wider audience of non-traditional gamers,
adoption of the syntagmatic serial mode would be counterproductive;
newcomers, perhaps not only unfamiliar with these series but less com-
mitted to gaming in general, might be deterred by the requirement to
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engage with storylines spanning multiple games. Nintendo therefore

continues to refrain from use of this mode. But while the mode’s absence
complements the company’s current aim of appealing to a broad audi-
ence the tendency of contemporary instalments within these series to
establish strong serial connections along what Allen labels the ‘paradig-
matic’ axis permits Nintendo to appeal to dedicated gamers. Via this
axis, associations between the instalments of a series form not via a
chronology of depicted events but by inferred thematic parallelism.27
For example, the Mario–Bowser face-off at the conclusion of New Super
Mario Bros. Wii does not link up with its analogous scene in the original
Super Mario Bros. along a syntagmatic axis; yet – due to the strong the-
matic parallels between them – the scenes do serially connect along a
paradigmatic axis.
Nintendo developers’ heavy implementation of this serial mode
within Super Mario and Legend of Zelda games can afford dedicated
gamers certain pleasures related to their prior knowledge of these series.
By reprising narrative elements from previous instalments, these games
are able to pleasantly surprise knowledgeable players by varying and/or
elaborating upon these repeated elements (as the Super Mario Bros. Wii
sequence does). Critical responses to these games within the video game
press (which primarily addresses a ‘hardcore’ audience) indeed empha-
sise this pleasurable potential for players dedicated to these series. IGN’s
New Super Mario Bros. U (2012, for WII U) review, for example, suggests,
‘For those of us who have been adventuring through the Mushroom
Kingdom [a Super Mario setting] for decades, this experience is as much
about seeing the clever twists on the formula.’28 Edge’s review of The
Legend of Zelda: A Link between Worlds (2013, for 3DS), a game which
replicates much of the storyworld setting of The Legend of Zelda: A Link
to the Past (1991, for SNES), similarly identifies the gratifications to be
had from Nintendo’s reworking of the familiar: ‘What role does well-
trodden ground have in a series trading on the thrill of discovery?
Well, Nintendo toys with your memories, sticking to [A Link to the
Past’s] rough shape only to diverge in surprising ways.’29 The imple-
mentation of the paradigmatic serial mode enables Nintendo to directly
appeal to an audience of dedicated gamers while not confusing and/or
antagonising a broader less-dedicated audience; indeed these players
are unlikely to be even aware of the operation of the paradigmatic
serial mode.30
It is important to acknowledge that examples of paradigmatic seriality
can also be located to varying degrees in pre-Wii/DS Super Mario and
Legend of Zelda games. The rescuing-Peach-from-Bowser narrative goal
Anthony N. Smith 29

of the original Super Mario Bros. for example, is itself a variation on

an earlier Nintendo game, Donkey Kong (1981), in which Mario must
save a damsel from the clutches of this arcade game’s eponymous
King Kong-esque villain. What Jones and Thiruvathukal identify as ‘a
general self-consciousness with game history at Nintendo’ has always
filtered into the company’s games.31 But, reflecting its specific audience-
targeting goals from the Wii and DS era onwards, Nintendo has relied
more heavily on the paradigmatic serial mode within the Super Mario
and Legend of Zelda series as the primary means with which to address
dedicated gamers. The heightened use of pastiche concerning prior Super
Mario and Legend of Zelda games to be found in Nintendo’s recent out-
put reflects the increased prioritisation of this mode; New Super Mario
Bros. (2006, for DS) and New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s playful yet compre-
hensive reworking of the series’ original game and The Legend of Zelda:
A Link Between World’s careful and extensive reconstruction of A Link to
the Past’s storyworld environment are cases in point.
Nintendo’s marketing materials attest to the increased prioritisation
of the paradigmatic mode. For example, while the box art for the
GameCube’s Super Mario Sunshine emphasises the new storyworld mate-
rial that the game introduced to the series, the box art for Super Mario
3D Land (2011, for 3DS) by contrast emphasises the storyworld material
that the game reprises from prior games. The Sunshine box advertises
Mario’s new water-spraying backpack and the new Shine Sprite items he
must collect, while the 3D Land box organises iconic props and charac-
ters strongly associated with 1980s and early-1990s Super Mario games,
such as a green pipe, a brown brick, a gold coin, a Goomba (enemy NPC)
and a fire flower ‘power up’, around an image of a leaping Mario. For the
non-devotee audience that Nintendo hopes to address, the 3D Land box
might promise a fun, breezy adventure in a colourful playground. The
back of the box emphasises its ease of access: it is ‘a pick up and play’
game that provides ‘help . . . if you find yourself stuck’ in the form of
in-game items. But for the dedicated gamers that the company simul-
taneously targets with the same product, this box essentially operates
as an inventory list for vintage Super Mario. The promise of paradig-
matic seriality has become a key selling point in Nintendo’s address
to dedicated gamers, the company’s marketing reflecting the increased
centrality of the mode to its in-game narrative strategies.
This chapter has so far broadly outlined the paradigmatic serial mode
on which Nintendo has relied in its development of the Super Mario and
Legend of Zelda series, explaining how it permits the company to simul-
taneously address the contrasting needs of two distinct target audiences.
30 Production

It next closely explores the specific narrative techniques of paradigmatic

seriality that Nintendo implements, examining how developers utilise a
range of storyworld components – props, settings and characters – to
forge serial connections along the paradigmatic axes of the Super Mario
and Legend of Zelda series.

Techniques of paradigmatic seriality in Nintendo narratives

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds’ technique of establishing

paradigmatic links to an earlier game via the reiteration of previously
presented settings is common within other contemporary Legend of
Zelda games as well as contemporary Super Mario games. Recent Super
Mario games, for example, will often combine a similar range of envi-
ronmental level types, including caves, deserts, ghost houses, snowy
mountains and volcanic landscapes; developers often reintroduce musi-
cal themes previously associated with particular environmental types,
reinforcing paradigmatic association. New Super Mario Bros. and New
Super Mario Bros. Wii, for example, each scores its cave levels with an
updated version of the same Koji Kondo composition that accompanies
the cave levels of the original Super Mario Bros.
Developers of contemporary Super Mario and Legend of Zelda games,
however, not only revisit familiar environments but also use them in
new ways. For example, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011, for
Wii) includes a giant live volcano as an integral part of its landscape, a
feature that can be found in certain previous Legend of Zelda games. But
Skyward Sword uniquely uses its volcano as a complement to the ‘stamina
dash’ mechanic (which the game introduces to the series, and which
enables Link to sprint) to innovative effect; as EAD’s Kenturo Tominaga,
who designed the volcano area, recalls, ‘I thought if I combined [stamina
dash] with a volcano, with its ups and downs, I could make up some-
thing fun based around slopes.’32 For example, whereas, in The Legend
of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), Link must negotiate the volcano via a
mountain trail, in Skyward Sword, Link can sprint directly up the steep
side of the volcano, dodging the boulders that Bokoblins (enemy NPCs)
roll towards him. Skyward Sword reprises a familiar landmark but intro-
duces a novel game play element (the stamina dash) that results in a
new kind of storyworld action for the series.
Contemporary Super Mario and Legend of Zelda games not only utilise
familiar settings as a platform on which to stage new kinds of story-
world activity, they also generate striking contrasts between old and new
environments that may please dedicated gamers. For example, while, as
Anthony N. Smith 31

noted, the over-world landscape of The Legend of Zelda: A Link between

Worlds does generally emulate that of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the
Past, its individual ‘dungeon’ environments, key game play locations
throughout the series, have been ‘completely redesigned’ and bear lit-
tle relation to those of A Link to the Past.33 This redesign contributes to
what Tominaga identifies as the feelings of ‘newness and familiarity’
that Nintendo wishes to evoke.34 Super Mario Galaxy provides a fur-
ther example of this strategy of simultaneously achieving ‘newness and
familiarity’. As has become customary for the series, the game opens
with Mario in the Mushroom Kingdom, home to Princess Peach. But
after a fleet of spaceships steals Peach’s castle (with Peach inside), Mario
is blasted into an entirely new environment, outer space, in which he
must negotiate for the first time competing gravitational pulls across a
constellation of small planets.
Contemporary Super Mario and Legend of Zelda games also juxtapose
the familiar with the new via the characters and props installed within
their settings. With regard to characters, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward
Sword, for example, reprises not only the series-defining characters of
Link and Zelda but also friendly non-playing characters (NPCs), such as
the Gorons (a rock-form people who first appear in Ocarina of Time), and
enemy NPCs such as the Stalfos (skeleton warriors who appear in the
original game of the series). A large and diverse cast of new characters
debuts next to the familiar ones, including ancient robots, a mole-like
people who dwell in the ground, a giant whale-like creature that roams
the skies and an evil harlequinesque demon lord who serves as the nar-
rative’s chief antagonist. With regard to props, Super Mario 3D World
(2013, for Wii U), for example, includes iconic ‘power-up’ items that
date back to the original Super Mario Bros., such as the red mushroom,
which makes Mario larger, and the fire flower, which allows the player
character to hurl fireballs at his foes. But 3D World also contains innova-
tive ‘power up’ items new to the series, such as the bell, which bestows
a cat suit upon Mario, enabling the player character to run up walls, and
the double cherry, which permits the player to control multiple Mario
clones in one given area at one given time.
Similar to the ways in which these games reprise familiar settings with
new forms of game play, they also frequently vary the behaviours of
recurring characters and the functions of recurring props. New Super
Mario Bros. 2 (2012, for 3DS), for example, includes a version of the
Big Boo enemy NPC – a giant spherical ghost – that first appears in
Super Mario World (1990, for SNES). As in this earlier game, a Big Boo
in New Super Mario Bros. 2 will slowly approach Mario when the player
32 Production

character’s back is turned, immediately halting – and covering its eyes

with its hands – the instant Mario turns to face it. But, unique to
New Super Mario Bros. 2, even if Mario does face this enemy, the Big
Boo still might peek through his hands and nervously sneak forward.
Such variation of recurring characters is primarily intended to engage
those dedicated to the series; regarding the Big Boo’s new behaviour, for
example, EAD’s Masaaki Ishikawa, New Super Mario Bros. 2’s art director,
notes, ‘We thought it might be fun because people familiar with Super
Mario games so far may be caught off guard.’35 A similar motivation
led to changing the move sets of recurring enemy NPCs in The Legend
of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006, for Wii); as EAD’s Yoshiyuki Oyama,
who designed the game’s foes observes, ‘Several familiar enemies from
previous Zelda games make an appearance . . . . We have . . . given them
slightly different methods of attack, so both people playing for the
first time and experienced Zelda fans will be able to enjoy a fresh
Recurring props are also sometimes reconfigured in ways that might
engage dedicated gamers in particular. Super Mario 3D Land, for example,
includes the iconic coin block – a yellow cube with a question mark on
its side – from the original Super Mario Bros. As in the original game,
if Mario jumps beneath the block in Super Mario 3D Land, hitting the
object with his head, a gold coin or ‘power up’ item will typically emerge
from it. However, in some cases in 3D Land, if the player has Mario
repeatedly bash his head against a block, the item will conceal the player
character’s head, enabling Mario to negotiate the remainder of the level
wearing the block while gold coins continuously eject from it.
This chapter has explored a range of Nintendo’s techniques of
paradigmatic seriality but has so far neglected the shifting technologies
underpinning these narrative practices. Since the video game console
industry’s inception in the 1970s, console manufacturers have adhered
to what John Dovey and Helen W. Kennedy label an ‘upgrade culture’,
ensuring that each generation of hardware platforms marks a techno-
logical advance on the last.37 New generations of console hardware
often possess increased sound and graphical capacities and/or new forms
of user input. Commercial imperatives drive this industrial activity, as
manufacturers strongly rely on technological advances as a means to
promote their hardware to consumers. The original PlayStation’s abil-
ity to render polygonal 3D graphics and the Xbox 360’s capacity to
deliver ‘high definition’ visuals, for example, were both emphasised in
the marketing of the new consoles.38 Following the GameCube era, how-
ever, Nintendo has generally avoided this ongoing ‘graphical arms race’,
Anthony N. Smith 33

instead differentiating its hardware on the basis of alternate innova-

tions, such as the DS’ touch screen input, the Wii’s motion control and
the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D display. As the next section details, these inno-
vations in user input and screen display have factored significantly into
the company’s techniques of paradigmatic seriality.

Putting technology into Nintendo’s paradigmatic seriality

EAD’s Eiji Aonuma, who manages the software group responsible for
new Legend of Zelda titles, and who has served as a key creative figure on
the series since the late-1990s, emphasises the significance of the par-
ticular capabilities of a hardware platform to development. He notes
that a key objective in the production of Legend of Zelda titles has
been developing game play that complements the specific technolog-
ical affordances of a given console.39 As noted, EAD has, with regard
to the DS’ touchscreen and the Wii’s motion control inputs, used
these technologies to reduce the controller complexity of game play,
thus appealing to new console gamers. But Nintendo has also used
new technologies as another means of simultaneously appealing to
dedicated gamers by consistently integrating new hardware capabili-
ties into its practice of paradigmatic seriality. This section continues
to demonstrate how new entries in Super Mario and Legend of Zelda
series establish paradigmatic connections through the reprising of sto-
ryworld material. But it does so by considering the ways in which the
new hardware technologies either permit this storyworld material to
function in new ways (via touch screen or motion control input) or
be presented in new ways (via 3D stereoscopic display). Nintendo’s
exploitation of new hardware to provide variations on familiar nar-
rative themes sustains the appeal to dedicated gamers through the
paradigmatic serial mode.
Developed for the DS, The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
(2007), for example, includes a boomerang within Link’s tool set, an
item that dates back to the original Legend of Zelda, yet its host plat-
form’s touch-screen input allows the prop to function in a new way.
In earlier games, Link’s boomerang can only follow straight-line tra-
jectories but in The Phantom Hourglass the player can draw a line on
the screen to direct the boomerang on a swerving route. Settings are
designed to facilitate, and in some circumstances require, this new prop
function. For example, within some ‘dungeons’ Link must throw his
boomerang around walls so as to hit switches beyond his perspective.
EAD’s utilisation of the Wii Motion Plus technology in the development
34 Production

of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword demonstrates a similar practice of

reconfiguring well-established props in line with the affordances of a
new technology. An example is Link’s use of bombs; in previous Legend
of Zelda games, the player can merely have Link throw or set down the
bombs but in Skyward Sword, the player can have Link roll a bomb along
the ground via an analogous gesture with the Wii Motion Plus con-
troller. As with the boomerang in The Phantom Hourglass, the Skyward
Sword setting encourages the use of the prop’s new function and new
kinds of storyworld action. In one location, for instance, Link must skil-
fully roll a bomb across a slender bridge to demolish a rock dam on the
other side.
In the case of Super Mario 3D Land, however, EAD did not prioritise
new forms of storyworld action to complement a new platform tech-
nology. Utilising the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D display, the studio instead
provided new ways to present familiar storyworld action, delivering
what the back of the game’s box describes as ‘Classic Mario action with a
modern twist!’40 Most typically this process involved appropriating par-
ticular actions from earlier 2D Super Mario titles, such as a giant ball and
chain pendulum swinging towards Mario, as in Super Mario World, or
Bowser breathing fireballs as Mario approaches him, as in Super Mario
Bros. 3 (1988, for NES). But whereas these earlier games present props
such as fireballs and pendulums as moving across a two-dimensional
plane, Super Mario 3D Land alters the perspective on these actions to
maximise the hardware’s affordances. For example, these same objects
are often presented as travelling from the rear of a three-dimensional
polygonal space towards Mario and the player’s perspective and then –
due to the 3D stereoscopic effect – beyond the screen’s frame. EAD was
highly motivated to demonstrate the hardware’s 3D capabilities via such
storyworld actions. As the game’s director, Koichi Hayashida, observed,
‘When it comes to stereoscopic 3D, everyone on the team wants to make
stuff shoot out at you.’41
The game’s utilisation of the hardware’s distinct affordances for the
purposes of visual effect reflects a broader tendency within the indus-
try as developers respond to perpetual hardware technology upgrades.
A new hardware cycle’s games typically invite players to admire their
technical mastery of spectacle relative to prior games. Super Mario 3D
Land, and many other games that revel in spectacular imagery, thus
operate, suggests Andrew Mactavish, as ‘virtuoso performance[s] of
technological expertise’.42 Yet EAD’s pursuit of technologically enabled
spectacle was tied to its wider techniques of paradigmatic seriality, as the
studio typically achieved its stereoscopic 3D effects via the reworking of
Anthony N. Smith 35

storyworld material (particular characters, props and actions) sourced

from prior Super Mario games. In line with these wider techniques, and
in ways akin to Skyward Sword and The Phantom Hourglass, 3D Land
utilises the distinct affordances of its hardware platform as a means to
evoke paradigmatic serial connections within its series; in so doing it
invites dedicated gamers to gain pleasure from the variations on earlier
narrative that it provides.43


In his public pronouncements, Iwata emphasises the significance of

the particular preferences and competencies of audience groups to
Nintendo’s content creation:

The final goal of a product is to resonate with and be accepted by

people. You can’t just force your way through. By saying ‘the point is
to be accepted’, I mean, if you go to a customer with your idea and
you realize they don’t understand it, it’s more important that they do
and you should shift your idea . . . . Nintendo developers are extremely
insatiable when it comes to whether what they make resonates with
customers or not.44

This chapter’s focus on narrative illustrates some of the ways that

Nintendo’s prioritisation of audience requirements within development
factors into its video games. It shows how Nintendo was able to simul-
taneously address the contrasting requirements of two distinct audience
groups via its reliance on the paradigmatic serial mode. The company
consistently appealed to dedicated players via the reprising and refor-
mulating of Super Mario and Legend of Zelda storyworld materials, while
ensuring that these narrative practices would not dissuade the wider
audiences it wanted to target with the same content.
By adopting a historical poetics approach, this chapter demonstrates
the contingency of video game narrative elements upon production
conditions. Yet the current Nintendo context should not be considered
representative of the console market or the wider video game indus-
try more generally; instead it should be regarded as one distinct set
of production conditions among many within a heterogeneous global
marketplace. Further work is therefore needed to map the connections
between the medium’s diversity of industrial contexts and the content
it generates.
36 Production

1. This overriding narrative goal is not made explicit within the game itself, but
rather by its accompanying instruction manual.
2. For further understanding of the term ‘hardcore’ within a video game con-
text, see Jesper Juul, A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and Their
Players (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2010), 8–10.
3. On the pleasures to be gained from the combination of repetition of
and variation on narrative within a series, see Umberto Eco, The Lim-
its of Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 91–93.
For more on patterns of variation and repetition in narrative, see Omar
Calabrese, Neo Baroque: A Sign of the Times, trans. Charles Lambert (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1992), 27–46; Angela Ndalianis, Neo Baroque
Aesthetics in Contemporary Entertainment (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2004),
4. For more on the term and concept of ‘storyworlds’, see David Herman, Story
Logic: Problems and Possibilities of Narrative (Lincoln: University of Nebraska
Press, 2002), 13–14.
5. Henry Jenkins, ‘Game Design as Narrative Architecture’, in First Person:
New Media as Story, Performance and Game, eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and
Pat Harrigan (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2004), 118–130; Jesper Juul, Half
Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds (Cambridge: The
MIT Press, 2005); Marie-Laure Ryan, Avatars of Story (Minneapolis: Univer-
sity of Minnesota Press, 2006), 181–203; Gordon Calleja, In-Game: From
Immersion to Incorporation (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2011), 113–133; Astrid
Ensslin, The Language of Gaming (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012),
6. On use of the historical poetics approach in film and television, see David
Bordwell, ‘Historical Poetics of Cinema’, in The Cinematic Text: Methods and
Approaches, ed. R. Barton Palmer (New York: AMS Press, 1989), 369–398;
Jason Mittell, Complex Television: The Poetics of Contemporary Television
Storytelling (New York: New York University Press, forthcoming).
7. For more on the industrial organisation of the console market, see Jon
Dovey and Helen W. Kennedy, Game Cultures: Computer Games as New Media
(Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2006), 43–62.
8. Dominic Arsenault, ‘Company Profile: Nintendo’, The Video Game Explosion:
A History from Pong to PlayStation and Beyond, ed. Mark J. P. Wolf (Westport:
Greenwood Press, 2008), 113–114.
9. Nintendo has, in contrast, sustained its dominance over the handheld video
game console market ever since the introduction of its first Game Boy system
in 1989. Ibid.
10. P. J. Huffstutter, ‘Nintendo Sees Profit Slump on Weak GameCube Sales’,
Los Angeles Times, 8 April 2003,
11. Daniel Sloan, Playing to Wiin: Nintendo and the Video Game Industry’s Greatest
Comeback (Hoboken: Wiley, 2011), 34–36.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid., 101–102.
Anthony N. Smith 37

14. Steven E. Jones and George K. Thiruvathukal, Codename Revolution: The

Nintendo Wii Platform (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012), 30–31.
15. Ibid., 53–77, 118; Juul, A Casual Revolution, 103–128.
16. Jones and Thiruvathukal, Codename Revolution, 31, 79–80.
17. The high critical regard for certain contemporary Nintendo games within the
dedicated gaming press reflects their continued appeal to ‘hardcore’ audience
constituencies. For example, Edge named The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
its ‘Game of the Year’ for 2011, while Eurogamer awarded the same acco-
lade to Super Mario 3D World for 2013. Edge Staff, ‘The 2011 Edge Awards:
Mainstream’, Edge, 6 January 2012,
2011-edge-awards-mainstream/; Martin Robinson, ‘Eurogamer’s Game of
the Year 2013’, Eurogamer, 30 December 2013,
18. Satoru Iwata, ‘Iwata Asks. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Each
Philosophy Benefits from the Existence of the Other’,, date
accessed: 25 February 2014,
19. In a 3D platforming game the action takes place in a three-dimensional
space, as opposed to on a two-dimensional plane.
20. Satoru Iwata, ‘Iwata Asks. Super Mario Galaxy. Volume 1: The Producer and
Director. From 5 to 95’,, date accessed: 23 February 2014,
21. Satoru Iwata, ‘Iwata Asks. Super Mario Galaxy. Volume 1: The Producer and
Director. A Mario Even Beginners Can Play’,, date accessed:
22 February 2014,
22. Ibid.
23. President of Nintendo Europe Saturo Shibata, for example, noted that he
wanted the handheld 3DS system ‘to appeal to long time gamers and new-
comers’. Nick Jones, ‘3DS to appeal to new and old gamers’, NowGamer,
19 January 2011,
24. Robert C. Allen, Speaking of Soap Operas (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 1985), 69.
25. Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts
(London: Hutchinson & Co., 1981), 117.
26. Ibid., 113–114. There are exceptions to this rule. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s
Mask (2000, for Nintendo 64) strongly evokes serial connections along a syn-
tagmatic axis, explicitly suggesting that its events follow soon after those of
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998, for Nintendo 64). Paratextual
material furthermore suggests that all Legend of Zelda games connect along
the syntagmatic axis to form a single branching timeline (involving multiple
storyworld realities), but such syntagmatic connections are rarely explicitly
evoked within the games. For more on this timeline, see Patrick Thorpe,
ed., The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia, trans. Michael Gombos, Takahiro
Moriki, Heidi Plechl, Kumar Sivasubramanian, Aria Tanner and John Thomas
(Milwaukie: Dark Horse Books, 2013), 68–136.
27. Allen, Speaking of Soap Operas, 69–71.
38 Production

28. Richard George, ‘New Super Mario Bros. U Review’, IGN, 15 November 2012,
29. Edge Staff, ‘The Legend of Zelda: A Link between Worlds Review’,
Edge, 14 November 2013,
30. For discussion of producers (in other media) making efforts to conceal from
‘casual’ audiences the serial narrative connections between the texts of a
given series, see Matt Hills, ‘Absent Epic, Implied Story Arcs, and Variation on
a Narrative Theme: Doctor Who (2005–2008) as Cult/Mainstream Television’,
in Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives, eds. Pat Harrigan
and Noah Wardrip-Fruin (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2009), 333–342;
Anthony N. Smith, Media Contexts of Narrative Design: Dimensions of Specificity
within Storytelling Industries (PhD diss., University of Nottingham, 2013),
31. Jones and Thiruvathukal, Codename Revolution, 18.
32. Satoru Iwata, ‘Iwata Asks. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Vol-
ume 3. The Dense Volcano and Enemy Monsters’,, date
accessed: 19 February 2014,
33. Satoru Iwata, ‘Iwata Asks. The Legend of Zelda: A Link between Worlds.
A Challenge from the Developers’,, date accessed: 26 Febru-
ary 2014,
34. Ibid.
35. Satoru Iwata, ‘Iwata Asks. New Super Mario Bros. 2. Cooperation from the
Super Mario 3D Land Staff’,, date accessed: 17 February 2014,
36. Satoru Iwata, ‘Iwata Asks. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Ideas
Born Out of Functionality’,, date accessed: 24 February 2014,
37. Dovey and Kennedy, Game Cultures, 52.
38. Stephen Kline, Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greg De Peuter, Digital Play: The
Interaction of Technology, Culture and Marketing (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-
Queen’s University Press, 2003), 153–154; Juul, A Casual Revolution, 13.
39. Thorpe, The Legend of Zelda, 328.
40. Super Mario 3D Land European edition (Nintendo, 2011).
41. Satoru Iwata, ‘Iwata Asks. Volume 1: Super Mario 3D Land. “It’s So High I’m
Scared!” ’,, date accessed: 17 February 2014, https://iwataasks.
42. Andrew Mactavish, ‘Technological Pleasure: The Performance and Narra-
tive of Technology in Half-Life and Other High-Tech Computer Games’,
in ScreenPlay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces, eds. Geoff King and Tanya
Krzywinska (London: Wallflower, 2002), 34. For more on this topic, see
Marie-Laure Ryan, ‘Beyond Ludus: Narrative, Videogames and the Split Con-
dition of Digital Textuality’, in Videogame, Player, Text, eds. Barry Atkins
and Tanya Krzywinska (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007),
14; Ndalianis, Neo Baroque Aesthetics, 99–104. Geoff King, ‘Die Hard/Try
Harder: Narrative, Spectacle and Beyond, From Hollywood to Videogame’,
in ScreenPlay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces, eds. Geoff King and Tanya
Anthony N. Smith 39

Krzywinska (London: Wallflower, 2002), 57–58. Andrew Darley, Visual Digi-

tal Culture: Surface Play and Spectacle in New Media Genres (London: Routledge,
2000), 149–151.
43. For more on the use of technology in intertextual practices within video
games, see Ndalianis, Neo Baroque Aesthetics, 99–104.
44. Toshi Nakamura, ‘Why Nintendo Says It Doesn’t Make Art’, Kotaku, 1 August
The Muddle Earth Journey: Brand
Consistency and Cross-Media
Intertextuality in Game Adaptation
Claudio Pires Franco

In reviewing the current state of adaptation studies in 2008, Thomas

Leitch argued that many scholars – even those claiming to have over-
come the age of moralistic comparative novel-to-film studies that value
fidelity above all else – have found it very difficult to escape the grip of
literary status and the fixation with novel-to-film adaptations. Leitch
argues that they should instead focus on Bakhtinian intertextuality,
according to which ‘every text – adaptation or not – is influenced by
a series of previous texts from which it could not help borrowing’.1 Says
Leitch: ‘[D]espite the best efforts of [. . .] virtually every other theorist of
adaptation past and present, the field is still haunted by the notion that
adaptations ought to be faithful to their ostensible source texts.’2 Two
main and connected conclusions can be drawn from Leitch’s review:
(1) ‘there is no such thing as a single source for any adaptation’; and,
(2) scholars should no longer engage in value-comparative studies that
persistently devalue adaptations into newer media by negatively com-
paring their narratives and aesthetics with typically highbrow literature
source texts.3 In what follows, I take up two of Leitch’s suggested
avenues of inquiry for a reinvigorated adaptation studies, investigat-
ing questions about ‘different kinds of fidelity’ raised by ‘adaptations of
other sorts of texts than canonical literary works’ and about ‘relations
between adaptation and other intertextual modes’.4
This chapter is based on an empirical study of the Muddle Earth
game (2010), commissioned by the BBC and developed by the United
Kingdom-based game studio, Dubit; it looks at game production in the
context of cross-media strategies and follows the adaptation journey of
Muddle Earth from a children’s book into a television cartoon show,

Claudio Pires Franco 41

and finally into an online game. The Muddle Earth book is a hybrid
between two narrative genres, fantasy adventure and comedy.5 Since it
is essentially a parody of the hero’s journey genre, and more specifically
a parody of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga, it can be termed a ‘comedic
hero’s journey’.6 As the publisher’s description reads:

Where would you find a perfumed bog filled with pink sticky hogs
and exploding gas frogs? A place that’s home to a wizard with only
one spell, an ogre who cries a lot and a very sarcastic budgie? Wel-
come to Muddle Earth. A place where anything can happen – and
usually does.7

The book tells the humorous saga of Joe, a schoolboy who accidentally
falls into an odd world. Joe and his quirky companions – the useless
wizard Randalf the Wise, Norbert the gentle troll and Veronica the acidly
sarcastic budgie – travel across the lands in a parodying Tolkienesque
journey to defeat Dr Cuddles, a blue teddy bear disguised as evil sorcerer.
In the Summer of 2009 the BBC announced the commissioning of
a Muddle Earth animated cartoon programme, which the institution
describes as an ‘[a]nimated high comedy-fantasy-adventure series that
brings the eponymous illustrated book to life’.8 It was the BBC’s first ever
in-house long-form animation series, consisting of two seasons of thir-
teen 11-minute episodes aired on BBC1 and CBBC from March 2010.9
With the television series under production the BBC then commis-
sioned Dubit to create a browser-based Muddle Earth game. According
to BBC documentation the ‘Muddle Earth MMO/Virtual World’ was
intended ‘to complement the series . . . [and] to provide a fun and
humorous way to interact with the world and characters’.10 The game,
launched in October 2010, and which was – at the time of writing – still
live online, is described to players as ‘a multiplayer game based on the
CBBC animation series of the same name’.11 The game adaptation was
based principally on the cartoon, with the book used as a complemen-
tary source of material. There were significant changes in the adapta-
tions of the Muddle Earth texts, but the key objective persisted of main-
taining the book’s comedic style and tone consistently across media.
What follows focuses primarily on the game adaptation, drawing on
data from reading the book, watching the cartoon, playing the game,
interviewing production personnel and analysing production docu-
ments; the chapter uses these data to investigate the ways in which
the Muddle Earth narrative travelled across media. It argues, with Leitch,
that adaptation studies should no longer centre on fidelity (or other
42 Production

value-comparative) models that are not only implicitly hierarchical but

also overly reliant upon textual analysis. In their place should be a
wider notion of transmedial brand consistency that embraces medium-
specificities and an understanding of game adaptations as the product
of the multifaceted influences of intertextuality (relationships to other
texts) and extratextuality (the specificities of production contexts).12

Revisiting fidelity in transmedial production contexts

Robert Stam argues that strict fidelity to an original source is impossible,

but acknowledges that the notion of fidelity does contain a ‘grain of
truth’; he says, ‘When we say an adaptation has been unfaithful to the
original, the term gives expression to the disappointment we feel when
a film adaptation fails to capture what we see as the fundamental nar-
rative, thematic, and aesthetic features of its literary source.’13 Despite
this reference to fundamental features, Stam thinks there is no such
thing as an ‘extractable “essence” ’ since ‘a single novelistic text . . . can
generate a plethora of possible readings’.14 However, media produc-
ers differ from scholars; the latter have time for theoretical niceties
but the former have to get on with turning out content. When mak-
ing an adaptation, producers take decisions about the ways in which
source texts are ‘translated’; they decide what should be kept, changed,
enhanced, abbreviated, ignored or added. They make these decisions
based upon their conceptualised ‘essence’ of the text, which in turn
means it is imperative to understand the motivations of producers and,
in a wider sense, investigate the ways in which production contexts
affect adaptations.
Crucial to both producers’ motivations and production contexts is the
brand, which I use here in the industry’s sense of a specific intellectual
property dispersed across multiple media platforms. In the contempo-
rary children’s media landscape, popular children’s brands originating in
any one medium usually have a presence across a myriad of other media.
When a brand owner – for example a children’s book publisher or tele-
vision channel – commissions a game based on their brand, they want
it to be successful in its own right, but also to drive engagement with
the source (and usually core) work. Games often function both as ways
to extend the pleasure of an existing text and as new entry points to a
brand in wider transmedial webs of content.15 In this context, adapted
games, while not aiming to be exact replicas of their sources, still need
to sustain a good level of conformity with the source brand. I would
suggest the use of the term ‘brand consistency’ as a more flexible (and
Claudio Pires Franco 43

more factual, less subjective and judgemental) concept than ‘fidelity’

or ‘faithfulness’. As my research shows, the concept of brand consis-
tency acknowledges modifications and medium-specific interpretations,
insofar as these do not contradict the brand.
In the case of Muddle Earth, consistency was indeed important for the
BBC as the game was seen as a digital complement that should ‘follow
the comedy and rules of the Muddle Earth series’.16 BBC game producer
Adam Khwaja told me, ‘We tend to, whenever we make a show, we
would naturally want a sizeable online experience also available to that
audience, because obviously kids don’t just watch TV any more . . . it had
to be very faithful, we had to be sure the characters and everything was
on brand.’17 However, being ‘faithful’ or ‘on brand’ did not mean telling
the same story by simply replicating the cartoon in a new medium. The
game was to be based on the story of Muddle Earth, but it had also to ful-
fil other objectives that the BBC wanted the game specifically in its own
right to achieve. At that time the BBC, which already had large num-
bers of single-player games, wanted to offer more social experiences and
experiment with multiplayer virtual worlds for children.18 Said Khwaja,
‘This was at a period where virtual worlds were becoming very popu-
lar . . . and the BBC deemed it appropriate to explore how best to do
virtual worlds for that age group, and that was a property . . . that we
effectively owned that we could do it very effectively with.’19
Other important production factors determined the selection of the
Muddle Earth book for adaptation into both the cartoon and the game.
One of these was the BBC’s perception that the project would be of bene-
fit to the intended child audience; the producers thought it made sense
to produce a cartoon based on a popular book and to create a game
based on a cartoon that would be watched by large numbers of chil-
dren. According to Khwaja, ‘The book is a very popular book. And at the
time there was a requirement for the commissioning of a [series] . . . that
would be high in comedy, and they wanted to produce an animated
series based on that book. There was an audience benefit from this.’20
Another reason for the selection of Muddle Earth was the view that its
fantasy hero’s journey made it very ‘gamifiable’. This kind of story fits
well with the game medium, more precisely with the game genre its pro-
ducers had envisaged: a hybrid between a ‘point-and-click’ game and a
virtual world. Said Khwaja, ‘We kind of felt it really lent itself to a virtual
world. It is about questing; it is about adventures . . . the world is beau-
tifully created for that kind of game.’21 The creation of a Muddle Earth
virtual world was an ‘obvious adaptation’, in which the existence of ‘a
pretty full world anyway, with locations and a map’ provided a
44 Production

nice and easy blueprint to work from. . . . It’s sort of a natural step for
the brand to have a big quest-driven, big story, and also in terms of
how the game looked and played it was very much driven by the artis-
tic style of the animation . . . it had nice, rich, beautiful backgrounds
drawn too, that sort of point-and-click Monkey Island thing worked
really well.22

The choice of game format was determined partly by the affinities

between narrative genre and game genres, and partly by audience con-
siderations and BBC priorities, all of which made Muddle Earth a suitable
source text to adapt.

Brand consistency and the narrative journey across media

The Muddle Earth book opens with an illustrated profile of the main
characters, including headshots and text introducing their traits and
functions in the story. Joe is the unwilling hero, a simple boy who
falls into a magical and ‘wacky’ kingdom from which he ultimately
wants to escape. He must put himself to the test, go on journeys and
quests with his allies Randalf, Veronica and Norbert, face Threshold
Guardians such as dragons and trolls, and finally defeat Dr. Cuddles,
the Shadow. The book’s plot is fairly linear, but there are several parallel
sub-plots, with different protagonists, which ultimately converge, often
to comedic effect.
The book’s humour is integral to this study because, as noted, this
element of the source text motivated the BBC to commission its adap-
tion and to ensure that it persisted within the game and television texts.
An analysis of brand consistency thus necessarily entails looking at the
ways humour was defined and created across the media instantiations.
Claire Dormann and Robert Biddle tell us that humour has the prob-
lematic characteristic of being ‘commonplace yet difficult to define’.23
For me the main sources of the book’s humour were the behaviours and
actions of the quirkiest characters: the bogus wizard, Randalf, who is
lazy, cowardly and cares only about sleeping and eating, and the budgie,
Veronica, whose sarcasm and wit unmask Randalf and point up ridicu-
lous situations. Other sources of comedy include ridiculous elements
(such as weird animals with weird names) and the ‘gross’ humour linked
to nasty smells and peculiar inedible ‘delicacies’.
The cross-media journey started with the production of the animated
television series, which in its opening titles is introduced as being ‘based
on the book’. The series contains both continuities and contrasts with
Claudio Pires Franco 45

the source text, with producers’ perceptions of intended viewers’ prefer-

ences factoring into the book’s transformation into a television text. For
example, the BBC chose to make a series rather than a serial – that is,
it produced self-contained episodes rather than have all episodes con-
tribute to a larger story-arc – on the basis of its perception of children’s
viewing practices. Said Khwaja,

You want to maximise your audience all the time, and because
of repeat factors . . . you avoid doing a series arc across the whole
series, because then you’d have to watch episode three to understand
episode five . . . that’s something that generally speaking we avoid in
the kids TV business . . . . [You] can’t be sure they’re watching every
single episode . . . in the modern climate that just doesn’t tend to

As a result of this change, the cartoon dispensed with the hero’s journey,
the protagonist’s grand quest to get back home. Instead the episodic
narratives are short, each containing simple plot structures.
Many of the characters’ personality traits also changed in the tran-
sition from book to television. Newt is the animated series’ new hero,
an elf-like willing hero and Randalf’s wizard apprentice. The move from
Joe the warrior-hero to Newt the apprentice wizard negates any relation
to the ‘real’ world, any link with ‘warriors’ and any hint of violence;
in making this change, the BBC opted for an arguably more child-
friendly and politically correct ‘magic’ theme, more in line with its
policies on violence and potentially more aligned with the tastes of
young audiences recently exposed to huge media successes within the
‘magic’ fantasy genre such as Harry Potter.25
Norbert and Veronica are again the journeying allies and Dr. Cuddles
is still the villain. But Randalf becomes more of a ‘genuine’ wizard,
less of a coward, and closer to a true mentor for the new hero, Newt.
Veronica becomes less of a trickster and less sarcastic, and although
she still makes the odd comment about Randalf’s failures, these are
less frequent than in the book. But while sarcastic comedy is used
less frequently the cartoon maintains the book’s ridiculous and gross
humour. It also adds new comedic devices, made possible by the new
medium’s specific affordances, such as slapstick humour and amusing
voice-over work (comedy actor Sir David Jason voices Randalf), which
feature throughout the show.26
The series also introduced new narrative elements – settings, char-
acters and adventures – that were in line with the comedic mode of
46 Production

the book. As the BBC put it, the show ‘takes the heart of the epony-
mous world and runs with it’.27 Some of these changes were made in the
hope of appealing to a cross-gender audience. Khwaja explained how the
BBC attempted to broaden the source text’s appeal: ‘The original book
is definitely . . . boys skewing. But the adaptation . . . tried to reach both
boys and girls . . . . There was the addition of new characters . . . there’s the
fairies, and Pesticide, and a new location called Fairy Valley . . . [so as] to
make it more girl-friendly.’28 The settings in the series, depicted in a
map almost identical to the one used in the book, are virtually the same
except for the addition of a new location meant to appeal to girls. Fairy
Valley is home to a group of vain blonde, pink-clad fairies. Opposed
to them is Pesticide, one of the new protagonists, a ‘goth-punkish’ rebel
fairy who dresses in black and does not get along with the blonde fairies.
She represents a kind of ‘troubled teenager’ stereotype and was added
perhaps to counterbalance the presence of the pink fairies.
Muddle Earth’s journey from page to screen involved several changes,
most significantly the replacement of its human reluctant hero with
an elf-boy and willing hero. But its producers believed that they had
retained the book’s ‘essence’, that is, a level of brand consistency, while
turning it into a recognisably BBC product and potentially widening
its audience. The producers perceived that staying ‘on brand’ was an
essential prerequisite for turning the cartoon into a game.
In the words of Khwaja, the Muddle Earth game is a multiplayer ‘quest-
based virtual world’ formed by a series of environments that replicate
locations from the series.29 After an initial backstory, Randalf the wiz-
ard takes the player (called a wizard apprentice) through a tutorial that
explains the interface and essential game mechanics, at the end of which
players are invited to start a quest, the first of a series of chained quests.
Choosing the ‘main quest puts the player in the leading role of a Muddle
Earth adventure which provides a large body of gameplay for the virtual
world and an over arching storyline’.30 Thanks to a distinctive feature
of games – the ability to save progress and play from a saved point –
the game returned to a long story-arc, a hero’s journey format similar to
that found in the book but which the television series had abandoned
due to producers’ understandings of audiences’ viewing habits. Produc-
ers furthermore relied on specific narrative material from the book that
hadn’t been included in the series so as to ‘fill in the gaps’.31 But the
television series remained the main source for the game’s development;
as Khwaja explained, ‘it was much more important dealing with the
scripts, that’s what we wanted to keep it on brand with, rather than
the book’.32
Claudio Pires Franco 47

The BBC exerted tight control over the game’s content in order to
maintain brand consistency with the cartoon. For example, the institu-
tion produced a detailed game concept document, which was passed on
to the game studio, and which was based on the television series ‘bible’
and scripts for the first few episodes.33 Any new content suggested by the
game studio during production underwent a process of approval, which
often included the executive team in charge of producing the televi-
sion series. Brand consistency was never fully defined a priori; rather, it
emerged in the process of communication as producers reviewed and
self-consciously revised game content.34 For example, a shopping basket
(in digital media a widely used icon to signify ‘shop’) was replaced by
a wicker basket (a more thematically appropriate ‘medieval’ symbol).
In other instances, the dialogue of non-player-characters (NPCs) was
refined to bring it closer to the comedic style of the source texts.35
Many of the narrative elements of the game were, to use Jay David
Bolter and Richard Grusin’s well-known term, ‘remediated’ from other
media forms, including those of the book and television series.36 Key
examples include the use of a visual representation of an aged book
to present the initial backstory; cut scenes to introduce plot develop-
ment through animation akin to the television series; the presentation
of NPC dialogue via comic-book style speech bubbles; and finally the
player’s quest journal, common in the game genre and which is remi-
niscent of an explorer’s log book. The ‘scripted’ or ‘authored’ narrative
elements of the game, which are designed by the producers (and which
are distinct from ‘emergent’ player narratives) combine storytelling con-
ventions from other media with storytelling devices specific to the
game medium, mixing representational elements (for example, set-
tings, characters, sound effects, music) and ludic elements (actual game
playing). The ludic component is the medium-specific way of telling
stories within computer games. David Buckingham proposes that the
specificities of computer games are ‘not simply about the manner in
which they represent settings or narratives or characters – in other
words, about those elements that apply to other media or cultural forms.
They are also about the ways in which games are played’.37 Computer
games can be seen in Celia Pearce’s words as ‘structured frameworks
for play’ or in Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman’s as ‘rule-governed sys-
tems’; as Jesper Juul argues, games are to a great extent defined by their
In the Muddle Earth game, players unravel story elements and unfold
the plot through playing mini-games and through the management of
ludic resources based on Muddle Earth themes and events. For instance,
48 Production

players can collect the lost pages of a spell book (originally mentioned
in the source book) and ride a dragon to gain a golden artefact (an adap-
tation of a passage in the book, in turn inspired by Smaug, the gold-
collecting dragon in The Hobbit [1937]). These ludic elements present
game-like challenges, rewarding the player with experience points, level
upgrades and advancement of the plot. More importantly, players can
access the game narrative through engaging in quests in a quest sys-
tem made up of blocks of action and narrative. By completing quests
and sub-quests, each with their own sets of objectives, the player moves
the plot forward. To adopt Seymour Chatman’s distinction, the com-
pletion of quests can be seen as ‘kernel’ events of the game narrative
that are indispensable to the plot, while sub-quests and minor objectives
constitute ‘satellite’ events, expendable and peripheral.39
The story unfolds principally through questing; the quest system
allows the player to experience the type of comedic fantasy adventure
offered by the game’s source texts. It is also the bridge between the
game’s representational elements and ludic structures. Questing inter-
sects storytelling with game playing – in order to develop the plot and
disclose the next part of the story the player has to engage in ludic
activities. The player’s main mission is to find out what, or who, is
behind the magic that is making everyone grow extremely hairy. The
quests involve actions such as speaking to Randalf, finding ingredients
for magic spells, collecting bat-birds and exploding frogs, and defeating
trolls in pie fights. Quests are aggregators of diverse game activities, they
reveal kernel narrative checkpoints that progress the story and intersect
ludic activities with remediated forms such as expository text and cut
scenes. Through quests the player reads, watches and plays the story.
The game’s grand quest narrative restored a key narrative element of
the book that the television series had omitted. But the game was nev-
ertheless primarily consistent with the cartoon. Since the game shared
digital assets (such as character and background artwork) with the series
and both used Adobe Flash software to convey these assets, there was a
good level of visual consistency between them.40 There was also narra-
tive consistency with the cartoon, achieved through the use of settings
and characters specific to the series.
However, despite this consistency, there are further ways in which
the game’s narrative veers from that of the television series, notably
in terms of character, plot structure and style and tone of the cartoon,
with some of these departures linked to medium affordances and others
to the stylistic choices of the production teams. With regards to char-
acter, the game adopts the customary convention of the customisable
Claudio Pires Franco 49

avatar, with players each choosing to play as a character visually similar

to either Newt or Pesticide. This renders the ‘real’ Newt and Pesticide sec-
ondary; they serve as NPCs with the sole function of initiating quests.
Aside from this, however, most of the other characters perform func-
tions similar to their television counterparts, with Randalf becoming a
mentor in the game’s tutorial level and, as in the cartoon, the primary
quest provider.
In the game, the player assumes the role of the willing hero who has
to engage with goals and challenges and go on quests, but without the
allies who accompanied the heroes of the book and the cartoon. While
both in the book and cartoon there are parallel plots with passages or
scenes focusing on different characters, in the game the action centres
solely on the player character, with other characters – NPCs – acting
mainly as checkpoints for quests and sub-quests. This monopolisation
of action by the player character means that he or she is responsible
for developing the vast majority of the plot.41 In some instances, the
player is informed, through NPC dialogue and scripted cut scenes, that
an event has taken place (usually linked to Dr. Cuddles’ actions). How-
ever, these events are never presented to the viewer as they occur; the
player is simply informed that they have taken place. Besides these small
pieces of exposition linked to kernel events in plot development, there
is no room for the type of parallel plotting found in both the book and
the television series.
The game retains the ‘wacky’ tone of the book and television series
but expresses humour through its own specific affordances. Some of the
cartoon’s visual and aural humour – such as close-ups of funny char-
acter expressions, pratfalls and funny voices – is not translated into
the game, which relies primarily upon humorous dialogue presented
in text form. Slapstick humour was not translated into the game due
to a mix of connected restricting factors: budgets, timings and tech-
nical feasibility – producing animated scenes in games is a relatively
expensive and time-consuming process.42
Producers did, however, explore affordances specific to the game
medium as a means to convey humour, introducing new devices influ-
enced by game conventions found in ‘graphical adventures’ (such as
the aforementioned Escape from Monkey Island).43 These include bizarre
conversations with NPCs, interaction with animals and objects (a player
can, for example, explode gas frogs, or try to grab a whole stone bridge,
resulting in a humorous comment about the player’s physical prowess),
and a series of nonsensical, logic-defying avatar actions, such as enter-
ing a house and impossibly leaving through the door of another house
50 Production

yards away on the other side of the street. These comedic devices did not
originate from the source texts, but still suited Muddle Earth’s ‘wacky’
style. The game producers used the specific affordances available to the
game medium, but in a way that aimed to maintain brand consistency
by adopting a similar tone, of which producers of the game series and
sometimes of the television series approved.
To summarise, the game made use of many narrative elements of the
book and television source texts. Some were translated fairly directly (for
instance, settings, events and character identities), others were modified
(character functions, plot structures), added to (new story material with
BBC approval), or dropped (humorous voices, slapstick humour). A com-
plex number of interrelated factors informed decisions about which
elements to retain, modify or drop, including the producers’ concep-
tions of brand consistency, the specific affordances of the game medium,
the intertextual influences of other games and the BBC’s understanding
regarding its intended audiences.


This study points towards the need for a holistic approach to adaptation
studies, an approach that moves beyond the mere comparison of adap-
tations to their source texts, to consider a more complex set of processes
shaping adaptations. As this chapter shows, the Muddle Earth game adap-
tation was moulded by a series of factors, which can be categorised into
three main areas:

1. Intertextuality: the influence of the source texts, which was important

in maintaining brand consistency, as well as the influence of other
texts from several media (notably games).
2. Medium affordances: the influence of the distinct range of possibilities
that the games medium permits.
3. Extratextuality: the influence of factors external to the texts or media
affordances (such as the wider production context).

Combined, all of these factors influenced the Muddle Earth adaptation –

and will indeed influence, in different measures and combinations, any
media adaptation.
The Muddle Earth game is based on a television series, which in turn
is also an adaptation of a book, which in turn is a parody of Tolkien’s
work, with all these texts influenced by a web of intertextual references
that link them to other books, films and further media works and cul-
tural forms. The source material was ‘translated’ into a new medium,
Claudio Pires Franco 51

with the adaptation process strongly framed by the requirement for a

new kind of fidelity to the source texts – transmedial brand consistency;
the game, conceived of as a digital complement to the cartoon, had
to be consistent. As such it inherited many of its narrative elements,
shared production assets and technologies and was intended to convey
a similar comedic tone online.
The affordances of the destination medium were also important in
defining the adaptation, with the producers aiming not only to reme-
diate existing content but also to create original content suitable for
the games medium, exploring its potential affordances and managing
its limitations. However, brand consistency was an ever-present guid-
ing factor, and new content required the commissioning institution’s
approval. As a game, Muddle Earth was furthermore influenced by other
specific games, as well as game genres and conventions.
Besides being the result of medium-specific affordances, and the mul-
tifaceted processes of intertextuality, the game was also clearly shaped
by factors extrinsic to intertext or medium, that is, extratextual factors.
Extratextuality typically concerns cultural, social, economical, techno-
logical and ideological factors, such as industry trends and practices,
audience considerations, development budgets, business strategies, edi-
torial guidelines and the accumulated experiences, views, knowledge
and assumptions of producers. In the case of Muddle Earth, the influ-
ence of extratextual factors such as budgets, audience perceptions
and production values clearly shaped both the game and television
In order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of a text, adap-
tation scholars ought to take into account the complexity of these
multiple areas of influence. It might often be difficult to gain access
to producers and production documents, but the practice of engaging
solely in textual analysis will typically result in a restricted perspec-
tive. It is therefore important to incorporate the views of producers and
track complex webs of intertextual and extratextual influences within
and across media forms, avoiding preconceptions about the value and
worthiness of different types of media.

1. Thomas Leitch, ‘Adaptation Studies at a Crossroads’, Adaptation 1, no. 1
(2008), 63.
2. Ibid., 64.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., 66, 76.
5. Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, Muddle Earth (London: Macmillan, 2004).
52 Production

6. On the hero’s journey genre, see Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand
Faces 3rd Edition (Novato: New World Library, 2008).
7. Book description from publisher website: ‘Muddle Earth’, accessed
29 December 2013,
8. Description sourced via search results for ‘Muddle Earth’ via BBC website:
‘TV & Radio Programmes’,, accessed 26 April 2014, http://www
9. Press Office, ‘CBBC Unveils Magic of its First In-House Long-Form Animation
Series’, BBC, 12 March 2010,
10. ‘Request for Proposal for Delivery of Muddle Earth MMO/Virtual World to
the BBC’, BBC production document, 18 November 2009, point 1.1. I was
granted access to the production documents referenced in this chapter by
the BBC and Dubit (my employer at the time). I was not in any way involved
in the production of the game.
11. ‘Frequently Asked Questions’,, accessed 16 March 2014, http://
12. On intertextuality in adaptations see Robert Stam, Robert Burgoyne, and
Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics: Structuralism,
Post-Structuralism and Beyond (London and New York: Routledge, 1992); and
Robert Stam, ‘Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation’, in Film Adapta-
tion, ed. James Naremore (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2000),
13. Ibid., 54.
14. Ibid., 57.
15. Geoffrey A. Long, Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics and Production
at the Jim Henson Company (MA diss., MIT, 2007),
16. ‘Request for Proposal for Delivery of Muddle Earth MMO/Virtual World’,
point 1.1.
17. Interview with Adam Khwaja (Senior Producer for CBBC and Muddle Earth
game producer), 4 November 2010, BBC Television Centre.
18. The term ‘virtual world’ applies primarily to digital spaces such as Second
Life (2003), which is a kind of simulation of a world, a virtual world, where
avatars can walk through a large digital space. The term has also been applied
to a fairly wide range of typically child-orientated multiplayer games, such
as Moshi Monsters (2007), where players can visit several areas and interact
with the world, non-player-characters and other players, as well as complete
missions, play mini-games, among other activities.
19. Interview with Adam Khwaja.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. Ibid. Escape from Monkey Island (2000) is a wacky, humorous ‘point and click’
adventure set in a tropical island in the 18th century. The player explores an
island, talks to quirky characters, solves puzzles and riddles and is exposed
to numerous one-liners and gags. The game – which spawned sequels and
adaptations – was responsible for many innovations in its use of the game
medium for comedic purposes.
Claudio Pires Franco 53

23. Claire Dormann and Robert Biddle, ‘A Review of Humor for Computer
Games: Play, Laugh and More’, Simulation Gaming 40 (2009), 803.
24. Interview with Adam Khwaja.
25. Cartoons aired by the BBC seldom include fighting or violence. Guid-
ance recommends that ‘Programmes will avoid suggesting that violence or
aggression is an easy or appropriate solution to all problems.’ Violence and
the Viewer: Report of the Joint Working Party on Violence on Television, BBC
(1998), 14.
26. As Sir David Jason has played – and voiced – a good number of humorous
characters (including some that feature in animated children’s television),
his presence brings with it many potential intertextual allusions.
27. Press Office, ‘CBBC Unveils Magic’.
28. Interview with Adam Khwaja.
29. Ibid.
30. ‘Muddle Earth MMO/Virtual World Concept’, BBC production document,
23 November 2009, 5.
31. Interview with Adam Khwaja.
32. Ibid.
33. ‘Muddle Earth MMO/Virtual World Concept’.
34. I was able to gain this impression of the production process through
analysing Basecamp, a project management online tool for file sharing and
threaded discussions on which BBC and Dubit teams relied, and which
contained an overall shared history of their communications.
35. Ibid.
36. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999).
37. David Buckingham, ‘Studying Computer Games’, in Computer Games: Text,
Narrative and Play, ed. Diane Carr, David Buckingham, Andrew Burn and
Gareth Schott (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006), 7. Emphasis in original.
38. Celia Pearce, ‘Story as Play Space: Narrative in Games’, in Game On: The His-
tory and Culture of Video Games, ed. Lucien King (London: Lawrence King,
2002), 113; Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, ‘This is Not a Game: Play
in Cultural Environments’ (Paper Presented at the DiGRA Level Up Con-
ference, Utrecht, 4–6 November 2003),
publications/this-is-not-a-game-play-in-cultural-environments-2/; Jesper Juul,
‘The Game, The Player, The World: Looking For A Heart Of Gameness’ (paper
presented at the DiGRA Level Up Conference, Utrecht, 4–6 November 2003),
39. Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), 53.
40. Flash is a piece of software commonly used to render images, videos and
games online.
41. For more on this topic, see Tanya Krzywinska, ‘Playing Buffy’, Slayage: The
Online International Journal of Buffy Studies 8 (2003),
42. Interview with Adam Khwaja.
43. Ibid.
Distortions in Spacetime: Emergent
Narrative Practices in Comics’
Transition from Print to Screen
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey

The medium of comics is undergoing a transition, as digital display

becomes an increasingly popular mode of consumption. This is a tran-
sition that has been underway since before the general adoption of the
World Wide Web and recent developments in portable display devices
have advanced the pace of this change. Smartphones and tablet comput-
ers now provide a single platform that supports a wide range of visual,
narrative and interactive media. As comics gradually leave behind the
trappings of print and embrace those of the screen, it becomes necessary
to re-examine the fundamental storytelling practices of the medium in
the context of these changes.
This chapter considers the relationship between space and time in
comics and how this relationship has changed during the medium’s
transition from print to screen. It brings together and examines ideas
from a range of comics theorists and practitioner-theorists to develop
an analysis of the representation of diegetic time within the spatially
based medium of comics. In addition to comics theory, the chapter
draws ideas from scholarship concerning digital media. It applies these
theories to an examination of the changes in narrative practices within
comics that have resulted from digital remediation. In this manner the
chapter provides a critically grounded exploration and analysis of how
the representation of time in comics has been changed by the range of
new storytelling tropes emerging among digitally mediated comics.
The chapter also examines the degree to which not only technologi-
cal possibilities within the digital age have shaped narrative techniques
but also preconceptions within production culture regarding what con-
stitutes the comics medium. It concludes by considering the limits of

Daniel Merlin Goodbrey 55

the digital comics form and the role of reader control as a key element
within the medium. By examining the manner by which practitioners
within the medium of comics have responded to the great technolog-
ical shifts of recent decades, the chapter offers a perspective on the
relationship between narratives and their changing contexts within the
convergence era.

Comics, space and time

The word ‘comics’ can itself be a confusing concept to discuss. As comics

theorist Neil Cohn notes, wrapped up in the term are ideas about ‘the
industry that produces comics, the community that embraces them, the
content which they represent, and the avenues in which they appear’.1
Comics is a form that has developed primarily within the bounds of the
printed page, where it exists today in a variety of different formats rang-
ing from serialised newspaper strips and comic books to longer form
collected editions and graphic novels. Rather than one all encompass-
ing comics industry, these formats are the product of an overlapping
group of smaller industries, each with their own traditions, audiences
and economics.
In this chapter, ‘comics’ is used primarily to refer to the form or
medium itself, separate from notions of format, content or industry.
In considering the medium, the representation of diegetic time can
be a useful lens with which to focus analysis. Comics theorist Thierry
Groensteen outlines a basic difference between comics and other visual
media in this regard:

Every drawn image is incarnated and is displayed in space. The fixed

image, contrary to the moving image of cinema, which . . . is at the
same time a ‘movement-image’ and ‘time-image’, only exists in a sin-
gle dimension. Comics panels, situated relationally, are, necessarily,
placed in relation to space and operate on a share of space.2

The moving image of cinema, whether it be film or animation, is a time-

based medium. In contrast comics are spatially based, their component
panels placed alongside other panels. The essence of the relationship
between space and time in comics is summed up neatly by practitioner-
theorist Scott McCloud, who asserts that ‘space does for comics what
time does for film’.3 In expanding upon this line of thinking, McCloud
notes that: ‘Comic panels fracture both time and space, offering a
jagged, staccato rhythm of unconnected moments. But closure allows
56 Production

us to connect these moments and mentally construct a continuous,

unified reality.’4
Time in comics is a fiction. It is a construction by the reader based
on their interpretation of the artwork, panels, words and other symbols
laid out by the comic’s creator. These two linked ideas of comics as a
construction of the reader and comics as time told through space sit at
the heart of McCloud’s thinking. Indeed, in his seminal Understanding
Comics, McCloud states that ‘in a very real sense, comics is closure’.5
Closure in this sense is the act of seeing two images juxtaposed in space
and mentally filling in the gap between them to create a fiction of time
and movement. In his later book, Reinventing Comics, McCloud seeks to
capture the very essence of comics and suggests we think of the form as
‘an artist’s map of time itself’.6
This idea of comics as a ‘temporal map’ is key to McCloud’s early
thinking on how the medium might adapt and mutate for the com-
puter screen.7 Cohn provides a useful clarification of McCloud’s position
as ‘not “physical space = fictive time” but rather “physical space =
physical reading motion = fictive time” ’.8 This clarification is helpful
in addressing some key issues with the temporal map, such as the way
word balloons and textual sound effects distort and shift the relation-
ship between space and time. A panel does not necessarily represent a
single moment in time but rather it is our progress through a sequence of
panels or moments within a panel from which our sense of time in the
comic is constructed. In terms of how this construction process takes
place, Cohn observes that the role of panels is to ‘direct attention to
depictions of “event states” from which a sense of “time” is derived’.9
Cohn elaborates on this concept further, stating,

Immediately juxtaposed panels do not always represent the progres-

sion of moments of time. In all cases, panels seem to functionally
divide up a conceptual space – that is additively built throughout
the sequence – into units of attention. Those windowed units could
narratively be whole actions, individual event states, or aspects of a
spatial environment.10

The idea of connections between panels that exist beyond immedi-

ate juxtaposition is extended further by Groensteen, who argues that
a comic ‘responds to a model of organisation that is not that of the
strip, nor that of the chain, but that of the network’.11 Groensteen goes
on to state that this network ‘also exists in a dechronologized mode’
in which the reader can consider further relationships between panels
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey 57

outside of strict narrative sequence.12 This is significant because it helps

to foreground the fact that space in comics serves as more than just the
medium for the establishment of fictional time. Arrangements in space
can also be used in the establishing of symmetries, visual rhymes and
other motifs that may impact on a narrative’s meaning without directly
impacting on the flow of time within the comic.
This chapter goes on to reveal how the unique affordances of digital
screen-based platforms have permitted comics creators to develop new
techniques in both their evocation of story time and their establishing
of dechronologised connections between panels. First, however, so as
to provide appropriate cultural and technological contexts to this dis-
cussion of digital comics creation, the chapter charts the emergence of
this form from the 1990s onward and explores its relationship to print
comics and their industries.

A change of space

Over the course of the last 20 years, the nature of the space that comics
use to tell their stories has been undergoing a profound change. The
beginnings of this change can be traced back to the early 1990s and
the addition of image display to the World Wide Web. The Mosaic web
browser’s ability to display images contributed to a massive surge in pop-
ularity for the World Wide Web, with web use growing by a factor of
341,634 per cent over the course of 1993.13 It also lead to the emergence
of the first webcomics – comics created specifically for digital display
and distribution via the web.14
As the web grew in popularity through the 1990s, so the medium of
webcomics expanded and matured, bolstered by a rapidly expanding
community of new comic creators and readers. The web offered these
creators an opportunity to reach a widening audience of readers without
incurring the prohibitive costs of publication and distribution associated
with print.15 By the early 2000s a dominant model for webcomics had
begun to emerge, similar in format (if not in content) to that of the daily
newspaper comic strip. But even as this format began to take hold, so
too did a new wave of webcomic creators emerge who were determined
to push at the boundaries of the fledgling form and further explore the
potential of the digital medium.16
Today, digital display is an increasingly popular mode of consump-
tion for the comics medium. Portable touchscreen devices such as
smartphones and tablet computers have provided a single platform
of consumption on which comics, film, animation, games and other
58 Production

interactive visual media are equally at home. Traditional print comic

publishers had been wary of making the leap to the web, where creator-
owned webcomics had established a business model of offering free
content and then making income via advertising and merchandising.
But the prevalence of touchscreen devices and an increased acceptance
of directly purchasing digital content have led to a significantly differ-
ent publishing landscape. As a result, the larger comicbook publishers
have finally moved to embrace digital formats, both as an avenue for
additional income and as outreach towards new audiences. Comixology
is a popular digital comics distributor used by several of the major
US comics publishers. This service offers ‘a cloud-based digital comics
platform . . . [for] discovering, buying, and reading comics’ on tablets,
smartphones and personal computers.17
However, in terms of the representation of time, many digital comics
do not operate significantly differently from their print forbearers.18
New media theorists Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin propose
the concept of remediation or ‘the representation of one medium
in another’.19 In the case of webcomics that follow the form of the
newspaper strip or the Comixology versions of monthly comicbooks,
the computer screen serves primarily as a new means of accessing a
pre-existing format. As Bolter and Grusin say, it is as if

the content of the older media could simply be poured into the new
one. Since the electronic version justifies itself by granting access
to the other media, it wants to be transparent . . . so that the viewer
stands in the same relationship to the content as she would if she
were confronting the original medium.20

Accordingly, in most of today’s digital comics, the primacy of space

as time is maintained. The layout common to newspaper comic strips
has been adopted by webcomics without any real change to its spatial
format. Similarly, the majority of repurposed print comics offered by
Comixology or via the web are straightforward digital remediations of
comics originally designed for the printed page.
A typical printed comic book can be displayed one page at a time on a
computer screen, with a mouse click replacing the traditional page turn.
In print comics that receive their initial distribution via the web, some
creators willing to embrace the dimensions of the computer screen may
opt to use landscape rather than portrait page dimensions. Although
with tablet computers now offering an easily rotatable reading platform,
this is becoming more of an aesthetic choice than an issue of readability.
The touchscreen common to tablet computers is also significant for
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey 59

introducing the idea of swiping the screen in order to turn the page.
This gesture, with a physical motion more akin to that of the traditional
page turn, can be seen as an example of increased immediacy or ‘a style
of visual representation whose goal is to make the viewer forget’ the
digital nature of the comic being consumed.21
At present there are still relatively few digital comics that have been
designed specifically for primary consumption via tablet computer or
smartphone. There does, however, exist a wealth of experimental work
carried out by independent creators in the field of webcomics that points
towards the potential offered by these new formats. In exploring this
potential such works often tend towards a state of ‘hypermediacy’ in
which the reader is increasingly reminded of the digital nature of the
medium.22 Ultimately, it is only when creators start to question the
tropes common to print and the medium pushes towards hypermedi-
acy that we begin to see significant changes in the relationship between
space and time. For the purposes of this chapter, these changes have
been broken down across three broad categories:

• Page turns versus panel delivery

• Pages versus windows
• Space versus time

Page turns versus panel delivery

One approach to the flexibility of digital space is demonstrated in panel

delivery-based comics. Panel delivery retains the concept of the page as
a grouping of panels and as such draws on the wealth of compositional
tricks and tropes established by print. Importantly however, it does not
treat the content of each page as being fixed. One of the original pio-
neers of panel delivery was webcomic creator John Barber, who here
outlines his approach to laying out a sequence using the technique:

The screen will act as an unmoving stage onto which panels will
appear. Initially, a single panel (or group of panels) is presented to
the reader. The reader clicks on the stage and a new panel (or group
of panels) appears . . . . These new panels join the previous ones, often
replacing or obscuring some (or all) of them.23

The tension between page and screen inherent in this approach was
highlighted by Barber, who describes the result as being ‘a “malleable
page”, using “page” somewhat ironically as this can only occur
60 Production

Panel delivery can be seen at work in Insufferable (2012–present), an

ongoing superhero webcomic written by Mark Waid and illustrated by
Peter Krause. The webcomic follows the adventures of Nocturnus and
Galahad, a dysfunctional father and son superhero team who are forced
to reunite after years of separation. The online nature of the series was
a departure for Waid, who had built his reputation over the previous
two decades writing primarily for the two major US monthly comic-
book publishers, Marvel and DC. Waid laid out his reasons for making
the jump to a digital delivery and distribution platform, stating that he
believed strongly that ‘comics can and will be a thriving mass medium
in the digital age if – IF – they’re created for modern media devices and
not exclusively for printed pamphlets that are overpriced, uninviting to
new readers, and abominably distributed in only a relative handful of
storefronts nationwide’.25
Insufferable offers an example of remediation where the newer
medium presents itself, to use Bolter and Grusin’s phrase, as a ‘refash-
ioned and improved’ version of the original.26 In a traditional comic
the pace of advancement through the story is fixed to the repetitive
beat of the page turn. In contrast, advancement through a digital comic
does not have to be tied to the same rhythm throughout the narrative.
During the majority of Insufferable Issue 1 the reader clicks to advance
through the story one page at a time, with each page consisting of fixed
arrangements of separate panels.27 However, during a key sequence on
one page towards the end of the narrative, there is a change in the pace
of advancement. Nocturnus finds himself stuck in a pit beneath an old
abandoned warehouse. As he struggles to rescue a kidnapped woman
from the bottom of the pit, the building starts to collapse above him.
During the rescue each click reveals only a single panel of the page at a
time, so as to more slowly reveal the events being depicted. This slows
our experience of time within the narrative, increasing the tension for
the reader before revealing a surprise rescue by Galahad in the very last
Although originating on the web, panel delivery is also starting to
appear among tablet-based digital comics. In an initiative led by Waid,
US publisher Marvel Comics has begun to experiment with the pro-
cess in their Infinite Comics imprint on Comixology. Unlike the majority
of Marvel titles previously available via the service, digital comics like
Avengers vs. X-Men #1: Infinite (2012) and Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite
Comics #1 (2013) have been designed specifically for consumption via
the screen using panel delivery. To understand the significance of this,
it is important to make a clear distinction between panel delivery and
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey 61

the ‘guided view’ that Comixology includes with the majority of the
remediated print comics that it offers for download.28
When following a guided view, the reader consumes each page of a
comic from a zoomed viewpoint that shows one image at a time. A
simple animated transition is then used to show how each image or
panel relates to the next in sequence. It is a technique necessitated by
the difficulty of adapting print comic pages to the smaller dimensions
of smartphone screens (and similar issues between double-page spreads
and tablet screens). It is unfortunately also a reductive experience, which
severely limits the reader’s ability to appreciate the ‘dechronologized
mode’ of the original print comic’s spatial network.29 The guided view
itself is created by the Comixology service without direct input from
the creators of the original print comic. As such it offers none of the
fine control over pacing, panel positioning or page composition that
is available to a creator making deliberate use of panel delivery in the
creation of a digitally native comic.
The panel delivery approach taken in Insufferable and Infinite Comics
has been heavily influenced by the work of cartoonist Yves Bigerel and
his manifesto, About Digital Comics, which Waid cites as ‘the founda-
tion . . . [for his] . . . entire mindset and mission’.30 The manifesto takes
the form of a webcomic in which Bigerel demonstrates the new ‘story
telling possibilities, [and] new ways to create time with space’ that
panel delivery has to offer.31 He outlines the flexibility of panel delivery
to shift page compositions to support new panel shapes or arrange-
ments as needed, while still making use of traditional page composition
techniques where appropriate. Bigerel suggests that by controlling how
many panels are revealed each time the reader clicks to advance, the
reader’s perception of time can be sped up or slowed down. Controlling
when panels appear and the order in which they appear can also be used
to create surprises for the reader or foreshadow dramatic events.
These processes can be seen at work in the previously discussed res-
cue sequence from Insufferable. As the reader clicks, the sequence of
revealed panels builds towards a close-up of Nocturnus, his eye opened
wide in panic as he tries to think of a possible escape. Once the close-up
is revealed, further clicking causes the other panels to disappear, leav-
ing this image as the sole visual element on the page and extending
the protagonist’s moment of panic. A further click then reveals a single
word balloon with its tail leading off-page, foreshadowing the arrival of
someone new to the scene. Only with a final click is the sequence com-
pleted, revealing the appearance of a hand reaching in to offer rescue
from above.
62 Production

It is useful in considering the effects of panel delivery to return to

Cohn’s concept of time in comics. Cohn proposes that time is not nec-
essarily created by the immediate juxtaposition of two panels, but rather
by groupings of ‘units of attention’ (such as complete narrative actions,
distinct states of action and aspects of narrative setting) that segment
a ‘conceptual space that is additively built throughout the sequence’.32
Much of the impact achieved through panel delivery lies in allowing cre-
ators to play games with these units of attention. The delivery of a given
sequence to the screen can be more finely controlled, while existing
sequences can also be modified, broken down, reused or reconfigured in
service of the narrative. In such instances the arrival of new panels on
the screen can even be used to subvert usual compositional practice for
deliberate effect.
A sequence within Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite Comics #1,
within which hostile aliens surround the story’s protagonist, Drax the
Destroyer, provides an example of such storytelling. The sequence
begins with a full-page establishing shot that shows Drax drinking at
a bar while the first of the aliens talks to him from the right of the page.
When the reader taps to advance the following panel in the sequence
overlays the establishing shot on the left of the page, reversing the usual
left-to-right reading order. Further taps bring up more panels overlaid
against the original establishing shot, each depicting close-ups of more
of the hostile aliens. Drax is eventually left in the middle of the estab-
lishing shot, surrounded by panels on all sides just as in the story he
now finds himself surrounded by enemies.
Barber notes that panel delivery ‘defies the necessity of a left-to-right
reading arrangement, as the movement of the new panel automatically
draws the reader’s attention, regardless of the placement’.33 The overall
effect of such techniques is to suggest a perception of time that is far less
fixed and rigid than is easily achievable in print. This plasticity of space
and sequence becomes even more apparent once animation is incorpo-
rated into the panel delivery process. The nature of this incorporation
will be explored later in the chapter, but first let us examine another
alternate approach to digital display.

Pages versus windows

To return to the quote from Groensteen at the beginning of this chapter,

it should be noted that ‘Comics panels, situated relationally, are, neces-
sarily, placed in relation to space and operate on a share of space.’34
Space in the world of print comics is a finite resource and every panel in
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey 63

a print comic has to be allotted its share of that resource. The space of
the comic is broken down into fixed, homogenised groupings of panels
we call pages and stories are often told across fixed, predetermined page
counts. For print comic creators, space is at a premium. They have been
trained to get the most narrative impact possible out of every page and
to make every panel count.
On the screen, the space a comic occupies is suddenly no longer finite,
nor fixed. In Reinventing Comics, McCloud proposed the idea that ‘the
monitor which so often acts as a page may also act as a window’ onto
a much larger arrangement of panels.35 McCloud identified the page as
simply an artefact of print rather than an intrinsic element of the comics
form. He went on to offer the following prediction: ‘Once released from
that box, some will take the shape of the box with them but gradually,
comics creators will stretch their limbs and start to explore the design
opportunities of an infinite canvas.’36
Infinite canvas comics, as this subset has become known, have been
taken up by many different webcomic creators since McCloud proposed
the idea in 2000. With space no longer at a premium, the potential to
experiment with the spatial relationship between panels becomes much
more appealing to the creator. This brings to the foreground the concept
of comics as a temporal map, where a change in the spatial relationship
between panels can be used to influence the reader’s interpretation of
fictional time within the comic. In McCloud’s own Zot! Online: Hearts
And Minds Part 3 (2000), the usual flow of panels in the webcomic is
replaced with one long vertical panel lasting across six screens worth
of scrolling.37 A mid-air explosion sees the story’s protagonists falling
through the sky with the vertical panel used to slow the experience
of free fall, before the usual panel structure is abruptly resumed as the
protagonists finally reach the ground.
In Drew Weing’s Pup Ponders the Heat Death Of The Universe (2004),
the webcomic’s protagonist sits pondering the entire future history of
the Universe.38 As the reader scrolls through, the comic’s panels become
larger and then drop away altogether as the scale of both the events
and time being pondered expands out beyond the edges of the screen.
The sun expands to supernova, filling the screen and consuming the
earth. The stars wink out and the reader is left scrolling through screen
after screen of black as the protagonist tumbles through the void, lost in
Conversely in Manien Bothma and Jason Turner’s True Loves 3: Busi-
ness Is Brisk (2011), we see the infinite canvas used to differentiate
between small moments of everyday life.39 During the protagonist’s
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wordless journey to work, individual moments from the journey are

shown and plenty of white space is left between the panels to sug-
gest they are part of a larger passage of time. Once the protagonist
arrives at work and enters into conversation with a colleague, the gaps
between the panels shrink to suggest a more condensed experience of
relative time.
Infinite canvas comics can also build on the concept of comics as
a network. Groensteen notes of print comics that ‘every panel exists,
potentially if not actually, in relation with each of the others’.40 Once
the reader is given the ability to easily zoom in and out on an infinite
canvas comic, it becomes possible to see the spatial relationship between
every panel in a narrative. This is comics not just as a temporal map but
as a narrative map, giving a clear visualisation or shape to an entire
story. McCloud notes how this can be used to ‘provide a unifying iden-
tity’ to a story, with the layout directly reflecting the events or tone of
the narrative.41
This narrative strategy is evident in my own Never Shoot the Chronopath
(2007), within which the shape of the whole story is shown as three lines
of panels that all cross through the same jumbled mass of panels posi-
tioned towards the right of the screen (see Figure 3.1).42 Zooming in to
follow one of the lines reveals one of three parallel narratives that inter-
sect during the jumble of panels (see Figure 3.2). Within the jumbled

Figure 3.1 Digital comics as both temporal and narrative map in Daniel
Goodbrey’s Never Shoot the Chronopath (2007)
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey 65

Figure 3.2 Zooming in on the intersection of three parallel narratives in Daniel

Goodbrey’s Never Shoot the Chronopath (2007)

intersection of the storylines there is a breakdown in the usual flow of

time which is mirrored in the confused order and spacing of the pan-
els. As the reader zooms back out to follow a different line through
the story, the presence of the jumble in the overall shape of the comic
remains a reminder of what’s to come, creating a sense of foreboding
and inevitability within the narrative. The choice of pathways on offer
in Chronopath also signifies a shift into the medium of the hypercomic.
A hypercomic can be defined ‘as a comic with a multicursal narra-
tive structure’.43 Cursality is the realisation on behalf of the reader that
there are multiple paths through the narrative in addition to the one
they are currently following.44 Different trails within an infinite can-
vas hypercomic can reveal divergent timelines, different sequences of
events, points of view or narrative outcomes. This is an example of
what Espen Aarseth refers to as an ‘ergodic’ narrative, meaning a reader’s
experience of the work is often locally unique, based on the particular
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path they’ve taken through the story.45 To navigate the story requires
non-trivial effort on behalf of the reader, with progression coming about
as the consequence of a series of deliberate choices.
While the infinite canvas has remained a popular choice among
webcomic creators, unlike panel delivery it has yet to see much adoption
among digital comics created for smartphones and tablet computers.
The hypermediacy of treating the screen as a window, with its more
marked departure from notions of the traditional page does not fit well
alongside the prevalent trend towards immediacy seen in the majority
of comics delivered via touchscreen devices, whereby the page turns of
print comics are emulated. However, as Bolter and Grusin note: ‘As each
medium promises to reform its predecessor by offering a more immedi-
ate or authentic experience, the promise of reform inevitably leads us to
become aware of the new medium as a medium. Thus, immediacy leads
to hypermediacy.’46
The more comfortable comic readers become with the concept of
tablets and smartphones as media distinct from that of the printed
page, the more accepting they will be of new, screen-based tropes.
In recent years, my own work as a practitioner has been based around
an exploration of this potential for innovation in digital comics. In my
hypercomic smartphone app A Duck Has an Adventure (2012), the reader
is given the opportunity to make key, life-changing decisions for the
story’s protagonist.47 To do this the comic makes use of a zooming infi-
nite canvas approach. Each decision opens up a new pathway to follow,
with a new trail of panels being created as the reader advances. The
more the reader explores the results of making different decisions for
the protagonist, the more the story builds into a map of all the possible
directions one person’s life might take.
Before the infinite canvas, hypercomics had more often been mod-
elled on the non-spatial relationship of linked ‘lexia’ (or pages) found
in the World Wide Web.48 Infinite canvas hypercomics maintain the
fixed spatial relationship between all elements of their narrative net-
work. As such, divergent timelines and parallel threads of events can be
given clear spatial relationships and resonances in a true ‘artist’s map’
of time.49 In A Duck Has An Adventure, certain alternate timelines can be
seen to mirror each other in their layout, leading to points of thematic
and narrative crossover between the different trails. Some endings to the
story can only be reached once the reader has visited these crossovers
via both of the mirrored pathways. The comic’s temporal map thus
becomes the site of puzzle-solving gameplay on behalf of the reader as
they attempt to find all the points of crossover in order to unlock further
progress through the narrative.
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey 67

Space versus time

The first section of this chapter established comics as a spatially based

medium in contrast to time-based media such as film or animation.
However, another result of comics’ move to the screen is that it has
become possible for creators to easily include animated, time-based ele-
ments as part of comics’ spatial network. In thinking about animation
in digital comics for the purposes of this chapter, it is useful to con-
sider both animation of the content inside the panel and animation
and movement of the panel itself.
Movement of the panel can essentially be considered as an exten-
sion of the ideas of panel delivery covered in the earlier section of
the chapter. Animation in this case is used to provide a level of visual
continuity to changes in the page layout. This plays into one of the
characteristic pleasures Janet Murray identified as being inherent to dig-
ital environments, ‘the pleasure of transformation’.50 Murray notes that:
‘Anything we see in digital format – words, numbers, images, moving
pictures – becomes more plastic, more inviting of change.’51
Animation of the panel provides a visualisation of this process of
change. Rather than seeing simply a new spatial arrangement of pan-
els as a result of a click, animation can be used to suggest the movement
and rearrangement of the pre-existing panels as the direct result of
reader interaction. The speed and style of panel movement can also be
used to affect the meaning of the content within the panel or of the
panel’s relationship to other panels in a sequence. Barber describes this
process as ‘visual onomatopoeics’, illustrating the phenomena with a
simple example: ‘For instance, a panel of a character falling might drop
down quickly or slowly depending on the speed at which the character
My own The Mr. Nile Experiment 11: Burning Your Map (2003) is a
webcomic that presents another approach to panel movement.53 The
story is a metafictional narrative in which the protagonist has turned
his comic into a conceptual time machine. Upon the reader’s activation
of the time machine, a panel is animated to move back up the sequence
of panels to the beginning of the comic, creating a divergent timeline
that changes the existing sequence of panels to show new events. In a
later instalment of the series, The Mr. Nile Experiment 15: We All Fall
Together, (2003) constantly moving panels that cannot be controlled by
the reader are used to suggest a breakdown of the usual flow of time
within the narrative.54 Here, the loss of the reader’s control over the ani-
mated element is used to mirror the protagonist’s own loss of control
over his metafictional reality.
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Animation of content inside the panel is a technique common to

many webcomics. Part of the reason for the popularity of its use can
be seen as a result of the ubiquity of the GIF image format on the web,
which provides a straightforward way to integrate animations into a
comic. Short loops of animation can be used inside a panel without
overly distorting the temporal map or challenging the primacy of space
as time. They can be used to add atmosphere, for dramatic effect or to
draw attention to specific qualities of the storyworld.
In one sequence from Demian 5’s wordless webcomic When I Am King,
(2001) we see animation being used in three different ways.55 First it
is used to establish the character of a store owner, whose pretentions
to rock-and-roll stardom are embellished in a single animated loop of
the owner dancing in his darkened store. Second it adds atmosphere
to the scene, with the shop owner’s boredom at his lack of customers
highlighted by an animated panel of repeated foot tapping. Lastly it is
used in place of the textual content in a word balloon, with an ani-
mated image of the store owner giving a vigorous hand shake being
used to suggest the eager verbal greeting given to a customer entering
the store.
One of the reasons animation can be made to work successfully within
the digital comics form is that there is already a working precedent for
its existence on the printed page. Cohn draws attention to the phe-
nomenon he defines as ‘polymorphic’ panels.56 These panels ‘show a
single entity repeated in multiple positions of an action while remaining
in a single encapsulated frame’.57 A simple example might be a dog chas-
ing its own tail. The reader sees within a single panel the same dog in
multiple positions as it rotates in place, trying to catch its tail. Cohn con-
tinues: ‘These panels seemingly represent the duration of time, rather
than a single instance where the entity would seem to be in multiple
positions at the same moment.’58
In the panel itself there is no clear indicator where the motion starts or
stops. As such, a polymorphic panel may appear to represent a continu-
ous movement. But resolution of the action is provided by the rest of the
sequence of panels of which the panel is a constituent; the dog cannot
have chased its tail forever, as we see it walking along with its owner in
the next panel. In the same manner, looped animation content within
a digital panel has its resolution provided by the sequence of which the
panel is part, therefore maintaining the primacy of space-as-time.
Digital display opens up many new possibilities for the inclusion of
animation in the comics form. But ultimately it is a comic creator’s
own notions regarding the nature of the form which shapes the extent
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey 69

to which they will explore these possibilities. Motion comics are a

new digital format that many creators indentify as having crossed the
line between comics and animation. While often using existing print
comics for their raw material, motion comics remediate this artwork
into a form of cut-out animation which is then further augmented via
the addition of time-based soundtracks and voice-overs. Waid makes
his opinion of this format clear: ‘I kind of think of motion comics
as the devil’s tool . . . . They’re many things with voiceovers and music
and so forth, but they’re not comics.’59 Such understandings regarding
what features constitute the comics medium (and what features do not)
ultimately establish limits on the ways in which many digital-comic
creators incorporate animation within their work.
Waid identifies motion comics as a form of ‘cheap animation’, lacking
the fidelity of a traditionally animated cartoon while at the same time
having lost their status as comics.60 But at what point does this transi-
tion from comic to animation occur? As indicated earlier, one element
in making the determination between the two is to consider whether
time-as-time or space-as-time has primacy in the user’s experience of
the medium. Beyond this, there is another important determinant in
separating the two media, the degree of the user’s control over their
advancement through the narrative.
Film director and comic creator Guillermo del Toro, in a discussion
about the differences between storytelling in different media, observed
the following:

Who controls the pace in a comicbook page? . . . Ultimately how fast

a reader turns a page, how he goes back and forth between pieces in
the layout is completely controlled by the reader. We can assume he
goes left to right, we can assume he goes up to down but ultimately
he’s in charge.61

The vital nature of the reader’s role is also highlighted by Bigerel, who
stresses the importance of keeping control over time ‘in the reader’s
hands’.62 In his digital comics manifesto he cautions that the overuse
of animated elements in the delivery of a comic can result in the reader
being forced into becoming an observer of the animation rather than
a reader of the comic. Bigerel suggests that the key to making a digi-
tal comic work as a comic is to make sure that it is always the reader
who ‘clicks to see what’s next, with no fancy gimmicks coming from
the temporal world to ruin the experience’ and to ensure that, above all,
‘the reader is still in control’.63
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In print, as del Toro makes clear, the reader controls the pace of
the story via their own pace of reading and the turn of the page. The
importance of the reader and the act of reading is further emphasised
by Barber, who asserts that: ‘In reading, the reader controls the rate at
which information is absorbed. This is inherent in comics; this is what
separates comics from film.’64 This is, as Waid observes, ‘what makes
comics, comics’.65 Therefore, in digital comics, for a digital comic to still
operate as a comic, the rate at which information is absorbed must still
be set by the reader. Just as in a print comic, this is determined by read-
ing pace and the digital equivalent of the page turn, whether that be a
click, a scroll or a swipe. By keeping control of advancement through
the temporal map, interpretation of the fictional time represented in
the comic remains with the reader. In this manner comics’ transition
to the screen and adoption of screen-based tropes has foregrounded the
importance of the reader’s ultimate control over the temporal map.


This chapter has examined a variety of ways in which comic creators

have explored the narrative potential of digital display. Comics have
been established as a spatial network in which diegetic time is inter-
preted by the reader through their reading of the panel sequences that
constitute a comic’s temporal map. An examination has then been
made of how representations of time have been changed through the
remediation of comics from print to digital formats and the ways in
which comic creators have responded to these new tropes and oppor-
tunities. This has included panel delivery as a replacement for page
turns, which leads to a malleable page that offers greater fidelity over
the pace of advancement. Increased fidelity has resulted in new tech-
niques for influencing the passage of time, creating surprises and raising
dramatic tension. These techniques, first seen on the web, are now being
adopted by tablet-native digital comics, where they offer an alternative
to repurposed print comics and the guided view.
The infinite canvas has also been examined as an alternative to page-
based compositions. It is an approach that offers greater freedom to
determine panel spacing and size, which can be used to influence the
reader’s interpretation of a comic’s diegetic time. It also foregrounds the
concepts of the temporal map and spatial network, which has in turn
influenced the development of the hypercomic format. Lastly, there has
been a consideration of the ways in which animation can be integrated
into digital comics. This has included its use to animate the process of
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey 71

panel delivery and how this usage in turn influences narrative. It has
also looked at the animation of the content inside comic panels and
the pre-digital precedents for its inclusion. This examination has con-
cluded by showing how the integration of screen-based tropes such as
animation has highlighted the importance of reader control as a key
characteristic of the medium of comics.
However, while the chapter has extensively detailed the unique
storytelling possibilities that digital displays have afforded comics cre-
ators, it has furthermore shown that preconceptions concerning what
defines comics as a form shape how creators capitalise on these affor-
dances. The chapter thus emphasises that, while the process of digital
convergence has the potential to erode distinctions between media, the
particular cultural uses of digital technologies can nevertheless work to
preserve the identities of media formed in a pre-digital age.

1. Neil Cohn, ‘Un-Defining “Comics”: Separating the Cultural from the Struc-
tural in “Comics” ’, International Journal of Comic Art 7, no. 2 (2005),
2. Thierry Groensteen, The System of Comics, trans. Bart Beaty and Nick Nyuyen
(Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 21.
3. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (New York: Harper Perennial, 1993), 7.
4. Ibid., 67.
5. Ibid.
6. Scott McCloud, Reinventing Comics (New York: Paradox Press, 2000), 206.
7. Ibid., 207.
8. Neil Cohn, ‘The Limits of Time and Transitions: Challenges to Theories of
Sequential Image Comprehension’, Studies in Comics 1, no. 1 (2010), 132.
9. Ibid., 134.
10. Ibid., 142.
11. Groensteen, System of Comics, 146.
12. Ibid., 147.
13. T. Campbell, A History of Webcomics (San Antonio: Antarctic Press, 2006), 15.
14. Ibid., 17.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid., 33.
17. ‘About Us – Comics by Comixology’,
18. The business models of the larger US comics publishers are still built
chiefly around selling printed products via speciality comic shops and book
stores. As a result, the digital comics offered by these companies are mostly
remediated versions of their existing print-based catalogue.
19. Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media
(Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2000), 45.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid., 272.
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22. Ibid.
23. John Barber, The Phenomenon of Multiple Dialectics in Comics Layout (MA diss.,
London College of Printing, 2002), 63.
24. Ibid.
25. Mark Waid, ‘Welcome’, 2012,
26. Bolter and Grusin, Remediation, 17.
27. Peter Krause and Mark Waid, Insufferable Volume 1 Chapter 1, 2013, http://
28. Stuart Immonen and Mark Waid, Avengers vs. X-Men #1: Infinite, 2012, http://
23267; Brian Bendis and Michael Oeming, Guardians of the Galaxy Infi-
nite Comics #1, 2013,
-Comic-1/digital-comic/DIG003257; ‘About Us – Comics by Comixology’.
29. Groensteen, System of Comics, 147.
30. Yves Bigerel, ‘About Digital Comics’, 2009,
art/about-DIGITAL-COMICS-111966969; Mark Waid, ‘Off to C2E2’, 2012,
31. Bigerel, ‘About Digital Comics’.
32. Cohn, ‘The Limits of Time and Transitions’, 142.
33. Barber, ‘The Phenomenon of Multiple Dialectics in Comics Layout’, 65.
34. Groensteen, System of Comics, 21.
35. McCloud, Reinventing Comics, 222.
36. Ibid.
37. Scott McCloud, Zot! Online: Hearts and Minds Part 3, 2000, http://
38. Drew Weing, Pup Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe, 2004, http://www
39. Manien Bothma and Jason Turner, True Loves 3: Business is Brisk, 2011, http://
40. Groensteen, System of Comics, 146.
41. McCloud, Reinventing Comics, 227.
42. Daniel Goodbrey, Never Shoot the Chronopath, 2007,
43. Daniel Goodbrey, ‘From Comic to Hypercomic’, in Cultural Excavation and
Formal Expression in the Graphic Novel, eds. Jonathan Evans and Thomas
Giddens (Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2013), 291.
44. Alan Peacock, ‘Towards an Aesthetic of the Interactive’, 2005, http://www
45. Espen J. Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature (Baltimore: The
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).
46. Bolter and Grusin, Remediation, 19.
47. Daniel Goodbrey, A Duck Has an Adventure (Welwyn Garden City: E-, 2012).
48. George Landow, Hypertext 2.0 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1997).
49. McCloud, Reinventing Comics, 206.
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey 73

50. Janet H Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace
(Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997), 154.
51. Ibid.
52. Barber, ‘The Phenomenon of Multiple Dialectics in Comics Layout’, 66.
53. Daniel Goodbrey, The Mr. Nile Experiment 11: Burning Your Map, 2003, http://
54. Daniel Goodbrey. The Mr. Nile Experiment 15: We All Fall Together, 2003,
55. Demian 5, When I Am King 35, 2001,
56. Cohn, ‘The Limits of Time and Transitions’, 131.
57. Ibid.
58. Ibid.
59. O’Reilly Media. ‘TOC 2013: Mark Waid, “Reinventing Comics and
Graphic Novels for Digital” ’, 2013,
60. Ibid.
61. Ken Levine and Julian Murdoch, ‘9: Guillermo del Toro, Part 2, Irra-
tional Interviews’ Audio Podcast, 2011,
62. Bigerel, ‘About Digital Comics’.
63. Ibid.
64. Barber, ‘The Phenomenon of Multiple Dialectics in Comics Layout’, 7.
65. O’Reilly Media, ‘TOC 2013: Mark Waid’.
Lengthy Interactions with Hideous
Men: Walter White and the Serial
Poetics of Television Anti-Heroes
Jason Mittell

In his collection of short stories Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, David
Foster Wallace creates a resonant implication between the two adjectives
in his title – if we’re going to spend time in the company of hideous
men, it best be brief.1 Most fictional television abides by this impli-
cation, where distasteful and unpleasant characters are treated briefly,
whether as unsympathetic figures on an anthology programme like The
Twilight Zone (CBS, 1959–1964) or single-episode villains emerging in
the course of a procedural’s police investigation or medical case. But as
I argue elsewhere, serial television is distinguished by the long time-
frames it creates, and thus any interaction with hideous men found
in an ongoing series’ regular cast will last quite awhile.2 One common
trait shared by many contemporary serialised primetime programmes
is the prominence of unsympathetic, morally questionable or villain-
ous men at their narrative centre, a trend typically identified by the
character type of the anti-hero. The rise of serial television’s anti-heroes
raises a key question: why would we want to subject ourselves to lengthy
interactions with such hideous men?3
Before diving into that question, we should first contextualise the
very prominence of anti-heroes on American television. For most of
television history, fictional series needed to be anchored by characters
who were relatable, likable and otherwise the type of people you would
invite into your home each week, with villains and outcasts clearly
marked as non-sympathetic figures. It wasn’t until original series began
to thrive on cable channels like HBO and FX, specifically with the sur-
prise breakthrough hits The Sopranos (HBO, 1999–2007) and The Shield
(FX, 2002–2008) respectively, that the industry realised that smaller

Jason Mittell 75

niche audiences would embrace an anti-hero as a form of distinction,

a marker of the type of edgy and controversial programming that dis-
tinguished a series as distinctly non-conventional. These cable channels
did not worry about offending sponsors, which has long been a concern
of risk-averse broadcast networks; instead the subscription, advertising-
free premium model of HBO, as well as the guaranteed carriage fees
that non-premium channels like FX get from cable and satellite sub-
scribers, promoted a business model where buzz and publicity were most
needed to gather a niche audience, rather than attracting advertisers
and a mass viewership. Additionally, the new markets of DVDs, down-
loads and streaming all provided revenue sources that helped upend
the traditional broadcast mass market, enabling the 2000s to incubate
an impressive roster of both dramas and comedies foregrounding male
anti-heroes as a way to attract a dedicated niche audience.4
But what is an anti-hero? Using Murray Smith’s vocabulary, an anti-
hero is a character who is our primary point of ongoing narrative
alignment, meaning that we closely follow their experiences and have
some access to their knowledge or interior state, but whose behaviour
and beliefs provoke ambiguous, conflicted or negative moral allegiance.5
Such anti-heroes are prevalent in contemporary comedies like Curb
Your Enthusiasm (HBO, 1999–present), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
(FX, 2005–present) and The Office (NBC, 2005–2013), but in comedic
instances, we are usually positioned as rooting against the unsympa-
thetic heroes, watching them fail for our amusement as well as laughing
at their boundary-pushing behavioural extremes. In this chapter, I am
more interested in how we account for the pleasures of watching a
highly unpleasant protagonist at the centre of a serialised dramatic
narrative that asks us to truly care about his actions and potentially
encourages our allegiance. These dramas fit into a broader category of
‘complex television’ that I have argued mix the serialised and episodic
models, employ self-conscious storytelling techniques like flashbacks
and shifts in character perspective, and otherwise encourage viewers
to analyse and rewatch episodes to explore the operational aesthetic of
how the stories are told in addition to being swept away by the fiction.6
The anti-hero figure is part of this trend in complex television, as we
are driven to understand how he simultaneously fascinates and repels
viewers as a compelling character.
One key technique used by anti-hero narratives is relative moral-
ity, where an ethically questionable character is juxtaposed with more
explicitly villainous and unsympathetic characters to highlight the anti-
hero’s more redeeming qualities.7 On Mad Men (AMC, 2007–present),
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Don Draper’s misbehaviour is often seen as more redeemable and moti-

vated than less sympathetic characters like Pete and Roger; on Dexter
(Showtime, 2006–2013), the title character’s murderous ways are nearly
always contrasted with another murderer who lacks a code and targets
innocents. Within The Sopranos, it would be hard to say that Tony’s
actions are truly more ethical than those of his mafia associates, but
through his therapy sessions and familial interactions, we come to know
his personal history that shaped his amorality, his moral quandaries and
the anxiety attacks that derive from his internal conflicts. We may not be
certain that Tony is a morally superior person than more villainous asso-
ciates like Richie Aprile and Ralphie Cifaretto but, due to our alignment
with Tony, we perceive him as relatively more worthy of our allegiance
than these more distanced and opaque characters. Ongoing characters
like Paulie and Christopher are also viewed as less noble than Tony, lack-
ing leadership abilities, parental grounding and an ability to overcome
their respective flaws of superstitious paranoia and drug addiction.8 For
Tony Soprano and other leading anti-heroes, we feel more connected
to relatively moral characters within that programme’s ethical universe,
even if all of the characters would be reprehensible in real life – in
effect, these main characters are validated for being less hideous than
the alternatives presented in the series.9
As suggested by The Sopranos, alignment and elaboration are key com-
ponents of our allegiance to an anti-hero – the more we know about
a character through revelations of backstory, relationships and interior
thoughts, the more likely we will come to regard them as an ally in our
journey through the storyworld. This might be partly akin to a fiction-
alised Stockholm Syndrome, where time spent with hideous characters
engenders our sympathy as we start to see things from their perspective.
However, we are not being held captive by serial television, so a series
must justify why it deserves our attention week after week, and com-
pelling characters are an essential element of any programme’s appeal.
Charisma is a key value for many anti-heroes that inspires us to over-
look their hideousness, creating a sense of charm and verve that makes
the time spent with them enjoyable, despite their moral shortcomings
and unpleasant behaviours. Charisma largely stems from an actor’s per-
formance and physicality, but is also cued by how other characters treat
the anti-heroes, where on-screen relationships cue viewers on how we
should feel towards a character. Thus on The Sopranos, nearly every char-
acter respects, loves, desires or follows Tony – and those who don’t rarely
survive for long – despite the fact that he consistently treats people quite
poorly, whether they be family members, colleagues or friends. Likewise,
Jason Mittell 77

everyone tells Don Draper how good he is at his job, with most of Mad
Men’s male characters aspiring to be him and many of the women desir-
ing to be with him. Both James Gandolfini and Jon Hamm (who play,
respectively, Tony Soprano and Don Draper) are magnetic actors, with
the former using his physical bulk to create a sense of menacing but
approachable power, while Hamm is commonly regarded as one of the
most handsome actors in Hollywood, a physicality that certainly feeds
into Draper’s desirability. Additionally, both Tony and Don are posi-
tioned as accomplished leaders in their respective careers, generating
material wealth and power that signals desirability and success within
much of American culture. Both characters exude charisma that inspires
viewers to want to spend time with them, despite their hideousness.
The draw of anti-heroes does not simply override such hideousness,
but partly stems from the fascination that it prompts – the immoral
actions of these characters create their own intrigue for viewers, or
what Smith calls ‘the innate fascination of imagining experiences that
we lack the opportunity or courage to experience in reality’.10 Fiction
allows us to witness actions and traumas we are hopefully safe from
in real life, and through aligned anti-heroes, we are able to read their
immoral minds, probing their thoughts and emotions through the win-
dow of fiction. Blakey Vermeule connects such fascination to a concept
in cognitive science called ‘Machiavellian intelligence’, where success in
a socially complex environment depends on the ability to understand
and manipulate other people, a trait that is well served by interpersonal
mind reading.11 For Vermeule, much of our engagement with fiction
stems from our interest in reading the minds of Machiavellian characters
who display social intelligence, cunning and a keen ability to manipu-
late others – we learn from their adventures, helping to develop our
own social intelligence through the tales of fascinating characters. She
posits the core Machiavellian character as a ‘mastermind’ who manip-
ulates others (for good or ill), excels at social problem solving, and is
often found in narratives with ‘high narrative reflexivity’ and allusions
to games and puzzles, all traits common to complex television, sug-
gesting that Machiavellian fascination is a key component driving the
anti-heroic boom.12
The lead character on Showtime’s Dexter offers an interesting example
whose hideousness as a serial killer may be unmatched in terms of rep-
rehensible actions among television anti-heroes, being responsible for
murdering more than 130 people over eight seasons. However, Dexter
Morgan is clearly framed as a protagonist deserving sympathy and alle-
giance via a number of characterisation strategies. Actor Michael C. Hall
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brings an intertextual shine to his portrayal, as he was well known as the

sympathetic, soft-spoken and occasionally victimised David Fisher on
HBO’s Six Feet Under (2001–2005) for the five years immediately before
Dexter’s 2006 debut; given their shared styles as dark premium cable dra-
mas with comedic undertones, memories of Hall’s previous role perhaps
helped make Dexter feel more familiar, charismatic and accessible to
viewers accustomed to watching Hall. Viewers are highly aligned with
Dexter, spending most of the narrative attached to him with exclusive
access to his interiority via voice-over narration, flashbacks and sub-
jective visuals, all of which facilitate mind reading and highlight our
shared connection to the character. This attachment allows us to witness
actions that no other character knows about, providing shared secrets
and knowledge of Dexter’s personal ethical code to promote allegiance
and even positioning viewers as accomplices in, or at least passive wit-
ness to, his vigilantism. The series clearly embraces relative morality, as
his victims are almost always more monstrous than Dexter himself, and
we repeatedly hear his thoughts about his ethical need to target those
who deserve justice to protect innocents. We admire his Machiavellian
prowess, where his cunning and analytic skills allow him to evade cap-
ture and discovery for many years. Thus even though we see Dexter
doing unspeakably hideous things, we are steeped in his perspective, his
rationales and his backstory enough to understand and even sympathise
with his murderous actions.
Dexter’s first season sets important groundwork for the character,
establishing clear alignment and allegiance for viewers to build upon
for the rest of the series. The season gradually elaborates the character
in tight alignment, as we discover alongside Dexter himself the grue-
some childhood trauma that caused his mental illness: aged just three
years, he witnessed his mother’s murder via chainsaw and was locked in
a room in a pool of her blood for two days. The harrowing flashbacks to
this event, which stand out as the most gruesome and troubling images
in a series full of them, provide a plausible explanation that the trauma
might cause a mental break and turn a boy into a serial killer, creating
sympathy for the character’s young victimised incarnation that extends
to his older murderous version as trained and guided by his stepfather.
In a contrast that evokes relative morality, sympathy is withheld from
Dexter’s previously unknown brother who also experienced this matri-
cidal trauma and became a serial killer but lacks the anti-hero’s moral
code and familial grounding.
The series accomplishes what would seem like an impossible task –
making a serial killer into a sympathetic hero we want to spend more
Jason Mittell 79

time with each week – but gets stuck in a narrative bind: because Dex-
ter must continue to kill to fulfil the programme’s concept, but cannot
deviate from his moral code to sustain viewer sympathy, the charac-
ter has little room for change and development. Nearly every season
portrays Dexter fighting his instincts and working to eliminate his mur-
derous urges, but he must always embrace who he is to exact justice,
save his family or preserve his own life, leading to character stagna-
tion and repetition, and stretching emotional credulity for a series that
already lacks realism in much of its storytelling. Typically a programme
can use the fluid dynamics of relationships to offset static characters,
but Dexter’s concept is predicated on his character’s posing behind a
stable facade to all of his long-term friends and family, which means
that they cannot have sincere relationships with him compared with
what we know of him as aligned viewers. Instead, Dexter’s family sit-
uation is the most fluid variable, as he marries, has a child and then
copes with being a single parent, although none of these shifts has
much palpable impact on his core characterisation. Without a sense that
Dexter’s character changes over time, either internally through trans-
formation or development, or cued via the surrogate of externalised
relationships, the programme’s concept wears thin after numerous sea-
sons, only rekindling interest in the seventh season when his sister Deb
learns his secrets and thus transforms their relationship, challenges his
worldview and leads into an endgame that many viewers found to be a
massive letdown.13
Dexter’s serialised challenge highlights one of the key issues with
anti-heroes: what are our expectations for character change? Since anti-
heroes are predicated on a careful chemistry of ambiguous allegiance,
relative morality, Machiavellian fascination and magnetic charisma,
character change can upset that balance, but overt stagnation becomes
dull and troubling for the relationships portrayed on the series. Addi-
tionally, the narrative scenarios of most anti-hero dramas seem pointed
towards an ultimate reckoning, where characters will have to pay the
price for their crimes and immoral behaviours – but without clear char-
acter changes or development, coupled with the potentially endless
delay of American television’s model of sustaining series for as long
as is commercially viable (which Dexter suffers from for much of its
run), the final destination of an anti-hero can set-up mixed expecta-
tions. The Sopranos seemed to point towards a final reckoning for Tony,
but famously ended abruptly before we could witness what might be his
death leaving us in a perpetual state of narrative and moral ambiguity.
Probably the most celebrated final fate for an anti-hero is The Shield’s,
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with Vic Mackey working the system to get immunity for his crimes,
but ending up condemned to a desk job that feels like prison given his
action-oriented personality. Anti-hero conclusions are extraordinarily
difficult, as they must provide a motivated end to a complex charac-
ter arc, payoff serialised arcs that reward viewer dedication and offer (or
actively refuse) a moral position towards the characters’ behaviours. And
for many ongoing serials, the anticipated ending looms over a series run,
with viewers waiting to judge a character’s arc and morality.
Complex television often acknowledges its own role as fiction
through reflexive storytelling strategies; such awareness that the hideous
acts of anti-heroes are fictional allows us to suspend moral judge-
ments and rationalise their behaviours, which Margrethe Bruun Vaage
argues is essential to enable allegiance with characters doing horrible
actions.14 However, the serial model of television complicates the solid
line between fiction and reality, as parasocial interaction with televi-
sion characters allows characters to persist beyond their time on the
screen.15 If you immerse yourself within the fictional lives of Dexter
Morgan or Tony Soprano, you are likely to think about their behaviours
even while you are not watching television, perhaps positing how they
would handle a situation in your own life or imagining what they might
be doing in between episodes. While we never forget that these are
fictional characters, parasocial interaction allows hideous characters to
occupy our thoughts and attention outside the clear frame of televised
entertainment, creating uncomfortable blurs where we might find our-
selves imagining the actions and thoughts of a psychopath within our
daily lives. Although anti-heroes do spark a different set of allegiances
than typical serialised characters – and I’m loathe to acknowledge that
there are certainly viewers who imagine Dexter as their ‘TV Boyfriend’–
there is no doubt that watching an ongoing serial tightly focused on
an anti-hero does entail entering into a relationship with the charac-
ter and allowing him into our daily routines and thoughts, for better or
worse. While viewers can distinguish between fiction and reality, watch-
ing serial television does blur character boundaries and suggests that any
notion of a clear fictional frame might be a bit more muddy than we
might expect for other more bounded media.
Throughout this discussion of anti-heroes, I have avoided what might
be the most salient and interesting anti-hero from contemporary tele-
vision: Walter White of Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008–2013). The rest of
this chapter offers a detailed look at Walt as a case study of television
character analysis, with the caveat that it is an exceptional and some-
what atypical example. Breaking Bad’s creator Vince Gilligan conceived
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the series predicated on character change, taking Walter White on a

journey ‘from Mr. Chips to Scarface’, referring to cinematic character
tropes of the model schoolteacher and gangster kingpin respectively.
He elaborates on this transformation by highlighting how he liked ‘the
idea of approaching a bad guy character from a starting point of zero,
from never having jaywalked or littered to doing some of the crazy
shit Walter White does . . . delineating the process of transformation, of
going from a normal schlub to a bad guy and ultimately to a king-
pin’.16 As Gilligan makes clear, the series starts with Walt as an everyman
‘schlub’, clearly aligned with the audience and encouraging our alle-
giance; by the final season, Walt is a monstrous villain, poisoning an
innocent child for a risky, selfish scheme and deceitfully manipulat-
ing and threatening those he claims to love. How did this epic moral
transformation work?
To understand Walter White, we must start at Breaking Bad’s pilot –
or even earlier, as Breaking Bad’s debut in January 2008 was linked to
a key intertext: Malcolm in the Middle (Fox, 2000–2006), the landmark
single-camera sitcom that pioneered many techniques of complex tele-
vision in the early-2000s, and featured Bryan Cranston as befuddled
manchild father Hal for seven seasons. Breaking Bad was initially widely
known as ‘that show where Malcolm’s dad gets cancer and becomes a
drug dealer’, an important framework for how Walter White was per-
ceived. Cranston’s star persona as an affable comedic actor (on both
Malcolm and a recurring role on Seinfeld [NBC, 1989–1998]) rubbed off
onto his portrayal of Walt, whose character was vastly different than
Hal, but inevitably incorporated Cranston’s previous roles. Thus Break-
ing Bad emerged into a context where viewers were poised to embrace
Walt as a sympathetic lead character, fulfilling Gilligan’s conception of
an everyday schlub.
Indeed, the pilot’s opening moments evoke the Malcolm intertext,
as we first see Walt recklessly driving an RV through the desert, wear-
ing nothing but ‘tighty whitey’ underpants and a gas mask. It is not
hard to imagine Hal in such a manic situation, albeit without the dead
body in the back of the van, as Cranston was hailed on Malcolm for
his outlandish physicality and no-shame style of physical comedy. The
underwear is an unintended intertextual connection that Cranston ini-
tially resisted, pushing back against Gilligan’s scripted call for Walt to
wear the same style of underwear as Hal. After further consideration,
the actor embraced the fact that the wardrobe choice establishes dif-
ferences between the characters: for Hal, the underwear indicates his
boyish immaturity, as ‘he always wore them and it never occurred to
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him to wear anything else’, while Walt wears it as a sign of ‘stunted

growth’ and a depressive lack of caring about himself.17 For viewers who
knew Cranston from Malcolm, this opening taps into positive sentiments
towards the earlier character and extends them to this still-unknown
figure of Walter White. Beyond this shared taste in undergarments, the
two characters are both motivated in large part by fear, which Cranston
suggests manifests itself differently: an outlandish cartoonish cowardice
in Hal, and a closed-down emotional absence for Walt.18
We get our first indication that Walt is not Hal when we first see
Cranston’s face upon removing the gas mask, as Walt has what the actor
calls ‘an impotent mustache’ that Hal never had.19 Physical appearance
is crucial to creating characters, and Cranston, as a producer as well as
star (as well as occasional director starting in the second season), had an
active hand in creating Walt’s look:

I told Vince, he should be overweight, he should wear glasses, he

should have a mustache that makes people go, ‘Why bother?’ His
hair should be undefined; he always needs a trim. He doesn’t care.
His clothes should blend in with the wall, no color in his skin. As he
changes, color palettes will change, his attitude, everything.20

These exterior traits clearly reflect on Walt’s internal psyche, and

Cranston has made it clear that his physicality is crucial to his perfor-
mance, both in how Walt feels and how that interiority is conveyed
to the audience. As the series progresses, Walt’s internal changes are
externalised through his appearance, as the impotent moustache and
undefined haircut shifts to a shaved head with goatee, a look that
Cranston calls ‘badass . . . the most intimidating look there can be’, that
both signals the character’s changing psychology and allows Walt to
help rationalise his behaviour because he ‘doesn’t recognise the man in
the mirror’.21 Similarly, Walt adopts a black porkpie hat to wear in his
persona of ‘Heisenberg’ within the drug business, an iconic marker that
transforms both our perception of the character and his apparent inte-
rior sense of self. By the second season, it is hard to imagine a viewer
looking at Cranston and thinking about Malcolm’s Hal, but at the start
of Walt’s journey that association was crucial to forge allegiance and a
positive emotional connection with the character.
Walter White doesn’t start as a villainous anti-hero, as his initial
characterisation seems driven less by immorality than a desperate
situation – he makes a series of bad choices that lead to his eventual
moral dissolution, but he starts at a place of pathetic pity rather than
Jason Mittell 83

the charismatic confidence of most other anti-heroes. As we learn about

his cancer, his unfulfilling career and his dire financial situation, we are
fully attached to the character, sharing knowledge that he keeps secret
from other characters, thus increasing our alignment. The first lines of
dialogue we hear from Walt are his confessional thoughts, even though
the series never uses voice-over narration, as he videotapes a message
he presumes to be his dying words to his wife and son. The pilot opens
with an in media res scene that invites us to wonder how he came to
this desperate moment, a curiosity cued by Walt telling the video cam-
era as a surrogate for his son, ‘there are going to be some things that
you’re going to learn about me in the coming days’. Importantly, the
video message clearly establishes Walt’s character constellation, as he
assures his family that all of these mysterious and seemingly suspicious
actions were done for them. This opening scene, where Walt is the only
character present (aside from an unconscious Jesse), establishes that the
series will be a highly aligned character study, and that it will pivot on
the question of how this man so clearly uncomfortable holding a gun
ended up in such a dire situation – and given its serial design, what
complications will follow from these events.
Even though Walt does not begin as a full-fledged anti-hero, he is
situated in relative morality in comparison to others, especially his bom-
bastic blowhard brother-in-law Hank (who is later revealed to be far
more conflicted and less confident than he seems), his seemingly shal-
low and materialistic sister-in-law Marie (who we will learn is both a
kleptomaniac and more affirming than she lets on), and the brash young
drug dealer Jesse who introduces him to his life of crime (whose moral
journey will be almost as complex as Walt’s). Compared to these strong
personalities, Walt initially shrinks into the background and seems too
inconsequential to be anything but morally sound. His wife Skyler and
son Walt Jr. are both more sympathetic, though neither character has
the degree of depth and nuance as Walt does, at least for the ini-
tial two seasons. Walt garners our sympathies if not our admiration,
as he is clearly pitiable in a hopeless situation that invites the ques-
tion, ‘what would you do?’ While his desperation-driven decision to
cook crystal meth to secure a nest egg for his family is not posited
as admirable, it is reasonable given the dire circumstances – in fact,
‘reasonability’ is a crucial facet of Walt’s decision-making process, as
Breaking Bad presents Walt as a master rationaliser for his increasingly
hideous actions. Throughout the series, we watch Walt convince him-
self that various immoral decisions are the right thing to do, given a
lack of alternatives, leading to a descent into monstrous behaviour that
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is always presented as reasonable within Walt’s own self-justification and

immediate context.
By the time Walter White becomes a full-fledged anti-hero, a hideous
man whose actions bring suffering upon the family and colleagues
whom he claims to be protecting, it is clear that he is of a different ilk
than other television anti-heroes. Unlike Tony Soprano or Vic Mackey,
he is not a charismatic leader with loyal followers or devoted family
members, and thus positive feelings do not rub off onto viewers who
know the full depths of his moral decline – the only characters who
seem to like or respect him at all are family members who know noth-
ing of his secret criminal life, like Hank and Walter Jr., all of whom find
him distasteful once they learn the truth of his crimes. He lacks ‘friends’
in any conventional sense, with his closest confidant being Jesse, who
mostly regards him with contempt and works with him only when
‘Mr. White’ (as he calls him) manipulates him into an alliance, or when
Jesse’s own insecurities drive him to seek the security of a father figure.
His sometimes-estranged wife Skyler only accepts him back into a tenu-
ous reconciliation to maximise her own safety, but without knowing the
full extent of his crimes. And unlike nearly every other anti-hero, there
are no romantic plotlines that frame Walt as an object of sexual desire –
his sex life with Skyler perks up when he discovers his dark side in
the first season, culminating in an aggressive non-consensual encounter
in their kitchen that Skyler must defensively cease once she gets over
her shock at his behaviour. But otherwise Walt is sexually neutered
for most of the series, and even attempts a ludicrously inappropriate
advance towards his high-school supervisor Carmen that results in his
being fired. Walt tries to create an authentically awe-inspiring villainous
figure via his alter-ego Heisenberg, who comes equipped with a fear-
some street reputation, the demand that adversaries ‘say my name’ and
even a narcocorrido ballad (a traditional Mexican folk song) celebrat-
ing his mythic exploits, but long-term viewers recognise Heisenberg as a
shallow put-on. While other anti-heroes gain our allegiance through the
attitudes of other characters, Walt might be Breaking Bad’s least respected
or admired ongoing character, despite its clear alignment towards him.
Instead of relationships cuing our allegiance or numerous flashbacks
to his originating backstory, we instead have our own memories of who
Walt used to be, as long-term viewers can recall him as being decent, if
boring and depressed. Our serial memories help sustain lingering alle-
giance, despite his irredeemable acts along the way. As Walt shifts from
his pitiable but sympathetic initial status through his journey breaking
bad, we are gradually confronted with increasingly escalating immoral
Jason Mittell 85

actions that challenge our character allegiance, benchmarked by those

who die or are injured at his hands. In the pilot, he is forced to create
a gas explosion in the RV to escape a direct threat, killing rival meth
cook Emilio and incapacitating the drug dealer Krazy-8, an action of
unthinking self-defence that seems completely justified in the moment
as a consequence of his risky decision to cook meth. Walt and Jesse
take Krazy-8 hostage and rationalise that they must murder him to pro-
tect themselves from his vengeance or being caught, but Walt is unable
to commit murder until Krazy-8 poses an immediate physical threat,
again justifying the act as self-defence. Later in the first season, Walt
shaves his head and adopts the pseudonym Heisenberg to take on a
more intimidating facade of a drug criminal, confronting kingpin Tuco
and his henchman by triggering a seemingly non-fatal explosion in his
office – this is Walt’s first act of planned violent aggression, but since
it is aimed at characters who are clearly more dangerous and immoral
than him, we are still clearly allied with Walt. Indeed, the Heisenberg
persona and visual style is clearly framed as an enjoyable ‘badass’ facet
of Walt’s character, inviting us to enjoy his violent acts against more
hideous criminals in a fashion common to other morally ambiguous
crime series like The Wire (HBO, 2002–2008), The Shield and Justified (FX,
2010–present). Although some of Walt’s actions are violent and his con-
tributions to the drug epidemic are a negative social force, for the most
part Breaking Bad’s first two seasons situate us on Walt’s side against less
moral characters.
The end of the second season takes a major step towards Walt’s
broader moral dissolution. Walt is investing more of his emotions and
energies into his secret drug career and personal relationship with his
protégé Jesse than his own family, including missing his daughter’s birth
to make a drug delivery, but he reaches a point of conflict with Jesse,
who has sunk deeper into his drug habit along with his girlfriend Jane.
When finding Jane choking on her own vomit in a heroin-induced stu-
por, Walt chooses to let her suffocate in order to get her out of Jesse’s
life and avoid her blackmail – we watch him wordlessly rationalise this
passive act of murder. This moment plunges us into Walt’s interiority
by triggering viewers’ serialised memory: we reconstruct Walt’s interior
thought processes via the shared experiences we have witnessed over
the previous two seasons. We know his talent for rationalisation and
need to prioritise his own well-being over others, as well as his paternal
connection to Jesse, and thus can imagine his internal monologue as he
stops himself from saving Jane’s life and watches her die to protect him-
self and his surrogate son. Although at this moment it is unlikely that
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most viewers feel that Jane deserves to die as much as Krazy-8, Walt’s
rationalisation makes sense as an act of passive cruelty towards a char-
acter we have less allegiance towards and as an attempt to rescue Jesse,
who we have become more allied with as the series has gone on.
Walt and Jesse’s relationship is crucial to Breaking Bad’s shift in charac-
ter morality. Throughout the first season, Walt is clearly more admirable,
driven to crime out of desperation and a sense of familial obligation,
and displaying an impressive mastery of chemistry that allows him to
thrive in this new criminal world, while Jesse is an avid if not addicted
druggie, bright but uneducated, and seemingly only motivated by self-
ishness, greed and hedonism. We are more aligned and allied with Walt,
although learning more about Jesse’s family background and undernour-
ished artistic talent makes him more sympathetic and his actions more
understandable. Season two’s ‘Peekaboo’ is a key episode for increasing
our connection to Jesse, as we follow him into a dangerous situation
where he both acts to save a young boy and refuses to murder the boy’s
junky parents, revealing a moral centre that grows to be stronger and
more admirable than Walt’s. The end of season two troubles our alle-
giances, with Jesse being less aligned but more admirable despite his
addiction, while Walt’s selfishness and deceit becomes less justifiable in
By season three, the duo shifts roles in terms of allegiances: know-
ing the secret of Jane’s preventable death, most viewers root for Jesse’s
eventual salvation and hope he can escape from Walt’s dark influence.
Jesse comes away from Jane’s death blaming himself and labelling him-
self as ‘the bad guy’, an identity that viewers regard as undeserved and
avoidable. Meanwhile, Walt runs from his own moral culpability, as
he renounces his criminal career to salvage his crumbled marriage and
restore his normal life. But Breaking Bad puts viewers in an uncomfort-
able situation – the moral version of Walter White is an unpleasant,
boring and pitiable character whom we would feel little desire to spend
time with over the course of a series, while the amoral ‘bad’ version is
much more vibrant, Machiavellian and engaging as an anti-hero. Yet the
series pushes Walt further and further across the moral line, making us
root for him to do hideous things for our entertainment, while calling
attention to his hideousness in a way that does not glorify violence or
celebrate depravity. The series poses and reasserts the question of how
far is too far for this man, and given his actions, what price should be
paid and how should we regard him. Thus we root for him to get back
to cooking meth, even though we know there will be unforgivable con-
sequences from that decision and must reconcile our own culpability in
Jason Mittell 87

watching his moral decline. At the end of the third season, he is even
deeper in the drug game, easily killing two henchmen who threaten
Jesse and plotting to kill his co-worker Gale to protect himself – his
most brutal act is enlisting Jesse to shoot Gale, corrupting Jesse further
by pushing him into being a murderer and thus generating more viewer
antipathy through the moral rebalancing of the two characters. Walt’s
turn towards the monstrous reaches far beyond the point of no return
by the end of season four, when he sends his innocent neighbour into
his house to reveal an ambush by murderous thugs, and poisons a child
to manipulate Jesse back to his side, not to mention directly causing the
deaths of five drug criminals and setting off a bomb in a nursing home.
For the first half of season five, Walt tries to become a full-time
Heisenberg super villain in the ‘empire business’, alienating all of his
family and Jesse in the process. He finally triumphs over all adversaries,
but finds the lack of recognition and hard work empty despite the
nearly infinite monetary rewards; thus he retires from the meth busi-
ness and attempts to rededicate himself to his family. Yet the monsters
he unleashed, from his alliance with the dual evils of a global corpora-
tion and a band of neo-Nazi enforcers, will not remain dormant, nor will
his brother-in-law Hank who discovers Walt’s secret life. The final string
of episodes presents an elongated moral reckoning that stems from his
hubris in thinking that he could transcend the drug game that provided
his wealth, with a string of deaths, exiles, bankruptcies and betrayals.
Walt’s most brutal penance is in the series finale, as he finally admits –
to Skyler, to us, and to himself – that his rationalisations were ultimately
hollow: ‘I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was alive.’ He
finally owns up to his own villainy and anti-heroic status, but only as
he stands as a dying shell of the kingpin he had become, knowing that
his pride and selfishness has led him to his death and condemned his
family to pay for his sins.
Leading up to this final reckoning, the complexity of Walter White’s
characterisation stems in large part from the disjunctions between how
we see his actions and how he sees himself. The points where those
two perspectives merge is in the episodes whose plots follow a pattern
of ‘trap and escape’ – Walt and Jesse find themselves in a seemingly
inescapable situation, and we watch how they manage to work free in
slow-burning detail.22 As Vermeule suggests, ‘Machiavellian narratives
drop their characters into the middle of the march and watch them try
to wriggle out.’23 From the beginning of the series, Walt’s genius is decid-
edly not in the realm of the social, as his scientific knowledge allows him
to escape traps often set by his own inability to play the human side of
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the drug game, but his Machiavellian intelligence gradually grows as

he becomes more immersed in criminality. Thus in season two’s ‘Four
Days Out’, Walt wriggles out of being trapped in the desert using his
scientific expertise to create a battery, but by season three’s ‘Sunset’, he
uses his social intelligence to escape the RV by ruthlessly tricking Hank
into believing that Marie has been in a car accident. In these moments
when Walt asserts his abilities, we enjoy marvelling at his anti-heroic
exploits, even when it means morally questionable behaviour like cru-
elly manipulating Hank that also triggers a devastating assault on Jesse
in retribution.
More often, Breaking Bad presents a gap between how Walt sees him-
self and how we regard him and his actions, as the character is a master
rationaliser of his own decisions, able to convince himself that his
immoral choices are either for the greater good of his family, or not deci-
sions at all given the circumstances. Even though he frequently attempts
to withdraw from the drug world, he is repeatedly pulled back in because
of the thrill and ego boost that it provides; between his increased sex
drive in the first season to moments where he confronts other drug man-
ufacturers with competitive vigour, it is clear that Walt’s criminal acts
awakened a vibrancy within him that contrasts with our initial image
of his impotent moustache, and this ego rush drives him more than
his rationalised justifications, which he finally confirms in the series
finale. Walt’s vigour and anti-heroic sense of self are tied to his pro-
fessional achievements, as his initial depression and passivity stem from
his neutered career as a chemist despite his talents, while his renewed
vigour stems from becoming pseudonymously known as the region’s
preeminent meth manufacturer, a professional accomplishment that he
painfully must keep hidden from his loved ones and former colleagues.
However, Walt also sees himself as more of an aggressive leader than
he really is, as typified by his conversation with Skyler in season four’s
‘Cornered’. When Skyler expresses concern for his safety after hearing
about Gale’s murder, saying, ‘You are not some hardened criminal, Walt,
you are in over your head’, Walt responds with prideful indignation that
shows her Heisenberg for the first time: ‘You clearly don’t know who
you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I am
the danger! A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of
me? No. I am the one who knocks!’ While there’s little doubt that Walt
wants to believe in his own power, his assertions are contradicted by
our serial memories of Walt being previously thwarted in his repeated
attempts to kill kingpin Gus and manipulate criminal colleagues Mike
and Jesse, while he felt the need to sow doubts in Hank’s mind to avoid
Jason Mittell 89

Gale getting credit for Walt’s meth-making prowess. Additionally, he was

not the ‘one who knocked’ on Gale’s door, but rather he manipulated
Jesse to do it on his behalf. Walt’s assertions of Machiavellian prowess
are often hollow attempts to puff himself up rather than insights into
his own anti-heroic capabilities, but these contradictions create layers of
interpretive engagement for viewers to exert our own social intelligence,
rooting out dimensions of deception and self-revelation as we construct
these complex characters through our narrative engagements.
After his defiant proclamation to Skyler, Walt walks away with his
lips moving as if he has more to say, but, in a strikingly ambiguous
moment, turns into the bathroom. The richness of Cranston’s perfor-
mance signals a wide range of different thoughts that we imagine he
might be suppressing: he might want to apologise to Skyler for berating
her, or yearns to boast more of the dangerous havoc he has caused but
stops to protect her, or he might be trying to convince himself that he
is indeed the one who knocks, not the victim of his adversaries’ danger.
All of these are potential interpretations of Walter’s state of mind, but
the programme never tells us precisely what he is thinking, allowing for
ludic hypothesising across serialised gaps in the narrative. Such inter-
play between tight alignment and limited interior access into a highly
layered and self-deluded character is one of the key pleasures of Walt
as a transforming anti-hero, with his fascinating psychology keeping us
attuned and interested in him, even as he grows more hideous.
The power of Breaking Bad’s anti-heroic characterisation is that it is
predicated on charting changes, rather than inviting us to wonder what
makes an already hideous man like Tony Soprano tick. We witness a
remarkable transition from everyman schlub to amoral criminal king-
pin, a gradual enough shift that we still maintain a degree of allegiance
to him – in part because we have devoted so much time to following his
exploits, an instance of the investment of attention and engagement
required by densely serialised narratives. The series was premised on
Walt’s need to break the law to provide for his family, but as it progressed
his deeper goals have been revealed: to be seen, known and appreciated
for his talent, unwilling to accept outside help or accept the monetary
spoils of crime without the recognition of his chemical mastery. The
character is liberated as he grows less fearful and timid, willing to stand
up for himself in moments of danger, and then creating moments of
danger to assert his own power and importance. The series makes this
transformation work through its gradual progression, as each step along
the way feels organic and consistent to the character, our accrued experi-
ences with him and our inferred interiority mapped onto the character.
90 Production

Walter White’s characterisation presents a critical vision of ineffectual

masculinity striving to find redemption in a changing world, yet choos-
ing the path that leads to dismantling the very things he claims to be
trying to protect: his family and sense of self.24 Breaking Bad is a highly
moral tale, where actions have consequences, and thus Walt does not
emerge from this story as a victorious hero – even though he proclaims
‘I won’ when he finally kills Gus, we recognise that the cost of that
victory was another part of his dwindling morality.
For anti-heroes and their associates, serial endings are particularly
important, as the ramifications of their behaviours have been deferred
for so long that we invest much into seeing how they resolve. But
even though we anticipate an ending to reconcile ourselves to the pro-
gramme’s morality, we also don’t want to lose connection with these
people whom we’ve come to enjoy spending time with over the years,
even if they have transformed into hideous men like Walter White. Even
though we may not want such narrative experiences to be over, we need
conclusions to cauterise the serial bleed of anti-heroes, and in the case of
Walter White, we need to experience the limits of change and transfor-
mation to help restore those boundaries between serial iteration and the
everyday instalments of real life, putting hideous men back in their fic-
tional place. Breaking Bad’s final episodes were widely admired for their
intense emotional power and the culmination of Walt’s long arc, but
many fans were also relieved to have the series end, as the journey was
too emotionally arduous to be fun anymore.
Breaking Bad’s character transformation invites a hypothetical ques-
tion for viewers: would you start watching a new series focused on
Walter White as the character stands at the peak of his villainy (the start
of the fifth season)? Personally, I doubt I would get invested in the story
of a pathetic and uncharismatic man who poisons a child to manipulate
other criminals without any other clear protagonists with whom to align
myself. Yet having watched from the beginning, I found myself con-
nected to Walt to the point of using the iconic Heisenberg line-drawing
as my Twitter avatar, an emblem of self-identification as a fan of this
transformed monster. The pleasures of Breaking Bad are in the charac-
ter’s journey, where we find ourselves uncomfortably in a situation we’d
rather not be in, aligned to an immoral criminal whom we remember as
having once been decent and sympathetic. And thus I find myself lov-
ing Walter White, not as a person (even though I do personify him and
grant him a more robust interiority than nearly any other fictional char-
acter I can think of) but as a character – I am endlessly fascinated by his
behaviour, his arc and his enactment by Cranston and the programme’s
Jason Mittell 91

production team. Just as complex television plots encourage the opera-

tional aesthetic in observing the storytelling machinery in action, Walt’s
complex characterisation invites me to examine what makes him tick,
how he is put together and where he might be going, while at the
same time emotionally sweeping me up into his life and string of ques-
tionable decisions. We might think of this engagement as operational
allegiance – as viewers, we are engaged with the character’s construc-
tion, attuned to how the performance is presented, fascinated by reading
the mind of the inferred author and rooting for Walt’s triumph in
storytelling, if not his actual triumph within the story. Although his
moral transformation is unique within serial television, understanding
the unusual case of Walter White helps explain the contradictory appeal
of serial anti-heroes and our willingness to spend lengthy times with
such hideous men.

1. David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (New York: Little,
Brown and Company, 2007).
2. Jason Mittell, Complex Television: The Poetics of Contemporary Television
Storytelling (New York: New York University Press, forthcoming).
3. These anti-heroes are nearly exclusively male, raising a number of gender
questions that space doesn’t allow me to explore here.
4. See Amanda D. Lotz, The Television Will Be Revolutionized (New York:
New York University Press, 2007) for an account of these industrial trans-
formations, and Amanda D. Lotz, Cable Guys: Television and American
Masculinities in the 21st Century (New York: New York University Press, 2014),
for an analysis of the rise of anti-heroes in the wake of new business models.
5. Murray Smith, Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion, and the Cinema
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).
6. Mittell, Complex Television.
7. See Murray Smith, ‘Gangsters, Cannibals, Aesthetes, or Apparently Perverse
Allegiances’, in Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion, eds. Carl
Plantinga and Greg M. Smith (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1999), 217–238, for more on this strategy in film.
8. Margrethe Bruun Vaage makes the compelling argument that tight align-
ment can blind us with familiarity by making us feel a kinship with Tony
despite our moral disgust, even in cases where the character’s actions are
relatively immoral. (‘Blinded by Familiarity: Partiality, Morality and Engage-
ment with So-called Quality TV Series’, in Cognitive Media Theory, eds. Ted
Nannicelli and Paul Taberham (New York: Routledge, 2014), 268–284.
9. See Murray Smith, ‘Just What Is It That Makes Tony Soprano Such an Appeal-
ing, Attractive Murderer?’, in Ethics at the Cinema, eds. Ward E. Jones and
Samantha Vice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 66–90 and Noël
Carroll, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, in The Sopranos and Philosophy: I Kill There-
fore I Am, eds. Richard Greene and Peter Vernezze (New York: Open Court,
92 Production

2012), 121–136, for detailed discussions of the programme’s anti-heroic

10. Smith, ‘Gangsters, Cannibals’, 236.
11. Blakey Vermeule, Why Do We Care About Literary Characters? (Baltimore: The
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).
12. Ibid., 86.
13. For more on the series, see Douglas Howard, ed., Dexter: Investigating Cutting
Edge Television (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010).
14. Margrethe Bruun Vaage, ‘Fictional Reliefs and Reality Checks’, Screen 54,
no. 2 (1 June 2012), 218–237.
15. The term ‘parasocial’ interaction refers to the seemingly personal rela-
tionships created between television personalities/characters and television
audiences. See Donald Horton and R. Richard Wohl, ‘Mass Communica-
tion and Parasocial Interaction; Observations on Intimacy at a Distance’,
Psychiatry 1, no. 19, (1956), 215–229.
16. Vince Gilligan, from Nerdist Writers Panel podcast, recorded 20 January
17. Quoted in Melissa Locker, ‘Bryan Cranston Talks Malcolm in the Middle, Break-
ing Bad and the Meaning of Underwear’,, 28 October 2011, http://
18. Jeremy Egner, ‘On Character: Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad’, New York
Times ArtsBeat, 19 March 2010,
19. Ibid.
20. Quoted in Matthew Belloni, ‘Why the Dad from Malcolm in the Middle
Knows So Much About Meth’, Esquire, 4 March 2009, http://www.esquire
21. Daniel Fienberg, ‘HitFix Interview: Bryan Cranston Discusses the Break-
ing Bad Season’, HitFix, 13 June 2010,
22. For more on Breaking Bad’s slow-burn narrative style, see Anthony N. Smith,
‘Putting the Premium into Basic: Slow-Burn Narratives and the Loss-Leader
Function of AMC’s Original Drama Series’, Television & New Media 14, no. 2
(March 2013), 150–166.
23. Vermeule, Why Do We Care, 93.
24. See Lotz, Cable Guys, for a compelling discussion of Walter in the context of
contemporary masculinity within television drama.
It’s a Branded New World: The
Influence of State Policy upon
Contemporary Italian Film
Gloria Dagnino

This chapter explores the influence of Italy’s recently introduced law on

tax credit and product placement upon national film production. This
law, passed in 2010, but enforced in 2011, encourages non-media com-
panies to invest in Italian film production using the twofold incentives
of tax credit and product placement. In Italy product placement, which
consists of ‘incorporating brands in movies in return for money or for
some promotional or other consideration’, has been legal since 2004.1
However, this chapter argues that the association of product placement
with tax credit, which has no equivalent in other EU states to date,
increases the financial involvement of private companies in film produc-
tion in a way that enhances commercial influence upon the narrative
and aesthetic features of the films. The chapter verifies this hypothesis
through the analysis of a case study, the 2012 comedy The Comman-
der and the Stork (Il Comandante e la Cicogna – hereafter The Commander),
directed by Italian film-maker Silvio Soldini. In accordance with the new
law, Lumière & Co., the Milan-based production company that made
the movie, signed a partnership with Italian company ILLVA Saronno,
allowing the famous Disaronno liqueur brand to star in one of the film’s
scenes and the company to benefit from tax credit on its investment.2
This film is a particularly interesting case study not only because it is
one of the very first (and, as will be discussed, still very few) implemen-
tations of the law, but also because of its production and artistic profile.
The Commander combines a rather typical production mode for Italian
middle-budget films with the particularly keen authorial sensitivity of

94 Production

its director, Silvio Soldini, ‘one of Italy’s most important and fiercely
independent filmmakers’.3
It is also a particularly interesting case study because of the high pro-
file and rather unusual nature of the product placement in the film.
Product-placement strategies can take three different forms: (1) visual
only, the brand or product is visible on-screen; (2) audio only, the brand
is not visible, but verbally mentioned; (3) combined audio-visual, the
brand or product is both visible and mentioned.4 The Disaronno place-
ment was audio-visual, a form not commonly used because as Pola
B. Gupta and Kenneth R. Lord point out, it ‘is the most expensive and
difficult mode to accommodate’.5 Indeed, the audio-visual form is rare
in Italian films; visual only placements account for 97.3 per cent of
the total, audio-visual ones for 2.1 per cent and audio-only for 0.6 per
cent.6 Product placements are also assessed by their prominence; as
Gupta and Lord say, ‘Prominent placements are those in which the
product (or other brand identifier) is made highly visible by virtue of
size and/or position on the screen, or its centrality to the action in the
scene.’7 Prominent placements attract the viewers’ full attention; this
can be achieved physically by placing the product in the centre of the
screen, and/or symbolically making the product the focus of charac-
ters’ thoughts and actions. The Disaronno placement, as we shall see,
did both.
Although product placement is a century-old phenomenon, academic
research began systematically addressing the topic only about 20 years
ago.8 The vast majority of studies focus on the practice’s effects on
cinema and television viewers, in order to evaluate its success as a mar-
keting practice, although some scholars have discussed its legal and
ethical aspects.9 Aside from Scott Donaton’s essential contribution about
the convergence of Hollywood and the advertising industry, less sys-
tematic attention has been paid to the industrial aspects of product
placement.10 And although most studies have investigated the US film
and broadcasting industries, there is now growing scholarly interest in
product placement in different media – such as video games, music and
novels – as well as in non-US contexts.11 With specific regard to the
Italian context, there are several reports on product placement by pub-
lic institutions and trade associations that particularly address investors
and media practitioners; see, for instance, periodic reports published by
ANICA (the film industry national trade association), Ente Fondazione
dello Spettacolo (a cinema foundation that studies and promotes film
culture in Italy), AGCOM (the national communication authority) and
UPA (the national association of advertisers). These reports seek to
Gloria Dagnino 95

familiarise stakeholders with the specific regulatory framework of prod-

uct placement, as well as to monitor its uses in the domestic market.
A majority of the Italian scholarly research focuses on the economic
and corporate aspects of product placement as a marketing technique
and sometimes extends the analysis to the broader topic of branded
entertainment.12 But no academic contribution addresses product place-
ment in the context of production: this chapter aims to fill this gap. The
chapter first describes the legal framework for the investment of pri-
vate capital into the Italian film industry and then looks closely at
how the laws informed the production, narrative and marketing of The

Legal framework

Over the years, EU states have acknowledged the cultural value of audio-
visual works via the adoption of economic policies of support to the film
production industry. The most significant European markets, as to the
number of films produced – France, Germany, Italy and Spain – have
all implemented public policies that provide both direct and indirect
funds to national film-makers and producers. In Italy, the most impor-
tant and longest-established institutional tool providing direct funds
is the ‘Single Fund for Performing Arts’ (Fondo Unico per lo Spettacolo –
FUS); the fund supports a range of performing arts, with cinema receiv-
ing an 18 per cent share in 2012. In 2012 the total FUS funding was
circa 411 million Euros circa, 76 million of which were intended for the
cinema with 26 million specifically addressed to film production – that
is, 6.4 per cent of the total funding.14 From an institutional viewpoint,
direct funds are managed by the Cinema General Directorate of the
Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities (Ministero per i Beni e
le Attività Culturali – MIBAC), funds are awarded to ‘culturally relevant’
films (‘film di interesse culturale’), and ‘first and second features’ (‘opere
prime e seconde’) based upon qualitative criteria such as the artistic qual-
ity of the film subject and screenplay, the director’s and screenwriter’s
background and technical and technological quality.15 The Ministry also
sets non-discretionary criteria in order to provide film companies with
indirect funds, the most economically significant of which is tax credit.
In recent years the percentage ratio in the composition of Italian pub-
lic aid to film production has been progressively shifting with indirect
funds growing and direct funds shrinking. In 2007, 71 per cent of public
aid was in the form of direct funds and 29 per cent in the form of indi-
rect funds; by 2011, these figures had reversed with 23 per cent direct
96 Production

funding and 77 per cent indirect funding.16 Alessio Lazzareschi points

to the consequences of this change in financing:

[T]here was a shift from a funding scheme based on the acknowl-

edgment of the cultural relevance of films, hence on the assessment
of the quality of each film, to the funding of the overall film
industry, with no particular regard for a film’s ‘merit’ . . . . The new
scheme . . . should be carefully evaluated, for it ends up favouring only
one aspect of film works – the commercial one – to the detriment of
cultural aspects.17

But since the Italian state is no longer able to bear the costs for directly
supporting the national film industry due to the persistent economic
crisis, a major goal of policymakers has been to reduce the film indus-
try’s dependency on state assistance. Moreover, by reducing direct funds,
policymakers aim at encouraging a cultural shift, pushing film-makers
and producers to develop a more market-oriented mindset. These goals
are also furthered by means of the legalisation of product placement,
the introduction of tax credit for external companies, and finally, the
combination of these two measures. Tax credit for the film industry was
first introduced within the Italian regulatory framework by the 2008
Financial Bill but became fully operational in 2011, following the EU’s
authorisation and the respective implementation decrees.18 The law pro-
vides for different types of tax credit; most of them address companies
within the film industry. Tax credit is offered to film production and
distribution companies, for example, as well as theatrical exhibitors
who digitise their projection systems. Tax incentives for film produc-
tion are a feature of all the major European film markets; in some cases
national cinema institutions manage their implementation, as do, for
instance, the French Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) and
the German Filmförderungsanstalt (Federal Film Board – FFA), and in
other cases national tax authorities do so, as in Spain and the United
Kingdom. Since every state has developed country-specific schemes (tax
credit but also tax shelter, cash rebate, grants and so forth) making valid
comparisons is difficult.19 However, Italy’s combination of tax credit
and product placement for companies external to the industry has no
equivalent in other major European markets at the time of writing.
External companies that invest in Italian film production benefit from
tax credit in the amount of 40 per cent of their investment, up to a
maximum amount of 1 million Euros per year.20 The amount of this
investment cannot exceed 49 per cent of the film’s overall production
Gloria Dagnino 97

budget. These external companies, like Disaronno, and production com-

panies, like Lumière & Co., become legal partners in a joint venture
(associazione in partecipazione) that has attractive incentives for investors.
The external company shares equally in the profits (up to a maximum
of 70 per cent of the film’s overall earnings) as well as in the possible
losses. This means that the investor cannot lose more capital than it
invested. After recovering the investment, the external company’s prof-
its are taxed at a 5 per cent rate, which is the same as that for regular
dividends. In order to be granted a tax credit, external companies must
invest in films that are officially acknowledged as Italian and that pass
a cultural eligibility test (different from the cultural relevance criteria
discussed above) that, as Lazzareschi observes, is designed in a way that
‘ultimately applies to almost all Italian movies’.21 By granting advanta-
geous financial conditions to investors and setting virtually no limits as
to the eligible films, the tax incentive legislation framework is intended
to partially but decisively pass on to private companies the burden of
supporting national film production.
This same goal of shifting the burden of finance to the private sector
motivated the legalisation of product placement, the so-called Urbani
Decree passed in 2004.22 In 2005, this provision was integrated within
the more comprehensive ‘Single Text on Audiovisual Media Services’,
which incorporated the EU Audiovisual Media Service Directive.23 Before
either the Italian or the EU official legislation, film-makers in Italy and
in many other European countries had been using product placement,
taking advantage of often loose or uncertain national regulatory frame-
works. The EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive expressly addressed
this pre-existing context as a rationale for the new regulation: ‘Prod-
uct placement is a reality in cinematographic works and in audiovisual
works made for television.’24 The Directive also stressed product place-
ment’s strategic economic role within the context of the historical
competition with Hollywood, where the collaboration between film
studios and advertisers developed from the very inception of motion
pictures.25 The United States is the first market in the world for paid
product placement and, despite growing concerns from several con-
sumers’ associations, ‘there are no restrictions on product placement in
films’.26 In order to at least partially balance this asymmetry, EU policy-
makers eventually decided that, ‘In order to ensure a level playing-field,
and thus enhance the competitiveness of the European media industry,
rules for product placement are necessary.’27
The Italian regulations on both tax credit and product placement are
intended to bring private capital into film production: the combination
98 Production

of both is allowed provided that the overall investment by a single com-

pany in a single film corresponds at least to either 10 per cent of the
film production budget in the case of commercial movies, or 5 per cent
of the budget of ‘low-budget’ (lower than 1.5 million Euros) or ‘difficult’
films, that is first and second features, documentaries, short features
or films that, because of particularly complex subject matter, are less
likely to have mainstream distribution.28 From the external company’s
perspective, this law provides an opportunity to gain monetary as well
as promotional returns out of a single investment. From the film com-
pany’s perspective, the provision of a minimum threshold ensures that
the investment is actually significant within the film production budget.
From the state’s perspective, the law ensures that the responsibility for
supporting national film production is shared with the private sector.29
Unfortunately, while data are available concerning the overall amount
of capital invested as tax credit by external companies (50.7 million
Euros in 2012, a 102.6 per cent increase from 2011) and concerning
product placement (25 million Euros in 2012), no data are avail-
able regarding the number of occurrences of combined tax credit and
product-placement investments by a single company in a single film
as was the case with The Commander.30 However, industry experts and
practitioners agree that, attractive as the combination of tax credit and
product placement is to all stakeholders, Italian companies take advan-
tage of it rather infrequently.31 An in-depth analysis of this cautious
approach is beyond the scope of this chapter; briefly it stems from (1) a
general unfamiliarity with and sometimes mistrust of the film indus-
try by consumer brand companies; (2) stakeholders’ lack of knowledge
concerning the specific legal framework; and, (3) companies’ general
organisational structures, in which the finance departments (responsible
for tax credit) and the marketing departments (responsible for product
placement) are separate divisions unaccustomed to collaboration.

The Commander and the Stork

Born in Milan with joint Italian and Swiss citizenship, Silvio Soldini has
a sound background as an independent film-maker. His first four fea-
ture films, including his biggest critical and commercial success, Bread
and Tulips (Pane e Tulipani [2000]), were produced by his independent
company. From a financial viewpoint, these films all display a recur-
ring pattern: Italy-Switzerland co-productions, financially supported by
regional, national and European public institutions. This overall finan-
cial scheme did not significantly change when Soldini ceased to produce
his own films and turned to another production company: Lumière
Gloria Dagnino 99

& Co., which produced his most recent three films, Days and Clouds
(Giorni e nuvole [2007]), Come Undone (Cosa voglio di più [2010]) and
The Commander. From an artistic perspective, the collaboration with
Lumière & Co. did not affect Soldini’s film-making, which remained
‘marked by rigour, high quality and independent pride over time, as
he actively contributes to the screenwriting, the editing, the actors’
direction and also the post-production processes’.32 However, from a
commercial perspective, the collaboration with Lumière & Co. did bring
something new, the introduction of product-placement deals within
the three above-mentioned films. As had Solidini’s previous films, The
Commander benefitted from a range of public funding: 400,000 Euros
from Eurimages, the Council of Europe fund supporting co-productions;
1.1 million Euros from the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and
Activities, in acknowledgement of the film’s cultural relevance; and
smaller-scale funding from two Swiss institutions, namely the Federal
Office of Culture and the Ticino Canton’s FilmPlus Fund.33 The new ele-
ment was the considerable investment made by Disaronno for tax credit
purposes through the signing of a joint venture contract with Lumière
& Co. This was subsequently followed by a further, smaller investment
to place the Disaronno brand in the film and enhance publicity for
the partnership. As we shall see, the involvement of Disaronno affected
Soldini’s film-making practices.
As previously mentioned, the Ministry Decree of 21 January 2010
allows for joint tax credit and product-placement investments only
if the total invested amount corresponds to a minimum threshold,
5 per cent of the film production budget for ‘difficult films’. The Com-
mander, which falls into this category, received an overall investment by
Disaronno corresponding to 6 per cent of the budget.34 At the film’s offi-
cial press conference, Lionello Cerri, CEO of Lumière & Co., declared in
reference to the partnership, ‘For us, Disaronno is not just an economic
sponsor, which is, by the way, still fundamental within the current eco-
nomic crisis; it is a partner aiming at increasing the success of the movie
and the company itself.’ On the advertiser’s side, Paolo Dalla Mora,
Disaronno’s Global Marketing Manager, confirmed, ‘We didn’t want to
merely put our bottle on a table in one of the movie’s scenes; what
we really wanted was to tie our brand to every step of the filmmak-
ing process.’35 According to Nadia Boriotti, product-placement manager
at Lumière & Co., the integration of Disaronno into the film-making
process was achieved through promotional operations that impacted
upon the textual, as well extra-textual aspects of the film: the former
in terms of product placement, the latter in terms of marketing events
100 Production

organised respectively during the pre-production and the distribution

phases. The following analyses both the textual and extra-textual impact
of Disaronno’s association with the film.
The Commander is set in a non-specified city in northern Italy, where
the lives of a group of peculiar characters intertwine. Among them are
Leo, a widowed plumber, who is visited every night by his dead wife;
Maddalena, Leo’s teenaged daughter who is bullied by her ex-boyfriend,
Elia, her brother, who secretly breeds a stork and befriends Amanzio, a
preachy middle-aged urban hermit. The Disaronno product placement
occurs in the 39th minute of the film. Elia and Amanzio are walk-
ing around a piazza’s arcade when they find themselves facing a small
bar behind which an acrobatic bartender is pouring Disaronno into a
shaker. In a Southern Italian accent, he asks Amanzio, ‘Un Disaronno
Sour signo?’ (‘A Disaronno Sour, sir?’). Amanzio and Elia stare silently at
the bartender, captivated by his skilful tricks, as he shakes and pours
the cocktail, constantly smiling at them in a slightly sardonic fash-
ion. The segment lasts for 11 seconds and has no narrative function
within the storyline, but rather appears as a sort of entr’acte in between
two sequences. The placement is an audio-visual one, as the bartender
handles the instantly recognisable squared-shaped bottle and also men-
tions the brand name. The scene is composed of five shots, alternating
between medium close-ups of the bartender and of Elia and Amanzio.
The shots of the bartender include in the lower part of the frame the
bar counter with Disaronno branded glasses and a shaker. The bartender
takes the bottle from behind the counter, lifting it up above his head as
he pours the drink into the shaker. The camera shoots over Elio and
Amanzio’s shoulders, which frame the preparation of the Disaronno
Sour. The amber-coloured liqueur is further highlighted by the sunlight,
coming from behind the bartender and shining through the glass bottle.
Disaronno’s involvement in The Commander differed from the stan-
dard implementation of product-placement agreements. Usually, ‘prod-
uct placement originates in the screenwriting process’.36 The product’s
integration into the script can be achieved in two different ways. In one
scenario, the film company’s product-placement manager reads through
the final script, searching for props suitable for branding. Then, he/she
turns to dedicated agencies that contact possible sponsor companies.
If the script requires minor changes to accommodate the sponsor,
the product placement managers may make them themselves, with-
out ‘further bothering the screenwriters’.37 In the second scenario, the
screenwriter includes scenes suitable for product integration. This is
more likely to happen when the director is also the screenwriter; the
Gloria Dagnino 101

product-placement scenes in Days and Clouds, Come Undone and The

Commander were all included in the original scripts with the excep-
tion of the Disarrono scene in the last. Since The Commander’s script
was finished prior to the signing of the joint venture and product-
placement agreements, Soldini and his co-writers (Doriana Leondeff and
Marco Pettenello) had not written a scene in which an alcoholic drink
could feature. In a third and unusual scenario for product placement, a
Disaronno friendly scene had to be inserted into the screenplay prior to
shooting. The Disaronno agreement required both the insertion of this
brand new scene and its execution, neither of which can be accounted
for in terms of narrative development or character verisimilitude. The
direct impact of the Disaronno placement on the movie’s direction is
confirmed by Boriotti:

From an artistic point of view, it is not fundamental for a particular

brand or product to be in the movie. The story and the setting require
certain products anyway, but, in the case of product placement, you
simply make them more visible; you stress the logo, display the
features – things you would not do without this kind of partnership.38

The Disaronno–Lumière partnership also entailed two distinct, and

yet interrelated, extra-textual promotional activities, one during pre-
production and one during distribution. The actors’ casting, a crucial
phase of the movie’s pre-production process, was partly merged with a
pre-existing Disaronno ‘below-the-line’ marketing initiative, called ‘The
Mixing Star’.39 The Mixing Star is a global contest for bartenders who
submit their own Disaronno cocktail recipes through the company’s
website and Facebook page.40 The 2011 final selection occurred during
the Rome International Film Festival, in the presence of the director and
the casting director. The winner of the competition was cast for the role
of the bartender who mixes and offers the Disaronno cocktail. When the
film had a preview release in selected Italian cities, audience members
were each served a Disaronno sour cocktail, personally mixed by the
same bartender seen on-screen, extending the association of the brand
and the film from the storyworld to the real world. Boriotti stressed that
product placement should not be limited to an insertion within a film
but should be ‘a proper communication project and not mere publicity,
because this is more effective for both the sponsor and the movie’.41
The distinctiveness of the Disaronno placement can be appreciated
by comparing it with the product placements in Soldini’s previous
films and with the other product placements in The Commander.
102 Production

Product-placement agreements can influence the selection of props and

decorations to be used on set and, subsequently, the choice of cam-
era shots and movements to be performed in scenes featuring those
products. However, in Soldini’s previous films and elsewhere in The
Commander, the product placements are seamlessly integrated into the
film rather than having an obvious impact upon the production team’s
aesthetic choices. Two of Soldini’s previous films, Days and Clouds and
Come Undone display paid product placements (but without the subse-
quently legalised tax-incentive joint venture structure). Days and Clouds
tells the story of a well-off middle-age couple who experience a pro-
found economic and personal crisis when the husband loses his job.
Placed brands are the multinational online retailer eBay and the Italian
department store Dì per Dì: the first one is visible on the protagonist’s
computer screen, through an over-the-shoulder medium shot, as the
character puts his boat up for sale, as painfully planned with his wife
in a troubled, sleepless night. Later on in the movie, the wife is filmed
in long shot while unloading Dì per Dì branded grocery plastic bags
from the car, then bringing them to the new, cheaper flat the couple has
moved to. In Come Undone, Anna’s quietly happy life is subverted when
she meets Domenico, a married man, with whom she gets involved in a
passionate relationship. The placed product is Fria make-up wipes, asso-
ciated three times with the protagonist: in the first two occurrences she
uses the product in front of the mirror to remove the make-up from
her eyes before going to sleep; in the third occurrence, while shopping
with her long-time boyfriend, the woman walks away from him to pick
Fria make-up wipes off the shelf and to privately return a call from her
lover. All three scenes integrate their respective product/service into the
narration and frame it unobtrusively within a medium shot. The same is
true for the other placements in The Commander: Italian food manufac-
turers Beretta and COOP, and automotive brand FIAT. All these brands
invested in the movie for promotional purposes only, that is, without
combining product placement and tax credit.42 Beretta Viva la Mamma
ready-made pasta is consumed by Leo’s daughter the night her father
works late. We see it as the girl searches in the refrigerator for some-
thing to eat and eventually discovers the frogs her brother keeps to
feed the stork. The brand is prominently placed, filmed in close-up over
the actor’s shoulder, but is well-integrated into the narrative since it is
plausible that two teenagers left home alone would seek a ready-made
meal. A COOP coffee can is longingly smelled by Leo’s ghost wife in her
nightly apparitions. By contrast with the pasta, the product is less nar-
ratively functional, but visually subtler: the absence of close-up shots,
Gloria Dagnino 103

the product’s plain packaging and the actor’s seemingly natural han-
dling of the can keep the brand from standing out too prominently.
Leo drives a FIAT van decorated with the logo of his fictional plumbing
company: this placement is both narratively functional – it is perfectly
plausible that a plumber would drive a van – and visually discreet –
the van’s brand is never framed in close-up. Thus Disaronno’s is the
only placement in the film that is visually prominent and lacking a
proper narrative function, be it in terms of story development or char-
acterisation. As discussed above, Gupta and Lord say that prominent
placements are designed to capture the audience’s full attention, which
the Disaronno placement certainly was. The inserted scene was specifi-
cally dedicated to the presentation of the product, causing disruption to
the flow of the story. The scene specifically advertises one of the prod-
uct’s potential uses, the Disaronno Sour. The product is highly visible,
placed in the central portion of the frame. In a fairly rare example of an
audio-visual product placement, a character both uses the product and
mentions its brand name.


In contrast with Soldini’s customary creative approach towards product

placement, the prominence of the Disaronno placement in The Com-
mander is very likely a result of the company’s unique involvement
in the film’s production by means of the recently introduced associ-
ation of tax credit and product-placement investments. This law, in
concurrence with the reduction of direct state funds, increases private
investors’ leverage on Italian film production, including art-film pro-
duction, as the case study shows. While the law encourages a supply of
virtually unlimited financing for film producers it does so at the risk of
an undesirable over-commodification of films. This should be avoided
not only for the obvious reasons of permitting commerce to triumph
over art, but also for pragmatic economic reasons. Historically, only
Italian art-house productions have proven successful in foreign markets;
over-commodification through prominent branding might undermine
the Italian film industry’s competitiveness within the international mar-
ket, which was one of the key factors motivating both the legalisation
of product placement and the introduction of tax incentives.43 Assessing
the narrative and aesthetic impact of the investment of private capital
into film production becomes an even more pressing concern in light
of a recently introduced law, resulting from strong pressure exerted by
Italian film industry stakeholders, that has permanently legalised tax
104 Production

incentives for film production.44 While the joint venture system has to
date been approached cautiously by both film-makers and investors it
now seems destined to become a more systematic practice. Both film
practitioners and policymakers would therefore benefit from further
academic studies on this topic, possibly expanded to comparable coun-
terparts in other geographical contexts. When it comes to the regulation
of film production, the preservation of a rational balance between com-
mercial and cultural imperatives should steer the work of policymakers
in Italy and elsewhere.

1. Pola B. Gupta and Stephen J. Gould, ‘Consumers’ Perception of the Ethics
and Acceptability of Product Placement in Movies: Product Category and
Individual Differences’, Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising
19, no. 1 (1997), 37.
2. ILLVA Saronno is the Italian company manufacturing Amaretto Disaronno.
Disaronno is well-established in the entertainment business with its brand
tied, through sponsorship, co-marketing and product-placement deals, to
the leisure, music, broadcasting and film industries in Italy and the inter-
national market. See
3. Bernadette Luciano, The Cinema Of Silvio Soldini. Dream – Image – Voyage
(Leicester: Troubador Publishing, 2008), xvii.
4. See Pola B. Gupta and Kenneth R. Lord, ‘Product Placement in Movies: The
Effect of Prominence and Mode on Audience Recall’, Journal of Current Issues
& Research in Advertising 20, no. 1 (1998), 48.
5. Ibid., 49.
6. Roberto Paolo Nelli, ed., Product Placement Made in Italy. Le marche nei film
italiani dal 2004 al 2011 (Roma: Edizioni Fondazione Ente dello Spettacolo,
2013), 251.
7. Gupta and Lord, Product Placement in Movies, 49.
8. For an historical overview of the product placement practice in Hollywood
see Kerry Segrave, Product Placement in Hollywood Films: A History (Jefferson,
NC: McFarland, 2004).
9. See, for instance, Israel D. Nebenzahl and Eugene Secunda, ‘Consumers’
Attitudes Towards Product Placement in Movies’, International Journal of
Advertising 12, no. 1 (1993), 1–11; Denise E. Delorme and Leonard N. Reid,
‘Moviegoers’ Experiences and Interpretations of Brands in Films Revisited’,
Journal of Advertising 28, no. 2 (1999), 71–95; Alain D’Astous and Francis
Chartier, ‘A Study of Factors Affecting Consumer Evaluations and Memory
of Product Placements in Movies’, Journal of Current Issues and Research in
Advertising 22, no. 2 (2000), 31–40; Cristina A. Russell, ‘Investigating the
Effectiveness of Product placements in Television Shows: The Role of Modal-
ity and Plot Connection Congruence on Brand Memory Attitude’, Journal
of Consumer Research 29 (December, 2002), 306–318; and Etienne Bressoud,
Jean-Marc Lehu and Cristina A. Russell, ‘The Product Well Placed: The Rela-
tive Impact of Placement and Audience Characteristics on Placement Recall’,
Gloria Dagnino 105

Journal of Advertising Research 50, no. 4 (2010), 374–385. For the ethical and
legal aspects of product placement see Siva K. Balasubramanian, ‘Beyond
Advertising and Publicity: Hybrid Messages and Public Policy Issues’, Journal
of Advertising 23, no. 4 (1994), 29–47; Paul Siegel, ‘Product Placement and
the Law’, Journal of Promotion Management 10, no. 1–2 (2004), 89–100; and
Lawrence A. Wenner, ‘On the Ethics of Product Placement in Media Enter-
tainment’, Journal of Promotion Management 10, no. 1–2 (2004), 101–132.
10. Scott Donaton, Madison & Vine: Why the Entertainment and Advertising Indus-
tries must Converge to Survive (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004). See also Cristina
A. Russell and Michael Belch, ‘A Managerial Investigation into the Product
Placement Industry’, Journal of Advertising Research 45, no. 1 (2005), 73–92;
Jean-Marc Lehu, La Publicité Est Dans Les Films. Placement De Produits Et
Stratégie De Marque Au Cinéma, Dans Les Chansons, Dans Les Jeux Vidéo . . .
(Paris: Eyrolles Editions d’Organisation, 2006); Jean-Marc Lehu, Branded
Entertainment: Product Placement and Brand Strategy in the Entertainment
Business (London: Kogan Page, 2007).
11. See Thomas Mackay, Michael Ewing, Fiona Newton and Lydia Windisch,
‘The Effect Of Product Placement in Computer Games on Brand Attitude
and Recall’, International Journal of Advertising 28, no. 3 (2009), 423–438;
Hank Kim, ‘Def Jam, H-P Explore Branded Music Alliance’, Advertising Age
73, no. 36 (2002), 4, 28; Alan Nelson, ‘The Bulgari Connection: A Novel
Form of Product Placement’, Journal of Promotion Management 10, no. 1–2
(2004), 203–212. For a comparative study of product placement in EU coun-
tries and the United States see Stephen J. Gould, Pola B. Gupta and Sonja
Grabner-Kräuter, ‘Product Placement in Movies: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of
Austrian, French and American Consumers’ Attitudes Toward This Emerging,
International Promotional Medium’, Journal of Advertising 29, no. 4 (2000),
41–58. For Latin America, see Antonio C. La Pastina, ‘Product Placement in
Brazilian Prime Time Television: The Case of the Reception of a Telenovela’,
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 45, no. 4 (2001), 541–557. For the
United Kingdom, see Chris Hackley and Rungpaka Amy Tiwsakul, ‘Unpaid
Product Placement: The Elephant in the Room in UK TV’s New Paid-For Prod-
uct Placement Market’, International Journal of Advertising 31, no. 4 (2012),
12. See, for instance, Daniele Dalli, Giacomo Gistri and Dino Borello, Marche
Alla Ribalta. Il Product placement Cinematografico In Italia E La Sua Gestione
Manageriale (Milano: EGEA, 2008); Roberto Nelli and Paola Bensi, Il
Product placement Nelle Strategie Di Convergenza Della Marca Nel Settore
Dell’intrattenimento (Milano: Vita e Pensiero, 2007); Roberto Nelli, ed., Prod-
uct placement Made in Italy. On branded entertainment, see Roberto Nelli,
L’evoluzione Delle Strategie Di Branded Entertainment. Presupposti Teorici E
Condizioni Di Efficacia (Milano: Vita e Pensiero, 2011); Roberto Nelli, Branded
Content Marketing. Un Nuovo Approccio Alla Creazione Di Valore (Milano: Vita
e Pensiero, 2012).
13. Most of the information concerning the case study derives from a personal
interview with Nadia Boriotti, product placement manager at Lumière & Co.,
conducted in January 2012. I thank Ms. Boriotti for her assistance.
14. D. M., ‘Riparto FUS 2012’, 23 February 2012, www.spettacolodalvivo; Nicola Borrelli,
106 Production

‘Annual press release’, Cinemonitor, 16 April 2013,

15. D.Lgs. n. 28, 22 January 2004, art. 8 comma 2.
16. Alessio Lazzareschi, ‘Prospettive Dell’intervento Pubblico Nel Settore
Cinematografico’, Cinemonitor, 4 June 2012,
17. Ibid. All translations in the chapter are by the author.
18. Law n. 244, 24 December 2007, art. 1 par. 325–343.
19. For a comprehensive overview on this topic see Susan Newman-Baudais, Pub-
lic Funding for Film and Audiovisual Works in Europe, Report by the European
Audiovisual Observatory, 2011.
20. D. M., 21 January 2010, art. 2 par. 2.
21. D. Lgs. n. 28, 22 January 2004, art. 5; Lazzareschi, ‘Prospettive dell’intervento
22. D. Lgs. n. 28, 22 January 2004, also known as the ‘Urbani Decree’ after the
Minister who sponsored the law.
23. D. Lgs. n. 177, 31 July 2005, and subsequent amendments.
24. Directive 2010/13/EU, Whereas Recital 91.
25. Segrave, Product Placement, 3.
26. Jonathan Hardy, Cross-Media Promotion (New York: Peter Lang, 2010), 240.
27. Directive 2010/13/EU, Whereas Recital 91.
28. For definitions of ‘low-budget’ films (‘film con risorse finanziarie modeste’) and
‘difficult’ films (‘film difficili’) see respectively D. M. January 21, 2010 art. 1
point (6), and point (5).
29. Because tax credits are offered to external companies on the basis of actual
film production investment, the law furthermore ensures that the state com-
plies with rules prohibiting it from offering fiscal advantages to the private
sector in return for mere product placement payments to film producers.
See Report by Ufficio Studi ANICA ed., I quaderni dell’ANICA – N.1 Product
Placement (Roma, 2008), 71.
30. Nicola Borrelli, ‘Annual Press Release’, 16 April 2013; Fondazione Ente dello
Spettacolo Rapporto 2012 Il Mercato e l’Industria del Cinema in Italia., 72, www
31. This assessment was shared by all speakers at the ‘Marketing in un Ciak’
ANICA (the Italian film industry trade association) convention (Milan,
1 February 2013), which was specifically held to discuss the tax credit and
product placement law.
32. Silvia Colombo, Il Cinema di Silvio Soldini (Alessandria: Falsopiano, 2002), 13.
33. ‘Eurimages – European Cinema Support Fund database’, Council of Europe,
asp#P226_4261; Deliberation of the Subcommittee on Cinema, 2 August
2011, section acknowledging cultural relevance of feature films – motions
from 31 January 2011,
-lungometraggio-interesse-culturale/; Encouragement du cinéma en 2011:
Facts et Figures and Encouragement du cinéma en 2012: Versement,
Office Fédéral de la Culture,
.html?lang=fr; ‘Lista produzoni sostenute attraverso il Fondo FilmPlus
Gloria Dagnino 107

della Svizzera italiana’,

34. I was asked not to disclose the exact amount of Disaronno’s investment.
However, it can be said that The Commander’s production cost was slightly
below the average budget for an Italian co-production with a foreign country,
which was 6.4 million Euros in 2012; also below the average is the overall tax
credit and product placement investment, which was 358,000 Euros in 2012
(average investment only for tax credit purposes by an external company in
a single Italian movie). Source: Fondazione Ente dello Spettacolo Rapporto
2012 Il Mercato e l’Industria del Cinema in Italia.
35. Gabriele Diverio, ‘Soldini Souer. Presentazione de Il comandante e la cicogna’,
Cinemonitor, 23 November 2011,
36. Personal interview with Nadia Boriotti.
37. Ibid.
38. Ibid.
39. ‘Below-the-line’ marketing initiatives target consumers in a personal way
(public relations, special events, direct marketing and so forth), whereas
‘above-the-line’ refers to mass communications, such as television advertise-
ments. See Patrick De Pelsmacker, Maggie Geuens and Joeri Van den Bergh,
Marketing Communications: A European Perspective Third edition (London:
Pearson, 2007), 193.
40. The Disaronno Mixing Star competition was nominated as one of the 2011
Best Integrated Marketing Communication Campaigns by the Integrated
Marketing Communications Council of Europe.
41. Personal interview with Nadia Boriotti. Extra-textual communication activ-
ities enhance product placement’s effectiveness; see J.A. Karrh, K.B. McKee
and C.J. Pardun, ‘Practitioners’ evolving views on Product Placement Effec-
tiveness’, Journal of Advertising Research 43, no. 2 (2003), 141.
42. Personal interview with Nadia Boriotti.
43. For a critical discussion on the commodification of culture see David
Hesmondhalgh, The Cultural Industries Second edition (London: SAGE,
2007). Films such as Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988), Roberto
Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful (1997) and Matteo Garrone’s Gomorra (2009) are
unsuitable for product placement and yet have all received both critics’
awards and global commercial success. In contrast, Italy’s latest box-office
hits, for example, Che bella giornata (What a lovely day, 2011), Benvenuti al
Sud (Welcome to the South, 2010) and Benvenuti al Nord (Welcome to the
North, 2012) all featured prominent placements; despite enormous commer-
cial success in the domestic market the films did not achieve any significant
international distribution; see ANICA, Quaderno n. 5 L’export di cinema
italiano, 2010.
44. D. L. n. 91, 8 August 2013.
Memento in Mumbai: ‘A Few More
Songs and a Lot More Ass Kicking’
Iain Robert Smith

On 25 December 2008, Geetha Arts India released Ghajini, a Hindi lan-

guage remake of a Tamil film of the same name from 2005. Directed by
A.R. Murugadoss, the film closely replicates much of the plot from the
earlier film and is representative of a broader trend within the Hindi
language industry for producing remakes of South Indian cinema. What
is especially significant with Ghajini, however, is that the Tamil film
was itself an unacknowledged remake of the American independent
film Memento (2000). Borrowing many of the narrative elements from
director Christopher Nolan’s film, yet adapting them to fit with the
dominant narrative structure of commercial Indian cinema, the case
study of the Hindi Ghajini presented in this chapter offers a privileged
insight into the adaptation of narrative forms across different national
and institutional contexts.
As this chapter discusses, Memento utilises a complex narrative struc-
ture that unfolds in reverse chronology, whereas Ghajini restructures this
narrative into chronological order and makes a number of additions
including song numbers and fight sequences. Such changes have led
a number of critics to dismiss the film for replacing narrative complex-
ity with spectacle, as in the claim from Joe Leydon in Variety that it is
a film ‘for those who thought Memento would have been a better movie
with a few more songs and a lot more ass-kicking’.1 I argue against this
simplistic dismissal of Ghajini by addressing the specific historical con-
text of the contemporary Bollywood cinema that produced the remake.
As I have written elsewhere, the Hindi industry has a long tradition of
producing remakes and adaptations of American film and television, a
process that intensified in the decade leading up to Ghajini with a signif-
icant number of remakes being produced including Ghulam (1998)/On
the Waterfront (1954), Chachi 420 (1998)/Mrs Doubtfire (1993), Sangharsh

Iain Robert Smith 109

(1999)/Silence of the Lambs (1991), Kahin Pyar Na Ho Jaaye (2000)/The

Wedding Singer (1998), Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (2001)/Pretty Woman
(1990), Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai (2002)/My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997),
Humraaz (2002)/Dial M for Murder (1954), Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005)/I am
Sam (2001), Black (2005)/Miracle Worker (1962) and God Tussi Great Ho
(2008)/Bruce Almighty (2003).2
As these examples illustrate, the majority of the Bollywood remakes
in this period were adaptations of classical or post-classical Hollywood
features with relatively linear central narratives. By contrast, Ghajini
was instead based on an American independent film with a distinct
non-linear narrative structure. Rather than electing to adapt a high-
concept Hollywood feature with a clear central narrative arc, director
Murugadoss chose to adapt a film noted for being ‘deliberately ambigu-
ous and challenging in terms of its narrative organisation’.3 While this
choice may have appeared commercially risky, the strategy was ulti-
mately successful with Ghajini grossing over two billion rupees in the
first two weeks of release and going on to achieve the title of highest
grossing Indian film of all time until it was eclipsed by 3 Idiots (2009) the
following year.4 This chapter will explore the various adaptation choices
that Murugadoss made and their relationship to the differing narrational
modes that dominate in contemporary American independent cinema
and popular Indian cinema respectively. As I will demonstrate, Ghajini’s
inclusion of two different narrational modes relates to industrial shifts
in the Hindi film industry.
Given that the Hindi film is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the Tamil
version, albeit on a higher budget, I pay specific attention to the Hindi
film, which, like the Tamil version, significantly transformed the source
text. This more limited focus allows for a more detailed comparison
with Memento and leads to a fuller understanding of the decisions that
Bollywood producers make in adapting American films for Indian audi-
ences. I use archival material from the popular Hindi industry magazine
Trade Guide to position Ghajini in relation to the prevalent industrial
discourses surrounding the contemporary Bollywood remake – specifi-
cally looking at the ways in which the remaking process is presented
as enhancing one-plot ‘single-track’ narratives through the addition of
extra sub-plots or ‘parallel tracks’ to conform to Indian film-making
My analysis depends upon the structuring metaphor of the meme.
Perhaps best known these days for its use to describe various viral
Internet phenomena, the term ‘meme’ was coined by biologist Richard
Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene as a cultural equivalent to the
110 Production

gene.5 In a manner analogous to genetics, the meme is a unit of culture

that adapts and evolves, transforming itself to fit with whatever new
habitat it finds itself in. As Linda Hutcheon has recently argued, this
metaphor of the meme is very useful for thinking about processes of
adaptation since stories adapt to new environments through processes
of mutation and adaptation.6 In other words, the meme allows us a way
to consider how elements from films evolve and adapt away from their
source text in specific national and institutional contexts. I will trace the
Memento meme’s adaptation as it moves from American independent
cinema to popular Indian cinema.
I argue that comparative adaptation studies are one of the best
means of illuminating the industrial determinants of contemporary
storytelling practices. This chapter’s interrogation of the complex
transnational and transregional dimensions of the adaptation of Ghajini
demonstrates how the study of transnational remakes illuminates the
relationship between screen narratives and their national and institu-
tional contexts of production.

Remakes in contemporary Bollywood cinema

Taking into account film production and audience figures, Bollywood is

the world’s largest film industry, employing more than two and a half
million people and selling over four billion tickets every year, one bil-
lion more than Hollywood productions generate.7 Based in Mumbai,
which is the country’s commercial centre, the industry has experienced
significant growth in export trade over the last 20 years, with Bollywood
becoming one of the few examples of transnational media flowing from
the global South to the global North.8 The prototypical Bollywood film
is generally referred to as a masala, or formula, film that contains a mix-
ture of generic elements. In other words, it cannot be labelled simply
as an action, romance or comedy film as it combines elements of many
different genres into one three-hour narrative. As Susanne Gruss has
argued, it is this inherent hybridity and ensuing ‘anti-naturalism’ that
‘most people focus on to either explain Bollywood’s attractions – or to
ridicule them’.9
While the English language media frequently deride the Indian
industry for ‘producing “cheap copies” of Hollywood’, a scholarly per-
spective requires understanding the legal and industrial framework
that allows this practice of remaking to flourish.10 As with the vast
majority of remakes produced in the Hindi industry, Ghajini is an
unacknowledged adaptation and therefore not licensed from the rights
holder of Memento. In recent years, however, the increased presence of
Iain Robert Smith 111

American studios in India has impacted upon this practice of producing

remakes without permission. Since 2000, when the Indian govern-
ment allowed the Foreign Investment Promotion Board to approve
foreign investment ventures into film-making, studios such as Columbia
Tristar, Paramount and Universal Pictures have all established offices
in Mumbai. The presence of American studio bases in India results in
increased pressure on the local industry to acknowledge their sources.
In Ghajini’s case, these industrial conditions led to the film open-
ing with a director’s note that references the intertextual relationship
with Memento, but does so only obliquely due to Ghajini’s copyright

In this film the lead role character suffers from short term memory
loss . . . This film has been inspired by some stories and incidents with
similar idea [sic] and real life incidents of people suffering from short
term memory loss. We acknowledge other stories based on the disease
short term memory loss.11

A statement from the film’s star, Aamir Khan, reflects this reluctance
to explicitly identify the film as a remake and thereby acknowledge its
copyright infringement. He asserts that ‘Ghajini is not a remake or even
slightly inspired by Hollywood flick Memento, but it is a remake of the
Tamil film Ghajini’, although the actor conveniently neglects the fact
that the Tamil film was itself inspired by Memento.12 The copyright sta-
tus of Ghajini is further complicated by the fact that director Murugadoss
was arrested by the police in Chennai after a complaint that he had vio-
lated the copyright of the Tamil film.13 While he was later released and
the case was settled out-of-court, this event reveals some of the ten-
sions surrounding cultural ownership and copyright in the practice of
remaking in contemporary Indian cinema.
Indian film-makers defend themselves against charges of copyright
infringement by arguing that American films are thoroughly trans-
formed to suit them to the tastes of Indian audiences. Understanding
their argument requires addressing the dominant storytelling practices
of these contemporary Bollywood remakes to consider the ways in
which they function as a distinct ‘narrational mode’. According to David
Bordwell, a narrational mode ‘is a historically distinct set of norms of
narrational construction and comprehension’.14 While this concept has
previously been applied to a range of examples from American film
and television, this chapter considers its utility in relation to a source
text that shifts narrational mode across different national and regional
112 Production

In his work on contemporary American television, Jason Mittell iden-

tifies the increasing prevalence of narrative complexity as a distinct
narrational mode; like him I use the critical framework of histori-
cal poetics to situate the narrative characteristics of Indian cinema
within the ‘specific historical contexts of production, circulation, and
reception’.15 Historical poetics grounds textual interpretation within a
broader historical inquiry and promotes historical specificity over the-
oretical abstraction. The comparison of the adaptation of a specific
narrative from American independent cinema into commercial Hindi
cinema teases out the respective narrative structures of these cinematic
traditions and reveals the industrial contexts that shape the distinctive
form of narrative construction in contemporary Indian cinema. This
chapter accounts for the differences between the two films by situating
them within the differing modes of production, circulation and recep-
tion of their respective industrial contexts. It is important to stress that
I am not arguing that Ghajini reflects an essential ‘Indianess’; rather,
this cross-cultural remake should be understood as an indicator of cer-
tain symptomatic tendencies of the two industries’ narrational modes
rather than in terms of essentialised cultural differences.

Memento and the American independent puzzle film

Before offering a detailed textual comparison of the two film’s narra-

tive structures, I first establish that Memento can be seen as belonging
to the category of the American independent puzzle film. Alongside
other post-millennial puzzle films such as Mulholland Drive (2001), Irre-
versible (2002) and Oldboy (2003), Memento is part of a developing
industrial trend for making films that utilise temporal reordering as a
structuring principle in their narratives. In his work on the puzzle film,
Warren Buckland notes that this mode of film-making can be seen in
the ‘American independent cinema, the European and international art
film, and certain modes of avant-garde filmmaking’.16 These films are
marked out as a coherent category by their similar plots, which present
narrative events out of chronological order and require the audience to
infer the story order. According to Claire Molloy, the growing number
of puzzle films produced from the late 1990s is linked to ‘changes and
developments in technology, the influence of the Internet and video
game non-linearity, and the growth and maturation of the independent
sector’.17 Within this context, the fact that many now choose to watch
films at home rather than in cinemas has facilitated a narrative structure
that privileges repeat viewing.
Iain Robert Smith 113

While Memento, with its single central protagonist and a goal-oriented

narrative, does conform to at least some of the norms of the classical
Hollywood paradigm, the usual ‘cause and effect’ structure has been
reversed; it would be more accurate to describe the film as following
an ‘effect and cause’ structure in which the consequences of actions pre-
cede the actions themselves. The formalist distinction between fabula
(story) and syuzhet (plot) in cinematic narratives is useful here. While
the fabula contains all the events in a given narrative in chronological
order, including material that the audience infers, the syuzhet is how the
events are actually ordered and presented on screen.18 When we discuss
a narrational mode, therefore, we are generally describing the relation-
ship between the fabula and the syuzhet and how a given narrative
results from historically specific modes of production and reception.
Memento deliberately makes it difficult for audiences to piece together
the fabula from the events presented within the syuzhet. Once pieced
together, however, the fabula of Memento resembles a relatively straight-
forward revenge thriller. The film tells the story of Leonard Shelby (Guy
Pearce) who is suffering from anterograde amnesia after being hit on
the head during a burglary at his home. The condition has given him
chronic memory loss; while he can remember events that occurred
before the attack, he cannot create new long-term memories. In order to
compensate for this memory loss, Leonard tattoos information on his
body and takes Polaroid photographs to keep track of his investigation
into the events of that night. Central to this investigation is a desire for
retribution. Leonard, believing that his wife was murdered during the
burglary, commits to tracking down the guilty man and taking revenge.
While Memento’s fabula is fairly conventional, the unconventional
narrational mode places the climax of the fabula – in which Leonard
shoots Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) whom he believes to be the murderer –
at the film’s opening. The reverse order of the syuzhet means that the
audience knows only what Leonard knows, since it has not yet seen
the events that preceded the shooting. The cutting together of two sep-
arate narrative tracks further complicates the film’s narrational mode.
The central narrative thread concerning the wife’s murder is composed
of 23 colour sequences running in reverse chronological order, while
the subsidiary narrative thread concerning Leonard’s investigation is
composed of 22 black-and-white sequences running in normal chrono-
logical order. These two tracks are intercut and meet at the conclusion.
As Andrew Kania observes, this experimental narrational mode chal-
lenges the audience to make sense of what is happening in the film:
‘There is the initial question of what exactly the structure of the film
114 Production

is and, once this is solved, the much more difficult task of extracting
the story – what actually happens in the film, and the chronological
order of the fictional events – from the fragmented plot.’19 Understand-
ing the transformation of this experimental narrative form to fit the
conventions of commercial Indian cinema requires discussing Ghajini’s
relationship to the dominant industrial conventions of the Bollywood

Ghajini and the contemporary Bollywood remake

As Rosie Thomas has observed, it is not the case that Bollywood

film-makers can simply replicate American films and expect box-office
success. While many film-makers borrow story ideas and even key
sequences from American sources, it has become a truism in the indus-
try that ‘borrowings must always be integrated with Indian filmmaking
conventions if the film is to work with the Indian audience’.20 To illus-
trate this argument, Thomas points to various shot-for-shot remakes of
Hollywood films – such as Dirty Harry (1971), remade as Khoon Khoon
(1973), and Irma La Douce (1963), remade as Manoranjan (1974) – which
were box-office flops.21 Bollywood blockbuster director Rakesh Roshan
reinforces this point, arguing that ‘a frame to frame copy will not work
at all. One needs to adapt to the taste of our Indian audience’.22 The
adaptation of the American source texts involves altering the film for
the local audience – a process which Rosie Thomas and Tejaswani Ganti
term ‘Indianisation’ and Sheila Nayar as being ‘chutneyed’.23
This discourse of the Indian indigenisation of film texts parallels the
discourse of the Indian indigenisation of cinema technology. As Amit
Rai has argued, cinema was initially seen in India as a ‘foreign tech-
nology’ being ‘used by indigenous elites helping to engender a sense
of national identity’.24 Since cinema arrived in the country when it
was under British rule, it had to be indigenised, or more specifically
‘Indianised’, to be acceptable to domestic audiences post-independence.
Ravinder Kaur says, ‘Although cinema arrived in India in the colonial
setting, it soon became a swadeshi (homegrown) project with Indian
images and narratives.’25 Such a discourse of Indianisation proliferates
throughout popular and academic accounts of Indian cinema. Wimal
Dissanayake, for example, argues that while Indian cinema was clearly
influenced by Hollywood, the narrative structure ‘with its endless cir-
cularities, digressions and detours, and plots within plots, remained
characteristically Indian’.26 While these discourses problematically rein-
force an essentialised and unitary notion of Indian cultural identity,
Iain Robert Smith 115

they do feed into industrial practices, influencing some of the predom-

inant strategies that film-makers use in adapting American texts for
Indian screens, as the following analysis of Ghajini reveals.
The film tells the story of Sanjay Saghania (Aamir Khan), a success-
ful telecommunications mogul, who was attacked alongside his fiancée
Kalpana (Asin) by the criminal Ghajini (Pradeep Rawat) and left with
anterograde amnesia. The film opens with a violent, baroque sequence
in which Sanjay kills the man whom he believes is responsible for his
wife’s death. However, rather than this sequence concluding the story
as in Memento, the film establishes that Sanjay has killed the wrong
man and then follows his search to track down and kill the genuine cul-
prit, Ghajini. Unlike Memento, which leaves the identity of the attacker
ambiguous throughout, Ghajini reveals the guilty party within the first
20 minutes of its running time.
As this description makes apparent, Ghajini reconfigures Memento’s
syuzhet into chronological order. Much of the visual iconography of the
central narrative thread closely resembles Memento, with Sanjay follow-
ing the instructions that he has left for himself on Polaroid photos and
tattoos on his body. Ghajini’s straightforward chronological narrative
structure, however, loses the most distinctive feature of the American
film’s narrational mode. As Noël Carroll has argued, the backwards
narration of Memento

puts the viewer in a position somewhat like Leonard’s. Due to his

condition, Leonard has no memory of what has immediately pre-
ceded the present moment on screen. Similarly, the audience does
not know what has just happened prior to the moment before us,
since we haven’t seen it yet. So we are dropped into situations in
media res, which is, of course, the condition of Leonard’s life.27

Of course, the audience is not quite put in Leonard’s situation as view-

ers are able to use their own short-term memories to piece together
the fabula from the various fragments presented in the syuzhet – some-
thing which Leonard could never do. But the Indian audience did not
have to infer the correct order of the fabula from the syuzhet, since the
sequences progressed chronologically from Sanjay’s killing the wrong
man to his killing the right one. Ghajini’s removal of the puzzle dynamic
marks a significant alteration to Memento, presumably done to make the
film more accessible to its intended viewers.
This imposition of chronological order upon the main narrative
thread, however, is not the most significant change to the narrative
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structure. According to Tejaswini Ganti, who performed an ethno-

graphic study of remake practices within the Hindi industry, the three
main strategies of ‘Indianisation’ are adding emotions, expanding the
narrative and inserting songs.28 Ghajini retains Memento’s central nar-
rative of a man hunting down his wife’s killer, but intertwines the
three strategies Ganti identifies to transform an American independent
puzzle film to the dominant masala form of the Bollywood cinema.
As Ganti says is common practice in adapting American films, Memento’s
relatively lean 113 minutes are expanded into Ghajini’s lengthy 183 min-
utes. This allows for the integration of a number of action sequences
but the majority of the added screen time is devoted to a flashback
that details Sanjay and Kalpana’s relationship – their life together before
the attack. The sequence reflects a prevalent convention within Hindi
cinema for telling the backstory of the protagonists within a lengthy
flashback in the middle of the film. As Claus Tieber has noted, while
Hollywood flashbacks usually last for only a few minutes, Bollywood
flashbacks can last for half an hour or more.29 Crucially, this expan-
sion of the narrative also permits the film to deploy the other two
‘Indianisation’ strategies that Ganti pinpoints, intensifying emotions
and inserting songs.
Ghajini devotes nearly an hour in the middle of its running time to
telling Sanjay and Kalpana’s love story. This lengthy flashback, which
incorporates song sequences, reworks a popular mistaken identity plot-
line that has appeared in a range of films including the Hindi film Pasand
Apni Apni (1983) and the British musical comedy Happy Go Lovely (1951).
The sequence opens with the struggling model Kalpana exploiting erro-
neous rumours that link her with the successful businessman Sanjay in
order to cultivate the respect of her workmates. Yet when she actually
meets Sanjay, she doesn’t recognise him, assuming that he’s a struggling
model like herself. Their developing romance rests upon her misrecog-
nition as Sanjay fails to reveal his true identity, preferring that she fall in
love with him while ignorant about his wealth and status. After estab-
lishing this backstory, the film shifts between this sub-plot and the main
revenge plotline, lending an additional emotional resonance to Sanjay’s
search for Kalpana’s killer.
The discourse concerning Bollywood remakes frequently describes
American films as ‘one track’ or ‘single track’, in reference to the high-
concept nature of many Hollywood scripts that are said to be reducible
to a single line. Indeed, Bollywood film-makers often ‘express their
amazement and envy at how films can be made on “one line” ’ given
that such plots are considered inadequate for Indian audiences.30 The
Iain Robert Smith 117

remaking process is often positioned as a way of enhancing the narra-

tive through the addition of extra sub-plots or ‘parallel tracks’. Ghajini
is an example of how these ‘parallel tracks’ allow for the integration
of the necessary ‘Indianised’ elements without affecting the core nar-
rative of the adapted text. The addition of a parallel narrative to this
cross-cultural remake supplements the core narrative with the necessary
masala features.
This combination of these two different types of parallel narrative
tracks relates to a wider diversification of narrational modes within
Bollywood that has emerged partly in response to the fragmentation
of domestic viewing audiences. As Ian Garwood observes, a ‘niche-
market’ of ‘songless’ Bollywood films – such as Black (2005), Bhoot
(2003) and Page 3 (2005) – emerged in the 2000s to cater to ‘a new
cosmopolitan middle class reaping the rewards of India’s expansion
to the global free market’.31 According to Garwood, by abandon-
ing the Bollywood convention of incorporating song sequences, these
niche films appeal to this new audience, which ‘desires . . . [to] envis-
age India as an equal partner in a global commodity culture’, through
their ‘more “internationally acceptable” aesthetic’.32 As Sriparna Ray
argues, the contrasts between two Hindi adaptations of the famous
Bengali novel, Devdas by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, first pub-
lished in 1917, exemplify the different narrative forms now co-
existing in the Hindi cinema, as producers attempt to appeal to
globalised urban middle-class audiences in addition to working-class
audiences. The Bollywood film Devdas (2002) includes numerous musi-
cal sequences, and was thus directed towards a broad working-class
audience, while the later version, Dev.D (2009), reworked Bollywood
conventions to establish a tone more consistent with international
cinema so as to appeal to the urban middle class; this entailed the
inclusion of songs heard on the soundtrack but not sung by the
But rather than jettisoning the convention of the song sequence,
Ghajini includes it only in an added parallel narrative track kept sep-
arate from the main narrative track both visually and formally. The
film thus represents an unusual hybrid of contrasting narrational modes
in contemporary Bollywood. Its primary narrative track, which adapts
Memento’s revenge thriller fabula, and which doesn’t include song
sequences, maintains the grim tone of the source text, and so aligns with
the niche narrational mode that Garwood identifies. Yet the added par-
allel track includes the key elements of song sequences and emotional
intensification associated with the mainstream masala feature. Ghajini,
118 Production

due to its inconsistencies in narrational mode, thus reflects significant

industrial shifts in 21st-century Bollywood.
This case study provides an insight into the transnational dynamics
through which texts are remade across different national and regional
contexts. Ghajini and similar Bollywood remakes should not be seen as
resulting from a simple process of ‘Indianisation’ but as transnational
cultural exchanges in which globally circulating media forms interact
with local narrative traditions and industries. Returning to the metaphor
of the meme, Ghajini shows the complex ways in which narrative forms
evolve through processes of mutation and adaptation and ultimately
adapt to their local environment. While this is only a single case study,
it is representative of a much wider phenomenon through which filmic
cultures interact transnationally.


In their work on the global reach of Hollywood, Toby Miller, Nitin

Govil, John McMurria, Richard Maxwell and Ting Wang offer an eco-
nomic explanation for Indian film-makers’ increasing adaptations of
American films, suggesting that the proven success of a Hollywood
film within other markets is seen to diminish the risk of the remake.34
A series of interviews featured in the Bollywood industry magazine Trade
Guide supports their suggestion. Film-makers were asked, ‘Do Remakes,
Copies, Inspirations of South/English Films Guarantee Success?’ Rajesh
Thadani’s response is representative; he explains that although ‘every-
thing depends on the subject and the adaptation’, the general rule is
that ‘if the original has been a hit, the chances definitely seem bet-
ter’.35 On the other hand there is evidence from the same source that
economics may only partially account for the trend. According to inter-
views published in a later issue of Trade Guide, box-office success is less
important than ease of adaptation. As Sawaan Kumar argues, ‘There is
no hard and fast rule that a hit English film’s copy will be a hit. Some-
times even the fine points of a flop English film, when adapted well,
can make a hit Hindi film.’36 Therefore, rather than simply remaking
the biggest box office hits from America, film-makers in India are more
often searching for plotlines which seem amenable for adaptation to the
Indian masala narrative form.
However, the central plotline of Memento was not particularly well
suited for adaptation to the conventions of Indian cinema. As Rosie
Thomas has argued, the emphasis in Bollywood cinema is generally
on ‘how things will happen, not what happens next [and] on a moral
Iain Robert Smith 119

disordering to be (temporarily) resolved rather than an enigma to be

solved’.37 But Ghajini ambitiously attempts to take a narrative centred
upon what happens next – albeit in the reverse form of ‘what happens
before’ – and upon an enigma to be solved and transforms it into the
dominant Bollywood masala form.
It is worth considering the role that the 2005 Tamil film Ghajini
played in this remaking process. Bollywood film-makers often attempt
to reduce the risk of box-office failure by remaking films not only from
Hollywood but from South India as well. These are not seen as equiv-
alents, however, with many film-makers expressing a preference for
remaking South Indian films as they are assumed to be culturally closer
to the Bollywood form. In a series of interviews for Trade Guide, Manoj
Chaturvedi argues,

If you consider the track record in the last 4–5 years, the remakes
have fared better in comparison to fresh subjects. English [language]
films stand better chances only if they are convincingly Indianised
but the South [Indian] remakes are the ones that are definitely safe.
There is no question of them being losing proposals!38

Ghajini developed out of an English-language feature, Memento, that was

experimental in narrative form and would have seemed like a com-
mercially risky prospect for a direct Bollywood remake. But Memento’s
remake as a South Indian film had proven its appeal to Indian audiences
and made it a safer proposition for the Bollywood producers. The Tamil
film took the initial risk of ‘Indianising’ Memento and its success con-
vinced the Bollywood production team to invest in their own remake.
Uniquely for Bollywood, South Indian remakes therefore function as a
testing ground to see how successfully these Hollywood features can be
localised for the Indian context. This further attests to the complexities
of the transnational dynamics through which texts are remade across
different national and regional contexts

1. Joe Leydon, ‘Review: “Ghajini” ’, Variety, 7 January 2009,
2. Iain Robert Smith, The Hollywood Meme: Transnational Adaptations of
American Film and Television (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014).
3. Claire Molloy, Memento (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), 46.
120 Production

4. Meena Iyer, ‘Ghajini First Hindi Movie to Cross Rs 200cr Mark’, The Times
of India, 8 January 2009,
5. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).
6. Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation (London: Routledge, 2006).
7. Daya Kishan Thussu, ‘The Globalisation of “Bollywood”: The Hype and
The Hope’, in Global Bollywood, eds. Anandam P. Kavoori and Aswin
Punathambekar (New York: New York University Press, 2008), 98.
8. Ibid.
9. Susanne Gruss, ‘Shakespeare in Bollywood?: Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara’, in
Semiotic Encounters: Text, Image and Trans-nation, eds. Sarah Sackel and Walter
Gobel (New York: Rodopi, 2009), 227.
10. Tejaswini Ganti, Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema (London:
Routledge, 2004), 75.
11. A.R. Murugadoss, ‘Director’s note’, Ghajini (2008).
12. Anon., ‘Ghajini is not a Memento Remake: Aamir Khan’, Real Bollywood,
18 December 2008,
13. Vicky Nanjappa, ‘Ghajini Director Murugadoss Arrested, Released’, Rediff
India, 1 March 2008,
14. David Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film (Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press, 1985), 150.
15. Jason Mittell, ‘Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television’,
The Velvet Light Trap 58 (fall 2006), 30.
16. Warren Buckland, Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema
(Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 6.
17. Claire Molloy, Memento, 47.
18. Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film.
19. Andrew Kania, ‘Introduction’, in Memento, ed. Andrew Kania (London:
Routledge, 2009), 1.
20. Rosie Thomas, ‘Indian Cinema: Pleasures and Popularity’, Screen 26, no. 3–4
(1985), 121.
21. Ibid.
22. Rakesh Roshan as cited in Trade Guide 44, no. 30 (25 April 1998), 15.
23. Thomas, ‘Indian Cinema’, 121; Ganti, Bollywood, 77; Sheila J. Nayar,
‘Dreams, Dharma and Mrs. Doubtfire: Exploring Hindi Popular Cinema via
its “Chutneyed” Western Scripts’, Journal of Popular Film and Television 31,
no. 2 (2003), 73.
24. Amit Rai, ‘An American Raj in Filmistan: Images of Elvis in Indian films’,
Screen 35, no. 1 (1994), 56.
25. Ravinder Kaur, ‘Viewing the West through Bollywood: A Celluloid Occident
in the Making’, Contemporary South Asia 11, no. 2 (2002), 203.
26. Wimal Dissanayake, ‘Rethinking Indian Popular Cinema: Towards Newer
Frames of Understanding’, in Rethinking Third Cinema, eds. Anthony
R. Guneratne and Wimal Dissanayake (London: Routledge, 2003), 205.
27. Noël Carroll, ‘Memento and the Phenomenology of Comprehending Motion
Picture Narration’, in Memento, ed. Andrew Kania (London: Routledge, 2009),
28. Ganti, Bollywood, 77.
Iain Robert Smith 121

29. Claus Tieber, ‘Aristotle Did Not Make It to India: Narrative Modes in Hindi
Cinema’, in Storytelling in World Cinemas: Volume 1 – Forms, ed. Lina Khatib
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 14.
30. Tejaswini Ganti, ‘ “And Yet My Heart Is Still Indian”: The Bombay Film Indus-
try and the (H)Indianization of Hollywood’, in Media Worlds: Anthropology
on New Terrain, eds. Faye D. Ginsburg, Lilu Abu-Lughod and Brian Larkin
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 293.
31. Ian Garwood, ‘The Songless Bollywood Film’, South Asian Popular Culture 4,
no. 2 (2006), 172.
32. Ibid., 172–173.
33. Sriparna Ray, ‘Reconfiguring Hindi Commercial Cinema: Changing Tem-
plates of Production, Exhibition and Target Audiences’ (unpublished PhD
thesis, University of Nottingham), 2014.
34. Toby Miller, Nitin Govil, John McMurria, Richard Maxwell and Ting Wang,
Global Hollywood 2 (London: BFI, 2005), 239.
35. Rajesh Thadani as cited in Trade Guide 44, no. 10 (6 December 1997), 15.
36. Sawaan Kumar as cited in Trade Guide 44, no. 30 (25 April 1998), 15.
37. Rosie Thomas, ‘Sanctity and Scandal: The Mythologization of Mother India’,
Quarterly Review of Film and Video 11, no. 3 (1989), 15.
38. Manoj Chaturvedi as cited in Trade Guide 44, no. 10 (6 December 1997), 15.
A Case of Identity: Sherlock,
Elementary and Their National
Broadcasting Systems
Roberta Pearson

‘I hear of Sherlock everywhere.’

Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘The Greek Interpreter’

‘ “Excellent!” I cried. “Elementary,” said he.’

Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘The Adventure of the Crooked Man’

In March 2014, the BBC announced the closure of its youth oriented
digital channel BBC3. Director General Tony Hall provided an explana-
tion for this radical and unprecedented decision in the popular tabloid
newspaper, The Daily Mirror.

The BBC can’t keep doing the same thing with less money. Moving
BBC Three online will save over £50 million a year. But we will use
£30 million of that money to invest in drama on BBC One. Without
that money, the BBC would not be able to keep delivering the great
shows people . . . love – like Sherlock, Doctor Who and Atlantis.

Hall seems to have calculated that the combined appeal of BBC1’s

popular dramas would outweigh the loss of a relatively niche chan-
nel in the public mind. Hall may have been right but press reports, or
press headlines at least, mentioned only one of the ‘great shows’ the
DG had listed. The Mirror’s headline declared, ‘BBC’s Director General
Tony Hall explains why moving BBC Three online will “help deliver
great shows like Sherlock” ’1 The respective headlines of the broadsheet
Guardian and the online Huffington Post similarly highlighted Sherlock:
‘Saving BBC3 “would have meant cutting funds for dramas such as

Roberta Pearson 123

Sherlock” ’; ‘BBC3 Axed . . . To Save Sherlock’.2 The headline writers of a

tabloid, a broadsheet and a news website all assumed that the BBC’s
adaptation of Sherlock Holmes would most resonate with their quite
different demographics.
The US television network CBS broadcasts its own Sherlock Holmes
adaptation, Elementary (2012–present). In January, 2014, the network
held a showrunners’ panel at the winter press tour of the Television Crit-
ics Association at which Elementary’s executive producer Rob Doherty
appeared alongside his counterparts from three other successful CBS
dramas, The Good Wife (2009–present), Person of Interest (2011–present)
and NCIS (2003–present). Said a report on the panel, ‘[B]y choosing to
bring out the showrunners responsible for those storylines, rather than
the stars that brought them to life, CBS is making the statement that
its shows now have the reputation necessary to sustain an entire panel
devoted to their long-term development’.3
The BBC, the United Kingdom’s oldest free-to-air broadcaster, used
Sherlock (2009–present) to address the nation, justifying the first closure
of a channel in its long and storied history. By contrast, CBS, one of
the United States’ two oldest free-to-air broadcasters, used Elementary to
address the industry, persuading television critics ‘just how seriously it’s
started taking it dramas’.4 As this disparity in mode of address illustrates,
Sherlock’s value to the BBC outweighs Elementary’s value to CBS; Sherlock
figured in a national debate about the future of public service broadcast-
ing while Elementary served the more limited and customary purpose of
appealing to industry tastemakers.
Sherlock’s value to the BBC exceeds Elementary’s to CBS not only
in discursive power but in audience share. According to RadioTimes,
Sherlock was ‘officially announced as the broadcaster’s most watched
drama series in the UK since 2001, when the current ratings mea-
surement system came in’. Including catch up viewing, an average of
11.82 million people viewed the third series, with, as RadioTimes put
it, the ‘staggering 12.72 million’ tuning in for the series’ first episode,
putting ‘recent ratings big hitters . . . in the shade’.5 That number of
viewers represents over a 30 per cent share of all households watch-
ing television during that time period. By contrast, the second season
premiere of Elementary attracted over 13 million viewers but that con-
stituted just a 13 per cent share of the overall audience for one of
the programme’s most highly rated episodes.6 But the US adaptation
is still a valuable asset for CBS given the intense competition for the
fragmented audience that now characterises the country’s media envi-
ronment. Recently renewed for a third season, Elementary was the most
124 Production

watched new series in the 2012–2013 season and averaged 12.1 million
viewers in its second season, a very good if not a ‘staggering’ number in
the US context.
Elementary competes well in the current age of niche audiences and
programme abundance, but Sherlock harks back to the earlier era of the
mass audience and programme scarcity when a television drama could
galvanise a nation. As David Lister of The Independent said, Sherlock ‘has
revived a great cultural tradition, that of making television a national
shared event, a communal experience which brings viewers together’.7
Sherlock is a national sensation, one of the BBC’s most valuable assets,
while Elementary delivers the ratings but has no greater value to CBS
than a number of its other dramas such as the similarly highly rated
The Good Wife, Person of Interest and NCIS whose showrunners met the
press along with Elementary’s Rob Doherty. Many factors could account
for this disparity in status.8 Sherlock could simply be the better pro-
gramme, although that’s a risky assertion for an academic to make in
the context of a television studies still influenced by cultural studies
relativism. But television critics, employed to make value judgements,
have consistently praised Sherlock while Elementary, although having its
defenders, has garnered mixed reviews.9 The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim
Goodman calls Sherlock ‘one of television’s best amalgamations of high-
end excellence and pure entertainment’, attributing this to the writing
of showrunner Steven Moffat and actor/writer Mark Gatiss, the acting
of Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Martin Freeman (John) and
the visual style.10 The Rolling Stone says that the programme’s success
‘owes much to the chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman’.11
The increasing visibility of these actors, who have both appeared in
recent Hollywood blockbusters, may partially explain Sherlock’s audi-
ence share and appointment television status as might Cumberbatch’s
perceived sex appeal. And, as I have argued elsewhere, Sherlock is a
fan-friendly text that perfectly complements existing fan practices.12
In keeping with this book’s concern with narratives and their contexts
of production and reception, I do not discuss aesthetics, acting, stardom
and fandom. Instead this chapter uses a UK and US adaptation of the
same texts (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 56 short stories and four novels)
as case studies to argue for the continued significance of national differ-
ences even in an age of globalisation and convergence. Therefore, this is
not a conventional adaptation study, despite the intriguing similarities
and differences between the two programmes. Both update the charac-
ters to the 21st century, with Sherlock’s Holmes, like the original, based
in London while Elementary’s Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) has relocated
Roberta Pearson 125

from London to New York City. The US adaptation strays further from
Conan Doyle by transforming John Watson into Joan Watson (Lucy
Liu). However, the focus here is not primarily on textual characteris-
tics, but rather on the discrepancies between Sherlock’s and Elementary’s
respective national prominence and audience shares. Examining the
context of production and circulation, the chapter attributes these to
the two programme’s specific functions within their national broadcast-
ing systems and specific relationships to their broadcasters, BBC1 and
CBS. The explanation of the discrepancies also entails discussing the
context of reception, the very particular and quite different ways in
which viewers are encouraged to understand and evaluate the two pro-
grammes. The chapter first investigates the institutional roles of serial
drama within the UK public service and the US commercial broadcasting
systems. It then looks at BBC and CBS branding strategies to substanti-
ate and detail the assertion that Sherlock has greater value to the former
than Elementary has to the latter. It concludes with some limited con-
sideration of textual characteristics by exploring the two programmes’
generic influences, arguing that these also account for Sherlock’s larger

Television drama in the United Kingdom and the United

States: Defining ‘their broadcasting systems against each

In her book on the mutual influence between the UK and US broadcast-

ing systems, Elke Weissmann observes that they ‘do not actually operate
as nationally separate: rather, by observing each other, by importing
each other’s products, by producing material together and through the
consumption patterns of their national audiences UK and US drama
production of the last 40 years has become increasingly transnation-
alized’.13 Despite this mutual influence, however, says Weissmann, the
two countries have ‘defined their broadcasting systems against each
other’ and ‘persistent discourses of national differences . . . permeate
this relationship’.14 These persistent discourses of difference arise from
the fundamentally opposed founding assumptions of the two systems,
public service broadcasting rooted in state regulation and commercial
broadcasting in a market economy. The BBC must ‘inform, educate and
entertain’, its mission statement since its founding in 1922; commer-
cial broadcasting has historically sought to attract the greatest number
of viewers by concentrating primarily on entertainment.15 Neoliberal
deregulation has over the past few decades weakened public service
126 Production

broadcasting and encouraged commercial competition; technological

innovations such as satellite, cable and video on demand have further
facilitated the competition. These regulatory and technological trends
have threatened the BBC to such an extent that it must now constantly
articulate its value to viewers in order to justify each household’s paying
the licence fee from which it derives its income.
But while the UK system in some respects becomes more like the US
system, differences still persist. As in the United States, the UK free-to-air
networks’ viewership declined when they ceased to be the only options.
Elizabeth Evans and Paul McDonald tell us that between 2002 and 2011,
as ‘the number of multichannel homes more than doubled, and digital
television adoption massively increased’ the five free-to-air networks’
(BBC1, BBC2, ITV, C4 and Channel 5) audience share dropped from
77.7 per cent to 53.7 per cent.16 But, as opposed to the United States,
these networks’ maintain their continued centrality to the national
broadcasting system. The public service principle of free and universal
access necessitated systems (such as Freeview) that permit receiving dig-
ital multichannel television without charge; therefore freely available
channels attract larger audience shares than the subscription channels
available via Sky satellite or Virgin cable.17 The higher uptake of sub-
scription services in the United States means that new technologies have
posed a greater threat to the US networks than to their trans-Atlantic
In 2012, BBC1 averaged a 23.5 per cent share in the peaktime hours
between 6 and 10:30 p.m.; its strongest competitor, ITV, averaged a
20.6 per cent share in that time period.18 By contrast, in the week
of 6 January 2013, the four US networks collectively attracted only a
third of the primetime audience. CBS averaged a 13 per cent share,
but that was enough to decisively beat the opposition; Fox and ABC
tied with a 7 per cent share each, while NBC trailed with a 6 per cent
share.19 The figures justify CBS’s promotional slogan, ‘America’s Most
Watched Network’, although in terms of audience share if not in terms
of sheer numbers it is significantly less watched than BBC1, Britain’s
most watched network. Viewer preferences in the two countries make
it almost inevitable that any peaktime BBC1 programme will draw a
greater share of the national audience than will any primetime CBS pro-
gramme; this is one obvious reason for the relative success of the two
broadcasters’ Sherlock Holmes adaptations. But a more nuanced expla-
nation requires an understanding of the different institutional roles of
serial drama within the UK public service and the US commercial broad-
casting systems. I begin by looking at the amount of drama airing on
Roberta Pearson 127

the two countries’ most popular free-to-air networks, BBC1 and CBS,
the homes of Sherlock and Elementary.
Data from the UK regulatory body Ofcom show that during peak time
in 2012, drama comprised 6 per cent of BBC1’s output, the rest consist-
ing of national news/weather (29 per cent), other factual (17 per cent),
sports and current affairs (11 per cent each), arts and classical music,
other and education (5 per cent each) and soaps (2 per cent).20 I have
been unable to find comparable yearly data for CBS so have instead
analysed a representative week from the 2013–2014 season, Tuesday,
4 March to Monday, 10 March, 2014.21 The week consisted of 19 hours
of primetime programming, during which CBS aired eleven one-hour
dramas, 58 per cent of the total, and eight half-hour sitcoms, 21 per
cent of the total, with two-hour-long reality shows and two back-to-
back episodes of the current affairs programme 48 Hours comprising the
remaining 20 per cent of the schedule. The Tuesday and Friday nights
both featured three back-to-back dramas, while only the Saturday lacked
any drama. CBS’s output for the sample week included almost ten times
as much drama as the BBC1 yearly average for 2012; presumably as a
consequence CBS’s viewers watch far more drama than BBC1’s.
The lower percentage of drama programmes on BBC1 results from a
fundamental principle of the UK broadcasting system, the mixed pro-
gramme schedule; regulation legally obliges public service broadcasters
to provide a diversity of programme genres whereas US commercial
broadcasters have much greater latitude in determining the content of
their schedules. As Sylvia Harvey explains, the United Kingdom’s 2003
Communications Act mandates that

a variety of programme genres – drama, comedy, music, feature films

and visual and performing arts programmes – should ensure that ‘cul-
tural activity in the United Kingdom, and its diversity, are reflected,
supported and stimulated’. There should also be a sufficient range
of educational programmes and of programmes dealing with: ‘sci-
ence, religion and other beliefs, social issues, matters of international
significance or interest and matters of specialist interest’, and there
is some recognition that children . . . should be served by ‘a suitable
quantity and range of high quality and original programmes’.22

To adhere to this mandate, the BBC must provide a ‘wide range of pro-
grammes, across every genre, trying to reach the widest possible range
of audiences’.23 In keeping with the fundamental principle of educat-
ing and informing, public service broadcasters must also ensure that
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audiences actually sample across this diverse range of programming;

hence the BBC and ITV schedule a wide variety of genres on the same
channel, often on the same evening. This programme mix continues
across the year in all time periods. By contrast, the US primetime sched-
ule is much more homogeneous; the television season, which runs
roughly from the autumn to the spring, consists primarily of 20-plus
weeks of drama and sitcom series, augmented by some news and real-
ity programmes, and the occasional sporting event, although not in the
CBS sample week above which is otherwise representative.
Cost also accounts for the greater amount of drama in the US system,
since it is the most expensive of programme genres. As Steven Barnett
explains, the US ‘has the financial muscle to produce great drama’
because of ‘the size and scale of the American market: over 300 million
people and a potential universe of 115 million television household sub-
scribers. That is five times the potential market in the UK in a country
whose GDP is seven times ours’.24 The American free-to-air networks can
afford to invest in lengthy drama series, and indeed must continue to
do so if they are to cater to viewers who are accustomed to such fare
and are turning in ever-larger numbers to cable and Internet provision.
But the BBC faces more severe financial constraints than the American
networks. In 2010, the BBC agreed to freeze the licence fee for the next
six years and to take on some costs previously funded by the govern-
ment such as the World Service. These changes meant a 16 per cent ‘real
terms cut in BBC funds over six years’.25 Since production costs con-
tinue to increase, investment in drama requires cutting other services
as we saw at this chapter’s outset. Increased costs and a fixed budget
also entail decisions about what kinds of drama to invest in. In order
to comply with the public service ethos of catering for all tastes, the
BBC must apportion its budget across a range of dramas intended for
different audience segments. It cannot therefore devote expenditure to
multiple episodes of a costly drama like Sherlock, while continuing to
produce more conventional dramas as well as popular soap operas like
EastEnders (1985–present).
Tight budgets and the mixed-programme schedule render a three-
episode series of an expensive free-to-air drama like Sherlock a special
event in the United Kingdom; this primes viewers to anticipate some-
thing relatively distinctive. The bigger budgets and fewer regulatory
constraints in the United States render a 24-episode season of an expen-
sive network drama like Elementary commonplace; this primes viewers to
anticipate something relatively routine. Although there is far less drama
in UK public service broadcasting than in US commercial broadcasting,
Roberta Pearson 129

it takes on far greater importance and raises higher expectations, as

demonstrated in the following analysis of the relationship of Sherlock
and Elementary to the BBC and CBS brands.

Sherlock and the BBC brand: ‘it’s a big new BBC drama
for all the family’

In her review of Sherlock’s first episode, television critic Caitlin Moran

defended the BBC against a government minister’s criticism.

Oh dear. That was bad timing. In the week that the Culture Secretary,
Jeremy Hunt, questioned whether the BBC licence fee gives ‘value
for money’, the advent of Sherlock donked his theory quite badly.
It’s a bit embarrassing to be standing on a soapbox, slagging off a
corporation as essentially wasteful and moribund, right at the point
where it’s landing a bright, brilliant dragon of a show on the rooftops,
for 39p per household.26

Moran’s direct connection between Sherlock and the value of the licence
fee resonates with the BBC brand. As Catherine Johnson says, ‘the neo-
liberal political turn in broadcasting policy and regulation since the
mid-1980s’ that threatened and reduced the licence fee caused the BBC
to ‘adopt branding as a more central strategy’. But unlike the US net-
works, which turned to branding in the face of the declining audience
shares and advertising revenues resulting from cable and satellite com-
petition, ‘the BBC did not see the adoption of branding purely in
commercial terms, but also as a way of communicating the value of
the BBC to the public’.27 A 2005 Green Paper on the future of the BBC
Charter asserted that this value, ‘the justification for spending billions
of pounds of public money’, lay primarily in ‘the first two parts of the
Corporation’s mission – to inform and to educate’. But to persuade the
public ‘that its money is being well spent’, the BBC must also pro-
vide ‘high quality entertainment’ in the form of ‘programmes that large
audiences enjoy’.28 To achieve this ‘the BBC recently unveiled a new
programme strategy’ part of which was to ‘invest more in original UK
drama, comedy, news, documentaries, the arts and music’.29 Original
UK drama has subsequently become a key element of the BBC’s pol-
icy and branding, the latter constructed through both promotion and
In December 2013, BBC News reported that, subsequent to a review
of the Corporation’s governance, the BBC Trust (the BBC’s governing
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body) had given Director General Hall a set of new objectives. One of
his ‘immediate priorities’, said the Trust, should be the ‘quality, variety
and originality of new drama on BBC One’ especially in peak time.30 Just
a few days earlier, perhaps already aware of these priorities, Hall gave a
speech at the Voice of the Viewer & Listener Conference. He told the
audience, ‘Say the words “it’s a big new BBC drama for all the family”
anywhere in the world and you excite expectations of quality and orig-
inality and depth’. Addressing the perception of ‘a loss of confidence in
[UK] television drama’ as opposed to the ‘great things’ happening ‘in
the USA – or in Scandinavia’, he said, ‘Of course Breaking Bad is bril-
liant. So is Borgen. But . . . so is Top Of The Lake, Luther and Sherlock. Peaky
Blinders, The Fall and The Village. Ambassadors and Atlantis. Line Of Duty,
Last Tango In Halifax, EastEnders and Call The Midwife’.31
When Sherlock’s series three became the BBC’s most watched drama
in a decade, BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore said, ‘This latest accolade
is the icing on the cake and only further demonstrates the audience’s
huge appetite and appreciation for original British drama on BBC1’.32
Moore was echoing the ‘Original British Drama’ promotion strategy that
groups together the various dramas on the BBC’s television channels
and highlights them with interstitial trailers and a pre-programme logo.
As part of the campaign’s ‘aggressive marketing’, 90-second trailers pre-
viewed the upcoming dramas for the autumn and Christmas seasons
on BBC1 and BBC2 in 2012 and 2013.33 When the 2013 BBC1 trailer
first aired in September, the ‘teeny snippage of new footage’ excited so
much fan speculation that #Sherlock trended worldwide on Twitter.34
But the fans had to wait for several months to see whether their spec-
ulations were correct; Sherlock’s series two and three constituted one
of the highpoints of the BBC’s much-touted 2012 and 2013 Christmas
Promotion overtly communicates the BBC’s value to the public;
scheduling does so less obviously. Public service broadcasters use
scheduling to ensure that their budget permits them to cater for each
audience demographic. As John Ellis puts it:

The schedule is the planning mechanism that determines the balance

between genres and levels of cost across the channel as a whole. This
is particularly important in a television system like Britain’s, where
the generic range offered by the core channels is very wide indeed,
encompassing major drama and specialist documentaries, infotain-
ment and feature films, sketch comedy and soaps, chat shows and
news all in prime time.35
Roberta Pearson 131

Again, this is why drama constitutes a much smaller percentage of the

BBC1 schedule than it does of the CBS schedule and why program-
mers can’t privilege Sherlock’s budget to the detriment of other dramas.
Scheduling also distinguishes channels from each other. Ellis says that
public service broadcasters’ ‘brand identity lies in the overall character
of programmes, their placing in a recognized pattern incarnating both
viewing habits and judgements of “fitness for [audience] purpose”. The
brand of all generalist channels, in other words, lies in the schedule and
how that schedule is known by their client audiences’.36
Those client audiences come to expect particular kinds of programmes
at particular points in the day, in the week and in the year. As Ellis
explains, there are ‘traditional slots, which are required by the regula-
tors or are simply habitual. Such arrangements have a great solidity’.37
Of Sherlock’s nine episodes, one aired at 8:10 p.m., four at 8:30 p.m. and
five at 9 p.m. in the so-called watershed, the hour that marks the differ-
ence between ‘programmes intended mainly for a general audience and
those programmes intended for an adult audience’. Programmes broad-
cast before the watershed must be suitable for children, although those
in ‘the later pre-watershed may not be suitable for the youngest children
or for children to watch without an older person’. Since 9 p.m. ‘signals
the beginning of the transition to more adult material’, the BBC advises
that the ‘change should not be abrupt. Programme makers and sched-
ulers should also take into account the nature of the channel and viewer
Given BBC1’s branding as a general audience channel and the just
pre- or just post-watershed time periods, viewers would have expected
a family friendly show that parents could watch with older children.
The first episode of series two, ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ (2:1), beginning
at 8:10 p.m., 50 minutes before the watershed, violated some viewers’
expectations. The Telegraph reported that the scenes featuring a nude
dominatrix with a riding crop caused some viewers to complain that
‘the racy scenes had been broadcast too early in the evening’.39 How-
ever, showrunner Steven Moffat assumes that Sherlock, like his Doctor
Who (1963–present), is for a general audience that includes children.
A Guardian article reported that ‘Moffat suspects Sherlock has over-
whelmingly the same audience as Doctor Who’, quoting him as saying,
‘Sherlock is Doctor Who but an hour later in the TV schedules. Not two
hours later, one hour’. But Moffat doesn’t find the regulatory restrictions
on content irksome. Asked whether he doesn’t ‘want to write grown-
up stuff for two hours later?’ he replied, ‘Not really. Writing for adults
often means just increasing the swearing – but find an alternative to
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swearing and you’ve probably got a better line.’40 Given its BBC1 time
slots, Sherlock was aimed at a large, age-diverse audience. And, as Tom
Steward notes, the BBC3 repeats necessitated suitability for ‘teenagers
and viewers in their early twenties’.41 By contrast, as we shall see in the
following section, Elementary targets a narrower, more mature audience.
All but one of Sherlock’s episodes aired on a Sunday, a day of the week
that, like the channel and timeslot, would activate viewer expectations.
When Sherlock premiered on 25 July, 2010, The Telegraph’s reviewer said
that ‘the BBC’s new, modern version of Sherlock Holmes, is a must-see
for Sunday nights, and it’s a long time since we’ve had one of those’.42
Sunday evenings are a long-established traditional slot for high-profile
dramas. According to Steward, ‘The 9 P.M. Sunday slot in which Sherlock
is broadcast is one typically reserved in UK television for period drama
and literary adaptation . . . but is also open for mystery dramas . . . and
police procedurals.’43 The original Upstairs, Downstairs (1971–1975), the
Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice (1995), Downton Abbey (2010–present), the
long-running mystery Midsomer Murders (1997–present) and the police
procedural Waking the Dead (2000–present) all aired or continue to air
in that time period. Scheduling Sherlock on Sunday marked it out as
special, as having the potential to achieve its illustrious predecessors’
success with audiences and critics. Sherlock’s first series did indeed per-
form very well with both; the first and third episodes attracted over nine
million viewers and the second over eight million while critics such as
Moran sang the programme’s praises.
Ellis argues that viewer expectations are also activated by ‘the annual
pattern of seasons, events and special occasions’ including ‘the fixed
points of public holidays’.44 The BBC incorporated Sherlock’s series two
and three into BBC1’s Christmas programming, giving it almost the
same special event status as Doctor Who, which has aired an annual
Christmas episode since its 2005 reboot. While the Christmas peaktime
viewing numbers are most crucial, those for New Year’s Day peaktime
also have important consequences for broadcasters’ reputations. In 2012
and 2013, BBC1 broadcast the first episode of Sherlock’s new series on
New Year’s Day, the second and third episodes following in the usual
Sunday night slot. In 2013, as the world waited to hear how Sherlock
had survived the plunge from that rooftop, a seven minute series pre-
quel, ‘Many Happy Returns’, available on Christmas Eve online, via
the red button and on the BBC Youtube channel, increased anticipa-
tion and publicity. That year’s RadioTimes bumper two-week Christmas
issue accorded Sherlock lavish coverage. The cover proclaimed, ‘Free
Sherlock Book’. Inside, readers learned how they could acquire the
Roberta Pearson 133

‘original stories’ that ‘inspired the episodes in the new series of Sherlock
starting on BBC1 on New Year’s Day’.45 The issue also featured Steven
Moffat interviewing Benedict Cumberbatch.46 Subsequent to reports of
Sherlock’s massive audiences and ‘a surge in people watching ITV over
the festive period’, it was rumoured that the ‘BBC is understood to be
eager to bill the programme as the main event in its Christmas 2014
schedule’. A ‘BBC insider’ told the tabloid newspaper The Sun that ‘the
BBC is desperate for a Sherlock Christmas Day special this year. It wants
its biggest guns ready’.47 Were that to happen, Sherlock might rival or
even supplant Doctor Who in national prominence. But, given that both
the writing team and the cast are finding it difficult to clear their sched-
ules to film series four it seems unlikely that Sherlock will be back by
Christmas 2014 or even the following year. Whenever it returns, how-
ever, the BBC will promote the new series as a special event, a big BBC
drama for all the family and all the nation, and for which viewers will
have great expectations.

Elementary and the CBS brand: ‘sturdy, traditional fare that

doesn’t upend anyone’s assumptions’

Just as Caitlin Moran’s review of Sherlock’s debut resonated with the

BBC brand, US critics’ initial assessment of Elementary linked the pro-
gramme to the CBS brand. Reviewing Elementary together with two
other new CBS dramas, the Huffington Post’s Maureen Ryan said, ‘You
don’t go to CBS for edgy content. You go to CBS for sturdy, traditional
fare that doesn’t upend anyone’s assumptions or preconceptions about,
well, anything.’48 Elementary is sturdy, traditional fare that fulfils the
network’s needs; it is but one among a number of procedural dramas
tailored to the CBS brand and audience demographics. If Sherlock is a
spectacular beryl in the BBC’s coronet, Elementary is a well-crafted piece
of costume jewellery in a CBS jewel box full of similar items.
Like BBC1, CBS wants to attract the largest possible number of view-
ers and heavily promotes itself as ‘America’s most watched network’.
A trailer for the autumn, 2012 season proclaimed that the network had
‘the number one show, NCIS’, the ‘number one comedy, The Big Bang
Theory’, the ‘number one news programme, 60 Minutes’ and the ‘top two
new shows on TV’, Elementary (identified as the number one new show)
and Vegas (ironically cancelled after a ratings decline).49 The trailer’s
inclusion of three different genres, drama, comedy and news, targets
a general audience. As Michael Curtin and Jane Shattuc say, ‘CBS, by
comparison, [to the other networks] emphasises mass appeal above all
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else in its weekly schedule’.50 But both the number one show, NCIS,
and the number one new show, Elementary, are variants on the police
procedural, the genre with which the network is most identified. CBS
faces a branding dilemma. It must broadcast the diverse content that
will appeal to a general audience, but it must also compete with strongly
branded niche cable channels such as HBO and with the other three net-
works, also trying to construct distinctive brands. As Johnson says, the
networks are still ‘primarily mass broadcasters whose value to advertis-
ers [lies] in their reach’. Because the ‘networks tend to broadcast a wider
range of programming than niche cable channels such as MTV . . . their
brand identities need to encompass this range in order to accurately
reflect the service offered’. Therefore their branding campaigns are
‘often far less focused than those adopted by cable companies’.51
CBS has the most focused branding campaign of the four networks.
In a 2010 article, the Hollywood Reporter’s Goodman said, ‘Staying true
to your brand is an issue that’s always in play in the TV industry, even if
certain players believe their network truly is a “broadcaster” and capable
of being all things to all people.’ Of all the networks, CBS is ‘far and
away’ the one ‘that best understands its audience and programs with
alarming accuracy’ for it. CBS’s best branding strategy, says Goodman, is

the time honored procedural, mostly about crime and punishment.

Few networks have believed in that drama form more than CBS, and
few have managed to continually produce so many hits with it. Why?
Because that’s the CBS brand. It’s what the audience knows it will get.
Better yet, it’s what the audience wants.52

Procedurals, as Curtin and Shattuc explain, ‘appeal to viewers of all

ages including those in the over-50 age bracket, a group not gener-
ally prized by advertisers’.53 Since the decline of the three network
hegemony in the 1980s, broadcasters and advertisers have privileged
the 18–49 demographic, believed to have more disposal income and
more flexible buying habits than older viewers. Therefore, according
to Curtin and Shattuc, ‘some have criticised’ CBS’s emphasis on mass
appeal, because the network’s ‘audiences skew older and . . . its rating
lag behind its competitors’ in the key demographic.54 Its audience does
indeed skew older. An American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
Blog reports that, ‘The average CBS audience member is 57 years old,
compared with 45 at Fox, 50 at NBC and 52 at ABC.’ But ‘the aging
of the boomer generation . . . has started a shift in advertising and audi-
ence targeting’, because many in this cohort ‘are in their peak earning
Roberta Pearson 135

years and still a decade or more away from retirement’. Talking to the
AARP, Nina Tassler, CBS’s head of entertainment, said ‘While we enjoy
winning in all the categories, 18–49 is not the end-all it’s made out to
be.’55 Given CBS’s distinct audience building strategy, procedurals solve
the branding dilemma of simultaneously attracting large numbers of
viewers and constructing a unique identity.
Since CBS exploited the hit CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000–
present) ‘by embracing procedural dramas as emblematic of the net-
work’s primetime brand’, the CBS procedural has become an established
genre.56 Jason Mittell argues that genre is ‘best understood as a process
of categorization that is not found within media texts, but operates
across the cultural realms of media industries, audience, policy, crit-
ics, and historical contexts’. He asks: ‘Does a given category circulate
within the cultural spheres of audiences, press accounts, and industrial
discourses? Is there a general consensus over what the category refers to
in a given moment?’57 Judging by reviews of Elementary’s first episode,
press accounts indeed exhibited a critical consensus about the generic
category of the CBS procedural. The Los Angeles Times said that the pro-
gramme was set in ‘the land of the CBS procedural, where instead of
pursuing egghead-y cases about purloined letters, Holmes tracks serial
killers, sex offenders and other villains of the prime-time grotesque. This
is Sherlock Holmes, Les Moonves [CBS president] style.’58 Goodman,
whose analysis of the CBS brand is quoted above, said that an American
Sherlock Holmes, following on the heels of the acclaimed Sherlock, could
have been a ‘disaster in the making’, but ‘there also was every reason
to believe that the franchise would be perfect on CBS, home to tele-
vision’s best procedurals’.59 Alan Sepinwall too invoked Sherlock, but
rejected a comparison between the two programmes on the basis that
Elementary was ‘essentially, a traditional CBS procedural mystery with a
famous literary hero at the center’. But that presented a problem, given
that the difficulty of crafting a less than 45-minute mystery ‘challeng-
ing enough for the world’s greatest detective’ made Miller’s Holmes seem
‘less brilliant’ than his literary progenitor.60
British critics had praised Sherlock for cleverly updating the original
stories while remaining ‘true’ to the source, but US critics asserted that
Elementary’s CBS house style almost completely overwrote the Conan
Doyle canon. The Hollywood Reporter noted that: ‘The procedural struc-
ture of the pilot is more like current CBS shows like The Mentalist than
the classic Holmes stories.’61 The headline of Entertainment Weekly’s
review asked, ‘This Sherlock looks like a sure hit but is it good Holmes?’
However, critic Ken Tucker pointed out that moulding the source text to
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the CBS brand made sense, given the network’s competitive strategy of
mass appeal.

The canny commercial aspect of Elementary is that Holmes is given

the CBS treatment, by which I mean placed in an hour-long, case-of-
the-week procedural with just enough tantalizing suggestions about
the history of Holmes to get viewers hooked without miring them in
the gummy mythologies that make other networks’ attempts to lure
a mass cult audience so risky.62

Others, however, thought that the ‘CBS treatment’ diverged so far from
the source that only the characters’ names linked them to the origi-
nal Holmes and Watson. Amber Humphrey, writing on the Film School
Rejects website, said that ‘Elementary . . . really could be called “some
young guy solves difficult cases with sharp powers of deduction.” Or
if that’s too long, it could be called, I don’t know, The Mentalist . . .
But the show is Holmes in name and not much else.’63 The Huffington
Post’s Ryan, saying that ‘Miller is not playing Sherlock Holmes, despite
the name of his character’, complained that ‘to shove this venerable
duo [Holmes and Watson] into CBS’ procedural format, the show’s pro-
ducers have managed the unlikely feat of removing almost everything
interesting about them’.64
The labelling of Elementary as a standard CBS procedural, particu-
larly the equating of it to The Mentalist (2008–present), would probably
have pleased the CBS programmers, while the criticisms would prob-
ably not have overly concerned them. Referring to the fact that the
network had unsuccessfully sought to licence Sherlock from the BBC,
Sepinwall said, ‘CBS may have wanted to adapt Steven Moffat’s take
on Holmes, but all the network really wanted was a show that could
comfortably slot in after “Person of Interest” and not have to worry
about. “Elementary” is definitely that.’65 In other words, the program-
mers wanted an hour-long drama suitable to the CBS brand, audience
demographics and the time slot since, in the United States just as in
the United Kingdom, scheduling constructs network brands and acti-
vates audience expectations. As Curtin and Shattuc say, ‘When assigning
a show to a particular spot in the schedule, executives begin with an
assessment of the intended audience and qualitative characteristics of
the programme.’66 Elementary was fit for purpose, leading out from the
strong performer, Person of Interest, in the Thursday 9 p.m. slot and tak-
ing the place of the strong performer The Mentalist in the Thursday
10 p.m. slot. That 10 p.m. time slot would have led to certain viewer
Roberta Pearson 137

assumptions; Curtin and Shattuc tell us, ‘The genre and tone of a show
should match the time slot, with early evenings devoted to the broad-
est range of viewers and late primetime focused on mature audiences.’67
As in the United Kingdom, government regulations ensure that children
are not exposed to inappropriate content; the Federal Communications
Commission prohibits ‘indecency’ and ‘profane speech’ on broadcast
television between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.68 Therefore, view-
ers familiar with Sherlock may have anticipated more graphic sex and
violence in the US adaptation, although not of the same intensity as
that on cable channels like HBO unregulated by the FCC. And viewers
familiar with the procedural, The Mentalist, may have anticipated that
the replacement would adhere to the same genre.
Audiences would also have had expectations about the Thursday
night line-up. A programme that CBS did not have to worry about
needed not only to conform to viewers’ understandings concerning
genre and tone at 10 p.m. but to compete on that particular day of
the week. While UK public service programmers have the dual goals
of conforming to regulatory requirements and besting the opposition,
the commercial nature of US broadcasting makes competition the net-
work programmers’ primary goal. As Mittell says, ‘Networks realize they
are competing for ratings against other networks and channels, and
thus they design their schedules in reaction to what their competition
offers.’69 Networks want to field their strongest contenders on Thursday
nights, which Johnson says ‘are particularly important for network tele-
vision, typically producing half of network revenues’.70 This is because
network executives and advertisers believe that it is the last night to
reach audiences, particularly younger viewers, before television viewing
declines over the weekend.71
Elementary was scheduled against NBC’s newsmagazine Rock Center
(2011–2013) and ABC’s drama Scandal (2011–present). Although Rock
Center’s first season ratings were low, NBC moved it to the 10 p.m.
Thursday slot in its second season perhaps because the struggling net-
work had nothing better to offer at that time. But Scandal, the Shonda
Rhimes produced Washington-based political thriller, had averaged over
eight million viewers per episode in its first season, a respectable per-
formance. Nonetheless, reviewers gave Elementary good odds against
the opposition. The same Ken Tucker who praised the ‘canny com-
mercial aspect of Elementary’ noted that ‘it is the closest thing to a
new fall season sure-thing hit. Programmed after the increasingly big-
ratings Person of Interest, and opposite ABC’s goofy Scandal and NBC’s
wan Rock Center, Elementary is positioned for long-term viability.’72 The
138 Production

Hollywood Reporter thought that ‘Sitting in the prime 10 p.m. Thursday

slot, Elementary has a good chance of succeeding up against’ Scandal
and Rock Center.73 Rock Center was a negligible rival but Scandal, with
its first season track-record, a serious one. However, as a ‘goofy’ politi-
cal thriller with a female African-American lead and high-profile female
African-American showrunner, previously best known for the similarly
female-centred Grey’s Anatomy (2005–present), the programme targeted
a different audience. Aimed squarely at the CBS core audience, Elemen-
tary had to conform to the procedural genre not only generally to match
the CBS brand but more specifically to compete in its timeslot. For all
the reasons enumerated so far, CBS required Elementary to be ‘traditional
fare that doesn’t upend anyone’s assumptions’. Potential viewers were
primed to anticipate something relatively unchallenging and relatively
familiar, a programme suited to casual viewing rather than the deep
engagement and passionate commitment that Sherlock engenders.
But that requisite familiarity also posed a problem, since CBS needs
not only to retain the core audience but to attract new viewers. As
Goodman put it, ‘It could be argued that CBS reloads instead of
relaunches because it understands its audience so well and, in turn,
that audience knows what to expect from CBS, so it’s brand loyal.’
At the same time however, all four networks ‘essentially are begging for
new viewers (from the same pool) every time they premiere a show’.74
But attracting new viewers could be difficult since Elementary’s confor-
mance to the procedural genre made it similar to many past and present
programmes. The Houston Examiner’s Allison Nichols said,

Standing out will be the challenge for this show, and not just from
Sherlock. Right now there are quite a few shows that feature an eccen-
tric male lead who notices things that most people don’t, to name a
few: Psych, Perception, and The Mentalist. Elementary needs to work on
making itself stand apart.75

Tucker also pointed to the need for distinction. ‘[T]he writing staff has
a formidable challenge: Coming up with puzzles and cases that are
worthy of Holmes, and not just variations on CSI or . . . House mys-
teries’.76 Elementary, like all generic texts, needed to offer the familiar
conventions leavened with a degree of novelty; this combination would
hopefully meet the dual purpose of retaining the loyal CBS audience
and enticing new viewers. The next and final section addresses this issue
of standardisation and differentiation with regard to both Sherlock and
Roberta Pearson 139

Sherlock, Elementary and genre: The chimera and the clone

Conforming to the CBS brand requires that Elementary be a procedural,

while conforming to the BBC brand requires Sherlock to be an ‘origi-
nal British drama’, a much less restrictive generic categorisation. Caitlin
Moran likened Sherlock to a ‘bright, brilliant dragon’ but the more apt
simile is to another mythological creature, the hybrid chimera, cobbled
together from a lion, a goat and a snake. Sherlock combines hetero-
geneous parts, blending multiple intertextual influences in a glorious
mash-up of generic and intertextual hybridity – part Conan Doyle, part
Doctor Who, part British heritage television and so forth. Elementary
clones the procedural genome, adding a bit of Sherlock Holmes DNA to
the sequence to distinguish the programme from CBS’s other similarly
cloned procedurals. If Sherlock tends to differentiation, Elementary tends
to standardisation; the former is genetically engineered to appeal to a
wider range of viewer tastes and preferences and therefore to a larger
share of the national audience than the latter.
Several essays in the Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom collection
collectively help to unpick Sherlock’s dense web of intertextual and
generic allusions. Steward’s chapter on the programme’s employment
of television conventions enumerates a number of these. There is the
Conan Doyle canon; ‘[f]or public service . . . broadcasters, the literary
source . . . serves their remit for quality television and producing pro-
grams with cultural and artistic value’.77 Then there are the many
previous television versions of that canon; ‘[t]he program . . . can often
be read as a response to and reappropriation of many of the estab-
lished tendencies of TV adaptations’.78 Several of these adaptations took
comedic form in the United Kingdom, drawing on ‘the national cultural
traditions’ of ‘situation comedy and political satire’.79 ‘Showrunners
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, both former situation comedy writers,
re-envision Sherlock and John’s shared flat as a “domestic difficulty”
comedy’, while satire takes the form of occasional sarcastic mentions
of contemporary events such as the banking crisis.80 As a result of its
9 p.m. Sunday scheduling, the programme ‘treads a fine line generically
between period literary adaptation and the police-detective program’.81
It adopts the ‘narrative style of contemporaneous US police/detective
series’ but also has ‘elements of the UK mystery drama’, while its ‘her-
itage production and its display of 21st century London landmarks and
city skylines clearly function as promotion of UK tourism’.82 It also ‘con-
tains many of the tendencies of TV fan writing’, with the scripts showing
the showrunners’ awareness of slash fan fiction.83
140 Production

Elizabeth Evans argues that Sherlock meets the needs of the BBC as a
‘global public service broadcaster’ by combining ‘the US quality tradi-
tion and the UK prestige tradition of television drama’.84 Elaborating on
this point, she says ‘the series may recreate the aesthetic and narrative
characteristics of highly-praised US quality drama, but the deliberate
emphasis on the character’s literary provenance and Victorian origins
allows it to call on the literary pedigree of Holmes and so maintain
a clear place within British cultural history’.85 Paul Rixon shows how
the BBC press pack for the first series was intended to persuade crit-
ics that the programme had links to the original texts but was also
‘modern a la Doctor Who’.86 CB Harvey discusses the many transmedial
and intertextual linkages between Sherlock and Doctor Who, saying
that Sherlock Holmes has long influenced the British science fiction
programme and, with Sherlock, the Doctor now influences the Great
Detective.87 As all these scholars demonstrate, Sherlock’s showrunners
conceived their hybrid chimera from many genetic strains.
The previous section demonstrated that Elementary was conceived and
is perceived as a standardised procedural, in which the three executive
producers, Rob Doherty, Sarah Timberman and Carl Beverly had a ‘long
track record’ and which CBS required for all the reasons detailed above.88
Nonetheless both showrunner Doherty and the network need to create
some distance from the genre to enhance the chances of attracting view-
ers not normally inclined to procedurals. Reviewing the programme’s
first episode, critic Matt Webb Mitovich commented that Elementary’s
‘Sherlock Holmes branding is but icing on the cake (or cream on the
trifle)’ of a standard procedural.89 Doherty, however, believes that the
Sherlock Holmes brand has crucial importance. ‘What we have is a name
that means something and a franchise that means something and a
mythology that people treasure and value.’90 Like Moffat and Gatiss,
Doherty professes allegiance to the original character and his author
(although with considerably less frequency). ‘I was always a huge fan of
the character . . . Conan Doyle knew what he was doing.’91
The programmes’ writers know enough about what Conan Doyle did
to imprint the brand; in the course of its first two seasons Elementary
has borrowed or reworked canonical titles (‘The Man with the Twisted
Lip’ [2:21]]; ‘The Hound of the Cancer Cells’ [2:18]), events (the curi-
ous incident of the dog in the night time), characters (brother Mycroft,
Moriarty, like Watson transformed into a woman, and her henchman
Sebastian Moran) and Holmes’ characteristic behaviours (violin play-
ing, bee keeping). The A.V. Club’s Myles McNutt says that the canonical
references function as easter eggs rather than as integral plot points,
Roberta Pearson 141

which makes sense given that the writers can’t assume viewer famil-
iarity with the source text.92 But relative to Sherlock the canonical
borrowings are indeed mere icing rather than an essential ingredi-
ent in the cake. Take, for example, episodes of both programmes that
allude to The Hound of the Baskervilles. Den of Geek’s review of the
‘Hound of the Cancer Cells’ asked ‘Did we see a modern take on Conan
Doyle’s hell beast/inheritance plot . . . ? Did we heck. Instead, we were
served an intricately plotted but workaday murder.’93 The same site’s
review of Sherlock’s ‘The Hound of Baskervilles’ (2:2) commented that
the programme ‘selects from its source material with discrimination,
carefully restages some parts in workable modern contexts and wit-
tily disposes of other elements with a flourish’. The Gatiss authored
script for this episode ‘takes a hammer to Conan Doyle’s story, send-
ing shards of character and plot flying, then reassembling them into
a neatly constructed mosaic’.94 Despite Sherlock’s generic hybridity, the
source text serves as a vital inspiration for the writers; Elementary’s adher-
ence to the procedural formula, the ‘workaday murder’, makes canonical
references primarily a branding exercise. As a long-time Sherlockian
myself, I find Elementary’s branding more annoying than enjoyable and
Sherlock’s canonical mosaics intriguing and delightful; if my reactions
typify Sherlockian fandom that might also account for the latter’s larger
audiences. However, that hypothesis must be explored in another essay.
Doherty thinks that the brand works to Elementary’s advantage, per-
mitting it to achieve both standardisation and differentiation. ‘We feel
we check off many of the boxes for what people think of as a network
procedural. But we also can push the hour long show and Holmes to
places they haven’t gone before.’95 In a CBS promotional video, Doherty
said that a ‘brilliant’, ‘quirky’ character like Sherlock Holmes needs more
than a ‘standard mystery’; Elementary has to ‘tell the kind of stories
you wouldn’t see on a more standard procedurals show, very compli-
cated mysteries, the kind of mysteries that merit Sherlock’s attention’.96
Critical reception, however, indicates that the pilot at least failed to con-
struct a mystery worthy of the Great Detective. Said Sepinwall, ‘if you’ve
watched virtually any of CBS at all in the last decade, you’ll know almost
every beat of the pilot’s story before it happens’.97 Tucker, while gener-
ally favourably inclined to the programme, didn’t think much of the
pilot’s mystery. ‘I saw the bag o’ rice crime solution coming a mile away,
and as I’ve written often, I’m rarely very good at solving mysteries.’98
US dramas should not be judged solely by their pilots since the length of
a series permits programmes to develop and change; nonetheless, con-
fined by the procedural formula, Elementary’s mysteries must usually be
142 Production

variations on the ‘workaday murder’ that characterises most of its ilk.

They can’t be as ‘brilliant’ or ‘quirky’ as those Cumberbatch’s Holmes
faces in Sherlock, a programme much less restricted by generic conven-
tions and designed to appeal to an audience of age and taste-diverse


This chapter has tried to account for the disparities in Sherlock’s and Ele-
mentary’s national prominence and audience share through examining
the institutional roles they play in their respective broadcasting systems.
I have considered five factors:

1) BBC1 and CBS audience shares: the continued dominance of UK

free-to-air channels relative to the continued decline of the US net-
works means that a BBC1 peaktime programme will attract a larger
audience share than a CBS primetime programme.
2) Percentage of drama in network broadcast schedules: drama is a spe-
cial item on the menu in the United Kingdom but the bulk of the
diet in the United States.
3) Branding: the BBC promotion of ‘Original British Drama’ augments
Sherlock’s singular status; the CBS emphasis on the procedural renders
Elementary business as usual.
4) Scheduling: In the pre- or just post-watershed slot, Sherlock is
intended for an age-diverse audience, whereas in the 10 p.m. slot,
Elementary targets a mature audience, including viewers over 55.
Sherlock’s scheduling on a Sunday and latterly during the Christmas
season makes it a national event; Elementary’s scheduling on the
competitive Thursday night opposite Scandal makes conformation
to CBS’s branding around procedurals even more important and the
programme less special.
5) Generic conventions: despite its Sherlock Holmes branding, Elemen-
tary must respect the strictures of the procedural formula to satisfy
the CBS core audience; Sherlock’s generic hybridity is designed to
appeal to a wider range of viewers.

While Sherlock has more value to the BBC than Elementary has to CBS,
given the persistent differences in the two national broadcasting sys-
tems and the institutional roles the two programmes must play, Sherlock
is perfectly suited to BBC1 and Elementary to CBS. The special versus rou-
tine status of drama, together with differences in branding, scheduling
Roberta Pearson 143

and generic conventions, encourage the former’s audiences to expect

something completely different, a distinctive programme viewed at a
special time of the year and the latter’s audience to expect something
completely familiar, a standard programme viewed on a weekly basis.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Evans, Matt Hills, Michele Hilmes, Catherine Johnson
and Máire Messenger Davies for their helpful suggestions for and comments on
this chapter.
1. Tony Hall, ‘BBC’s Director General Tony Hall Explains Why Moving
BBC Three Online Will “Help Deliver Great Shows Like Sherlock” ’,
6 March 2014,
2. John Plunkett and Jason Deans, ‘Saving BBC3 “Would Have Meant Cutting
Funds for Dramas Such as Sherlock” ’, The Guardian, 7 March 2014, http://
-dramas-sherlock; Paul Blanchard, ‘BBC3 Axed . . . To Save Sherlock’, The
Huffington Post, 5 March 2014,
3. Sean O’ Neal, ‘CBS Drama Showrunners Panel at TCA: CBS Shows Just How
Seriously It’s Started Taking Its Dramas’, A.V. Club, 15 January 2014, http://
4. O’Neal, ‘CBS Drama Showrunners Panel at TCA’.
5. Paul Jones, ‘Sherlock Is Most Watched BBC Drama Series for Over a Decade’,
RadioTimes, 22 January 2014,
6. Amanda Kondolojy, ‘TV Ratings Thursday: “Grey’s Anatomy” & “Scandal”
Return Up, “Big Bang Theory” Steady With Last Year + Premieres for “Ele-
mentary” & “Last Resort” ’, TV by the Numbers, 28 September 2012, http://
7. David Lister, ‘Sherlock Has Succeeded in Bringing Back “Appointment Tele-
vision”, but the BBC Shouldn’t Spoil It by Patronising Audiences’, The Inde-
pendent, 17 January 2014,
8. This disparity is also reflected in academic research. As far as I know, this
is the first scholarly essay on Elementary but Sherlock has already attracted
considerable academic attention. Two edited collections on Holmes include
essays on Sherlock: Sherlock Holmes for the 21st Century: Essays on New Adap-
tations, ed. Lynnette Porter (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012) and Sherlock
Holmes and Conan Doyle: Multi-Media Afterlives, eds. Sabine Vanacker and
Catherine Wynne (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). One edited col-
lection focuses entirely on Sherlock: Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom: Essays
144 Production

on the BBC Series, eds. Kristina Busse and Louisa Stein (Jefferson, NC:
McFarland, 2012). Matt Hills is preparing Sherlock: Detecting Quality TV for
I.B. Tauris and there is probably other material forthcoming.
9. For example, Zack Handlen argues that ‘Elementary is a fundamentally bet-
ter series’, but considers this a ‘shocking’ assertion in light of the two
shows’ ‘relative positions in the pop culture zeitgeist’ (‘It’s Elementary,
Sherlock: How the CBS Procedural Surpassed the BBC Drama’, A.V. Club,
20 January, 2014,
10. Tim Goodman, ‘Sherlock: TV Review’, The Hollywood Reporter, 3 Jan-
uary 2014,
11. Logan Hill, ‘How “Sherlock” Made Holmes Sexy Again’, Rolling Stone, 24 Jan-
uary 2014,
12. Roberta Pearson, ‘ “Good Old Index”; or The Mystery of the Infinite Archive’,
in Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom, eds. Busse and Stein, 150–164. See also
Matt Hills’ chapter in this book for a discussion of Sherlock’s fan service.
13. Elke Weissmann, Transnational Television Drama: Special Relations and Mutual
Influence between the US and the UK (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012),
14. Ibid.,10. Trisha Dunleavy discusses the different shaping of drama by the two
countries’ broadcasting systems from both an historical and a contemporary
perspective. See Television Drama: Form, Agency and Innovation (Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 23–28; 205–210.
15. BBC, ‘Mission and Values’, 21 December 2011,
16. Elizabeth Evans and Paul McDonald, ‘Online Distribution of Film and Tele-
vision in the UK: Behavior, Taste, and Value’, in Connected Viewing: Selling,
Streaming, & Sharing Media in the Digital Age, eds. Jennifer Holt and Kevin
Sanson (New York: Routledge, 2014), 162.
17. For more on this see ibid., 169.
18. John Plunkett, ‘BBC1 and Channel 5 Increase Their Audience Share in 2012’,
The Guardian, 10 January 2013,
19. Frazier Moore, ‘CBS Scores Big Weekly Win in Prime-TV Ratings’, The Big
Story, 15 January 2013,
20. Ofcom, ‘PSB Report 2013 – Information pack’, August 2013, 55, http://
21. For the complete 2013–2014 schedule see ‘2013–14 United States
network Television Schedule’, Wikipedia,
22. Sylvia Harvey, ‘Ofcom’s First Year and Neoliberalism’s Blind Spot’, Screen 47,
no. 1 (2006), 97. Harvey quotes the Communications Act 2003, clause 264,
(6), (b), (e), (f) and (h).
23. Department of Culture, Media and Sport, ‘Review of the BBC’s Royal Charter:
A Strong BBC, Independent from Government’, March 2005, 28.
Roberta Pearson 145

24. Steven Barnett, ‘A Familiar Assault on the BBC: A Response to David

Graham’s Report for the Adam Smith Institute’, Our Kingdom: Power & Liberty
in Britain, 13 August 2010,
25. BBC News, ‘Television Licence Fee to Be Frozen for Next Six Years’, 20 Octo-
ber 2010,
26. Caitlin Moran, ‘A Study in Pink Review’, http://www.benedictcumberbatch.
27. Catherine Johnson, Branding Television (London: Routledge, 2012), 85.
28. Department for Culture, Media and Sport, ‘Review of the BBC’s Royal
Charter’, 27–28.
29. Ibid., 29.
30. BBC News, ‘BBC Told to Improve Peak-Time Drama and Current
Affairs’, 11 December 2013,
31. Tony Hall, Speech to the Voice of the Listener & Viewer Confer-
ence, 27 November 2013,
32. Kelby McNally, ‘Sherlock Holmes Becomes Most Watched Drama on the BBC
in More Than A Decade’, Express, 22 January 2014,
33. Barnaby Walter, ‘Major New Shows for Autumn and Christmas Unveiled
in BBC “Original British Drama” Trailer’, The Edge, 6 September
34. Meredith Danner, ‘New BBC Trailer Teases Upcoming British Dramas,
“Sherlock” season 3’, AXS Entertainment, 1 September 2013, http://www
35. John Ellis, ‘Scheduling: The Last Creative Act in Television?’, Media, Culture
& Society 22 (2000), 33.
36. Ibid., 36.
37. Ibid., 27.
38. BBC, ‘Editorial Guidelines: Television Scheduling and the Watershed’, http://
39. ‘Sherlock Nudity before the Watershed Shocks Viewers’, The Tele-
graph, 3 January 2012,
40. Stuart Jeffries, ‘ “There Is a Clue Everybody’s Missed”: Sherlock Writer
Steven Moffat Interviewed’, The Guardian, 20 January 2012, http://www
41. Tom Steward, ‘Holmes in the Small Screen: The Television Contexts of
Sherlock’, in Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom, eds. Busse and Stein, 137.
146 Production

42. Harry Mount, ‘Why the Riveting Sherlock Holmes Stories Have Endured’,
The Telegraph, 26 July 2010,
43. Steward, ‘Holmes in the Small Screen’, 143. Steward ignores the fact that the
second episode of the first series aired at 8.30 p.m.
44. Ellis, ‘Scheduling’, 27.
45. ‘Sherlock Holmes: Get Three Free Books’, RadioTimes, 21 December 2013–3
January 2014, 58.
46. Steven Moffat, ‘The Great Detective’, RadioTimes, 21 December 2013–3
January 2014, 32–34.
47. John Hall, ‘Sherlock Could Be Back in Time for Christmas as
BBC Bosses Urge Producers to Fast Track New Episodes’, The Daily
Mail, 13 January 2013,
48. Maureen Ryan, ‘ “Elementary” Review, “Vegas” Review And “Made In Jersey”
Review: The Pleasures And Pains Of CBS’ New Dramas’, The Huffington
Post, 25 September 2012,
49. ‘CBS America’s Most Watched Network Promo 2013’,
50. Michael Curtin and Jane Shattuc, The American Television Industry
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 65.
51. Johnson, Branding Television, 172.
52. Tim Goodman, ‘When TV Brands Go Off Brand’, The Hollywood Reporter,
23 November 2010,
53. Curtin and Shattuc, The American Television Industry, 65.
54. Ibid.
55. Elizabeth Nolan Brown, ‘54 Is the New 49, says CBS’, AARP Blog, 31 August
56. Curtin and Shattuc, The American Television Industry, 66.
57. Jason Mittell, Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American
Culture (London: Routledge, 2004), xii.
58. Steven Zeitchik, ‘Fall TV Preview: The Sherlock Holmes of “Elementary” Is
on the Trail of a New Idea’, 8 September 2012,
59. Tim Goodman, ‘Elementary: TV Review’, The Hollywood Reporter, 19 September
60. Alan Sepinwall, ‘Review: “Elementary” Makes Sherlock Holmes a Part of the
CBS Brand’, Hitfix, 26 September 2012,
61. Andy Lewis, ‘Fall TV Pilot Preview: CBS’ “Elementary” ’, The Hollywood
Reporter, 10 July 2012,
Roberta Pearson 147

62. Ken Tucker, ‘ “Elementary” Premiere Review: This Sherlock Looks Like a
Sure Hit but Is It Good Holmes?’, Entertainment Weekly, 27 September
63. Amber Humphrey, ‘Bringing Sherlock Holmes into the 21st Century’, Film
School Rejects, 9 November 2012,
64. Ryan, ‘ “Elementary” Review’.
65. Sepinwall, ‘Review: “Elementary” ’.
66. Curtin and Shattuc, The American Television Industry, 60.
67. Ibid., 6.
68. Federal Communications Commission, ‘Obscene, Indecent and Profane
69. Jason Mittell, Television and American Culture (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2010), 28.
70. Johnson, Branding Television, 26.
71. Curtin and Shattuc, The American Television Industry, 49, 65.
72. Tucker, ‘ “Elementary” premiere review’.
73. Lewis, ‘Fall TV Pilot Preview’.
74. Goodman, ‘When TV Brands Go Off Brand’.
75. Allison Nichols, ‘New fall TV drama: CBS’s “Elementary” ’, 4 September 2012,
AXS Entertainment,
76. Tucker, ‘ “Elementary” Premiere Review’.
77. Steward, ‘Holmes in the Small Screen’, 135.
78. Ibid., 136.
79. Ibid., 137–138.
80. Ibid., 138.
81. Ibid., 143.
82. Ibid., 144, 145.
83. Ibid., 140,141.
84. Elizabeth Evans, ‘Shaping Sherlock: Institutional Practice and the Adaptation
of Character’, Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom, eds. Busse and Stein, 112,
85. Ibid., 115.
86. Paul Rixon, ‘Sherlock: Critical Reception by the Media’, in Sherlock and
Transmedia Fandom, eds. Busse and Stein, 168.
87. CB Harvey, ‘Sherlock’s Webs: What the Detective Remembered from the Doc-
tor about Transmediality’, in Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom, eds. Busse and
Stein, 118–119.
88. Lewis, ‘Fall TV Pilot Preview: CBS’ “Elementary” ’.
89. Matt Webb Mitovich, ‘Fall TV First Impression: CBS’s Elementary Finds a
Holmes in New York City’, TV Line, 5 July 2012,
90. Abbie Bernstein, ‘Interview: Robert Doherty on Elementary Season
2’, AssigmentX, 24 October 2013,
91. Ibid.
148 Production

92. Myles McNutt, ‘Elementary: “The Hound of the Cancer Cells” ’, AV Club,
13 March 2014,
93. Frances Roberts, ‘Elementary Season 2 Episode 18 Review: The Hound of the
Cancer Cells’, Den of Geek, 14 March 2014,
94. Louisa Mellor, ‘Sherlock Series 2 Episode 2: The Hounds of Baskerville
review’, Den of Geek, 8 January, 2012,
95. Zeitchik, ‘Fall TV Preview’.
96. CBS, ‘Elementary: Behind the Scenes’,
97. Sepinwall, ‘Review: “Elementary” ’.
98. Tucker, ‘ “Elementary” Premiere Review’.
Part II
Circulation and Reception
Storyselling and Storykilling:
Discourses of Television Narrative
Matt Hills

Storytelling in the digital age has undoubtedly become a significant

topic of academic debate. What has been dubbed ‘transmedia
storytelling’ involves the extension of franchises’ hyperdiegetic worlds
across media.1 But such extensions have not only traversed media, they
have also moved across and between what can be understood as pro-
duction discourse and fan discourse, with producers aiming to reward
loyal fans via niche transmedia paratexts, even while such fan-oriented
strategies have often remained subtextual or absent in the primary tele-
vision text.2 And while the rise of ‘viewer-created paratexts’ has perhaps
promised a democratisation of media-related meaning-making, such
promise has been far from borne out.3 As Elizabeth Minkel puts it, writ-
ing for the New Statesman’s website: ‘However fluid . . . once-impermeable
fan-creator barriers may appear, television is not actually a democracy.’4
But how might the digital era impact on more than the continua-
tion of narratives across platforms, and on more than an increased ease
of fannish rewritings? In this chapter, I want to consider how our very
sense of what narrative ‘is’ might need to be reconstructed. I will argue
that the discursive turn – already accepted in relation to genre – needs
to be applied to theorisations of storytelling, meaning that narrative
may no longer be approachable purely as a formal-aesthetic aspect of
‘the text’. Rather, I will suggest that textual accounts of narrative can
be decentred in favour of examining paratextual framings and their dis-
courses. Indeed, this move can be aligned with what Thomas Doherty
has recently dubbed the work of a ‘paratexual cohort’ of media scholars.5
Television narrative has long remained a significant part of
formal-aesthetic textual analysis. Robin Nelson’s TV Drama in Transition

152 Circulation and Reception

considers ‘flexi-narrative’, the ‘fast-cut, segmented, multi narra-

tive . . . ninety second sound and vision byte’, as an objective attribute
of many television dramas.6 And Jason Mittell’s influential article
‘Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television’ similarly
addresses narrative as a quality in television texts, arguing:

Television’s narrative complexity is predicated on specific facets of

storytelling that seem uniquely suited to the series structure that
sets television apart from film and distinguish it from conventional
modes of episodic and serial forms. Narrative complexity is suffi-
ciently widespread and popular that we may consider the 1990s to
the present as the era of television complexity.7

Mittell does not view such narrative forms as determined by the techno-
logical changes of the digital era, instead understanding complex nar-
rative as one possible response to shifts whereby Web 2.0 has ‘enabled
fans to embrace a “collective intelligence” for information, interpreta-
tions, and discussions of complex narratives that invite participatory
engagement’, while ‘orienting paratexts’ have also furnished guides to
complicated narrative worlds.8 It is somewhat ironic that despite cham-
pioning the discursive turn in relation to genre – in the book Genre and
Television published several years before his ‘Narrative Complexity’ arti-
cle – Mittell nevertheless grounds complex television storytelling in an
historically and institutionally specific narrational mode that ‘encour-
ages’ or even ‘necessitates’ fan-like engagement; from such phrases it
is apparent that complex narrative is conceptualised here as an objec-
tive property of television texts – one that audiences respond to (or,
indeed, one requiring a degree of paratextual guidance).9 By contrast,
Mittell argues that discursive practices surrounding texts may differen-
tially activate generic categories. ‘To examine generic discourses, the site
of genre analysis must shift from isolated texts precategorized by their
genre to culturally circulating generic practices that categorize texts.
Discursive formations do not adhere to seemingly clear boundaries, such
as between texts and audiences.’10
The outcome of this move, away from ‘isolated texts’ to circulating
categorisations, is that genres become ‘discursive practices. By regard-
ing genre as a property and a function of discourse, we can examine
the ways in which various forms of communication work to con-
stitute generic definitions, meanings, and values’.11 But if genre can
be reconceptualised as a matter of discursive practices, resulting in a
neo-Foucauldian ‘generic function’, then on what basis can narrative
Matt Hills 153

be exempted from this discursive turn?12 Might we not argue that a

‘narrative function’ is equally relevant to storytelling in the digital
age, and that the increasingly visible online circulation of audience
commentaries testifies to the existence of these discursive practices
of television narrative? For some fan audiences, for instance, elevat-
ing ‘homoerotic subtext’, or ‘not-so subtext’, to the status of narrative
focus means selecting out one thread of polysemic textual material for
communal and discursive prioritisation.13
In Digital Fandom, Paul Booth prefigures the discursive approach to
contemporary television narrative by suggesting that fans compiling
wikis of storytelling information reconfigure textual narratology via
their ‘narractivity’.14 In Booth’s terms (via Seymour Chatman):

‘Kernels’ are those events that are central to the story . . . Satellites,
conversely, are minor story events ‘not crucial . . . [which] can be
deleted without disturbing the logic of the plot’ . . . Importantly,
Chatman does not delineate exactly who outlines this kernel/satellite
distinction. . . . [However, via narractivity] . . . the kernels and satellites
thus become differentiated from each other by audience involve-
ment, not authorial intent.15

This implies that far from merely being encouraged to discuss or

respond to complex narratives, audiences can discursively reframe and
reshape textual material via narrative discourses, shifting subtext to
text, reading through specific characters and relationships, emphasis-
ing narrative (in)coherence, or elevating seriality and continuity into
key storytelling principles. In such a process, the ‘text itself’ does not
become wholly irrelevant – just as with genre, it remains one site among
many where narrative discourse will operate – but neither is it a deter-
minant of narrative activations, that is a sufficient focus in itself for
analyses of storytelling. Hence Booth’s question above as to who out-
lines the kernel/satellite distinction. This hierarchy of story events has
previously been seen as inherent in the text and subsequently narra-
tologically identified by scholars focusing on this isolated text as an
object, yet fans’ narractivity appears to complicate, if not disallow, such
an understanding.
The principle of fan ‘narractivity’, the reframing of narrative by fan-
produced paratexts, can be logically extended to producers and to
television’s press and publicity regimes. Indeed, this has been one of
the major advances in work from the ‘paratextual cohort’: the under-
standing that official paratexts actively seek to frame television texts
154 Circulation and Reception

for audiences, enacting what might be termed official narractivity.

If narrative is (de)valued and made culturally meaningful via discursive
practices, then storytelling in the digital age becomes partly a matter
of storyselling – how do producers attempt to promote ‘their’ stories in
a crowded marketplace? – and potentially also a matter of transmedia
storykilling, where audience-led or critic-led narractivity, online and
offline, can contest official narrative discourses, potentially even leading
to a show’s demise.
In what follows, I will focus on two case studies: Torchwood (2006–
present) and Sherlock (2010–present), BBC shows that have enjoyed
distinct cultural careers. In the first case, BBC Wales’ Torchwood, a spin-
off from Russell T Davies’s reimagined Doctor Who (2005–present), found
its publicity/production discourses at odds with fan and journalistic
discourses from series one onwards. This divergence in discourses of nar-
rative culminated in a highly critical reception for Torchwood: Miracle
Day (BBC/Starz, 2011). Torchwood’s cultural life across four seasons was
characterised by multiple narrative discourses being in play, with rival
activations often coming into conflict, arguably leading to a ‘public dis-
course’ in the United Kingdom where the show’s value as a brand was
called into question.16 The vocal presence of fan and journalistic critique
contributed to a situation where Torchwood, though never officially can-
celled, is in an indefinite hiatus.17 Here, I will address a range of sources,
covering commercial fan magazines such as SFX, niche fan publications
and the national broadsheet press, particularly in the form of ‘person-
ality’ reviewers like Charlie Brooker (whose attacks on Torchwood were
dialogically countered by some fans). My aim is not to map all UK press
and fan coverage (which would be an impossibly huge and problem-
atic task in any case), but rather to focus on moments of offline/online
response to Torchwood’s various reinventions which can be seen as symp-
tomatic of meaning-making, storytelling struggles between producers
and critics/fans. This includes considering specialist magazines and
websites, but I have focused less on tabloid coverage in this instance.18
I will draw on the provocative binary of ‘transformational’ and
‘affirmational’ fan responses, retooling these categorisations and relat-
ing them to the circulation of narrative discourses rather than fan
practices per se.19 In my use, then, transformational narrative discourses
refute, contest or otherwise re-inflect official narractivity, in which
showrunners, brand managers and/or press officers aim to activate spe-
cific narrative attributes for television shows. By contrast, affirmational
narractivity and narrative discourse occurs where official PR/industry
labour and public discourse coincide, the implication being that indus-
trial paratexts have proven to be culturally powerful in such instances.
Matt Hills 155

I will argue that Sherlock series one enjoyed a significant convergence

between official and tabloid/broadsheet discourses of narrative, with
producers and television critics’ narractivity being largely (though not
wholly) aligned. It was only by the time of series three of Sherlock – when
producers appeared to be even more directly aligning themselves with
fan-led focalisations of the Sherlock-John relationship, while officially
exnominating any such development – that accusations of ‘fan ser-
vice’ and ‘self-indulgence’ in the UK broadsheet press began to critically
oppose the show’s official narractivity. By contrast, tabloid coverage
either remained highly celebratory, as in The Mirror, for example, or
offered up reductive contrasts between ‘fan’ responses and those of
‘the critics’ (reinforcing divisions between amateurs and professionals),
as in The Express.20 Somewhat idiosyncratically, meanwhile, The Mail
pursued unusually politicised readings of series three, seeking to symbol-
ically attack the BBC itself.21 Unlike Torchwood, then, Sherlock has come
rather later to specific press discourses of storykilling. Elizabeth Minkel
has argued that, in the UK press reception of series three, ‘newspapers
seemed to be hunting for controversy, publishing positive reviews and
then countering them with takedown pieces, highlighting the most
polarizing voices and muting more nuanced views. They do that with
everything these days, you say. They’re just looking for clicks’.22
But this online click-baiting was concentrated far more in broad-
sheet reviewing practices, as I will go on to demonstrate, suggesting
that Sherlock’s cultural status as a flagship public service television show
made it an especially effective vehicle for tussles over cultural capital.
Its established value as a brand, and its position as event television
and a ratings winner for primetime BBC1 – linked with appreciative
fan discourses and close readings – all nonetheless work to insulate it
from severely critical discourse at present. The cases of Torchwood and
Sherlock, however, both illustrate the circulation and importance of mul-
tiple discursive practices of narrative in the Web 2.0 arena. My emphasis
on UK reception arises quite simply due to the fact that each show is a
BBC programme, and I have sought to exclude discourse variation linked
to transnational (re)interpretations, as this really constitutes a separate
topic in its own right.

Torchwood: From ‘jarring’ to ‘padding’

The initial 2005 BBC press release for Torchwood gave the show a pitch-
style identity of ‘The X Files [1993–2002] meets This Life [1996–1997]’,
promising a show that would be ‘dark, wild and sexy’ while also working
as a ‘sci-fi paranoid thriller’.23 The programme’s production discourse
156 Circulation and Reception

worked to disown this ‘X Files meets This Life’ tag in pre-transmission

publicity in 2006, however, instead stressing that Torchwood ‘was its own
beast’.24 And as a ‘post-watershed, stand-alone’ BBC3 series, Torchwood
was clearly aimed at an ‘adult’ audience in comparison with Doc-
tor Who’s conceptualisation as a mainstream/family primetime BBC1
show.25 Torchwood was niche from the outset, yet in early broadsheet
coverage – for example, Charlie Brooker’s October 2006 ‘Screen Burn’
commentary in The Guardian – the show was positioned as something
of a puzzle:

[I]t’s not really clear who it’s aimed at. It contains swearing, blood and
sex, yet still somehow feels like a children’s programme. Thirteen-
year-olds should love it; anyone else is likely to be more than a little
confused. Which isn’t to say Torchwood is bad. Just bewildering. And
very, very silly.26

Rather than interpreting Torchwood as a narrative designed for the

youth-oriented BBC3’s core audience, Brooker instead implied that the
storylines and execution were adolescent, combining childish simplicity
akin to Scooby Doo’s format with ‘adult’ content, for instance, depicting
a security guard masturbating in ‘Day One’ (1:2).27 By December 2006
Brooker had awarded his playful ‘Screen Burn’ accolade for ‘the Year’s
Most Jarring Show’ to Torchwood, suggesting that it

somehow managed to feel like both a multi-coloured children’s show

and a heaving sex-and-gore bodice-ripper at the same time. The con-
stant clash of mutually-incongruous tones meant watching it felt like
stumbling across a hitherto secret episode of Postman Pat in which
Pat runs down 15 villagers while masturbating at the wheel of his
van. Interesting, but possibly aimed at madmen.28

Fan-oriented publications such as Stephen James Walker’s Inside the Hub

engaged in direct dialogue with Brooker’s commentary, suggesting that
Torchwood was a victim of anti-telefantasy prejudice: ‘[T]he only way this
criticism really makes any sort of sense is if one takes the view that there
is something inherently juvenile or childish about TV science-fiction,
and that presenting it in an adult context is thus bound to produce
an incongruity’.29 But Walker’s attempt to reorient the show’s narra-
tives was restricted to small press circulation, occurring in a publication
target-marketed to fandom, whereas Charlie Brooker’s work formed part
of a national television culture. Says Paul Rixon,
Matt Hills 157

[C]ritics writing for the national papers are linked to the national
community; they are positioned, culturally, as ‘public’ critics, produc-
ing . . . a public discourse on television. Thus they are still able to play
an important social . . . role for the reader, a way of bonding readers
together into a shared (televisual) culture.30

In fact, Brooker’s popularity as a ranting, comedic television critic placed

him as less of a national, serious journalist embodying cultural capital
(in the mode of Mark Lawson, say) and more as a part of a new wave
of television journalists, interested in entertaining and provoking read-
ers rather than reproducing ‘dominant values’ associated with ‘quality’
British television.31 Furthermore, as a broadsheet journalist, Brooker’s
work here represents a part of just one aspect of Torchwood’s ‘public dis-
course’ (with the sum total of this discourse remaining impossible to
access and frame in scholarly terms, given that it could potentially incor-
porate all relevant online commentaries from all sources). But Brooker’s
writing nevertheless represented a provocation that fan-historians such
as Walker felt duty-bound to contest. Ironically, Brooker’s demographic
of Guardian readers was likely to coincide with Torchwood’s target audi-
ence, making his critical, transformational discourse – and apparent
refusal to recognise Torchwood as progressive rather than as merely ‘jar-
ring’ in its representation of bisexuality – problematic for the series’
public discourse.32
The show’s head writer and co-producer on series one and two, Chris
Chibnall, recounts reading the UK press after the show’s launch:

After the first Torchwood went out, I had a look at a couple of reviews –
of Russell’s episode – and I just thought, ‘I don’t agree . . . . ’ That was
the point where I thought, ‘You’re not going to gain anything from
reading this stuff”. If they’re going to be like that about Russell, who
is a really extraordinary writer and this is . . . years ago when I had far
fewer credits – I thought, Okay, I’m going to be sniper-fire.33

The chosen metaphor is rather telling, positioning the production

discourse of Chibnall et al. as a target for journalistic aggression, if
not symbolic warfare. Russell T Davies has described Torchwood as a
‘very easily budgeted format show for BBC3’, with its formatting –
for example, repeated elements such as the SUV and the Hub – being
at least partly dictated by budgetary concerns.34 However, rather than
responding to Torchwood’s early narratives as a matter of BBC3 bud-
geting, Charlie Brooker’s narractivity instead positions the SUV and
158 Circulation and Reception

the Hub as straightforwardly absurdist. And rather than linking the

show’s attempt to normalise fluid sexual identity to creator Russell T
Davies’s ‘author function’, Brooker plays this element for laughs, sug-
gesting that the Torchwood team might form ‘a humping great daisy
chain any moment’.35 The show’s institutional and authorial frames are
thus decontextualised and depoliticised, transformed into pretexts for
Torchwood was rarely far from controversy during the course of its
run. By the time of series three’s miniseries/serial Children of Earth
(2009), the programme had been reformatted as a BBC1 primetime SF-
political thriller.36 Davies explained the change from a BBC3 programme
into a BBC2 show, and then a BBC1 serial, as follows: ‘In many ways,
Torchwood was designed as a digital weapon. It’s kind of multi-purpose,
multi-adaptable, shape-shifting weapon that can become anything’.37
If Chibnall felt like the target of reviewers’ ‘sniper-fire’ in 2006, by
2009 – riding high on the success of Children of Earth – Davies colour-
fully asserts that Torchwood itself is a ‘weapon’ capable of being deployed
in different television industry contexts. But even while Children of
Earth’s run of five episodes garnered widespread critical acclaim, such
affirmational discourses were counterpointed by an emergent discursive
struggle between production discourse and modes of fan discourse.38
Season three had killed off a character, Ianto Jones (Gareth David Lloyd)
who was a fan favourite and part of Jack-Ianto (or Janto) ‘shipping’, that
is, fan readings and writings focused on the relationship between Cap-
tain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Ianto Jones. Interviewed by
US magazine Entertainment Weekly, Russell T Davies was asked about this
fan ‘backlash’:

It’s not particularly a backlash. What’s actually happening is, well,

nothing really to be honest. It’s a few people posting online and get-
ting fans upset. Which is marvelous. It just goes to prove how much
they love the character and the actor. People often say, ‘Fans have got
their knives out!’ They haven’t got any knives. I haven’t been stabbed.
Nothing’s happened. It’s simply a few people typing. I’m glad they’re
typing because they’re that involved. But if you can’t handle drama
you shouldn’t watch it. Find something else.39

Davies’s response here could be construed as insensitive to fan discourse,

but it also strongly asserts his distinct position as a media professional,
and more than that, as someone placed in a position of power within the
television industry. He is notably keen to return discussion to the fact
that ‘[w]e were the number one show for five nights running [in the UK],
Matt Hills 159

which was amazing’, rather than dwelling on discursive conflict with

areas of Torchwood fandom.40 Instead, Davies attempts what discourse
analyst Norman Fairclough calls ‘non-modalized assertion’.41 That is, he
non-dialogically asserts that fan complaints are in fact ‘marvelous’ while
refuting and refusing any other (modalised) possibility, since complaints
can supposedly be seen as evidence of deep fan involvement and love
for the character/actor. And if fans’ transformational narractivity evades
this assertion, then Davies simply negates the fact: fans whose behaviour
doesn’t correspond to his non-dialogic characterisation should ‘find
something else’ to do. As such, his Entertainment Weekly interview is
an exercise in seeking to close down transformational fan discourse,
attempting to shift oppositional narractivity into an affirmational mode
as ‘marvelous’ fannish involvement.
But if Torchwood’s first few series were periodically subject to
transformational discourse from critics and fans alike, Torchwood: Miracle
Day, a US–UK co-production between the BBC and premium cable
channel Starz attracted even more widespread criticism. Despite being
promoted as ‘quintessentially a Russell T Davies science fiction’, this pro-
duction discourse of a narrative that fused epic ‘enormous events’ with
‘personal, often quite domestic’ perspectives, relying on Davies’s author
function, was not widely and affirmationally recirculated.42 Instead,
commercial fan magazines and websites accused the ten-part fourth
season of lacking narrative pace and development. For example, SFX’s
review of ‘Rendition’ (4:2) noted:

[I]t’s worrying, just two episodes in, [that] the series already seems to
[be] showing signs of padding. The entire plotline with Jack, Gwen
and Rex on the plane was, basically, an extended excuse for them
not to arrive in the US before all the necessary shenanigans with the
CIA had been sorted out.43

And by the time of episode six, io9 joined the fray:

The biggest criticism of Torchwood: Miracle Day, now that we’re more
than halfway through, has been its slow pacing. And after last night’s
clogged drain of an episode, it’s hard not to feel like that’s a valid
critique. As long as Miracle Day was raising fascinating issues about
politics, [and] society . . . it was easier to ignore the fact that the story
was moving somewhat glacially.44

Writing in the edited collection Torchwood Declassified, Benjamin Derhy

surveys fan responses to the fourth series, examining the Torchwood
160 Circulation and Reception

Forum, Starz Forum and responses to Torchwood: Miracle Day writer

Jane Espenson’s BBC Blog entry and the series’ IMDb presence. Derhy
suggests that most fan complaints concerned ‘slow plot develop-
ment . . . disjointed storytelling and the lack of realism over details’.45 But
primarily, it was again Miracle Day’s slow pacing that was ‘bashed by the
show’s fan base, judging it had “been dragged on like a half dead dog.”
“Jack Bauer would have had this wrapped up in a day” several argued’.46
Similarly, Derhy notes that 71 per cent of the 87 fans who commented
on Espenson’s blog ‘were negative towards the writers and the series
in general’, while the show’s IMDb entry attracted ‘strikingly simi-
lar results’, as once again ‘71 per cent of fans were . . . disenchanted’.47
Where the forums were concerned, Derhy discerned two camps –
‘purists’ who disliked Miracle Day for failing to represent ‘authentic’
Torchwood, and ‘allegiants’, who would support the show no matter
what, but who were nonetheless ‘greatly outnumbered’.48
Derhy’s conclusion is that having a dedicated ‘cult’ fan following
could not insulate Torchwood’s US–UK reimagining from rampant criti-
cism, or what I’m terming transformational discourse. Instead, he argues
that ‘cult programmes are as vulnerable as any other show’ to being sub-
jected to brand-damaging negative fan commentary and press critique.49
What can be thought of as storykilling audience and critical discourse
gathered pace around Miracle Day, with Russell T Davies’s silence in the
PR/paratextual game being observed by some fans.50 Likewise, Lynnette
Porter’s analysis of Miracle Day’s promotion on Twitter points out that

as criticism for Miracle Day mounted, [Jane] Espenson became the

only continuing online presence and fan contact, especially for fans
in the UK . . . [However,] published [UK press interviews] . . . are not as
spontaneous as Espenson’s tweets, and they seem to promote the pro-
duction rather than reach out to fans and make her seem ‘one of

With an initial burst of official publicity fading away across Miracle

Day’s run, this meant that while audience and critical discourses of
‘padding’ and ‘glacially’ slow pace multiplied, there were relatively few
significant affirmational discourses contesting these narrative activa-
tions or storykilling positions. Russell T Davies and John Barrowman
contributed iTunes introductions, with the showrunner referring to the
series’ finale as ‘big, and . . . epic, and it doesn’t disappoint, I swear’.52
But these paratextual framings felt strongly akin to commercial self-
promotion, maintaining a relentlessly upbeat tone that made their
Matt Hills 161

storyselling character far too overtly evident. Consequently, these brief

intros – with their promise of episodes ‘packed full of action’, and their
exhortations to viewers such as ‘don’t miss it!’ – were distanced from the
‘aura’ and aesthetic legitimation of many bonus features.53 As such, the
iTunes intros provided a highly sketchy and under-developed platform
from which to defend Miracle Day’s narrative pacing.
I was blogging Miracle Day for Antenna, and devoted an entry
to responding to io9’s charge of ‘slow pacing’, pondering whether
there was a disconnect between producers’ and fans’ discourses of
genre rather than narrative.54 As Rick Altman has said, ‘[V]ariations
in generic . . . evaluation . . . usually derive from differences in discursive
situation’.55 In this instance, fans appeared to be expecting a monster-
led SF romp, while producers had structured Miracle Day as a thriller,
premised on what Lars Ole Sauerberg calls

concealment and protraction: withholding crucial narrative infor-

mation (who’s behind the Miracle? Why?), and ‘stretching an issue
and its result as much as may be tolerated’ . . . . There are two
ways of achieving protraction: prolongation and shift . . . . As exam-
ples, Sauerberg refers to a countdown (prolongation) and a flashback
that changes the story’s setting (shift) . . . . In short, Miracle Day is
placed within a genre which hinges on not giving away key narrative
information until . . . the closing scenes.56

This sense of the thriller genre hinges on stretching a storyline ‘as much
as may be tolerated’, of course. And as became apparent with regards to
narrative ‘padding’, there was precious little agreement between many
audiences and the show’s producers on where the line indicating ‘as
much [narrative deferral or stretching] as may be tolerated’ actually fell.
Torchwood was seemingly expected to be faster-paced science fiction first
and foremost by its established fans, whereas Miracle Day focused more
on its positioning as a stretched-out medico-political thriller, despite
integrating a science-fictional novum – but not an extraterrestrial, alien
force – into its set-up. Production uncertainty over creative choices that
were made is testified to by Russell T Davies’s DVD commentary for ‘The
New World’ (4:1), while the dominance of transformational, storykilling
discourses can be seen in the unusual tenor of Chris Chibnall’s even-
tual post-Miracle Day interview comments. Davies states that ‘one of the
biggest risks’ when storylining series four lay in downplaying any alien
presence, musing: ‘I kind of thought “do you miss aliens in this?” I do
slightly’.57 This DVD commentary was recorded in 2011 after the first
162 Circulation and Reception

two episodes of Miracle Day had been transmitted; in contrast, Chris

Chibnall’s Starburst magazine interview came several years later, when
the dust had settled on Miracle Day’s critical reception:

Whether you like or dislike Torchwood, it has an essence – of madness

and cheekiness and sexiness, and fun and darkness . . . – and some-
how it lost a bit of that somewhere in the process. . . . It may just come
back to the fact that one of the great essences of Torchwood was taking
those American tropes and doing them in Wales . . . . Once you put it
in California, it becomes more like other shows.58

Each comment, from the showrunner and the series one and two co-
producer, echoes fan discourses of textual authenticity, suggesting that
Miracle Day lost its ‘Torchwood-ness’ as a result of the US setting or
the lack of major aliens. Ironically, despite Davies’s earlier attempts to
non-dialogically close down fan critique, Miracle Day’s capitulation to
storykilling and transformational discourses comes in the form of major
creatives linked to the show appearing to accept or seriously ponder
these very discourses. Ultimately, production discourse either accepts or
anticipates fan complaints, indicating how publicity strategies can be
over-run by fan, press and fan press critiques.
Unlike Torchwood, whose transmedia (online/press) public discourse
was transformational from the very start, eventually overwhelming offi-
cial publicity and its attempts at positioning the show’s storytelling,
Sherlock enjoyed a highly affirmational response to its opening series.
It is this that I’ll consider next.

Sherlock: From ‘must-see’ to ‘crime-free’

Paul Rixon has traced how Sherlock’s ‘pre-image’, set out in the BBC’s
official press pack preceding the broadcast of series one, was typically
echoed in a range of national press coverage.59 In this instance, narrative
discourses of ‘modernising’ Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon were put into
play by the BBC and reproduced by tabloid and broadsheet journalists.
Harry Mount, writing for The Telegraph, noted that Sherlock was ‘a must-
see for Sunday nights’, and the predominantly positive press response
approved of the show’s modernising gestures.60 Some coverage was more
than merely affirmational, instead reaching exuberant and celebratory
heights, such as Caitlin Moran’s review of ‘A Study in Pink’ (1:1) in The
Times – like Charlie Brooker’s journalism, subsequently republished in
Matt Hills 163

an anthologised format – which positioned Sherlock’s first episode as a

justification for the BBC’s funding.61
Rixon notes some critical series one commentary in The Sunday Express
and The Sunday Times, but these criticisms were relatively marginal. They
focused on the fact that Doyle’s Sherlock was at the cutting edge of
forensics whereas the same could no longer be true for Sherlock’s updat-
ing, and that Sherlock’s representation of London seemed tailored to a
US market rather than depicting the city ‘Londoners know’.62 In these
reviews, Sherlock cannot ever be faithful to the spirit of Arthur Conan
Doyle, as suggested in official paratexts, due to changes in the status
and professional police use of forensics.63 And the show’s narratives are
read as excessively shaped by Sherlock’s US co-production, discursively
installing a degree of Americanisation as an objective narrative attribute.
By the time of Sherlock series three in 2014, however, there is a less
clear affirmational alignment between the show’s official narrative dis-
courses and its press reviews. At a BAFTA preview for ‘His Last Vow’ (3:3),
co-executive producer Steven Moffat reportedly

brushed aside the views of some critics and viewers who found the
opening episode, The Empty Hearse [3:1], too self-referential as it
ran through the ways in which Sherlock might have escaped what
seemed like certain death in his fall from the roof at the end of the
previous series. Moffat said . . . ‘It is not a detective show. It is a show
about a detective’.64

This same formulation, aimed at justifying series three’s increased narra-

tive focus on Sherlock’s relationships (with John and other characters),
is paraphrased by Mark Gatiss in the DVD/Blu-ray extras for series three:
‘It’s a series about a detective, it’s not a detective series. The story of
the week is as nothing compared to the relationship between those two
characters, and their increasingly large family of characters. That’s the
real heart of it, and that’s why it’s a success.’65
This change in the balance of ‘story of the week’ and relationship
elements, especially when compared to production discourses circulat-
ing around series one, also resonates with the series three BBC ‘media
pack’, in which Moffat and Gatiss are interviewed on video.66 Here, the
showrunners discuss wanting to ‘take it [the show] on’ and ‘develop it’
(Gatiss), particularly by exploring the theme of ‘Sherlock Holmes versus
what real life is like’ (Moffat) as well as addressing Sherlock’s character
development: ‘[i]t’s impossible to portray a genius who doesn’t learn’
(Moffat).67 Interviewed in Sheryl Garratt’s set report for The Telegraph
164 Circulation and Reception

Magazine published two days after the BBC Media Pack, on 21 December
2013, Benedict Cumberbatch reinforces series three’s newfound narra-
tive prioritisation of Sherlock’s relationship with John: ‘It always goes
back to their relationship, and that is very much what the first new
episode is all about. There is a mystery in there, but it’s more about
whether they are going to get back together.’68
The media pack and promotional pre-image for series three thus
stressed new elements (Mary Morstan; Charles Augustus Magnussen)
and developments that would enable the diegesis to ‘reassess things’
(Gatiss), along with emphasising the realism of Sherlock’s self-
development and growing relationships.69 However, a number of UK
broadsheet journalists reviewing series three’s opener on 2 and 3 January
2014 immediately diverged from any such narractivity, instead criticis-
ing ‘The Empty Hearse’ (3:1) for excessive ‘fan service’ in The Guardian,
and for alienating the ‘casual viewer’ in The Independent.70 Mark Lawson
cautioned that:

The risk of this approach . . . is that the stories become skewed towards
the smallest audience that any programme has: the obsessives. While
any successful TV drama these days should generate fan fiction,
it cannot afford to become entirely fan fiction itself. Even shows
as successful as . . . Sherlock should be aiming . . . to introduce new

In The Independent, Archie Bland was even more polemical in his defence
of casual viewing, as opposed to Sherlock’s narratives presuming detailed
fan knowledge:

[C]reators have discovered their devoted fans are so expert – and so

bankable – that the concerns of the casual viewer can be dispensed
with altogether. Indeed, there is a variety of fandom that spits on this
complaint, and on any sort of criticism at all. The mark of a devotee
is uncritical studiousness.72

Although Bland offers a hyperbolic pathologisation and othering of

fandom (spitting on his argument; wholly uncritical), the basic ten-
sion here between accessible and self-referential narrative was far from
isolated in press coverage. A more typical journalistic formulation
featured unspecified audiences/critics complaining about series three’s
in-jokes or fan-pleasing, with the writers distancing themselves from
such criticism while simultaneously reporting it as a backdrop to their
Matt Hills 165

own viewpoints. As Serena Davies notes in The Telegraph after ‘His Last
Vow’: ‘Some carp that all these in-jokes are a distraction, that the show
is just too pleased with itself’.73 Lucy Mangan, writing in The Guardian,
similarly observes:

There have been vociferous complaints about the previous two

episodes, their main collective thrusts being that the first . . . had pan-
dered too much to the fans but failed to deliver a truly satisfactory
explanation of Sherlock’s survival of his Reichenbach fall, [whereas]
the second had been too self-indulgent and crime-free in its focus on
Watson’s wedding.74

Each critic goes on to offer a more complex, celebratory view, but their
analysis remains framed by what ‘some’ have been ‘vociferous’ about.
Perhaps surprisingly, even leading fan site Sherlockology – independent
from series producers though perhaps partly co-opted into production
discourse – draws on a related formulation when its preview of ‘His
Last Vow’ notes that the episode’s narrative developments are ‘not what
some have cited as the “fan service” . . . in The Empty Hearse and The
Sign of Three [3:2]’.75 And Zoe Taylor, a letter writer to Radio Times
defending Sherlock’s third series, used the same style of formulation:
‘I know many people complained about the first two episodes of Sherlock
[series three], but surely no one could deny the brilliant pay-off of the
final instalment’.76
In Analysing Discourse, Norman Fairclough argues that this kind of
‘non-specifically (vaguely) attributed’ intertextuality makes its points
more difficult to challenge since they are not precisely linked to iden-
tifiable dialogue between writers. Instead, non-specifically attributed
intertextuality simulates dialogue, in a way.77 Somewhat distinct from
Fairclough’s political examples, however, television journalism covering
Sherlock series three deploys non-specific intertextuality to enable writ-
ers to discursively individuate their own viewpoints from a posited (and
unevidenced) ‘received wisdom’. Rarely do these journalists specify and
precisely reference an opposing view, although Laurie Penny does so
when writing in The New Statesman in defence of Sherlock’s fandom, and
this ‘accentuates the dialogicality’ of her position:78

You can almost hear the wrinkle-nosed whine in Guardian critic Mark
Lawson’s voice when he describes the latest episodes of Sherlock as
‘blog-aware’. . . . Lawson, along with a great many other critics, would
prefer that storytelling remained appropriately hierarchi[c]al – with
166 Circulation and Reception

writers and showrunners from the right backgrounds at the top, and
everybody else watching along quietly and not making a fuss. I beg
to differ.79

The fact that Mark Lawson is singled out as a reactionary antagonist, or

alternatively as providing ‘reasoned suggestion’, perhaps indicates the
cultural capital and professional position that he holds in the journal-
istic field of television criticism.80 Note, though, that even in Penny’s
counter-attack against Lawson’s denigration of ‘fan service’, fans’ narrac-
tivity and associated discourses are not brought directly into her writing,
which instead remains a disagreement between rival professionals.
Sam Wolfson’s ‘His Last Vow’ (3:3) recap for The Guardian’s TV & Radio
Blog was one of the very few places where evidence of audience com-
plaints and complainants was directly offered in broadsheet coverage of
the most recent run of episodes:

This series of Sherlock was supposed to be one for the fans, full of
in-jokes and character trait reversions that only a mother, or a fan-
fic obsessed devotee, could love. Clearly, this has backfired. The fans
were not best pleased. At the end of my last blog [concerning ‘The
Sign of Three’] there were a few hundred comments saying the show
had lost its way – it was too knowing, too comedic and had strayed
too far from the formula.81

However, even here what is taken to represent ‘the fans’ is far more
likely to simply represent the ‘comment culture’ focused around this
one national newspaper’s blog:82 an online ‘filter bubble’ where those of
a shared political persuasion or similar taste culture can be temporar-
ily unified.83 Interpreting such comments as a reaction of ‘the fans’
tout court would be foolhardy, given the range of different fan fac-
tions which can be linked to various platforms and practices (Tumblr,
AO3, LiveJournal, forums and so on). The key difference between
Sam Wolfson’s remarks and those of other television critics is that
Wolfson does at least progress from referring to an imagined or unspec-
ified Sherlock fan audience to citing a partially evidenced Web 2.0
Wolfson’s summary of complaints – especially that series three had
abandoned Sherlock’s formula – is also mirrored in Neela Debnath’s tele-
vision review of ‘His Last Vow’ in The Independent which itself becomes
a commentary on series three:
Matt Hills 167

The Bloody Guardsman would have made a strong and credible

story in itself without being shoehorned around Sherlock’s best man
speech . . . . If Sherlock wants to return to its once dizzying heights of
brilliance, it needs to stick to the mystery and the intrigue. It is a
winning formula and one not to be messed around with.84

But Debnath’s article positions series three’s narratives as transgress-

ing Sherlock’s ‘formula’ for ‘brilliance’.85 While showrunners Moffat and
Gatiss are invested in series three as a development and progression
of the show (and of Sherlock as a genius who learns), this televi-
sion reviewer’s narractivity positions series three as a loss of credible
storytelling and mystery.
There is a pronounced divergence here, to the extent that producers
and critics would appear to be discussing two completely different tele-
vision shows. For Moffat and Gatiss, Sherlock series three demonstrates
character plausibility and creative development, drawing on a legitimat-
ing discourse of television art.86 Yet for complainants such as Wolfson’s
Guardian commenters, The Independent’s Debnath and fellow journalist
Nick Cohen, series three is ‘barely coherent’, deviating from the show’s
‘formula’ and/or that of the Arthur Conan Doyle canon:87

In Conan Doyle’s stories, the crime is everything. In the modern

adaptation it takes third place. The most important task for the writ-
ers is to throw in tense relationships between Holmes and Watson,
Holmes and Mycroft, Holmes and Mycroft and their parents, Watson
and his fiancée . . . . Sub-plots come next, appearing and disappearing
like water in the sand.88

Sherlock’s storytelling is discursively positioned in radically differ-

ent ways here. Far from the producers’ official pre-image being
affirmed, an element of transformational narrative discourse creeps
into some broadsheet and feature commentary around series three.
Yet this transformational discourse often leaves criticism of the series
unattributed or only vaguely specified, as well as distinctly marginalising
fans’ voices. There are notable exceptions to this fan marginalisa-
tion – see, for example, Emily Nussbaum writing in The New Yorker
and Laurie Penny in the New Statesman online – but such interventions
fall outside the UK’s national broadsheet press.89 Writers drawing on,
or writing from the position of, scholar-fandom are also represented
in coverage of Sherlock series three, but in niche online publications
such as Wired’s ‘Underwire’ column and the New Left Project.90 More
168 Circulation and Reception

generally, ‘fan service’ and ‘self-referential’ storytelling became prob-

lems to be addressed by professional television criticism, or objections
made by ‘some’ viewers, whose received wisdom could then be compli-
cated by a professionally individuated critics’ voice. Sherlock’s previously
affirmational narrative discourses are far from being wholly supplanted,
but the notion that series three’s storytelling can be objectively identi-
fied (within fandom, journalism, academia or publicity) is belied by the
widely divergent narractivity outlined here.
By way of conclusion, I want to draw together the threads of my
two case studies. Where critical and fan discourses tend to be broadly
affirmational of promotional meanings then brand value is reinforced,
as was the case for Sherlock’s first series where storyselling discourse
rooted in the show’s official PR pre-image was widely reproduced in UK
press coverage.91 But when discourses of narrative become significantly
transformational as they move across publicity, critical reception and
fan response, then this fragmentation can pose problems for brand man-
agement, potentially threatening the cultural/industrial success or even
the very viability of a television show. I have explored this storykilling
scenario here in relation to Torchwood’s cultural career, where Torchwood:
Miracle Day was significantly critiqued by long-term fans and the press
alike for its lack of narrative pace. I’ve also suggested that Sherlock’s most
recent series complicates the notion of affirmational/transformational
discourses by highlighting that a television series’ public discourse
can also become divided. Problematically, fan discourses were largely
silenced or marginalised within series three’s broadsheet press cover-
age, while critics (sometimes those writing for the same newspaper)
were caught between celebrating and critiquing episodes, utilising ‘non-
specifically . . . attributed’ intertextuality to cite complaints about series
three from ‘some’ viewers.92 By vaguely attributing such complaints –
or drawing on the ‘filter bubble’ of comments threads – television crit-
ics constructed a narrative discourse surrounding Sherlock series three
that was not adequately empirically evidenced, but which they could
nonetheless react against or reinforce as a contestation of the show’s
pre-image in official paratexts.
Rather than objectifying television narrative’s forms, then, and treat-
ing these as objective attributes of an ‘isolated text’, I have extrapolated
from Jason Mittell’s work on television genre, arguing that we need to
focus on the multiple discourses which (re)frame television narratives. Such
discourses ‘narractively’ render narrative meaningful across the range
of (promotional/critical/fan) contexts which go to make up a televi-
sion show’s public discourse. By considering this ‘narrative function’ it
Matt Hills 169

is possible to demonstrate how contemporary television storytelling is

framed by varied discourses of transmedia storyselling (and storykilling)
as it traverses digital culture.

1. See Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture (New York: New York University Press,
2. On this process, see Matt Hills, ‘Torchwood’s Trans-Transmedia: Media tie-ins
Note and Brand “Fanagement” ’, Participations 9, no. 2 (2012), 409–428.
3. Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately (New York: New York University Press,
2010), 143; Matt Hills, ‘Fiske’s “Textual Productivity” and Digital Fandom:
Web 2.0 Democratization Versus Fan Distinction?’, Participations 10, no. 1
(2013), 130–153.
4. Elizabeth Minkel, ‘Mutually Assured Destruction: The Shifting Dynamics
Between Creators and Fans’, The New Statesman online, 10 April 2014, http://
- shifting-dynamics-between-creators-and-fans.
5. Thomas Doherty, ‘The Paratext’s the Thing’, Chronicle of Higher Educa-
tion online, 6 January 2014,
6. Robin Nelson, TV Drama in Transition (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), 24.
7. Jason Mittell, ‘Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television’,
The Velvet Light Trap no. 58 (Fall, 2006), 29.
8. Ibid., 31; Jason Mittell, ‘Serial Orientations: Paratexts and Contemporary
Complex Television’, in (Dis)Orienting Media and Narrative Mazes, eds. Julia
Eckel, Bernd Leiendecker, Daniela Olek and Christine Piepiorka (Bielefeld:
Transcript Verlag, 2013), 165.
9. Jason Mittell, Genre and Television (New York: Routledge, 2004); Mittell,
‘Narrative Complexity’, 38.
10. Mittell, Genre and Television, 13.
11. Ibid., 12 (emphasis in original).
12. Ibid., 15.
13. Ashley D. Polasek, ‘Winning “The Grand Game”: Sherlock and the Fragmen-
tation of Fan Discourse’, in Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom, eds. Louisa Ellen
Stein and Kristina Busse (Jefferson: McFarland, 2012), 53; Roberta Pearson,
‘ “Good Old Index”; or, The Mystery of the Infinite Archive’, in Sherlock and
Transmedia Fandom, eds. Louisa Ellen Stein and Kristina Busse (Jefferson:
McFarland, 2012), 155.
14. Paul Booth, Digital Fandom (New York: Peter Lang, 2010), 104–105.
15. Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), 53–54 quoted in Booth, Digital
Fandom, 91.
16. Paul Rixon, TV Critics and Popular Culture: A History of British Television Criti-
cism (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011), 228; Lynnette Porter, The Doctor Who Fran-
chise: American Influence, Fan Culture and the Spinoffs (Jefferson: McFarland,
2012), 143.
170 Circulation and Reception

17. See, for example, Charlie Brooker, Dawn of the Dumb (London: Faber and
Faber, 2007), 234–236 and 244 [these were originally reviews published in
The Guardian newspaper in 2006].
18. Tabloid responses appear, as far as I can tell, to be consistent with my
findings. For example, Stephen James Walker’s compilation of ‘Press Reac-
tion’ to Torchwood series one and two includes quotations from just The
Metro and The Mirror in terms of tabloid responses. Of these two titles,
The Mirror is highly celebratory of Torchwood at the show’s very begin-
ning, but by the time Jim Shelley reviews episode 1:6 his tone echoes the
mocking of Charlie Brooker’s earlier Guardian journalism. See Jim Shelley
quoted in Stephen James Walker, Inside the Hub (Tolworth: Telos Publishing,
2007), 152.
19. See obsession_inc, ‘Affirmational Fandom vs. Transformational Fandom’,
1 June 2009,; and Pearson,
‘Good Old Index’.
20. See, for example, Josh Wilding, ‘Sherlock Verdict: Stunning Explanation in
The Empty Hearse for How Sherlock Faked His Death Won’t Satisfy Every-
body, but It Works’, The Mirror, 1 January 2014,
tv/tv-reviews/sherlock-season-3-verdict-everything-2979053/; Josh Wilding,
‘Sherlock verdict: His Last Vow was in Many Ways the Best Episode Yet’, The
Mirror, 13 January 2014,
verdict-last-vow-many-3015982; Kelby McNally, ‘Fans Left Unimpressed as
Sherlock Shows his Sensitive Side in The Sign of Three’, The Express,
6 January 2014,
21. Benjamin Poore, ‘Fighting Paper Dragons? The Emergence of Political Ideol-
ogy in Sherlock Series 3’ (paper presented at the New Directions in Sherlock
Symposium, UCL, 11 April 2014).
22. Elizabeth Minkel, ‘Fangirl’, The Millions, 30 January 2014, http://www
23. BBC Press Office, ‘Captain Jack to get his own Series in new Russell T Davies
Drama for BBC THREE’, 17 October 2005,
24. Nick Griffiths, ‘The Torchwood Files’, Radio Times, 21–27 October 2006, 11.
25. BBC Press Office, ‘Captain Jack’.
26. Charlie Brooker, ‘Screen Burn’, 28 October 2006, http://www.theguardian
27. Ibid.
28. Charlie Brooker, ‘Screen Burn’, 16 December 2006, http://www.theguardian
29. Walker, Inside the Hub, 222.
30. Rixon, TV Critics, 229.
31. Ibid., 185–187.
32. On the representation of bisexuality in Torchwood, see Christopher Pullen,
‘ “Love the Coat”: Bisexuality, the Female Gaze and the Romance of Sexual
Politics’, in Illuminating Torchwood, ed. Andrew Ireland (Jefferson: McFarland,
2010), 135–152.
33. J.R. Southall, ‘Interview: Chris Chibnall/Part 1 Torchwood’, 12 February
Matt Hills 171

34. See Darren Scott, ‘Jack’s Back’, Gay Times, August 2011, 45.
35. Michel Foucault, ‘What Is an Author?’, in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul
Rabinow (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), 101–120; see also Craig Haslop,
‘The Shape-Shifter: Fluid Sexuality as Part of Torchwood’s Changing Generic
Matrix and “Cult” Status’, in Torchwood Declassified, ed. Rebecca Williams
(London: I.B. Tauris, 2013), 209–225; Brooker, ‘Screen Burn’, 28 October
36. See Matt Hills, ‘BBC Wales’ Torchwood as TV I, II and III: Changes in
Television Horror’, Cinephile 6, no. 2 (Fall 2010), 23–29.
37. Russell T Davies quoted in Michael Ausiello, ‘ “Torchwood” Boss to Angry
Fans: Go Watch “Supernatural” ’, Entertainment Weekly, 24 July 2009, http://
38. On Children of Earth’s critical acclaim, see Lynnette Porter, Tarnished Heroes,
Charming Villains and Modern Monsters (Jefferson: McFarland, 2010), 239.
For more on this struggle between production and fan discourse, includ-
ing attempted self-policing and factionalism within Torchwood fandom, see
Matt Hills, ‘ “Proper Distance” in the Ethical Positioning of Scholar-Fandoms:
Between Academics’ and Fans’ Moral Economies?’, in Fan Culture: The-
ory/Practice, eds. Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis (Newcastle upon Tyne:
Cambridge Scholars, 2012), 28–32.
39. Ausiello, ‘ “Torchwood” boss’.
40. Ibid.
41. Norman Fairclough, Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research
(London: Routledge, 2003), 46.
42. Jane Tranter quoted in Craig McLean, ‘Captain America’, Radio Times, 9–15
July 2011, 19.
43. Dave Golder, ‘Torchwood: Miracle Day “Rendition” TV REVIEW’,
SFX, 25 July 2011,
44. Charlie Jane Anders, ‘It’s Hard to Deny That Torchwood Is Treading
Water’, io9, 13 August 2011,
45. Benjamin W.L. Derhy, ‘Cult Yet? The “Miracle” of Internationalization’, in
Torchwood Declassified, ed. Rebecca Williams (London: I.B. Tauris, 2013), 56.
46. Ibid.
47. Ibid., 58.
48. Ibid., 59.
49. Ibid., 58.
50. Ibid., 57.
51. Porter, The Doctor Who Franchise, 143.
52. ‘The Blood Line’ (4:10) Intro (Russell T Davies), Torchwood: Miracle Day,
Region 2 DVD Release (2 Entertain, 2011).
53. ‘The End of the Road’ (4:8) Intro (John Barrowman), Torchwood: Miracle Day,
Region 2 DVD Release (2 Entertain, 2011); ‘Immortal Sins’ (4:7) Intro (John
Barrowman), Torchwood: Miracle Day, Region 2 DVD Release (2 Entertain,
2011); Gray, Show Sold Separately, 84.
54. Matt Hills, ‘Torchwood Miracle Day, Episode Six: Stuck in the Mid-
dle?’, Antenna, 19 August 2011,
172 Circulation and Reception

55. Rick Altman, Film/Genre (London: BFI Publishing, 1999), 122.

56. Hills, ‘Torchwood Miracle Day, Episode Six’; Lars Ole Sauerberg, Secret Agents
in Fiction (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1984), 83.
57. ‘The New World’ (4:1) commentary track (Russell T Davies and Julie
Gardner), Torchwood: Miracle Day, Region 2 DVD Release (2 Entertain, 2011).
58. Southall, ‘Interview: Chris Chibnall’.
59. Paul Rixon, ‘Sherlock: Critical Reception by the Media’, in Sherlock and
Transmedia Fandom, eds. Louisa Ellen Stein and Kristina Busse (Jefferson:
McFarland, 2012), 167.
60. Harry Mount, ‘Why the riveting Sherlock Holmes stories have endured’,
The Telegraph, 26 July 2010,
Rixon, ‘Sherlock: Critical Reception’, 174, 170–171.
61. See Caitlin Moran, Moranthology (London: Ebury Press, 2012), 91–93.
62. Rixon, ‘Sherlock: Critical Reception’, 170 and 174.
63. A criticism which is implicitly acknowledged and countered by Steven
Moffat in Guy Adams, Sherlock: The Casebook (London: BBC Books, 2012), 3.
64. Maggie Brown, ‘Sherlock Will Be Back for Fourth Series, Says Producer Steven
Moffat’, The Guardian, 9 January 2014,
65. Mark Gatiss, in ‘Fans, Villains and Speculations’, Extra Feature on Sherlock:
Series Three, Region 2 DVD/Blu-ray Release (BBC Worldwide, 2014).
66. Matt Hills, ‘Sherlock’s Epistemological Economy and the Value of “Fan”
Knowledge: How Producer-Fans Play the (Great) Game of Fandom’, in
Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom, eds. Louisa Ellen Stein and Kristina Busse
(Jefferson: McFarland, 2012), 27–40.
67. BBC Media Centre, ‘Sherlock Returns to BBC One: Interview with Steven
Moffat and Mark Gatiss’, 19 December 2013,
68. In Sheryl Garratt, ‘Case of the Baffling Cliffhanger’, Telegraph Magazine,
21 December 2013, 23.
69. BBC Media Centre, ‘Sherlock Returns’.
70. Mark Lawson, ‘Sherlock and Doctor Who: Beware of Fans Influencing the TV
they love’, The Guardian, 3 January 2014,
influencing-tv; Archie Bland, ‘Doctor Who to Sherlock: TV Franchises Now
Have such Devoted Followings That Casual Viewers Are Alienated’, The Inde-
pendent, 2 January 2014,
71. Lawson, ‘Sherlock and Doctor Who’.
72. Bland, ‘Doctor Who to Sherlock’.
73. Serena Davies, ‘Sherlock, Season 3, Episode 3, Review’, The Daily Tele-
graph, 12 January 2014,
74. Lucy Mangan, ‘Sherlock – TV review’, The Guardian, 12 January 2014,
-lucy- mangan.
75. See Bertha Chin, ‘Sherlockology and Galactica.TV: Fan Sites as Gifts
or Exploited Labor?’, Journal of Transformative Works and Cultures, 15,
Matt Hills 173

513/416; Sherlockology, ‘SHERLOCK S3E3 HIS LAST VOW – ADVANCE
SPOILER-FREE REVIEW’, 9 January 2014,
76. Zoe Taylor, ‘Elementary Success’, Radio Times, 25–31 January 2014, 156.
77. Fairclough, Analysing Discourse, 48.
78. Ibid., 41.
79. Laurie Penny, ‘Sherlock and the Adventure of the Overzealous Fanbase’, The
New Statesman, 12 January 2014,
80. Sam Wolfson, ‘Sherlock Recap: Series Three, Episode Three – His Last Vow’,
The Guardian, 12 January 2014,
-last-vow; see Rixon, TV Critics, 236–237.
81. Wolfson, ‘Sherlock Recap’.
82. Geert Lovink, Networks Without a Cause (Cambridge: Polity, 2011), 50–62.
83. Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You (London:
Penguin, 2012).
84. Neela Debnath, ‘Sherlock “His Last Vow” TV review: A Disappointingly Des-
perate Finale’, The Independent, 12 January 2014, http://www.independent
-disappointingly-desperate-finale-9052641.html. Covering all bases, The
Independent simultaneously offers a counter view, namely that following
‘the bromantic lull of last week’s wedding episode, in which the mystery
plot was half-drowned in sentiment, there was reason to fear Sherlock had
gone soft’, yet ‘His Last Vow’ redeemed the series; Ellen E Jones, ‘Sherlock,
TV review: “Series 3 Finale Delivers the Goods” ’, The Independent, 12 Jan-
uary 2014,
85. Debnath, ‘Sherlock “His Last Vow” ’.
86. Michael Z. Newman and Elana Levine, Legitimating Television: Media Conver-
gence and Cultural Status (New York: Routledge, 2012), 2.
87. Nick Cohen, ‘Infantile, My Dear Watson’, Standpoint, March 2014, http://; Debnath, ‘Sherlock “His Last
Vow” ’.
88. Cohen, ‘Infantile, My Dear Watson’.
89. Emily Nussbaum, ‘Fan Friction’, The New Yorker, 27 January 2014, http://
_television_nussbaum; Penny, ‘Sherlock and the Adventure’.
90. Devon Maloney, ‘Sherlock Isn’t the Fan-Friendly Show You Think It Is’, Wired,
24 January 2014,; Bethan
Jones, ‘Johnlocked: Sherlock, Slash Fiction and the Shaming of Female Fans’,
New Left Project, 18 February 2014,
91. Pearson, ‘Good Old Index’; Rixon, ‘Sherlock: Critical Reception’.
92. Fairclough, Analysing Discourse, 48.
Whistle While You Work: Branding,
Critical Reception and Pixar’s
Production Culture
Richard McCulloch

The sheer quantity of media articles that have been written about Pixar
demonstrate a commonly recurring desire on the part of journalists and
film critics to explain the studio’s track record of critical and commer-
cial successes. Writers have variously justified their coverage in terms
of going in search of the company’s ‘secret’, ‘how they do it’, or ‘what
makes [them] so special’.1 Particularly interesting is the frequency with
which the writers look beyond the studio’s films, and even the key cre-
ative staff that make them, and instead focus on Pixar’s headquarters in
Emeryville, Northern California.2 As William Taylor and Polly LaBarre of
The New York Times succinctly put it in 2006, ‘The secret to the success of
Pixar Animation Studios is its utterly distinctive approach to the work-
place.’3 Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson also hint at this idea in their
introduction to Innovate the Pixar Way, describing the organisation as ‘a
childlike storytelling ‘playground’ . . . a place that enables storytellers to
create tales of friends and foes who share great adventures in enchanting
lands’.4 Note the choice of language here: Pixar is not merely a studio,
company, or group of people, but a place.
In other words, credit for the imaginative narratives of Pixar’s films –
toys coming to life (Toy Story; Toy Story 2; Toy Story 3 [1995–2010]); an
elderly widower attaching balloons to his house and flying to South
America (Up [2009]); a Parisian rat who dreams of becoming a gourmet
chef (Ratatouille [2007]) – is frequently attributed to the company’s cre-
ative production culture. By analysing the representation and mediation
of Emeryville across a range of paratextual materials (primarily critical
reception and DVD bonus features), this chapter argues that coverage
of the studio space both informs, and is informed by, critics’ responses

Richard McCulloch 175

to the studio’s film output. Emeryville acts as a physical space for the
reification of Pixar’s intangible brand values – a nexus point for the con-
ceptions of creativity, fun and innovation that purportedly distinguish
its films from those of its rivals. More broadly, the chapter elucidates the
relationship between on-screen narratives and off-screen spaces within
a brand, focusing in particular on the commodification of a media com-
pany’s production culture and the way in which this process can impact
upon a brand’s cultural value. In doing so, it argues that Pixar’s screen
narratives have frequently come to be understood in relation to the
discursive representation of their production context.

Added value: A note on brands, paratexts and intertexts

While the topic has been studied and discussed in an enormous vari-
ety of ways, academic and journalistic definitions generally see brands
as being closely linked to reputation – as Teemu Moilanen and Seppo
Rainisto put it, a brand is ‘an impression perceived in a client’s mind of
a product or service’.5 According to Celia Lury, brands regularly perform
the role of ‘silent salesmen’ that add ‘value’ to products or services, as
strategists and marketers seek to invest them with ‘character’ or ‘per-
sonality’ that transcends functional properties alone.6 Audiences can
of course enjoy a Pixar film without knowing anything at all about
the company or people behind its production, but production narra-
tives are circulated so readily that they become an integral part of what
Eileen Meehan would term Pixar’s ‘commercial intertext’.7 In relation to
Batman, Meehan argues that such intertexts are comprised of a ‘complex
web of cross references . . . into which we fit ourselves’.8 Very rarely, if
ever, will all of these references be circulating simultaneously in a given
moment of reception, yet their potential for shaping a film’s meaning
or reputation is significant.
In his influential work on paratexts, Jonathan Gray has drawn a link
between advertising and media studies, arguing that ‘hype and sur-
rounding texts’ establish ‘frames and filters through which we look at,
listen to, and interpret the texts that they hype’.9 Adam Arvidsson would
agree, describing brands as ‘not so much [standing in] for products, as
much as [providing] a part of the context in which products are used’.10
Brands and paratexts thus perform a similar function – framing, filtering
meaning, and providing context for the consumption of specific prod-
ucts or services. Accordingly, this chapter locates the Pixar brand within
various forms of paratexts, since it is in these media spaces – between
producer and consumer – where brands can be seen to crystallise.
176 Circulation and Reception

If media publications are so keen to consistently publish articles about

Pixar’s studio space, to what extent do these paratextual stories collec-
tively form a consensus about the company? What exactly it is about the
building, its people and its corporate culture that commands so much
attention? And what role, if any, do these discourses play in laying con-
ditions for the reception of the studio’s films? In order to answer these
questions, it would be useful to begin by interrogating the very idea of
what it means to go ‘behind the scenes’ at a film studio.

Let the right ones in: Privileged consumers and DVD

bonus features

Although physical access to Emeryville is heavily restricted – a point to

which I return below – Pixar frequently invites its audiences inside the
studio through a range of media, especially DVD. As Craig Hight notes,
making-of documentaries (MODs) and other behind-the-scenes features
that provide fans with ‘insider’ information have been staple inclusions
of DVD releases ever since the medium took off in the late-1990s.11
In her work on home cinema cultures, Barbara Klinger argues that such
texts place the viewer in a position of privilege. Privy to a seemingly
‘secret’ world of information, the collector is schooled in detail about
the film production process, creating a ‘cognoscenti’ among them.12
Pixar has consistently nurtured fannish consumption and positive (i.e.
sympathetic) interpretive frameworks by courting privileged individu-
als – journalists, authors, fan bloggers, business executives, etc. – who are
then encouraged to spread the word to their own audiences. Emeryville
is constructed as a space that not only can be occupied (vicariously, if
not physically), but one that rewards audiences for pursuing that kind of
Behind-the-scenes featurettes are by no means a new media phe-
nomenon. Hight, for instance, has likened their function to electronic
press kits, while John Caldwell notes precursory trends in 1940s tele-
vision programming and the emergence of the star system.13 However,
these features have become increasingly important since the late-1990s,
with industry reports suggesting that the consumer proclivity for bonus
features played a key role in the emergence of the DVD as a medium,
a trend that Blu-ray, with its increased storage capacity, capitalises on.14
In their analysis of the Monsters Inc. (2001) DVD, Robert Alan Brookey
and Robert Westerfelhaus discuss what ‘capitalise’ might mean in this
context. They argue that Pixar used MODs to position itself as not
only distinct from Disney at a time of industrial conflict, but as an
Richard McCulloch 177

autonomous creative unit with an emphasis on ‘fun’ and ‘quality’.15

The DVD bonus feature, in other words, is capable of performing a key
role in the establishment of an auteur reputation, with the author in
Pixar’s case shown to be a group rather than a single person. Pixar is of
course not alone in taking advantage of the marketing potential of this
technology, but the studio’s distinct reputation arguably stems from its
consistency in repeating themes, characters, motifs and values across
multiple platforms. Christopher Anderson makes a similar point about
brand coherence in relation to the Disneyland television show (1954–
1958) and the ways in which it presented Disney to 1950s American
audiences. He argues that, by dissecting the animated production pro-
cess and continually illustrating how it works, using examples from the
studio’s own back catalogue, Disneyland positioned itself as an outlet for
commentary on the studio’s films. It encouraged audiences to see con-
tinuities across Disney’s films, to develop an appreciation for the pro-
duction process, and to recognise the studio’s body of work as a ‘unified
product of Walt’s authorial vision’.16 Inviting ‘critical’ analysis in this
way invests the films with a degree of cultural value (positioning them
as worthy objects of study), but on terms that have been forethought (by
providing answers to its own questions). However, in one crucial way,
the relationship between Disney and the Disneyland series differed from
Pixar and its own attempts at producing studio exposés. As discussed
above, Pixar is, for the vast majority of people, an exclusive place that
they will never be allowed to visit, whereas Disneyland existed largely to
encourage audiences to physically travel to the amusement parks.
Importantly, then, despite Pixar’s willingness to allow various groups
of people access to Emeryville to photograph, film, and/or write about
the building and its people, the majority of people’s ‘access’ is vir-
tual. Seeing inside Emeryville is easy, yet this access is almost always
mediated, virtual and entirely on Pixar’s terms. Visiting in situ is a
highly exclusive practice reserved for selected commentators, relevant
film industry insiders, or the occasional school group. The studio space
has thus become subject to what John Urry calls the ‘tourist gaze’ –
an attitude towards the experience of places, spaces and objects that
situates them in opposition to everyday life, and against regulated,
organised work in particular.17 He argues that, although tourist relation-
ships exist in the journey towards a destination and a period of stay
there, tourist consumption is visual above all else.18 Although the pub-
lic is denied access to Emeryville, it is somewhat paradoxically presented
as a space governed by principles of fun and inclusivity that invites the
tourist gaze.
178 Circulation and Reception

Goofing off: Identifying with Pixar’s production culture

Both the American and British media have demonstrated an increas-

ing fascination with Pixar’s Emeryville studio since the company moved
there in 2000, with detailed behind-the-scenes exposés having appeared
in publications such as Variety, Empire, The San Francisco Chronicle, The
Telegraph, The Independent and The New York Times. Such articles are
curiously consistent in both tone and content, a phenomenon self-
consciously remarked upon in one such piece by Sam Leith in The

As a journalist . . . you want to dislike Pixar; or at least find its dark

side. Where’s the story in ‘happy people make brilliant films, get well
paid for it, love their work’? But all the evidence points to that being
the case. [As] much as you tire of hearing about the silver scooters, the
primacy of storytelling, the staggering attention to detail (you hear
stories – one animator spent days watching videotapes of his own
eyeballs) and the fanatical determination to get it right, you cannot
get away from the fact that not only is most of this stuff demonstrably
true, it has given the company an unbroken record of hit movies.
Good hit movies.19

Here, Leith not only acknowledges the constant repetition of the same
stories but also that ‘this stuff’ is precisely the reason why Pixar has
become so successful. The implication is that employees’ use of silver
scooters to transport themselves between offices is an equally important
part of success as hard work and ‘attention to detail’. However accurate
an assertion this may be, the fact remains that the critical consensus that
has built up around Pixar is heavily reliant upon a detailed knowledge
of the studio’s ‘wacky’ production culture, with a particular emphasis on
its unusual ‘childishness’. These stories are repeated across various forms
of media – newspaper articles, television broadcasts, behind-the-scenes
documentaries – and what emerges is a sense of a place that collapses
notions of age, which in turn enables it to create films that connect
with as many people as possible. ‘Normal’ adult behaviour is replaced
with ‘childish’ behaviour, yet always in a way that is controlled and
safe, as demonstrated by one article in the San Francisco Chronicle by
Jessi Hempel:

In most companies, it’s extremely bad form to deck your boss. Not so
at Pixar, where Technical Director Bill Polson clocked the president
Richard McCulloch 179

over the head – many times – shortly after he was hired. His weapon:
long, thin red balloons. His audience: 12 classmates, ranging from
janitors to animators to executives. His motivation: the teachers told
him to.20

Such idiosyncratic behaviour is something that never seems to escape

the attention of outside observers who come to visit Pixar, but it is also
worth noting that the company goes out of its way to bring it to their
attention. The implied address of Pixar’s production narratives is aimed
at an assumed audience of both children and those who would like to be
children. This is of course not unique to Pixar; the Hollywood box office
has long been dominated by what Robin Wood calls ‘Lucas-Spielberg
Syndrome’, which he describes as, ‘films that construct the adult spec-
tator as a child, or, more precisely, as a childish adult, an adult who
would like to be a child’.21 In this vein, Pixar’s promotional paratexts
deliberately and consistently appeal to the childish adult.
One exemplary behind-the-scenes featurette on the Finding Nemo
2-disc DVD shows how the company’s promotional paratexts empha-
sise the ‘childish’ and ‘wacky’ nature of the workplace.22 It begins with
co-directors Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich recording dialogue with
Alexander Gould, the young actor who provides the voice of Nemo, the
film’s eponymous clown fish. When Gould finishes his take and asks,
‘How do you turn my voice into the talking fish on the movie?’ Stanton
offers him a studio tour so that he can ‘see how [they] do it’. However,
the director is soon distracted and led away by a crowd of employees,
leaving Gould to show himself around the building and seek out his
own answers about the making of the movie.
Travelling around the building on roller shoes – mirroring the silver
scooters that employees use – the boy explores various departments,
including story, animation, character design, and lighting and effects.
Pixar employees are consistently shown to be avoiding work where pos-
sible – juggling, playing video game tournaments, eating junk food and
panicking whenever they suspect Stanton may be nearby. Their deliber-
ately histrionic acting is complemented by cartoon aesthetics (music,
sound effects and an iris-out ending), clearly signalling a tongue-in-
cheek approach to the tour, masking its marketing function, and further
downplaying any suggestion that Emeryville is a place of work. Along
the way, Gould is helped by friendly employees who essentially teach
him how to avoid working hard – encouraging him to engage in ‘story
think time’ (i.e. napping), eating cookies and generally ‘goofing off’.23
Of particular significance here is the use of a child as the short film’s
180 Circulation and Reception

point of identification, a device that is replicated across multiple Pixar

DVDs. In a narrative that loosely mirrors Finding Nemo itself, the fea-
turette ultimately makes light of the young boy’s separation from adult
authority figures (Stanton and Unkrich), and depicts Emeryville as hos-
pitable, caring, nurturing and educational. However, Pixar’s appeal is
not limited to children or even the childish adult; the brand seeks to
encompass all age brackets.

Architecture with a plot: Reifying Pixar

Pixar’s Emeryville studio has been described in a variety of laudatory

terms, existing in the eyes of the media as a ‘digital dream factory’, ‘an
incubator for creative minds’, ‘a sprawling playground’, ‘an eclectic cam-
pus of free-spirited artists’, and, in the words of John Lasseter (Chief
Creative Officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation), ‘a home that
reflects how cool [they] are’.24 Labels such as ‘campus’ are used again and
again to refer to the site, evoking images of universities and colleges –
places that strive to be at the cutting edge of scientific, technological,
philosophical and cultural thought. The term ‘dream factory’ is espe-
cially telling, evoking the glamorous reputations of classical Hollywood
studios and hinting at a place that combines efficiency and productiv-
ity with limitless creative possibilities. Having appeared in at least three
separate newspaper articles, in the United States and the United King-
dom, the term neatly captures the peculiar line that Pixar is seen to
tread – between being a serious (and extremely successful) producer of
culturally important films, and, to use Chloe Veltman’s words, ‘behaving
like children’.25
Notice, however, that the above list of descriptions spans different
stages of a person’s life, from incubator, through to playground, campus,
a factory and a home, reflecting the seamlessness with which the Pixar
brand manages to slip between different age brackets; by extension, it is
a brand one never outgrows, while Emeryville is positioned as a space
that nurtures and develops people as well as films. But how do specific
features of the studio play into this idea?
Karen Paik writes in her 2007 book To Infinity and Beyond that the
Emeryville studio space was designed with two goals in mind: to ‘renew
the sense of community that had begun to dissipate in the company’s
piecemeal expansion’, and ‘to make sure that the new space wouldn’t
inadvertently kill the intangible “rough and tumble magic” that had
flourished at [its previous headquarters in] Point Richmond’.26 The sug-
gestion is that Pixar’s renowned creative culture was, at some point in
Richard McCulloch 181

the late-1990s, in danger of disappearing and that a new site was needed
in order to restore or even enhance its effectiveness. This may simply
be public relations rhetoric, but in terms of Pixar’s reputation it is the
story, not its veracity, that is important here; the Emeryville studio space
has consistently been depicted as an indispensible contributor to the
company’s success.
Co-founder and majority shareholder Steve Jobs was reportedly the
most heavily involved executive in a design process intended to fos-
ter community and creativity, so much so that the building and its
grounds are occasionally referred to as ‘Steve’s movie’.27 Architecture
firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson was commissioned to design the building,
which upon completion comprised a 200,000 square foot, two-storey
construction of steel and brick, set amid 15 acres of landscaped grounds.
Designed for 600 employees, master planning was also carried out for
expansion to house over 1,000 employees in the future.28 At the hub
of the building lies a vast atrium, with the wall that houses the main
entrance being comprised entirely of glass and steel. Filled with natural
light, the atrium acts as a point that has to be traversed regularly in order
to get to different parts of the building, housing essential features such
as eateries and restrooms, therefore encouraging employees from differ-
ent departments to run into each other regularly throughout the day.29
As well as forming the core of Pixar’s physical studio space, this area
also serves as a central component of the discourses that surround the
space, and the studio more generally. Almost every single article, inter-
view or DVD feature that takes audiences or readers behind the scenes
at Pixar will either mention the atrium explicitly or use it as a filming
location. Accordingly, this communal space is positioned as the starting
point not only for studio visitors (‘corporeal travellers’, as Urry would
refer to them), but also for anybody interested in finding out about Pixar
and its production culture.30 Employees are routinely shown walking or
riding scooters across this floor space as they go about their business,
and frequent gatherings and company announcements are often shown
to take place in the lobby. The consumer of these ‘behind-the-scenes’
features is thus positioned as a participant in the Pixar community, shar-
ing in the studio’s paper plane throwing competitions, or celebrating as
the opening weekend box-office figures for the latest film release are
announced.31 To employ Zahid Sardar’s analogy of the atrium as Pixar’s
‘town square’, reading about or watching footage from inside Emeryville
is akin to accepting an invitation to become a citizen.32
The insider/outsider dichotomy discussed above becomes most appar-
ent when considering which areas of Emeryville act as recurring motifs
182 Circulation and Reception

for journalists or camera crews visiting the studio. Aside from the atrium
and its adjoining areas (which include a café and a free breakfast cereal
bar), footage is often shot inside employees’ offices, with Lasseter’s
toy-filled shelves providing by far the most common interview back-
drop. Lasseter’s ‘childlike’ behaviour has often been contrasted with
his status as the creative head of Pixar (and, since 2006, Disney too),
serving as the symbolic embodiment of what Pixar represents – the
injection of a child’s sense of creativity and fun into the serious business
of film-making.33
Animator Andrew Gordon’s office also acts as a common stopping
point, but this is no reflection of his status within the company. In fact,
Gordon himself is generally not named, or mentioned only in passing;
it is his office, or rather, one specific part of it, that takes centre stage.
For example, in Jeffrey Young and William Simon’s biography of Steve
Jobs, this space is the only part of Emeryville to be mentioned except the
atrium. As they put it, ‘Off in one corner [of the building] is a waist-high
passageway into the Love Lounge, a stainless-steel lounge for on-the-job
relaxing that embodies the unique spirit of the place.’34
Reports about the Love Lounge speak to the heart of the Pixar
brand. The space is actually an air-conditioning shaft that Gordon (pur-
portedly) ‘discovered’ in his office and subsequently decorated with
furniture, fabrics, photographs and a variety of ‘kitsch’ items before it
eventually became popular among employees (and the media) for its
unusualness. Young and Simon’s implication that the Love Lounge was
intentionally part of the building’s design is thus misleading, but also
telling with regard to how readily they attribute an unusual feature
to Pixar’s creative vision. Their use of the phrase ‘on-the-job relaxing’
illustrates the way in which discourses surrounding Emeryville (and
Pixar more generally) combine vocational words and/or descriptions of
labour with contrasting leisure terminology. I contend that the Love
Lounge features so heavily in reports of Emeryville precisely because
it is seen to embody ‘the unique spirit’ of Pixar – the studio brand in
Just as DVD bonus features can position viewers as inquisitive insid-
ers, the Love Lounge performs a clear marketing function, existing as a
‘hidden’ area of Pixar which itself is normally inaccessible to the public,
waiting to be discovered by skilled explorers. Clearly there is a contra-
diction here, in the sense that images and descriptions of this ‘secret’
area are among the most widely publicised features of the entire studio.
For example, when New York Times journalist Rick Lyman was given a
tour of the studio prior to writing an article about Pixar, at least three
Richard McCulloch 183

separate people asked whether he had ‘visited the Love Lounge yet’.35
This strongly suggests that Pixar are keen for certain areas of the studio
to be seen (and therefore written about and discussed) far more than
others, insisting that all visitors are shown and educated about very
specific features of Emeryville – those that echo symbolic and thematic
notions about what the studio is seen to represent. It is, to use Beth
Dunlop’s phrase, ‘architecture with a plot’.36
The ‘Studio Stories’ DVD bonus features afford a clear picture of what
‘plot’ might mean in Pixar’s case. The series is comprised of simple 2-D
animated versions of ‘behind-the-scenes’ anecdotes, and each one con-
cludes with the line, ‘99% true, as far as we remember it!’ signalling the
studio’s self-consciously ‘knowing’ mythologisation of its own history.
The emphasis is on extra-curricular opportunities and social activities,
while intensive labour and stressful obstacles are consistently down-
played. ‘The Movie Vanishes’, for example, details a moment when
enormous portions of the data files for Toy Story 2 were accidentally
deleted, yet the animation style, music and sound effects turn the
episode into a light-hearted yarn.37 In the ‘Where’s Gordon?’ instalment
of the series, the eponymous animator’s discovery of the Love Lounge –
finding a mysterious key and hatch, crawling down it and building a
‘secret spot’ to hide away from his superiors – echoes well-known chil-
dren’s stories such as Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia. He
ends by documenting the range of guests who have visited the lounge,
and then concluding, ‘If those walls could talk, it’d be really something
to hear.’38 It is a line that could equally refer to the media coverage
the studio has received since it began making movies, which celebrates
the room while simultaneously reinforcing its exclusivity. But while this
chapter has so far examined the understandings that such discourses
establish regarding Emeryville and the production culture it accommo-
dates, the next section connects these discourses to those concerning
Pixar’s films.

Underlying carpentry?: Linking on-screen and off-screen


To what extent have off-screen Pixar (enacted through coverage of

its production culture) and on-screen Pixar (located in reviews of the
studio’s films) impacted upon the other? Gérard Genette argues that
paratexts act as ‘thresholds’ or ‘vestibules’ between the inside and
outside of a text, but as illustrative as this metaphor is, it implies a
hierarchical relationship between text and paratext that often does not
184 Circulation and Reception

apply.39 Firstly, it suggests that the reader/viewer encounters the paratext

before the text, which may not be the case, especially in relation to DVD
featurettes. Secondly, the word paratext itself means ‘beyond or distinct
from, but analogous to’ another text, thus diminishing the relative sig-
nificance of the object to which it refers.40 In Pixar’s case the flow of
meaning between coverage of its production culture and the critical
reception of its films is difficult to gauge. Ideas and values spread across
multiple media platforms, both before and after the films have been
released. Although I do not claim a direct causal relationship between
off-screen and on-screen discourses, the clear overlaps between them,
outlined in this final section, do suggest that they are at least mutually
Whatever their responses to a particular film, critics appear to struggle
to review Pixar without talking about the studio’s reputation; the film’s
‘value’ is defined less by its formal, stylistic or narrative composition,
and more in relation to intangible or ambiguous qualities such as suc-
cess, reliability and innovation. As The New York Times’s A. O. Scott wrote
in 2008, ‘We’ve grown accustomed to expecting surprises from Pixar, but
Wall-E surely breaks new ground.’41 This reputation is a multifaceted
discourse, but there does appear to be a correlation between the produc-
tion narratives described above and the specific ways in which reviewers
contextualise their assessments of Pixar’s films. Critics repeatedly invoke
the studio’s production culture as evidence to support their evaluative
claims, as the following examples demonstrate. In The New York Times,
Scott wrote of the Toy Story series: ‘[P]erhaps only Pixar, a company
Utopian in its faith in technological progress, artisanal in its devotion to
quality and nearly unbeatable in its marketing savvy, could have engi-
neered a sweeping capitalist narrative of such grandeur and charm as the
Toy Story features.’42 In reviewing Up for Variety, Todd McCarthy wrote:
‘As Pixar’s process is increasingly analysed, the more one appreciates
the care that goes into the writing. The underlying carpentry here [in
Up] is so strong, it seems it would be hard to go too far wrong in the
These quotes show that knowledge of the company’s production cul-
ture is clearly not only infiltrating reviews of Pixar’s films but also
influencing the critics’ judgement. The phrase ‘underlying carpentry’
is particularly revealing, referring to both the structure of Up’s on-screen
narrative and the labour processes that went into its creation. Once
these production narratives have been deployed within the review, they
then sit as markers of distinction. While the first quote explicitly pos-
tulates that ‘only Pixar’ could have achieved such on-screen results, the
Richard McCulloch 185

second seems to be suggesting that the success of Up was inevitable;

both writers base their musings purely on their knowledge of the studio’s
well-publicised drive towards creativity and collaboration.
We can also observe a crossover in terms of point of identification,
as it seems significant that the critical reception of Pixar is littered with
references to its films’ multigenerational appeal. McCarthy, for example,
reviewing The Incredibles (2004), wrote that the ‘script is so packed with
wit and imagination on multiple levels that viewers of all ages will feel
in on the joke’.44 The Washington Post’s Desson Thomson suggested that
the same film is ‘the best and brightest family-friendly movie of the year.
Not that you need a family to enjoy this. You could take someone else’s
kids. Or just go yourself’.45
Of course, repeated allusions to the age of Pixar’s perceived target mar-
ket are partly a testament to the ‘kids only’ stigma that has long affected
the cultural value of animation.46 Yet the fact that the critics’ claims so
closely parallel studio discourses speaks to the success of Pixar’s brand
construction. In legitimating the hitherto stigmatised animated film for
adult consumption, Pixar by extension becomes a brand that brings par-
ents and children closer together, and/or enables the adult viewer to
(re)connect with his/her own fondly nostalgic memories of childhood.
The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern was so charmed by Toy Story
3 that he wrote, ‘By now . . . the song [‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’] can
also speak for a studio that’s become our friend. In an era of increasingly
cheesy sequels churned out by entertainment conglomerates, Pixar has
been the Fort Knox of honest feelings, and so it remains.’47 This is a
remarkable statement from a film critic; Morgenstern does not see Pixar
as an organisation, but as a friend – a character or personality that any
brand strategist would have been proud to cultivate.
Note, however, that these critical reception discourses are not sim-
ply about production culture, but about the brand as a whole. Said The
New York Times’ Stephen Holden:
‘The humor bubbling through Finding Nemo is so fresh, sure of itself
and devoid of the cutesy, saccharine condescension that drips through
so many family comedies that you have to wonder what it is about the
Pixar technology that inspires the creators to be so endlessly inventive.’48 The
emphasised line in this quotation closely parallels Lasseter’s oft-repeated
mantra, ‘Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology.’49
These examples suggest that the production culture at Pixar is just one
part (albeit a crucial one) of the studio brand. This broader reputation
covers far more than just Emeryville and the people who work there.
The texts and paratexts that carry the brand may be diverse, but, as
186 Circulation and Reception

I have shown, the set of values that pervades them is both incredibly
consistent, and reflected in the critical reception of the studio’s films.


This chapter has demonstrated that Pixar’s commodification of

Emeryville adds value to its films by combining seemingly disparate ele-
ments of its own identity; the brand manages to exude inclusivity and
exclusivity, sophistication and frivolity, and its films manage to be both
forward-thinking and nostalgic.50 Although Emeryville and its produc-
tion culture is clearly shown to play an important role in the critical
consensus that surrounds Pixar and its work, it seems to me that this
has less to do with the building’s specific features than simply the fact
that it is a physical space for the reification of the brand’s intangible
qualities. Like the individual cubicles that Pixar animators are encour-
aged to wreck, decorate, paint on or reconstruct to their own design
and specifications, Emeryville is a canvas upon which abstract notions
of what the studio represents can become three-dimensional.51

1. Jonah Lehrer, ‘Animating a Blockbuster: How Pixar Built Toy Story 3’, Wired,
24 May 2010,
1; Sam Leith, ‘WALL-E: How Pixar Found Its Shiny Metal Soul’, The Sun-
day Telegraph, 22 June 2008, 10; Paul McInnes, ‘Inside Pixar: “I haven’t
Thought about Anything but Toy Story 3 for four years” ’, The Guardian,
7 July 2010,
2. While Emeryville is a small town in Alameda County, California, throughout
this chapter all mentions of Emeryville refer specifically to the Pixar studio
space and grounds.
3. William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre, ‘How Pixar Adds a New School of
Thought to Disney’, The New York Times, 29 January 2006, Sec. 3, 3.
4. Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons
from the World’s Most Creative Corporate Playground (New York: McGraw-Hill,
2010), ix.
5. For an overview of approaches to branding, see Leslie de Chernatony
and Francesca Dall’Olmo Riley, ‘Defining a “Brand”: Beyond the Literature
With Experts’ Interpretations’, Journal of Marketing Management 14 (1998),
417–443. Teemu Moilanen and Seppo Rainisto, How to Brand Nations, Cities
and Destinations: A Planning Book for Place Branding (Basingstoke: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2008), 6.
6. Celia Lury, Brands: The Logos of the Global Economy (London: Routledge,
2004), 22.
Richard McCulloch 187

7. Eileen Meehan, ‘ “Holy Commodity Fetish, Batman!”: The Political Econ-

omy of a Commercial Intertext’, in The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical
Approaches to a Superhero and His Media, eds. Roberta E. Pearson and William
Uricchio (London: Routledge, 1991), 47–65.
8. Ibid., 47–48.
9. Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media
Paratexts (London: New York University Press, 2010), 3.
10. Adam Arvidsson, Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture (London:
Routledge, 2006), 8.
11. Craig Hight, ‘Making-of Documentaries on DVD: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
and Special Editions’, The Velvet Light Trap 56 (Fall 2005), 4–17.
12. Barbara Klinger, Beyond the Multiplex: Cinema, New Technologies, and the Home
(London: University of California Press, 2006), 68.
13. Craig Hight, ‘Making-Of documentaries on DVD’, 7; John Thornton
Caldwell, Production Cultures: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film
and Television (London: Duke University Press, 2008), 283.
14. Peter M. Nichols, ‘Home Video: From Directors, a Word, or Two’, The
New York Times, 6 September 2002, E26.
15. Pixar and Disney were, at that time, engaged in a series of increasingly heated
negotiations over the terms of the production contract between them. For
more on this, see David Price, The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company (New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008); Robert Alan Brookey and Robert Westerfelhaus,
‘The Digital Auteur: Branding Identity on the Monsters, Inc. DVD’, Western
Journal of Communication 69, no. 2 (April 2005), 120–122.
16. Christopher Anderson, Hollywood TV: The Studio System in the Fifties (Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1994), 144. As well as the Disneyland series, also see
Disney’s live-action and animated behind-the-scenes movie, The Reluctant
Dragon (1941).
17. John Urry, The Tourist Gaze (London: Sage, 2002), 2–3.
18. Ibid., 2, 111.
19. Leith, ‘WALL-E: How Pixar Found its Shiny Metal Soul’, 10.
20. Jessi Hempel, ‘Pixar University: Thinking Outside the Mouse’, San Francisco
Chronicle, 4 June 2003,
21. Robin Wood, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1986), 162–163.
22. ‘Studio Tour’, Finding Nemo, 2-disc Collector’s Edition, DVD, directed by
Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich (Burbank, CA: Buena Vista Home Enter-
tainment, 2003).
23. Ibid.
24. Rick Lyman, ‘A Digital Dream Factory in Silicon Valley; Pixar’s New Digs
Coddle Animators, Writers and Tech Heads’, The New York Times, 11 June
2002, E1; Sean P. Means, ‘Playing at Pixar’, Salt Lake Tribune, 30 May 2003,
D1; Susan Wloszczyna, ‘Pixar Whiz Reanimates Disney’, USA Today, 9 March
2006, 1D; Robert La Franco, ‘Creative Drive: Suits Are Out. Hawaiian Shirts
Are in with John Lasseter and Ed Catmull at Disney’, Hollywood Reporter,
9 June 2006, 43; Glenn Whipp, The Daily News of Los Angeles, 30 May
2003, U6.
25. As well as Rick Lyman’s article above, see Alun Palmer, ‘Inside Pixar’s
Dream Factory’, The Mirror, 13 July 2010, 28–29; Chuck Barney, ‘Monster
188 Circulation and Reception

Mash: Pixar expands’, Contra Costa Times, 1 November 2001, C3. See also
Chuck Barney, ‘ “Slumdog Millionaire” Is Top Dog at the Oscars’, San Jose
Mercury News, 22 February 2009,
_11763654; Chloe Veltman, ‘Fun Factory’, The Telegraph, 31 December 2001,
26. Karen Paik, To Infinity and Beyond: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios
(London: Virgin Books, 2007), 167–168.
27. Ibid., 168. Also see Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster,
2011), 243–244.
28., ‘Pixar Studios and Headquarters’,
29. Paik, To Infinity and Beyond, 168.
30. Urry, The Tourist Gaze, 152–156.
31. Events such as these have been common fixtures of Pixar DVD bonus features
in the past.
32. Zahid Sardar, ‘Pixar Unbound’, San Francisco Chronicle, 3 February 2002,
Magazine, 26.
33. See for example, Veltman, ‘Fun Factory’.
34. Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon, iCon: Steve Jobs – The Greatest Second
Act in the History of Business (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2005),
35. Lyman, ‘A Digital Dream Factory in Silicon Valley’, E1.
36. Beth Dunlop, Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture (New York:
Harry N. Abrams, 1996), 13.
37. ‘Studio Stories: The Movie Vanishes’, Toy Story 2, Special Edition, Blu-
Ray/DVD, directed by John Lasseter (Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Studios
Home Entertainment, 2012).
38. ‘Studio Stories: Where’s Gordon?’, Toy Story 3, 2-Disc Double Play Edition,
Blu-Ray/DVD, directed by Lee Unkrich (Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Studios
Home Entertainment, 2010).
39. Gérard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1987), 2.
40. Gray, Show Sold Separately, 6.
41. A. O. Scott, ‘In a World Left Silent, One Heart Beeps’, The New York Times,
27 June 2008, E1.
42. A. O. Scott, ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Day Care Center’, The New York
Times, 17 June 2010, C1.
43. Todd McCarthy, ‘ “Up” Hits Rarefied Heights’, Variety, 18–24 May 2009, 29.
44. Todd McCarthy, ‘Incredibles Indeed!’, Variety, 1–7 November 2004, 27.
45. Desson Thomson, ‘ “Incredibles”: One Super Family’, The Washington Post,
5 November 2004, T35.
46. Jason Mittell, Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American
Culture (London: Routledge: 2004), 56–93.
47. Joe Morgenstern, ‘An Ode to “Toy” ’, Wall Street Journal, 16 July 2010, http://
48. Stephen Holden, ‘Film Review: Vast Sea, Tiny Fish, Big Crisis’, The New York
Times, 30 May 2003, E1. Emphasis added.
Richard McCulloch 189

49. See, for example, Jonah Lehrer, ‘Steve Jobs: “Technology Alone Is Not
Enough” ’, The New Yorker, 7 October 2011,
50. Colleen Montgomery, ‘Woody’s Roundup and Wall-E’s Wunderkammer:
Technophilia and Nostalgia in Pixar Animation’, Animation Studies 6 (2011),
51. Paik, To Infinity and Beyond, 170–171.
Hidden in Plain Sight: UK
Promotion, Exhibition
and Reception of Contemporary
French Film Narrative
Cécile Renaud

Heavily dominated by Hollywood imports, Britain has long been consid-

ered a difficult market for foreign-language films. Despite representing
more than 35 per cent of the films released in Britain between 2002
and 2009, subtitled films only gathered 3 per cent of the box-office
takings.1 The limited appeal of foreign-language films has often been
attributed to ‘the almost pathological British fear of subtitles’, yet the
availability of films, determined by their distribution pattern, and their
discursive surround equally shape their box-office limitations.2 In 2001,
the success of a few subtitled films at the British box office led both
film critics and industry members alike to announce the dawn of a
new era, a drastic change in the way British audiences would watch
subtitled films. Critic Ian Johns claimed that films such as Amélie/Le
Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001) and Brotherhood of the Wolf/Le
Pacte des loups (2001) heralded a new trend in French cinema. Argu-
ing that such ‘genre-blending films’ were causing British audiences to
reassess their expectations.3 Philippe Rostain, head of international sales
for the French film company Gaumont SA, similarly claimed in 2001
that French cinema had finally ‘freed itself from its arthouse ghetto’,
while French critic Elizabeth Lequeret claimed that a new era of French
genre film was about to revolutionise French cinema’s image.4 In The
Times in 2007, Kevin Maher claimed,

Once upon a time we lived in fear of the subtitled movie . . . . Flash

forward a few decades and everything’s changed. The subtitled film
is no longer rooted in notions of esoteric creative worth, tortured

Cécile Renaud 191

self-expression or the possibility of enduring duff movies for a paltry

provocative glimpse of Euro-flesh. Instead, the subtitled movie has
met the masses, and vice versa.5

Such enthusiastic discourses have, however, proved to be overly opti-

mistic.6 While some subtitled films are indeed released on a wider
scale, subtitled films still remain a very marginal share of British film
This chapter explores the industrial strategies that distributors use to
combat this continued marginalisation of subtitled European films in
Britain, examining distributors’ construction of the identity of European
film narratives and culture. It is informed in particular by the work of
Mark Betz, Barbara Klinger and Paul McDonald. Betz has examined the
construct of a European cinema identity that has operated in opposition
to Hollywood from the late 1950s onwards, and which is consolidated
by distribution and exhibition practices as well as discursive surround;
he has furthermore emphasised the need to go beyond the study of
national cinema in isolation from international markets.8 Both Klinger
and McDonald have explored the home video industries, believing that
this platform has to be accounted for in our understandings of film cul-
ture.9 McDonald has also looked at the programming strategies of British
The research for this chapter originated in an AHRC-funded project
on French cinema in Britain since 1930. Part of the project explored
the way in which the meaning of French cinema, particularly with
regard to genre, has been renegotiated in 21st century Britain. This
chapter focuses on the release of a single foreign-language film, Michael
Haneke’s Hidden/Caché (2005). It follows its trajectory from cinemas to
home viewing, examining marketing and press discourses and exhibi-
tion contexts in order to explore how genre has been deployed in an
attempt to shift the position of European cinema in British film culture,
notably by emphasising familiar narrative traits so as to bring films from
the margins towards the mainstream. Situating Hidden within the con-
ditions of its British theatrical and home-viewing reception illustrates
the ways in which national cinema discourses potentially shape view-
ers’ expectations and understandings of film narratives and thus speaks
to this book’s concern with the varied structuring contexts of screen
At the turn of the millennium, changes occurred that impacted on
British audiences’ consumption of foreign-language films. The creation
of the UK Film Council (UKFC) in 2000 led to policies facilitating wider
192 Circulation and Reception

releases of ‘specialised films’ in order to broaden their appeal.11 One of

its four key aims was ‘to stimulate greater choice for film audiences’.12
From 2001 onwards, every year a select few foreign-language films with
strong mainstream genre traits started to benefit from multiplex exhi-
bition in larger cities, many with the help of the UKFC. Important
geographical discrepancies however exist in this treatment, the vast
majority of foreign-language films still being released on a very nar-
row scale. French cinema has long occupied a privileged position within
the specialised film market in Britain, representing over 18 per cent of
the foreign-language films released between 2001 and 2009, yet their
distribution pattern remains marginal.13 In 2007, when Kevin Maher
declared that ‘the subtitled movie [had] ceased to be the preserve of the
cappuccino-drinking, goatee-stroking cineaste and become instead pop-
ulist fodder for the multiplex’,14 more than half of the French-language
films distributed in Britain were released on fewer than five prints.15
Only 30 per cent of French films that year reached beyond 15 prints at
their Widest Point of Release (WPR),16 and even the largest of these, Tell
No One/ Ne le dis à personne (2006), only achieved 67 prints at its WPR.17
This compares unfavourably to English-language productions: Fantastic
Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), for instance, opened the same week
on 475 prints.18 Such a marginalisation does not merely impact on box-
office figures; as McDonald remarked, theatrical exhibition sets the tone
for subsequent release windows.19
Beyond theatrical distribution, DVD releases had become the main
means of film consumption at the time of Hidden’s release; this offered
an opportunity to persuade British audiences to consume more foreign
titles. DVDs not only allow for a more even geographical reach than
does theatrical exhibition, but they also give distributors the oppor-
tunity to renegotiate films’ identities to target a variety of audiences.
DVDs also offer a form of viewing experience deemed less intimidat-
ing for audiences not used to subtitled films, notably because of the
control it offers to the viewer. In addition to the option of stopping or
rewinding, DVDs frequently offer the option of switching to an English
soundtrack, counteracting to a certain degree the ‘fear of the subtitle’.
This layering of optional digital information on DVDs allows them to
downplay the films’ foreignness in a more effective manner than during
theatrical distribution.
The case of Hidden, released on 27 January 2006, epitomises how the
subtitled nature of a film impacts on its marketing and distribution
in the British context, and how the release of the film under differ-
ent DVD packages and box sets allowed a film originally described as a
Cécile Renaud 193

‘metaphysical psycho-drama’ to be marketed to a variety of audiences.20

In the film, Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil), a television presenter,
and his wife (Juliette Binoche) receive what appears to be video surveil-
lance of their house accompanied by gruesome drawings. Georges seems
particularly agitated by these and starts investigating, revealing deep
feelings of guilt from his childhood linked to wider national guilt over
the massacre of peaceful Algerian demonstrators in Paris in October
1961. Who made the videos, and why or how they remained hid-
den from view, is never revealed. Although officially a co-production
between France, Austria, Germany, Italy and the United States, Hidden
is generally considered a French film, despite its Austrian director, pri-
marily because of its language, stars and setting, but also because of the
roots of its narrative in French history. A close examination of the the-
atrical run of the film will first explore how the marketing reshaped the
identity of the film through the use of genre and stars as the film was
screened in different venues. An analysis of the multiple DVD releases of
the film subsequently demonstrates how the marketing strategy imple-
mented for its theatrical release was then revisited and renegotiated
for the home-viewing market. The promotional discourses that work
to frame how a given narrative is to be comprehended can, the study
ultimately reveals, vary, and alter in line with shifts in distributional

Theatrical campaign and exhibition

British distribution of the film was handled by Artificial Eye, whose

brand image played an important role in perceptions of Hidden. The dis-
tributor has a strong reputation in Britain as an arthouse champion and
a French cinema haven. Described by Charles Gant in Sight & Sound as
‘Britain’s premier brand for arthouse distribution and exhibition’, Arti-
ficial Eye released more than 22 per cent of the French-language films
theatrically distributed in Britain between 2001 and 2009.21 In 2006,
half of their top ten titles for home video were French films.22 The dis-
tributor mirrors the position of French cinema in Britain, a relatively
stable niche product with a reputation for ‘quality’ and intellectual
worth. In an article entitled ‘After the End: Word of Mouth and Caché’,
Mark Cousins claimed that one of the main reasons for Hidden’s success
was that it allowed its ‘European bourgeois arthouse viewers’ to iden-
tify with the main characters and their lifestyle.23 Cousins assumed that
the main audience for the film belonged to arthouse venues, and the
original release strategy revealed similar expectations from Artificial Eye.
194 Circulation and Reception

Opening on 26 screens on 27 January 2006, Hidden was given a promo-

tional campaign in keeping with the reputation of its director and the
critical attention gathered in festivals. The trailer featured no music on
the soundtrack but extensive subtitled dialogue from a large number of
characters, underlining the plot’s complexity.
The UK Film Council nevertheless deemed the film a good candidate
for a distribution crossover into multiplexes, and Hidden was awarded
UKFC support through the Prints & Advertising fund and the Digital
Screen Network two weeks after its original release.24 The fund, created
in 2003, selected films which the UKFC believed to have the potential
to crossover from ‘specialised’ into ‘mainstream’, based on an assess-
ment of ‘the film’s market potential; the accessibility of the film’s subject
matter; whether the film is likely to receive good reviews and signif-
icant publicity coverage; and whether the film has a strong genre’.25
In the case of Hidden, the genre appeal was deemed to be that of the
‘thriller’. The term itself is far from being straightforward, but some basic
elements are generally agreed upon: fast pacing, frequent action, plot
resolution, heroes and villains. The categorisation of Hidden as a thriller
was problematic notably in terms of pacing, but also, and maybe most
obviously, because of the absence of a hero or a plot resolution. The mar-
keting was nevertheless reshaped to emphasise generic markers in order
to manufacture the illusion of a straightforward thriller. As Catherine
Wheatley and Lucy Mazdon remarked,

The [new] trailer included very little speech and was dominated by a
series of quick cuts that offered no hint of the feature’s extended takes
and oblique camera angles, foregrounding the relationship between
stars Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil and so implying a drama
fuelled by marital infidelity rather than socio-political forces.26

This emphasis on an extra-marital affair also corresponds to domi-

nant perceptions of French cinema as ‘sexy’ and ‘risqué’. This type of
misplaced emphasis is neither new nor limited to Britain. Betz demon-
strated that a similar ‘sexiness’ was imposed on New Wave films in the
United States in the early 1960s even when none was present in the
narrative.27 Mazdon in addition has shown that emphasising the genre
of a French-language film in such a way to downplay its nationality
and expand its potential audience is a promotional strategy that was
also used in the 1950s.28 The scope and endurance of such phenom-
ena indicates the need to examine further the mechanics of production
of Frenchness in the promotion of French films outside their home
Cécile Renaud 195

markets. Hidden’s new faster-paced trailer, aimed squarely at audiences

interested in the ‘suspense thriller’ genre, presented a more conven-
tional thriller identity that downplayed Haneke’s unconventional use
of the genre.
The poster was similarly transformed; it departed from the original
slash of red on a white background design based on the French release,
favouring instead a design foregrounding the star appeal of the film
with Auteuil and Binoche providing the focus. Clare Binns, program-
mer for the Picturehouse Cinema chain, agreed that Auteuil’s presence
had helped the film, with Charles Gant, in his monthly analysis of the
box office in Sight & Sound, claiming that his casting was ‘a badge of
quality and a comfort zone for audiences hitherto unconvinced by the
austere, intellectual Haneke’.29 The use of the term ‘quality’ is reveal-
ing of the type of films through which Auteuil had become a relatively
familiar figure, notably the critically worthy yet accessible Jean de Florette
and Manon des sources (1986), which are among the foreign-language
films most programmed on British television.30 Although Binoche had
a minor role compared to Auteuil, she was nevertheless given the
foreground position on Hidden’s poster; he appeared to be standing
slightly behind her, in an exact inversion of their position in the cor-
responding scene in the film. This inversion is in direct correlation to
the presumed audience appeal of the respective actors. Binoche had a
greater international reputation thanks to roles bridging European cin-
ema and Hollywood such as in The English Patient (1996) for which
she won an Oscar. She embodied many of the clichés associated with
French women, sensuousness and glamour in Chocolat (2000) and lux-
ury and sophistication as the face of Lancôme from 1995 to 2000.
Described in 1993 as an ‘anguished icon of European art cinema’ and
in 2000, as ‘an icon of melancholic sexiness’, by 2006, her name had
achieved crossover into mainstream audiences while retaining ‘arthouse
credentials’.31 Her dominant presence on the poster resulted from the
distributor’s assumption that she would have a wider appeal than that
of Auteuil or Haneke.
The changes in the marketing campaign clearly show the impact of
the UKFC support on the discursive framing of the Hidden narrative,
but it is more difficult to evaluate that impact on subsequent theatri-
cal exhibition. Following on from McDonald’s practice of looking at
distribution patterns, a close examination of cinema programming in
London shows the widest release pattern adopted for the film anywhere
in Britain. Hidden first opened in 15 sites in central London, mainly
in independent venues as well as in one Cineworld (Haymarket) and
196 Circulation and Reception

two Odeon venues (Swiss Cottage and Covent Garden).32 These multi-
plexes are the first stepping stones for foreign-language films onto the
multiplex chain circuit in the capital. With a maximum of 16 simulta-
neous venues in Central London, Hidden never reached the penetration
rate of multiplexes achieved the following year by La Vie en Rose/ La
Môme (2007) or Tell No One. These films primarily followed the conven-
tions of their respective genres, the biopic and the thriller, and were
based on a popular singer and a best-seller novel respectively; having a
wider appeal than Hidden, these films were each distributed to 36 differ-
ent venues across London.33 However, despite its more austere subject
matter, Hidden remained in a minimum of ten simultaneous London
venues including various multiplexes until its ninth week. In the tenth
week, the film then reverted to the original ‘auteur marketing’ strategy,
withdrawing back into independent venues only. The advertising of the
film then reflected this change of target audience; a Time Out advert
thus featured quotes describing the film as: ‘an artistic masterpiece’ and
‘a huge arthouse success’, as opposed to the theatrical poster praising
‘A great movie’, ‘Utterly gripping’.34
Creating the illusion of a traditional thriller in the promotion allowed
Hidden to reach wider audiences than any previous Haneke film, with
a British box-office gross of £1,448,137 on 40 screens at WPR.35 This
also warranted the film a run in the larger multiplexes in main cities
in the United Kingdom. In smaller cities such as Southampton or
Poole, however, the film never crossed beyond the traditional venues
for foreign-language films, showing the limitations of the thriller mar-
keting. But the film’s review in The Mirror is a telling example of how
effective the promotional campaign was, as it concludes:

Best quote: ‘Terrorise me and my family and you’ll regret it.’

Best bit: A violent climax.
Worst bit: Les subtitles est très distracting. If that makes sense.
If you liked: Cape Fear [1991], Enduring Love [2004] . . . you’ll like this.36

The reviewer did not question the positioning of the film as a thriller,
as the ‘best quote’ and ‘best bit’ choices demonstrate, and did not seem
to mind the lack of plot resolution or explanations; but he did regard
subtitling as the most problematic aspect of the film, emphasising the
difficulties in moving beyond the language barrier, regardless of a given
film’s narrative content. But as we see below, the film’s DVD release
mitigated the geographical unevenness of its availability and the issues
created by its foreignness.
Cécile Renaud 197

DVD releases

The first single-disc DVD was released by Artificial Eye less than five
months after the theatrical release, the front cover of the DVD jacket
reproducing to a large extent the design of the final theatrical poster. The
back cover similarly featured Binoche as the main figure, while Auteuil,
despite playing the lead character in the film, only appeared in a much
smaller still from the film relegated to the lower third of the back jacket.
The quotes underlined the film’s genre: ‘A stunning thriller’, ‘The most
gripping film of the year’ and the synopsis on the back similarly started
with a description of the film as an ‘utterly compelling psychological
thriller’. These phrases firmly placed the film within the clear genre
identity that had been adopted for the theatrical release. As with the
poster, the quality of the film within the popular genre was emphasised
by the star-ratings on the front and back of the DVD describing it as,
‘The first great film of the 21st century.’ Haneke’s name only appeared in
a small font, while the names of the actors were given prominence with
a larger font. However, the director’s name featured in large lettering on
the back cover in one of the quotes: ‘Haneke at his formidable best.’ The
DVD thus acknowledged the auteur status of the director, his celebrity
with specialised audiences and cinephiles, but nonetheless relegated the
director to the back cover. This is symptomatic of the marketing strat-
egy for Hidden across the different exhibition formats, foregrounding the
film’s thriller identity and dissociating it from the auteur film category
into which European subtitled films frequently fall.
A similarity with the theatrical marketing campaign was to be
expected; more surprising about the DVD packaging of Hidden was the
departure from the traditional Artificial Eye branding. In the 1980s, Arti-
ficial Eye VHS covers inaugurated a standard style template which was
then carried over to DVDs. The brand name appeared on the spine as
well as the front and back of the jacket, in a narrow green band on the
edge of the upper left quarter. The director’s name was prominently dis-
played either in white lettering on a red background across the top of
the jacket or in red lettering above the title. The top half of the front
cover usually displayed a snapshot of the film, the English title appear-
ing underneath on a grey background under which press quotes were
inserted. The back was similarly strictly compartmentalised, featuring
a synopsis, a few quotes followed by the credits of the film, from the
director to the sound and editing, as well as festival prizes. The spine of
the DVD was clearly numbered, in a fashion similar to that of Criterion,
numbering their releases to underline the collectability of the items and
198 Circulation and Reception

enhance the appeal of the collection.37 Such a clearly defined format,

with few changes over the years, allowed potential buyers to instantly
recognise an Artificial Eye product, in itself a guarantee of ‘quality’.
All the traditional hallmarks of the brand were erased from the pack-
aging of Hidden’s first single-disc DVD. The narrow strip displaying the
name of the distributor on the left edge of the front cover was the only
reminder of the branding, yet being dark grey blended into the image
of the cover. ‘Artificial Eye’ only appeared in very small letters at the top
of the spine without the band, with no number displayed. The Artificial
Eye template had been abandoned altogether, replaced by one inspired
by the theatrical poster. Such a departure from the house style dissoci-
ated the title from the rest of the collection and its reputation, helping
to redefine Hidden as a mainstream thriller rather than an auteur or art-
house film. This design, finalised very shortly after Artificial Eye was
acquired by Philip Knatchbull and Roger Wingate in May 2006, might
partly be the result of the diversification and expansion programme
then implemented. The green band was subsequently re-introduced in
a re-issue of the single-disc DVD, which kept the same overall design.
The reintroduction of the green coloured band on the DVD spine re-
established the continuity of the brand design, which is so important to
the look of a collection on the shelves for a DVD enthusiast.
The prominent features on the initial single-disc DVD were the actors
and the title, while festival prizes gathered by the film were more dis-
creetly displayed below, implying gravitas and ‘quality’, but in a position
not so prominent as to intimidate potential viewers looking for a more
conventional ‘thriller’. Prizes and Festival pedigree were emphasised
more strongly on the Artificial Eye website, where the film synopsis
started with ‘Three times Cannes winner’ and went on to highlight the
controversial nature of the film, continuing with ‘winner of numerous
European and worldwide film awards, Hidden was set to become the talk-
ing point of 2006’.38 The online material insisted on the festival acclaim,
the director’s reputation and auteurist treatment of recurrent themes
more strongly than the DVD sleeve.
The differences between the DVD jacket and the website are not
attributable merely to the respective available space; the website clearly
targeted a cine-literate audience, more likely, according to research
undertaken by the UKFC, to be pro-active about searching for informa-
tion.39 The press quotes were not only more numerous online, they were
sourced only from national broadsheets and film magazines. While the
DVD front featured three quotes from Time Out, Hot Dog and The Daily
Mail, the ‘Press Quotes’ section of the website drew on The Guardian,
Cécile Renaud 199

The Independent, The Observer and Sight & Sound among others. Not
only were these review snippets more upmarket, they presented a less
generic image than those on the DVD cover. Mentioning the film’s
‘compositional brilliance’ and ‘thematic weight’ and describing it as
‘intellectually ambitious and rewarding’, the contents of the website cor-
respond more closely to the long-standing reputation of French cinema
and to the expectations of the cine-literate audiences who form the cus-
tomer base for Artificial Eye’s products. The quote from The Daily Mail
describing Hidden as ‘The most gripping film of the year’, so prominent
on the DVD cover, did not appear online where its tabloid nature might
have harmed the film’s prospects with a more cinephile audience. The
different marketing medium therefore allowed distributors to pursue
different audiences by layering different identities onto the film. Sub-
sequent repackaging similarly presented opportunities to redefine the
film’s generic identity.

Box sets

Hidden has, at the time of writing, been released under four different
packages, three of these as part of a box set. While the single-disc DVD
release relegated the name of the director to the back cover, box sets
tend to foreground it. Considered auteuristic products by nature, indeed
often focusing on a director, box sets imply a singularity of vision and
a unified oeuvre.40 Yet Hidden was subjected to a different treatment in
each of the three packages in which it was included.
‘The Michael Haneke Collection’ box set was released by Artificial Eye
on 9 October 2006 and used a similar design to the single-disc DVD
released less than four months before. Such a short window between
the release of the two products, as well as the box set design itself, with
the name ‘Haneke’ styled to mirror the title of Hidden in prior promo-
tional material, suggested that the box set was a means of capitalising on
the theatrical success of Hidden by offering a selection of the director’s
previous titles. These, while made in a similar style and context, with
similar actresses and actors, had had more modest cinema promotion,
distribution, box-office takings and DVD releases.
No mention was made of the nationality of the director, and the
four films included in the box set belonged to his ‘French period’ and
featured mainly French dialogue, as well as either Juliette Binoche or
Isabelle Huppert in one of the lead roles. Both actresses have often been
hailed as icons of French cinema, and each of them is indeed the focus
of a box set from Artificial Eye’s French Collection. The name of ‘The
200 Circulation and Reception

Michael Haneke Collection’ box set suggested a package focusing on

the director rather than on a national cinema, and therefore implied
a representative selection of the director’s work. The fact that only his
French-language works were featured, or even mentioned, shows the
distributor’s preference to market the auteur as seemingly unproblemat-
ically French, thus taking advantage of the reputation of French cinema
in marketing films to a ready-made audience.
The next box-set release including Hidden targeted just such an audi-
ence: volume two of ‘The French Collection’ series was devoted to the
thriller genre. The first, third and fourth volumes of this series focus
on an actress. The use of female faces to represent French cinema as
a whole is epitomised by French Beauty (2005), a documentary aired
on BBC Four, which claimed that ‘French cinema is built on women’s
charms’, echoing stereotypes of French women’s seductive appeal also
relayed in the press by articles such as ‘Cherchez les femmes’, describing
the sophistication and sexiness of Parisian women compared to their
British counterparts.41 The French collection therefore exploited exist-
ing stereotypes of French femininity in order to expand the films’ appeal
from existing French cinema audiences to mainstream ones.
The French Collection included a more contemporary canon than the
one traditionally associated with French cinema, with 80 per cent of
the featured titles released after 2000. The ‘Thrillers’ volume of the Col-
lection gathered three French films theatrically released in Britain by
Artificial Eye within six months of each other: Hidden, The Beat That
My Heart Skipped/ De battre mon Cœur s’est arrêté (2005) and Lemming
(2005). The nationalities of the directors of both Hidden and Lemming
are not mentioned on the box set cardboard sleeve, despite the fact
that Michael Haneke is Austrian and Dominik Moll German-born. Sim-
ilarly the fact that The Beat That My Heart Skipped was a remake of
the American film Fingers (1978) was conspicuously absent from the
box set packaging. The Frenchness of the films therefore appeared
The inclusion of the films under the ‘thriller’ label furthermore erased
the complex generic identities of the films. As mentioned, the cate-
gorisation of Hidden in the thriller genre was problematic. Similarly,
Lemming does not fit straightforwardly into the genre; the back cover
of the single-disc DVD jacket thus underlined the multigeneric identity
of the film with a quote from The Guardian describing it as ‘satisfyingly
creepy . . . part black comedy, part suspense thriller, part supernatural
nightmare’. The third film in the package, The Beat That My Heart
Skipped, although described on the back cover of the special edition DVD
Cécile Renaud 201

as a ‘smash hit noir thriller’ was nevertheless classified by the UKFC

as a drama; the relative importance of character development and its
revenge story narrative problematises the film’s ascription to a specific
genre. While the designation of all three films in the box set as thrillers
is questionable, it would nevertheless ensure that the films appeal not
only to cinephiles aware of the thriller tradition in French cinema but
also to mainstream audiences.42
That the marketing of the films as thrillers did indeed give them a
wider appeal is attested to by the fact that the ‘Thrillers’ box set was
the only volume of the French Collection to be reviewed in a tabloid
newspaper, a review in the Mail on Sunday describing it as ‘a classy set
containing a hat-trick of the best French films of the past couple of
years’.43 On the other hand, the Michael Haneke Collection box set was
reviewed and even suggested as a Christmas present in The Observer, The
Sunday Times, The Evening Standard and Time Out.44 Such a clear distinc-
tion between the reviews in the tabloid and the broadsheets speaks to
the types of audiences suggested by the different promotional materials
on each box set. The French Collection relied on glamorous stars and
a popular genre to reach into mainstream audiences, whereas the more
auteurist director-based box sets appeared directed towards cinephiles
and specialised audiences.
In October 2009, Artificial Eye released a new box set entitled ‘The
Essential Michael Haneke’, which included the ten films of the direc-
tor to date, regardless of the language in which they were made. The
title of the box set, associating the director’s name with the adjec-
tive ‘essential’, underlined not only the necessity for film buffs to
own these films but also the auteurist perspective taken by the dis-
tributor for this particular release format. The front cover featured a
black and white photo of Haneke reminiscent of the one used for
the cover of a recent monograph on the director, thus illustrating
McDonald’s claim that in order to gain credibility and cultural value
much of DVD packaging resembles books.45 The ‘Essential’ box set
also reverted to the traditional Artificial Eye band, which had disap-
peared from the previous box set, and thus returned to the established
branding which Geoffrey Macnab described as ‘a trustworthy litmus
test of quality. See their logos flash up on the screen and you’d know
you were about to watch something provocative, challenging’.46 The
design of this box set was more austere than the previous ones, and
followed more closely the traditional Artificial Eye design, thus relocat-
ing Hidden within the oeuvre of the auteur and within the Artificial Eye
202 Circulation and Reception


Modes of film promotion, exhibition and consumption have radically

changed in the past few decades, yet some similarities remain in the
treatment of foreign-language films. Despite distributors’ marketing
efforts to define a film by its genre, nationality always resurfaces as one
of a film’s defining characteristics in the critical discursive surround, as
does the subtitling. After the end of its limited multiplex run, Hidden
reverted not only to independent venues, but also to promotional dis-
courses highlighting its arthouse identity and artistic worthiness, thus
ultimately inserting it back into its ‘specialised film’ category. However,
the multiplication of formats and exhibition platforms makes it easier
to market films from a variety of different perspectives, such as genre,
stars or director; this emphasises the film’s appeal to a greater variety of
audiences, as my analysis of the website and the different DVD treat-
ments of Hidden have shown. The use of online tools to promote films is
constantly evolving and since the release of Hidden, Video on Demand
(VoD) has generated new film consumption behaviours that also need
to be examined if we are to understand how film culture is being shaped
in the 21st century.

1. UK Film Council Statistical Yearbooks from 2002 to 2009.
2. Demetrios Matheou, ‘So, Who’s Afraid of a Few Subtitles? We Are’, The
Independent, 1 October 2000, 2.
3. Ian Johns, ‘They Still Have a Lot of Gaul’, The Times, 8 September 2005, 20.
4. Elisabeth Lequeret, ‘Le Film français assied son succès sur le film de genre’,
Cahiers du cinéma, May 2002, 72.
5. Kevin Maher, ‘How We Learned to Love Subtitles’, The Times, 12 April 2007,
6. In the case of Maher, his enthusiasm was based on the evidence of poor
examples. For instance, one of his proofs of the widespread appeal of sub-
titled films is the screening of Asterix and the Vikings/Astérix et les Vikings
(2006) in multiplexes, which was released by Optimum dubbed into English.
Moreover, with a total gross of £6,152 on 61 prints, it proved a consider-
able commercial failure, hardly a strong example of successful exhibition in
British multiplexes, regardless of its language.
7. A report for the Centre National de la Cinématographie showed that in the
1980s, four prints constituted a wide release for a French-language film;
but in 2007, nine French-language films were distributed on more than
40 prints. Caroline Dequet, Rapport Sur La Distribution Et L’exportation Du
Film Français En Europe (Paris: CNC, 1991), 44; Cécile Renaud, Selling French
Cinema to British Audiences: 2001–2009 (unpublished thesis, University of
Southampton, 2012), Appendix A.
Cécile Renaud 203

8. Mark Betz, Beyond the Subtitle: Remapping European Art Cinema (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 28.
9. Barbara Klinger, Beyond the Multiplex: Cinema, New Technologies and the Home
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006); Barbara Klinger, ‘The DVD
Cinephile’, in Film and Television After DVD, eds. James Bennett and Tom
Brown (New York: London: Routledge. 2008), 19–44; Paul McDonald, Video
and DVD Industries (London: British Film Institute, 2007).
10. Paul McDonald, ‘What’s on? Film Programming, Structured Choice and the
Production of Cinema Culture in Contemporary Britain’, Journal of British
Cinema and Television 7, no. 2 (2010), 264–298.
11. KPMG, Specialised Exhibition and Distribution Strategy (London: UK Film
Council, 2002), Appendix A1.
12. UK Film Council, Group and Lottery Annual Report and Financial Statements
2008/2009 (London: Crown Copyright, 2009), 11,
13. Calculated from data found in UK Film Council Statistical Yearbooks from
2002 to 2009.
14. Maher, ‘How We Learned to Love Subtitles’.
15. Calculated from the data presented in Cécile Renaud, Selling French Cinema,
Appendix A.
16. Ibid.
17. ‘UK Weekend Box Office Reports 2007’, UK Film Council,
18. Ibid.
19. Paul McDonald, ‘What’s on?’, 264.
20. Peter Bradshaw, ‘Cannes Film Festival: Reviews Round-Up’, The Guardian,
16 May 2005, 10.
21. Charles Gant, ‘Eye Spies a Class Act’, Sight & Sound, May 2009, 9. Artificial
Eye released 50 out of 224 French language films between 2001 and 2009, as
calculated from the data presented in Cécile Renaud, Selling French Cinema,
Appendix A.
22. Robert Mitchell, ‘Eye on the Prize’, Screen International, 10 March 2006, 25.
23. Mark Cousins, ‘After the End: Word of Mouth and Caché’, Screen 48, no. 2
(2007), 225.
24. UK Film Council, Awards Database,
25. UK Film Council, The Prints & Advertising Fund Guidelines For Applicants
(London: UK Film Council, 2010), 5.
26. Catherine Wheatley and Lucy Mazdon, ‘Intimate Connections’, Sight &
Sound, May 2008, 39.
27. Mark Betz. ‘Art, Exploitation, Underground’, in Defining Cult Movies: The
Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste, ed. Mark Jancovich (Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 2003), 202–222.
28. Lucy Mazdon, ‘Vulgar, Nasty and French: French cinema in Britain in the
1950s’, Journal of British Cinema and Television 7, no. 3 (2010), 421–438.
29. Charles Gant, ‘The Cachet of Daniel’, Sight & Sound, April 2006, 8.
30. 22 appearances on Film4 between May 2003 and December 2009, cited in
Cécile Renaud, Selling French Films, 32.
204 Circulation and Reception

31. Ginette Vincendeau, ‘Juliette Binoche, from Gamine to Femme Fatale’, Sight
& Sound, December 1993, 22; Ginette Vincendeau, ‘Binoche: The Erotic Face’,
Sight & Sound, June 2000, 14.
32. Exhibition in London was determined on the basis of cinema listings in Time
Out London while Hidden was on the programme of at least one cinema in the
capital between 25 January 2006 and 10 May 2006.
33. Exhibition in London was determined on the basis of cinema listings in Time
Out London between 13 June 2007 and 18 September 2007.
34. Advertisement published in Time Out London, 29 March 2006, 79.
35. Nielsen EDI. Weekly UK Box-office Report, accessed 12 October 2010,
BFI library, London. Even the subsequent English-language remake of his
earlier film: Funny Games U.S. (2007) only grossed £208,469 on 63 prints on
the British market.
36. David Edwards, ‘Set It’, The Mirror, 27 January 2006, 5.
37. Bradley Schauer, ‘The Criterion Collection in the New Home Video Market:
An Interview with Susan Arosteguy’, Velvet Light Trap 56 (2005), 33.
38. ‘Hidden’, Artificial Eye,
39. UK Film Council, UK Audience Development Scheme: Context, Strategic Fit, and
Audience Issues (London: UKFC, 2006).
40. Catherine Grant, ‘Auteur Machines? Auteurism and the DVD’, in Film and
Television after DVD, eds. James Bennett and Tom Brown (London: Taylor &
Francis, 2008), 101–115.
41. Rod Liddle, ‘Cherchez les Femmes’, The Sunday Times, 21 October 2007, 22.
42. On the association between French cinema and the thriller genre, see Jill
Forbes, The Cinema in France after the New Wave (London: British Film
Institute, 1992), 53.
43. Jason Solomons, ‘A Few Homer Truths’, Mail on Sunday, 6 January 2008, 79.
44. Phillip French, ‘Review Christmas Shopping’, The Observer, 10 December
2006, 8; David Mills, ‘The Michael Haneke Collection’, The Sunday Times, 29
October 2006, 27; Steve Morrissey, ‘This Week’s DVD Releases’, The Evening
Standard, 9 November 2006, 34; Dave Calhoun, ‘DVDs of the Week: The
Michael Haneke Collection’, Time Out London, 18 October 2006, 104.
45. Ben McCann and David Sorfa, The Cinema of Michael Haneke (Europe Utopia:
Wallflower Press, 2009); McDonald, Video and DVD Industries, 61.
46. Geoffrey Macnab, ‘Foreign Films: “Subtitles Are Like Cod Liver Oil – Good
for You, Supposedly” ’, The Observer, 22 September 1996, C10.
Serial Narrative Exports:
US Television Drama in Europe
Alessandro Catania

In the last decade media convergence and the development of online

media have radically altered the operations of television industries on a
global scale. A technology-led reconfiguration of television has provided
new opportunities for media companies and consumers while also trans-
forming traditional broadcasting logics. Alternative modes of content
circulation have resulted in fast, instantaneous distribution that fos-
ters a ‘culture of speed’ where immediate availability and control over
media content have become part of digital consumer culture.1 In the
United States, the industry has had to mediate between the availability
of new technologies, which afford new opportunities to circulate con-
tent, and the demands of pre-existing industrial structures and logics.2
While digital convergence has challenged the old ways of producing
and experiencing television, this mediation between new technologi-
cal possibilities and traditional industrial logics has led to a degree of
continuity and industrial stability, as exemplified by television multi-
platforming. The ensemble of distribution, marketing, content design
and other broadcasting practices adopted by producers and distribu-
tors to develop and circulate televisual products across multiple media,
television multiplatforming takes advantages of new technologies to
enhance new business models and services but centres on traditional
broadcast content, such as hour long serial dramas.
Many US television franchises created during the era of digital conver-
gence, such as for instance 24 (Fox, 2001–2009), Lost (ABC, 2004–2010),
Heroes (NBC, 2004–2010), True Blood (HBO, 2008–present), FlashForward
(ABC, 2009–2010) and The Walking Dead (AMC, 2010–present), exploit
new digital technologies by expanding onto multiple platforms and
allowing viewers to explore transmedia narrative universes; serial nar-
ratives orchestrated across multiple platforms have created new types of

206 Circulation and Reception

viewing experiences. ‘Transmedia’ has been used as an umbrella term

to address these changes in media consumption and distribution prac-
tices as well as in media textuality, challenging the boundaries between
texts and paratexts.3 But the various elements of the transmedia universe
are unequally available across territories; viewers within one territory
are frequently unable to explore these universes as fully as viewers in
another territory. For example, it was difficult for the French audience
for Lost to engage in the alternate reality game [ARG] The Lost Experience
since, with two or even three episodes of Lost scheduled consecutively
in a single given evening on TF1, the broadcast schedule didn’t syn-
chronise with the timed release of narrative clues disseminated across
multiple media.
Given that Heroes was transmitted in Italy more than six months after
its initial US broadcasting, it was similarly difficult for Italian viewers
to appreciate the Heroes comics that the NBC website published weekly.
The serial publication of these comics, which provide narrative material
that connects to the Heroes television episodes, was timed to coincide
with the US transmission of the episodes; the Heroes narrative weaves
between the two platforms as the season unfolds. The character of Hana
Gitelman, for example, debuted in the online comic books prior to her
appearance within the television series; her introduction to television
was designed to address those viewers who had previously encoun-
tered the character within the comics narrative. Reading these comics
in graphic novel format (published following the transmission of the
first season in the United States), Henry Jenkins noted that he ‘felt a bit
at a disadvantage reading these stories in a book form without reviewing
the series episodes on DVD at the same time’ because the comics were
‘fully integrated into the flow of the series narrative’.4 Because the series’
television episodes aired in Italy months after the online comics had
been published, and because its Italian broadcaster failed to translate
and host the comics content, the Italian audience was similarly unable
to experience this transmedia narrative ‘flow’.
This chapter offers an account of this unevenness within international
markets to show how transmedia narratives on television are often
overridden by the traditional industrial logics still dominant among
broadcasters. Looking at the international distribution of US television
content throws into relief the discrepancy between accounts of the
reconfiguration of television industries and content and the empirical
reality in international markets. Because, as Lotz acknowledges, most
US television scholars focus on US content in a US context, they have
overlooked the significant theoretical and empirical implications of
Alessandro Catania 207

international content distribution; taking account of these implications

will lead to a more precise understanding of television industry dynam-
ics and television textuality in the convergence era.5 I attempt to give a
more nuanced account of contemporary transmedia television from an
international and comparative perspective. Using windowing (the prac-
tice of circulating content on specific channels at specific times) as a case
study, the chapter shows how this distribution practice trumps the log-
ics of transmedia narratives, resulting in conditions of reception for the
same content differing markedly across international television markets
and, in particular, across European markets. The chapter first discusses
the delays between the US and international market transmissions for
several US television dramas aired between 2007 and 2010 in three key
European markets (France, Italy and the United Kingdom). Then I use
the example of French IPTV [Internet Protocol television] service TF1
Vision to show that while more rapid and synchronous modes of dis-
tribution are indeed possible in the European market, well-ingrained
traditional broadcasting logics continue to determine the distribution
cycles of imported US dramas.6 Finally, I will look at the circulation
of FlashForward to illustrate how traditional distribution practices such
as windowing and the resulting differences in availability of content
across European markets crucially transform the nature and reception
of transmedia narratives.

Windowing US serial drama across Europe

This chapter is based on research into the distribution of US series in

France, Italy and the United Kingdom in the 2007–2010 period (three
seasons of a series). Table 11.1 concerns 2009–2010 specifically, indicat-
ing the distribution delay between initial broadcast on US channels and
European broadcast on various channel types and distribution outlets.
While the 2007–2009 data includes some variations on the 2009–2010
figures, the patterns of distribution were broadly similar. The French,
Italian and UK markets have been chosen as case studies because, despite
differences among them, their strong commonalities offer useful com-
parison within a European television landscape. The United Kingdom
has always had a privileged relationship with the United States. More-
over, culturally and geographically closer to the United States than the
rest of Europe, the United Kingdom enjoys the absence of linguistic
barriers – a very important point when it comes to the re-purposing
and transmission timing of content in different countries. France is
traditionally considered very conservative, exerting strict institutional

Table 11.1 Distribution of US serial drama in Europe

France: 2009–2010 UK: 2009–2010 Italy: 2009–2010

Lost +1 Day TF1Vision +1 Day SKY1 8 Days FOX

[VOD online] [subscription satellite/IPTV] +[subscription satellite]
+10 Months TF1
[free terrestrial]
Heroes +1 Day TF1Vision +2 Months BBC2 +8 Months Steel,
[VOD online/IPTV] [free terrestrial] Mediaset Premium [VOD DTT]
> >
+3 Seasons France4 +12 Months Italia1
[free Digital Terrestrial [free terrestrial]
Television – DTT – public
24 – +3 Days SKY1 – –
[subscription satellite/IPTV]
House – +7 Months SKY1 +4 Months Italia1
[subscription satellite/IPTV] [free terrestrial]
Desperate Housewives – +6 Months E4 +2 Months FOX
[free DTT/IPTV] [subscription satellite]
> >
C4 +14 Months RAI2
[free terrestrial] [free terrestrial]
Dexter +5 Months Canal+ – +6 Months FOX
[subscription satellite/IPTV] [subscription satellite]
True Blood +4 Months OrangeVOD +8 Months FX +5 Months FOX
[VOD online/IPTV] [subscription satellite/IPTV] [subscription satellite]
Californication +6 Months M6VOD – +12 Months Jimmy
[onlineVOD] [subscription satellite/DTT]
+over12 Months M6
[free terrestrial]
FlashForward +1Day TF1Vision +4 Days Five 14Days FOX
[VOD online/IPTV] [free terrestrial] + [subscription satellite]
Canal+ 2010
[subscription satellite]

Each cell illustrates the delay in days or months behind US schedules, the channel and type of distribution platform [within brackets]. Chevrons (>)
are used to indicate redistribution on a different channel/platform with additional delay.
210 Circulation and Reception

control over media policy so as to explicitly protect (or privilege)

national productions over foreign media; it has furthermore only been
in recent years that this television landscape has undergone important
developments in terms of technological innovation (such as the devel-
opment of catch-up and video on demand [VOD] services). In the case
of the Italian television market, the duopoly of commercial television
channels Mediaset and public broadcaster RAI – who together control
approximately more than 80 per cent of the market – has slowed the
development of new distribution technologies. Yet, despite the distinc-
tiveness of each of these markets, they are each very similar in terms of
sheer size (of viewers), programming capacities of national productions,
geographical location and broadcasting histories.
As the figures in Table 11.1 indicate, major distribution delays were
the norm. With some exceptions considered below, between 2007 and
2010, US dramas were often distributed in France, Italy and the United
Kingdom several months and even years after their US premieres.
In 2009 Heroes aired after weeks or months of delay in the United
Kingdom, with seven to 12 months delay in Italy and more than a
season’s delay in France. The fourth season of Dexter (Showtime, 2006–
2013) premiered in France and Italy five and six months, respectively,
after the first US broadcast. These data challenge discourses on con-
temporary television and digital media with regard to the supposed
instantaneous global availability of content and the changes in con-
sumer culture and consumption patterns that this entails.7 While digital
global communications allow for inexpensive, synchronous, worldwide
promotion and distribution of films and television shows, the dom-
inant tendency among European broadcasters in this period was to
circulate imports in a rather traditional way; instead of distributing
programmes ‘anytime, anywhere’, European broadcasters distributed
imports primarily by using different distribution channels at different
This distribution practice, known as windowing, allows variable pric-
ing for the same product according to exclusivity and ‘temporal dis-
count’ – prices are higher for exclusive content and first-run markets.8
This means that viewers pay more to watch series earlier on the only
platform that makes that content available. Windowing, the regimes
of availability in time and space for content for different audiences,
is a long-standing broadcasting business model. This chapter uses this
practice as a case study to examine how the established logics of the
television industry mediate the impact of potentially disruptive new
Alessandro Catania 211

My research reveals several windowing patterns. Firstly, satellite and

cable channels tend to air shows with reduced delays. Exclusivity is
crucial as the same programmes for which viewers have paid via sub-
scription channels are later broadcast on free terrestrial television.
Of particular interest here is the key consequence of distribution win-
dowing, the creation of two distinct audiences: on the one hand a
highly profitable niche audience that can afford the steep prices of
cable/satellite subscription and VOD, and therefore has early access to
the content; on the other hand, the viewers of free-to-air terrestrial
channels, who still constitute the only mass audience in the European
markets. In the very diverse European television ecology of the 2000s
the unequal average audience shares among television channels was and
still is a common characteristic of different national television markets.
In each country, the vast majority of the national audience is concen-
trated on a minority of free-to-air, terrestrial television channels while,
in terms of the sheer size of the audience share, only a fraction of the
television population watches each of the remaining channels, desig-
nated by the umbrella term ‘multichannel’ (cable, pay-per-view satellite,
IPTV and so forth). Therefore, only a fraction of the population in each
country has early access to US content.
Broadcasters use windowing to minimise risks related to potentially
unsuccessful imported content. The audience segments that are willing
to pay to watch the show as soon as possible also provide broadcast-
ers with viewing figures crucial to evaluating the programmes potential
success among the general audience. The practice of first trialling pro-
grammes on subscription channels and then upgrading them to main
channels for the mass audience is commonplace. For instance, in Italy,
House (FOX, 2004–2012) was moved from Italia1 to the more gener-
alist channel Canale5 due to its increasing popularity. There are also
instances of programmes first imported by subscription channels and
then purchased by terrestrial broadcasters. Lost, for example, was first
imported to Italy by satellite subscription channel FOX and acquired
later by public broadcaster RAI2.9 The practice of windowing pro-
grammes to trial them within national broadcasting markets is related
to the dynamics of the international programme trade. As ‘global tele-
vision buyers must rely on non-objective measures of potential success,
such as reputation, promotional materials and personal relationship’,
the viewing figures for previous windows help broadcasters manage
the ‘unpredictability’ of imported programming.10 Broadcasting pro-
grammes with enough delay between different distribution windows
‘allows certain audiences privileged access, withholding programming
212 Circulation and Reception

from other audiences in order to build interest’, thus reducing commer-

cial risks.11
Windowing remains a crucial industrial practice for European broad-
casters not only to minimise commercial risks but also to maximise
profit from the same content. A programme is often windowed across
different distribution channels owned by one media company. The
distribution of the fifth season of House in Italy is, in this respect, exem-
plary. Mediaset programmed House with the relatively low delay of four
to six months. However, while the first part of the fifth season was pro-
grammed on Canale5 – Mediaset’s free-to-air terrestrial channel – with
a four-month delay, the second part of the season was first aired on one
of Mediaset’s subscription channels. Viewers eager to immediately watch
the second half of the season had to pay for this earlier access. The same
episodes were then rebroadcast on Canale5.
The commercial advantages that windowing provides in the distri-
bution of imported US drama entail specific regimes of availability of
content across different territories with respect to US first-run dates.
The delays in broadcast transmission of the television episodes mean
that European viewers cannot fully engage with non-television based
transmedia content simply because they have not seen the correspond-
ing television episodes. The narrative logics of multiplatform television
are thwarted by the industrial distribution logics that determine these
different regimes of availability, which do not take into account the
careful orchestration of content across multiple media platforms, online,
offline and on television. Across the European markets, different regimes
of availability resulting from windowing override transmedia narratives
that in the United States had been carefully orchestrated across multiple

France’s TF1 Vision and the creation of audience


The case of French VOD platform TF1Vision demonstrates that

European markets are capable of the instantaneous modes of distri-
bution required by transmedia narratives; this exception demonstrates
that it is the long-standing logics of the European market that mili-
tate against the coordination of a programme and its ancillary content
rather than a technologically determined lagging behind a US market
in which, as John Caldwell says, television multiplatforming became a
‘corporate house rule’ between the 1990s and the 2000s.12 Under some
Alessandro Catania 213

circumstances European broadcasters do strategically opt for modes of

distribution that almost completely eliminate the customary delays
between US and European first-run airdates. TF1Vision made the ‘buzzi-
est’ US series, such as Lost and Heroes, available to the French audience
within 24 hours of the first US broadcast. This service, branded with
the tagline ‘Yesterday in the US, today on TF1 Vision’ and available
online and through IPTV box sets, enhanced both the network’s and
the programmes’ value for the French audience by reducing the dis-
tribution delay between the European and the US broadcast dates.
Because of the significantly reduced temporal discount between the
US and the subtitled French version, TF1’s privileged audience seg-
ment was able to engage with the internationally distributed pro-
motional materials – clips, websites, interactive games, comics and so
forth. They could therefore also engage with geographically distant
audiences watching the show on a similar schedule, thus multiplying
opportunities for participation in online media forums.
But while ‘Hot from the US’ offers such as that from TF1 Vision
show that viable alternative distribution models are available and point
to the commercial advantages that rapid, digital distribution ensures,
they further confirm how crucial windowing strategies are for European
broadcasters.13 Early distribution is used to increase the value of the
product and the price for the consumer. TF1 adopts a traditional win-
dowing pattern to create a niche, high-value offer for those willing to
pay more for an early viewing and then moves programmes to its main
channel, broadcasting them for the general public on TF1 months after
the US premiere. Even with this service, branded around the sense of
immediacy and the limited temporal discount, windowing is the key
distribution strategy adopted to manage US drama imports.
Nonetheless, more rapid, virtually instantaneous modes of distribu-
tion are indeed possible within the European market. Taking advantage
of them would allow European broadcasters to benefit from global pro-
motion and marketing campaigns, given that imported ready-made
promotional material is already globally available online. These modes
of distribution would also be potentially advantageous for the audi-
ence, as they would provide more opportunities to engage with online
content while also allowing for the development of wider audience com-
munities beyond national borders. However, transforming the regimes
of availability of imported programmes would require broadcasters
to rethink established distribution practices. Rather than doing this,
European broadcasters in Europe have adhered to old logics and used
214 Circulation and Reception

new technologies to circulate television in ways that further distin-

guishes between those audiences who can access content early by paying
VOD and channel subscription fees and those who cannot. This points
to the hybridisation of traditional industrial practices such as window-
ing and the commercial advantages afforded by media convergence.
In this instance, TF1 makes the most of the new convergent media land-
scape, but does so to reinforce rather than reconfigure its traditional
distribution strategies.
The primacy of distribution windowing has immediate effects on con-
sumers and informs the way in which European audiences experience
imported television. Content is not available ‘anytime, anywhere’ but
is delivered to a schedule that suits broadcasters’ commercial imper-
atives. These commercially determined regimes of availability exclude
European audiences from a new ‘golden age of choice’ in which viewers
decide what to watch, when to watch it and on which platform.14 From
a global perspective, the US audience is granted first access to US con-
tent and benefits from all the advantages of consuming programmes in
their native multiplatform environment; by contrast, the effects of the
delay in content circulation on the consumption of television relegates
the European audience to a subordinate position, able to engage with a
given programme but not with the ancillary material that accompanies
it in the United States. As Timothy Havens argues, the ways in which
content circulates transnationally across multiple markets contributes
to structuring hierarchies between different national audiences.15
Yet while the logics of windowing adopted by European broadcasters
such as TF1 create internal hierarchies within the national audience, the
windowing of US drama does not result exclusively from their decisions.
The commercial strategies of US content distributors also determine
content availability. The following section examines the distribution of
FlashForward to illustrate how Disney’s attempt at simultaneous global
distribution resulted in a partial reconfiguration of audience hierar-
chies. FlashForward’s European circulation is the exception proving the
rule that the commercial imperatives of US and European broadcasters
override the digital affordances that permit multiplatform distribution.

FlashForward and simultaneous global distribution

The distribution of FlashForward in the autumn of 2009 confirmed

that European television markets can support the alternative distribu-
tion schemes allowed by digital technologies. Disney had sold its new
major multiplatform franchise in more than one hundred territories
Alessandro Catania 215

before the US premiere, with the result that the programme was pro-
grammed almost synchronically in multiple television markets. While
the series’ US premiere date was 24 September, it premiered in Spain,
Portugal, France, Italy, Belgium and the United Kingdom (and many
other international markets) over the subsequent two weeks.
With FlashForward, Disney-ABC not only created a new franchise
designed from its origin to appeal to a multiplicity of territories but also
actively altered traditional distribution cycles by collapsing different dis-
tribution windows on VOD and, most importantly, on traditional tele-
vision channels.16 Disney’s president of global distribution, Ben Pyne,
compared FlashForward’s distribution with that of another globally suc-
cessful Disney-ABC franchise, Lost. He pointed out that, when Lost
first appeared, old logics still dominated the international distribution
of television content. During Lost’s lifecycle, however, Disney realised
that this ‘disconnected’ system was not suitable for a shifting media
landscape in which rapid technological changes allowed for quasi-
instantaneous access to content and implemented new alternative distri-
bution models.17 Disney accelerated FlashForward’s international distri-
bution, planning a simultaneous release in multiple territories; this strat-
egy was, as Pyne explained, intended ‘to reduce piracy’ but also to allow
‘bigger-than-life global marketing campaigns’.18 Distributors had already
begun to combat piracy through new distribution models. As Havens
explains, the longer it takes for a programme to ‘cycle through various
distribution windows, the more vulnerable it becomes to unautho-
rised copying, so distributors often shorten the time between windows
or release programming simultaneously in multiple windows’.19 But
Disney’s simultaneous release of FlashForward was also intended to make
the most of international marketing initiatives by ensuring that the
programme and its ancillary and promotional paratexts would be simul-
taneously available in all markets. On the day of the US premiere of the
show more than eight multiplatform components were already globally
available as part of FlashForward’s digital campaign:

• The Mosaic Collective (ARG)

• Truth Hack (Scripted narrative content/ARG)
• The FlashFoward Facebook Experience (social media application)
• FlashForward: 11 Things (series of behind the scenes interviews)
• The Fate Documentary (documentary series)
• Live Chat (fans’ interview with producers)
• The Flash Ahead experience (‘sneak peak’ content)
• Eight-episode series of interviews with cast and crew.
216 Circulation and Reception

While, as Pyne said, this multiplatform surround created an ‘aura

around the show everyone can benefit from’, international audiences
could benefit from this campaign and engage with the series through
this multiplicity of multiplatform extensions only because of the recon-
figured windowing strategies Disney had adopted to market this show.20
Disney’s push for a synchronised European (and global) rollout of the
series points to the key role of the US company in influencing distribu-
tion patterns on European screens. This example shows that when the
industrial strategy demands it European broadcasters adopt a regime of
content availability that allows the European audience to engage with
narratives across multiple platforms. Furthermore, FlashForward’s circu-
lation pattern epitomised the reconfiguration of traditional audience
hierarchies, with some European audiences accessing the programme
with minimal delays. However, a closer look at FlashForward’s circulation
in different European countries reveals how national broadcasting log-
ics and channels’ strategies also influenced the programme’s distribution
pattern, further illustrating how discrepancies in the distribution of the
series across Europe were determined by national broadcaster strategies
that do not necessarily consider the transmedia nature of the circulating
In the United Kingdom, FlashForward aired on terrestrial Channel
Five, four days after it aired in the United States. Since Five is a free-
to-air channel, access to its content is unconditional. In Italy, the series
was acquired by FOX and aired within two weeks from the US first-run.
While the distribution delay was still considerably reduced, FOX is a
subscription channel and not a free-to-air channel. In France, where
commercial broadcaster TF1 secured exclusive rights to distribute the
show, the series was circulated according to a more traditional window-
ing pattern. Like many other US shows, FlashForward had been available
only for the highly profitable VOD service TF1Vision 24 hours after the
US broadcast. The wider public, however, was able to watch the pro-
gramme only months after the US audience had. While FlashForward
aired in the United Kingdom and Italy within days of the US premiere,
all viewers in the former had immediate access while in the latter only a
privileged audience did so. And in France, some privileged viewers, able
to pay TF1 Vision’s subscription, had immediate access while many of
their compatriots did not. Despite the producer/distributor’s plans for
a uniquely synchronised international rollout, different audiences still
accessed the content at different times. This example speaks to the medi-
ation of global and local forces in determining the regimes of availability
of content on a local scale: Disney’s strategy, albeit crucial, was not the
Alessandro Catania 217

only factor determining the programme’s circulation of the show. It is

the combination of American and European industrial logics that ulti-
mately determine the circulation of television content, giving rise to
a complex interaction of old and new television models and crucially
altering the way narratives circulate.
As the US television schedule serves as a temporal pivot for ancillary
products, minimising international distribution delays is crucial to
implementing an effective multiplatform strategy for a television nar-
rative circulating beyond national borders. From this perspective,
FlashForward pioneers a synchronised distribution for a major US tele-
vision franchise on an international scale never attempted before but
is also indicative of a long-term tendency for a more rapid distribu-
tion of television content. However, as of today, market synchronisation
has not yet become a commonplace practice across European markets.
Sky1 in the United Kingdom, for instance, aired US dramas such as Lost
and 24 within days of the US broadcast. Similarly, in Italy, The Walking
Dead on FOX airs within hours of the US premiere. But while exam-
ples of synchronised distribution exist, the practice is not yet routine
and, more importantly, occurs mainly on subscription channels, such as
Sky1 or FOX Italia (or VOD offers such as TF1 vision), that create audi-
ence hierarchies within the national market rather than abolish existing
transnational divisions.
It is still too early to tell whether rollouts such as FlashForward’s
will become the dominant practice of synchronised international tele-
vision distribution or will remain isolated examples of windowing with
reduced delay. However, at the present time, the practice of simultane-
ous distribution is applied equally (when it is applied at all) to content
both with and without significant ancillary content; yet, due to com-
mercial and narrative logics, it is multiplatform narratives in particular
that would seem to require rapid release schedules on multiple channels
with limited/no delay. But international distributors disregard such log-
ics, failing to distinguish between those series with extensive multiplat-
form content and those without; the distributive delays that result from
windowing schemes thus continue to frequently sever ancillary con-
tent from a given primary text. The industrial practices of international
broadcasters and the nature of the international programme trade over-
ride the narrative and commercial logics of transmedia. FlashForward’s
distribution pattern is so far an exception in a European market that
systematically dismisses multiplatforming in favour of traditional com-
mercial models based on windowing. Contra current academic thinking,
which interrogates the distinction between primary and ancillary texts,
218 Circulation and Reception

international television distributors seem to regard multiplatform exten-

sions as decidedly ancillary and dispensable rather than integral parts
of an organic franchise. As a result, for the majority of European audi-
ences, multiplatform content ceases to be multiplatform once it crosses
the Atlantic.
As Denise D. Bielby and C. Lee Harrington argue, a television text
that ‘exits’ the United States is simply not the same thing that ‘enters
[Europe]’ and ‘understanding what happens during distribution is one
key to understanding the difference’.21 This is particularly the case when
primary texts are disassociated from their ancillary content, making
it impossible for European audiences to make the same meanings as
American audiences. The transmedia/non-transmedia nature of a text
is determined not only by its narrative design but by distribution as
well. The implication for television scholars is that the study of inter-
nationally distributed multiplatform content cannot be focused solely
on formal textual aspects but has also to consider how distribution
determines different regimes of availability and sites of consumption.
When assessing the distribution of multiplatform products, scholars
must account for the ways in which the broadcasting logics of different
national markets impact on content and textual meaning.
The ways in which national broadcasting logics impact multiplat-
form content should lead us to question the theorisation of transmedia
as a form of cultural convergence that taps the technological poten-
tial of digital media convergence and allows for new, participatory
cultural forms on a transnational/global scale. According to Jenkins,
transmedia’s capacity to cross national borders and create audiences
transcending geographical and socio-cultural divisions was one of the
primary bottom-up forces that prompted entertainment media to par-
tially reconfigure their business models.22 But, as this chapter has
argued, transmedia is subject to industrial logics that militate against
the potential for change so as to preserve the stability and continuity
of long-established business models of national industries. As Goran
Bolin argues, transmedia has become an industry-driven dynamic.23
In the case of US television in particular, the potential of transmedia
to cross national boundaries and reconfigure audience hierarchies is
trumped by industrial logics regulating the international circulation of
content. We should therefore re-evaluate the innovative potential and
impact of transmedia across Europe and by extension across the globe;
transmedia’s grassroots potential in creating new forms of participation,
distribution and textuality often disappears within the dominant logics
of television industries.
Alessandro Catania 219

This chapter has argued that different global/local modes of distri-

bution are key to understanding global television today; as Bielby and
Harrington say, ‘their omission as a key site on the circuit significantly
limits our ability to understand television in the context of cultural
globalization’.24 The chapter has explored the consequences of the con-
tinued primacy of traditional distribution logics, firstly showing how
windowing creates different hierarchical classes of audience according
to different regimes of availability and how this impacts the ways in
which different national audiences experience (or do not experience)
transmedia narratives; secondly by discussing how, from an indus-
trial standpoint, windowing emphasises the notion of primary tele-
visual textuality, thus nuancing theories of distributed multiplatform
textuality within an international landscape, and finally by arguing for
a new understanding of transmedia within global television markets.

1. John Tomlinson, The Culture of Speed. The Coming of Immediacy (London:
Sage, 2007).
2. Amanda D. Lotz, The Television Will Be Revolutionized (New York: New York
University Press, 2007).
3. See Elizabeth Evans, Transmedia Television: Audiences, New Media, and Daily
Life (London: Routledge, 2011); Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: Promos,
Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (New York: New York University Press,
2010); Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide
(New York: New York University Press, 2006). I use both ‘multiplatform’ and
‘transmedia’ without nuancing the differences and similarities of the two
4. Henry Jenkins, ‘ “We Had So Many Stories to Tell”: The Heroes Comics
as Transmedia Storytelling’, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, 3 December 2007, On
the production of the Heroes comic books, see M J Clarke, Transmedia
Television: New Trends in Network Serial Production (London: Bloomsbury,
5. Lotz, The Television Will Be Revolutionized.
6. Internet Protocol television (IPTV) is a system through which television
services are delivered using the Internet network, instead of through a
traditional terrestrial or satellite signal, or through cable.
7. For example, see Christopher Rosen, ‘Do We Need Network TV? A Golden
Age of Choice’, The New York Times, 27 February 2009, http://roomfordebate.
8. Timothy Havens, Global Television Marketplace (London: BFI, 2006), 13.
9. While RAI2 acquired the rights to Lost between 2007 and 2009, it failed to
do so between 2009 and 2010.
10. Ibid., 16.
11. Ibid., 38.
220 Circulation and Reception

12. John Caldwell, ‘Industrial Geography Lessons: Socio-Professional Rituals and

the Borderlands of Production Culture’, in Mediaspace. Place, Space and Cul-
ture in Media Age, eds. Nick Couldy and Anna McCarthy (London: Routledge,
2004), 163.
13. Benjamin Pyne, Disney Media Networks’ President of Global Distribution.
Interviewed by C21 Media at MIPCOM 2009, Cannes,
14. Rosen, ‘Do We Need Network TV?’
15. Timothy Havens, ‘Rechanneling Culture in a Digital World’, paper pre-
sented at the Ends of Television Conference, Amsterdam School for Cultural
Analysis, 1 July 2009.
16. Jessica Borsiczky, Executive Producer, FlashForward. Interviewed by
C21 media at MIPCOM 2009, Cannes,
17. Pyne, C21 interview.
18. Stephen Brook, ‘FlashForward Is Fastest-Selling Disney Series Ever’, The
Guardian, 5 October 2009,
19. Havens, Global Television Marketplace, 39.
20. Pyne, C21 interview.
21. Denise D. Bielby and C. Lee Harrington, Global TV: Exporting Television and
Culture in the World Market (New York and London: New York University
Press, 2008), 173.
22. Jenkins, Convergence Culture, 3–4, 133, 173.
23. Goran Bolin, ‘Digitization, Multi-Platform Texts and Audience Reception’, in
Popular Communication 8, no. 1 (2010), 72–83.
24. Bielby and Harrington, Global TV, 173.
Multimedia Muppets: Narrative
in ‘Ancillary’ Franchise Texts
Aaron Calbreath-Frasieur

In May of 2011 a trailer appeared online for the ‘film’ Green with Envy
(2011). In the first half of the trailer, the narrator signals the genre of the
film, which appears to be a typical romantic comedy, introduces Jason
Segel and Amy Adams as playing the romantic leads, then stumbles over
Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, becoming more than a bit confused
by their presence. Jason Segel ‘stops’ the trailer, turning to the camera
and saying, ‘Wait, wait, wait, stop. Are there Muppets in this movie?’
This trailer is then revealed to be the first preview for the 2011 film The
Over that summer, several more previews for the film were released,
mostly parodies of trailers for other contemporaneous films (Green
Lantern, Hangover Part II, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [all 2011]). In
October 2011, prior to the November US release of the film, a trailer
was posted online as The Final Muppets Parody Trailer (2011). This trailer,
mirroring the Green with Envy one and with similar narration, begins
with the romantic story of two Muppets. The narrator names the stars,
Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, then stumbles over ‘Jason the Segel? Amy
Adams?’ Kermit (Steve Whitmire) interrupts, saying, ‘Wait, wait, wait,
stop. Are there humans in this movie?’ Immediately the narrator breaks
in, saying, ‘Wait, wait, wait, stop. Are we doing a parody of our own
parody trailer?’ The narrator goes on to say, ‘I think we’ve taken this as
far as it will go. Thank you, internet, for one heck of a year!’ The trailer
continues with visual references to the other parodies the film-makers
have done and includes several brief new parodies of other films. These
trailers could potentially be viewed as simply a novel promotional cam-
paign – interesting, self-reflexive, but still paratextual. However, these
trailers go well beyond the standard remit of film trailers. They stand

222 Circulation and Reception

as texts in their own right and become part of the overall Muppet nar-
rative. Further, they demonstrate the spread of the Muppet story and
the difficulty in delineating primary texts from ancillary (in this case
promotional and paratextual) material within the media franchise.
Some scholars have historically situated connected media texts in
a hierarchy, with some seen as primary and others as ancillary, the
latter being understood as promotional, paratextual or secondary, sub-
ordinate to the primary text. Using the Muppets as a case study, this
chapter argues that franchise media challenge this understanding of
what constitutes ancillary material. One of the clearest challenges to
these hierarchies is the presence of narrative material across franchise
texts, the inclusion of original creative content which adds to the
franchise storyworld. In order to understand the full story of many
transmedia franchises, a consumer must seek out each text that con-
tributes to that overall narrative, not simply those perceived as ‘primary’
texts. It is beyond the scope of this chapter to offer a new and com-
prehensive model for ranking or assigning relative value to a spectrum
of texts; rather, my goals are as follows: (1) to illustrate, particularly
with reference to the Muppet franchise, the inadequacies of conven-
tional hierarchical models, arguing against an easy delineation between
primary and ancillary texts and proposing in particular that even mate-
rials designated ‘promotional’ could be entitled to the designation of
a primary text; (2) to propose that any new hierarchical model ought
to include both original creative content and unique narrative material as
the key criteria in determining textual status. In order to achieve these
goals, I examine Muppet texts that would be labelled as promotional
or paratextual (firmly situated as ancillary in traditional hierarchies)
to demonstrate the presence of narrative and original creative content,
showing that each text enhances the whole franchise. The Muppets case
study suggests that a franchise should be approached as a whole, not
necessarily through the lens or gateway of a particular franchise text.
The Muppets are not a television property or a film property, they
are a multimedia franchise. Their story is spread across film, TV, web-
sites, magazines, online videos, comic books, books, games, audio CDs
and other media. Each component adds to the franchise storyworld. The
YouTube videos The Muppets Bohemian Rhapsody (2009) and The Muppets:
Ode to Joy (2008) may not be directly making money for their produc-
ers or contain much in the way of explicit narrative, but they are part
of the overall Muppet story, which positions the Muppets as creators
of media. Muppet CDs not only contain original audio performances
by the Muppeteers, but also often include interstitial narrative material
Aaron Calbreath-Frasieur 223

unique to the audio format. Even undeniably promotional paratexts

such as film trailers sometimes function as both promotional and pri-
mary texts, adding unique elements to the Muppet narrative. Where
Jonathan Gray has argued that paratexts inform our understanding of
a ‘text itself’ (becoming part of that text), I argue that in the Muppets’
case these paratexts are sometimes hybrid texts: paratext and text itself.
Self-reflexive engagement with each medium works to highlight the
positioning of the Muppets as performers and creators of these texts
across media. This positioning allows the producers of the Muppets
to incorporate myriad texts into their narrative, disrupting any reduc-
tive understanding of their many media objects as merely ancillary. The
Muppet Show (1976–1981), the CD Kermit Unpigged (1994), The Muppet
Movie (1979), The Muppet Show Comic Book (2009–present), the Muppet
website and the trailer campaign for The Muppets all contribute to the
Muppet storyworld. Before examining narrative in Muppet ancillary
texts, it is necessary to briefly outline the traditional textual hierarchies
in question and the nature of the Muppet narrative.


Industry and academic discourse has utilised hierarchies that delineate

primary texts from ancillary material. Primary texts are those media
objects given the highest status, such as films, television shows and
literature. In the franchise, these elements have been understood as
the central media texts of an intellectual property (IP), around which
there are various ancillary materials including merchandise, promo-
tional advertising, websites, games and more. Thus, in the Star Wars
franchise, as an example, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) would be con-
sidered a primary text, while Star Wars action figures or even Star Wars
comic books would be considered ancillary.
Textual hierarchies stem in part from an economic viewpoint, often
focused on which texts are the highest earners and which texts direct
the audience towards higher-earning materials. A creative hierarchy is
assumed from this as well: the maker of the film is more highly regarded
than the maker of the toy. Hierarchies have been characterised using
different terminologies, often in binary opposition. These distinctions –
which include primary text/ancillary; primary/secondary/tertiary; text
itself/paratext; text or content/promotion – all essentially break down
to a basic question of what constitutes a ‘primary’ media text. Ancillary
products are an inherent facet of franchise media, but designating which
products should be considered only ‘ancillary’ in a transmedia franchise
224 Circulation and Reception

can be a complicated undertaking. Part of the problem is that scholars

tend to approach franchises through a particular text in the primary
medium on which their research focuses, usually film or television. This
approach positions that entryway text in the foreground, treating it as a
central text around which ancillary texts spread, but if we step back and
look at the franchise as a whole, seeing it from a transmedia perspective,
it is much more difficult to differentiate ‘primary texts’ from ‘ancillary
Muppet media, like other franchises, complicate hierarchical distinc-
tions and the idea of a definable central text in the franchise context
because each Muppet text is integrated into the franchise whole through
spectacle, storytelling or other transmedia logics, with no single set
of texts at the centre. (I take the term ‘transmedia logics’ from Henry
Jenkins1 to describe the connections and links which variously incor-
porate texts into the franchise whole and which can be deployed to
guide consumers between texts, such as through story, character, brand
and spectacle.) By incorporation into a whole, I mean essentially that a
franchise is bigger than a single set of texts; it involves many parts that
enhance the whole to greater or lesser degrees. I will argue that suppos-
edly ancillary texts that contribute creative content to the whole deserve
higher valuation than they have been assigned in traditional hierar-
chies. Although spectacle (including music, comedy and puppetry) is
arguably the most significant logic for the Muppets, given their long
history of short-form sketch-based media, for my purposes here, I will
focus on transmedia narrative, which does link the majority of Muppet

Narrative in the Muppets

Some might question whether the Muppets have an overarching nar-

rative. Their television shows have been more episodic than serial, and
there are few clear plot sequences connecting texts from different media.
The Muppets do have an ongoing narrative, but it is somewhat atypical.
There is no obvious story that links all their texts or even a consistent
genre that does so (beyond very broad comedy or family entertainment).
The Muppets do, however, have a consistent, if unconventional, narra-
tive that binds their myriad texts together within and between media.
The presence of this storytelling in a wide range of texts complicates tex-
tual hierarchies because each piece contributes original creative material
to the narrative whole. If a text, whether it is a movie, a show, a video,
a CD or a movie trailer, enhances this whole then why should it be less
Aaron Calbreath-Frasieur 225

valued than another? Some texts may provide more narrative than oth-
ers, but if each adds something unique then it should be given status as
a primary text. An overarching Muppet narrative is easily, if erratically,
spread across media.
Given the atypical nature of the Muppet narrative, it is necessary to
establish a working definition of narrative. Narratology is a huge area
of study with which this work cannot engage extensively but a frame
of reference is needed to evaluate the role of narrative in the Muppets
franchise. For a definition of narrative I am using the broad one offered
by H. Porter Abbott that, ‘Narrative is the representation of an event or a
series of events.’2 Abbott argues that narrative is made up of two com-
ponents: the story (the events or series of events) and the narrative
discourse (the way the story is represented).3 Abbott also says that, ‘The
concept of story can be further subdivided at least once. There are two
components to every story: the events and the entities involved in the
events. Indeed, without entities, there would be no events. What are
the events but the actions or reactions of entities?’4 That events are
merely actions or reactions of entities is a particularly relevant asser-
tion as the Muppet narrative is character-focused, rather than event- or
Marie-Laure Ryan offers a more complex model for approaching nar-
rative, but uses the same basic definition, with the addition of social
function or use. She writes, ‘Most narratologists agree that narrative con-
sists of material signs, the discourse, which convey a certain meaning (or
content), the story, and fulfil a certain social function. This characteriza-
tion outlines three potential domains for a definition: discourse, story,
and use.’5 The use domain is significant here, in that it promotes the
basic principle that fulfilling different uses does not negate a text’s sta-
tus as narrative. Thus a text that has the social function of promoting
another text can nonetheless be a narrative text.
The Muppets’ narrative then is made up of their story, the repre-
sentation (discourse) of that story and different social functions. The
discourse of the Muppet story involves the conventions of each medium
in which it develops, puppetry and character performances. The story of
an individual Muppet film or television episode is clear enough – those
stories are usually straightforward – but the overall transmedia story is
less clear because of its complex form. The Muppets’ overall story func-
tions as a history almost as much as it does as a fictional story. The
entities of the story are the Muppets and all the people with whom they
interact. The events of the Muppet story are all the activities, occur-
rences and performances in which or with which the characters have
226 Circulation and Reception

engaged across texts, media and time. The overarching Muppet narrative
is what I am calling the entertainment narrative.
The Muppets as characters are positioned as entertainers: actors,
singers, comedians, musicians, dancers, performance artists. Their over-
arching narrative revolves around the act of entertaining, of performing.
Their live-action television series have all been about putting on a
show; in each, a backstage element reinforces the idea that onstage
performances are designed by the characters. Their other texts involve
performing in some capacity, either explicitly or implicitly (such as
when Kermit plays Bob Cratchit in The Muppet Christmas Carol [1992]).
An entertainment narrative involves entertainer characters, engaged
in acts of performance, as well as non-performance character devel-
opment. Performances often involve character information, adding to
the narrative through the performance. Choice of material, behavioural
traits, skill level – all these performance elements, in addition to specific
narrative information that may be present, tell us about the entertainer.
Self-reflexivity is often used to signal the performance as performance
and help build this overarching Muppet narrative.
Having established that the Muppets have a transmedia narrative, I
move now to examine Muppet online videos to demonstrate how they
undermine conventional hierarchies. Online franchise videos would
usually be understood as promotional, supporting specific texts in other
media or promoting the franchise in general. Though these videos are
short-form and usually sketch-based, like other Muppet texts they are
part of the entertainment narrative. These online videos are to an extent
an example of the Muppets adapting to a new media context, but for the
Muppets this adjustment is not as significant as it might be for other
properties, making a distinction in status even more problematic. The
short-form sketch was at the heart of the Muppets from the very begin-
ning. Sam and Friends (1955–1961), their first show, usually consisted of
a single three- to five-minute sketch. In the 1960s, most Muppet pro-
ductions were short commercials for a variety of products. The Muppet
Show and later live-action Muppet series were all variety shows with
sketches framed by a backstage storyline. The sketch has been the main-
stay of Muppet productions since 1955. Each sketch becomes part of
their history, part of their ongoing story. Why would scholars privi-
lege a three-minute sketch that is an ‘episode’ of Sam and Friends as
a primary text simply because it was broadcast on television, while a
three-minute sketch that is a YouTube video is relegated to ancillary
status? The short online sketches should be seen as primary Muppet
texts, though recent academic discourse might label them, along with
Aaron Calbreath-Frasieur 227

a variety of other forms, as paratextual or promotional. The Muppets

have a long history of sketch-based and highly musical media texts, so
much so that making a status distinction between an episode of Sam and
Friends, a Muppet YouTube video, or even some ‘paratexts’ such as film
trailers is quite problematic.

Muppet online videos: More than promotion or paratext

Between the 2004 purchase of the Muppets by the Walt Disney Com-
pany and the 2011 theatrical release of The Muppets, the majority of
Muppet texts were designed for the online environment, with over
100 videos made for free online distribution. The franchise’s first for-
ays into online videos took the form of videos posted on YouTube,
ostensibly by the Muppets themselves, first under individual usernames
such as ‘weirdowhatever’ for Gonzo (reinforcing the Muppets’ position-
ing as celebrities and media creators), then later as ‘Muppets Studio’
(the corporate brand). Some of these videos became viral hits, gaining
millions of views and garnering several Webby awards. In addition to
the viral videos on YouTube, Muppets Studio created numerous video
shorts for the Muppet website (part of the DisneyXD website) – all
involving unique Muppet performances. These videos, for the most part,
are just sketches, sometimes single songs, sometimes very brief Muppet
moments. The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody (YouTube, 2009) is a Muppet
performance of the Queen song, uniquely filmed for this video. At over
34 million views, it is one of the Muppets’ most successful viral videos
and should be seen as a primary Muppet text. It was released a year after
the previous television special and months before the new film went
into production. It is not promotion for another text, it is the show
itself and as such challenges any simplistic notion of what separates a
primary text from an ancillary one.
Texts such as free Muppet online videos, though they do not directly
earn income, may be the source of income-generating texts, even as
they serve promotionally to guide consumers towards those texts. The
YouTube page of the video Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody, for instance, has
links to iTunes to purchase the audio file for both the Muppets version
and the original Queen song. The video is both the origin of the Muppet
version of the song and the promotional piece that guides consumers to
purchase the song. Another YouTube video, The Muppets: Pöpcørn (2010),
features the Swedish Chef making music with his kitchenware and pro-
duce until his microwave popcorn explodes and covers him. There are
links to iTunes to purchase the video even though it is free to watch on
228 Circulation and Reception

YouTube. Even these freely accessible online videos can lead to income
for their creators, through ad-revenue in some cases or through links to
consumer products drawn from the videos themselves.
Though there certainly are real economic distinctions between texts,
we see in these examples that even in the economic realm the income
value differences between texts are somewhat blurry. Ancillary mate-
rial can earn money just as a primary text can. More importantly,
the economic differentiation is inadequate as the sole criterion used
in delineating textual hierarchies. Within the industry an argument
might be made for this approach, but it is not clear why scholars
would follow the same logic. Is The Muppets: Pöpcørn more of a text
itself, and less promotion, when it is purchased? Is it more worthy
of study as a text proper because someone paid for it, much less
because of the price someone paid for it? It is difficult to justify clas-
sifying the free online version as ephemeral promotional media and
the paid-for download as a primary text. The purchased object and
free object are the same; the only difference is the monetary trans-
action. From the point of view of creative content and narrative,
there is no difference. It is unclear why media scholars would choose
monetary value over creative content as the defining characteristic of
media texts or as the basis for relegating a text to the category of
Gray’s Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts6
is one of the key works on paratexts (taking the term from Gérard
Genette,7 building on an earlier discourse on the relationship of primary
texts to secondary and tertiary texts.8 Gray, in some ways, is challenging
textual hierarchies, arguing that these peripheral paratexts are worthy of
study. Even in Gray’s work, however, certain hierarchies remain which
do not fit the Muppet case and are problematic for looking at fran-
chises in general. Gray discusses websites, merchandise, trailers, video
games, ARGs, DVD commentaries and a variety of other media objects
as paratexts. He suggests that scholars should re-conceptualise the dis-
tinction between primary and secondary or paratextual texts, but for
the most part his work still sees these paratexts as part of a ‘film itself’
or ‘show itself’. They shape, enhance and direct our understanding of
the primary text, but function as part of that text. My argument, how-
ever, is that in the franchise context, there often isn’t a ‘show itself’, or
rather there are many ‘shows’. Many media objects that might seem like
paratexts should be seen as primary texts themselves. Take for example
the case of Muppet DVD commentaries. Commentaries would usually
involve production personnel discussing their experiences and choices
Aaron Calbreath-Frasieur 229

in making a film. DVD commentaries for some releases of Muppets

from Space (1999) and Muppet Treasure Island (1996) feature Muppet
characters talking about their experiences making the movie, alongside
directors Tim Hill and Brian Henson respectively. They mix the real
directors’ insight with the fictional lives of the Muppet performer char-
acters – an expansion of the Muppet narrative. Media objects such as
these commentaries do function as paratexts supporting each film, but
they are equally extensions of the Muppet narrative and thus each one
can be viewed as simply one more aspect of the franchise, one more
primary text.
Film trailers are considered to be paratextual, simply promotional
pieces for a given film. The Muppets’ Green with Envy trailer and
the other parodies, described above, have elements of self-contained
textuality; they do show scenes from the movie, but the parody element
has nothing to do with the actual film. Moreover scenes and voice-overs
by the performers were created specifically for the trailers. The Green with
Envy trailer demonstrates Muppet self-reflexivity and engagement with
the format. The teaser trailer form is deconstructed. Jason Segel breaks
the fourth wall by questioning the veracity of the trailer. The final trailer
takes this even further, specifically addressing the fact that it is a trailer,
engaging with the trailer format: the narrator asks, ‘Are we doing a par-
ody of our own parody trailer?’ This deconstruction suggests that this
text is the product of Muppets creating a trailer as such. It is a trailer text,
not just a compilation of scenes from an upcoming movie. In another
of the parody trailers, Jason Segel stops the trailer again and asks, ‘Is
this another Muppet trailer parody? Why don’t we just show a real
trailer? I mean, what are we hiding?’ (2011). These are self-aware trail-
ers, trailers positioned as trailers through self-reflexivity, entering the
Muppet narrative as examples of the characters involved in the creation
of trailers. Though definitely promotional in nature and use (in keeping
with Ryan’s characterisation), these texts stand somewhat apart from the
film they are promoting. They contain distinct original creative content
and the trailers are their own phenomenon. Consider the line, ‘Thank
you, internet, for one heck of a year!’ The movie was not out at that
point; the trailer was celebrating the online life of the trailers, of the
promotional campaign. Rather than being merely a text supporting an
upcoming movie, the trailers – the promotional campaign – became a
site of Muppet text creation, positioning the property firmly within the
entertainment narrative. The trailers function as both paratext for the
film and as primary texts in their own right, integrated into the franchise
as a whole.
230 Circulation and Reception

Paul Grainge’s examination of an advertisement for the UK broadcast

of Lost (ABC, 2004–2010) offers a useful construct for understanding
promotional texts such as these Muppet trailers. Grainge argues, ‘In mar-
keting terms, the trailer was designed as a hybrid cultural text – a
promotional object but also a self-standing visual entertainment. Rather
than advertise Lost through edited sequences of narrative and character
action, Channel 4 developed a conceptual mood for its latest US acquisi-
tion.’9 In the same vein, P. David Marshall writes that ‘The line between
forms of promotion and the cultural product is blended and hybridised
in contemporary production.’10 For the Muppets, this hybridisation is
closer to the norm rather than the exception. Many of their texts fill
both these roles. The trailers for The Muppets described above are per-
fect examples. Though their primary purpose is certainly to promote
the film, and they include footage from the film, they also function as
‘a self-standing visual entertainment’. These hybrid promos are nothing
new for the Muppet franchise; its producers have a history of making
paratexts that are primary texts. For the original British broadcast of The
Muppet Show, Henson Associates created weekly promo-spots, roughly
15 seconds in length. The spots usually featured improvised interac-
tion between Kermit and Fozzie (Frank Oz), Kermit telling the viewer
about the guest star in the next episode, Fozzie trying to upstage and
distract him. This kind of ephemeral media text would not normally be
classed as a primary text, yet these are original performances, entertain-
ing on their own. They do more than influence our understanding of
the show itself; they offer unique original Muppet narrative material.
Unsurprisingly, these promos have been recirculated as valuable special
features on DVD releases of the show. The inclusion of narrative and
other original elements in trailers, online videos and other materials
traditionally regarded as promotional and ancillary is inspiring change
in how the industry views these materials as well.

Promotion and creativity

One possible argument for making a distinction in the status of media

texts is that certain media objects are ‘only’ promotional because the
industry that makes them perceives them that way rather than as cre-
ative texts. Historically, the film and television industries have certainly
treated trailers, advertisements, online content, ARGs, podcasts and
other similar materials as only promotional. Gray asserts that, ‘While
audiences may be just as if not more captivated by paratextual creativ-
ity, Hollywood still tends not to count this as creativity.’11 However, the
Aaron Calbreath-Frasieur 231

industry position is being challenged, notably with the Writers Guild of

America (WGA) strike in 2007–2008. The strike highlighted the growing
importance of recognising transmedia creativity within the television
industry, as creative personnel strove to get recognition for the work
that goes into ‘promotion’ material. Denise Mann writes of the conflict:

One of the primary issues dividing the WGA leadership and man-
agement at the studios and networks was the proper definition of
these quasi-entertainment ventures that straddle the once firm line
dividing art and hype. Whereas the WGA and its members insisted
on calling their creative contributions ‘content’, the networks and
studios insisted they functioned primarily as ‘promotions’, thereby
limiting their need as corporate owners to pay residuals to talent.12

Here the distinction in textual status is between ‘content’ and ‘promo-

tion’ with studios trying to maintain a traditional division between the
two despite changing practices. Though ‘promotion’ is now a more com-
plex job responsibility, involving content creation, the studios do not
want to pay creative personnel accordingly. The distinction of these
texts as only promotion is untenable because they are sites of creativity
like any other textual form. Gray, writing about the strike, says that:

Currently, creative personnel are not paid for their work on most
paratexts, the film and television industries choosing instead to see
such work as strictly promotional. When a cast member records a
commentary track, when a writer works on an ARG or a mobisode,
and when the showrunners of complex, transmediated shows such as
Heroes or Lost try to coordinate and incorporate various paratexts into
the grand narrative, they must do so for free and for the love of their
text; participation in all ‘promotions’ is a part of their contractual

Though creative work is taking place on commentaries, mobisodes and

the construction of ARGs, the industry ignores the value of that work to
protect their profits. The WGA strike demonstrates that creatives within
the industry want this material to be seen as creative not just promotion.
The industry has been reluctant to treat the production of this material
as creative work because doing so would change existing pay structures
and ultimately cost more money. But there is no question that creative
work is going into this material. If this material is content, as it seems to
232 Circulation and Reception

be, then there is no necessary reason to treat it as being of a lower status

than a primary text.
Approaching the online Muppet videos (both on YouTube and the
DisneyXD website) discussed above as sites of creativity, we find the
online videos looking quite similar to a television text or a film. They
clearly display original creative content in the performances by the
Muppeteers, who are the same as for any other Muppet screen text.
Behind the scenes, many of these videos were written by Jim Lewis
and Kirk Thatcher and directed by Thatcher. Lewis has been a writer
with the Muppets since the 1980s (starting out working on Muppet Mag-
azine), writing a wide variety of Muppet material including for the series
Muppets Tonight (1996–98). Thatcher, who directed Muppets: Bohemian
Rhapsody among other online videos, started with the Muppets as an
associate producer on The Jim Henson Hour (1989) in 1988 and has
directed three Muppet television movies and has a variety of other
Muppet credits, including co-writing the film Muppet Treasure Island. The
same creative personnel are involved in these projects across platforms.
Seen as sites of creativity, these ‘ancillary’ visual entertainments differ
very little from any other Muppet text.
Creativity in franchise media is too often overlooked and should
be taken into greater consideration when examining and categorising
media. Drawing on David Hesmondhalgh,14 I am using creativity here in
the sense of symbolic creativity, the creation and use of symbols to make
culturally meaningful texts. Taking the perspective that transmedia texts
are sites of creativity seriously challenges the subordinate ancillary sta-
tus of many franchise texts. Using the industries’ own discourses of
authorship and authenticity, the distinctions between media are quite
problematic. We see the same creative personnel at work across media.
It seems strange to treat a franchise film as a text and a franchise video
as promotion when they are written and performed by the same set
of people. The film and television industries frequently do so and may
continue to for a time. However, this is not a useful stance for scholars
to follow as it creates these questionable hierarchies. Creative person-
nel work on multiple media and may feel as committed to quality
within their medium as a producer of television or film does. More-
over, even the industry discourse will likely change with the increased
importance of transmediality and demands for recognition by creative
The creative personnel behind the Muppets have often worked across
media. In addition to his work on the online videos and past shows, Jim
Lewis is the writer behind many Muppet appearances (such as on talk
Aaron Calbreath-Frasieur 233

shows), DVD commentaries and various other Muppet performances. He

has also written several ‘autobiographical’ Muppet books: Kermit’s Before
You Leap (2006),15 Pepe the King Prawn’s It’s Hard Out There for a Shrimp
(2008) and Miss Piggy’s The Diva Code (2009). When the same writer is
writing across platforms, it is difficult to say that one text is a more valu-
able part of the Muppet narrative than another. There is little reason a
Lewis-written television special would be a more valid primary text than
a Lewis-written book. Gray suggests that: ‘Many paratexts fall under a
company’s marketing and promotions budget, meaning that the show’s
creators may have little or nothing to do with their creation, thereby
producing ample opportunity for creative disconnects, and for unin-
spired paratexts to do little to situate either themselves or the viewer in
the storyworld.’16
It is significant then that this situation has not historically been the
case for the Muppets. The same people are involved across various
media, maintaining continuity, staying connected. This kind of cross-
media creative involvement may be an atypical aspect of the Muppets,
but shows the complications offered by franchises and highlights the
level of creativity that may go into these lower status texts. Of course,
even the involvement of different personnel in the production of texts
(such as those made by franchise licensees) does not preclude those texts
from being valid parts of the IP narrative and deserving of primary text
Even children’s picture books based on the Muppet franchise have,
at least historically, been held to a high standard and expected to
be true to the characters and overall story. Jocelyn Stevenson, who
later wrote for Fraggle Rock and other Henson television productions,
wrote Muppet picture books during the run of The Muppet Show. She
recalls that though writers themselves might be freelance during that
period, one of the head Muppet people (Jim Henson, Frank Oz or
head writer Jerry Juhl) would check every transcript and image to
ensure it worked as a Muppet text. Additionally, if a character was
featured heavily, the performer for that character would check to be
certain it was true to the character.17 While some might see these pic-
ture books as merchandise, there was, under Henson, strong quality
control and dedication to a certain level of consistency in materials.
Stevenson cites quality control as one of the great strengths of Henson
and recalls of the mid-1970s, when she worked on Sesame Street Maga-
zine: ‘In those days, Jim Henson, himself, was checking every illustration
in the magazine.’18 Not all franchise owners would be so dedicated;
even the Muppets franchise under Disney is unlikely to have that direct
234 Circulation and Reception

performer involvement, but these examples do suggest the kinds of

complications that arise with franchises.


This chapter has pointed to several aspects of media franchises in gen-

eral, and the Muppet franchise in particular, that challenge traditional
textual hierarchies. The franchise system itself tends to challenge hier-
archies, because even in the economic realm – which is largely the basis
of traditional hierarchies – textual status is disrupted by the economic
realities of franchises: ‘ancillary’ IP products make money, sometimes a
lot of money. More and more media conglomerates are planning fran-
chises from the inception of a media text, so that no single text is a clear
originating point for the franchise. Commercial value then is not a good
measure for textual status in the franchise, or at the very least it should
not be the sole measure.
Within the industry, there has been movement to change the tra-
ditional hierarchies, particularly around ‘content’ and ‘promotion’.
Because there is considerable creative activity taking place in areas con-
sidered promotional, the personnel involved in creating content for
‘promotions’ want to be recognised – and paid – for their work. I have
focused here on promotion and paratext, but there is ample evidence
that the broader range of ancillary franchise materials involves creative
work, and this creativity should not be ignored by scholars. Gray states
that ‘paratexts confound and disturb many of our hierarchies and bina-
ries of what matters and what does not in the media world’;19 I am
suggesting that in the franchise this disturbance is even greater, to the
point that many media objects which might otherwise be considered
paratextual, promotional or ancillary are primary texts themselves. Per-
forming a function, such as promotion, should not preclude them from
that designation. Regardless of how media industries assign value to IP
products, scholars should consider the variety of factors that link fran-
chise texts, including economics, creativity and transmedia logics. If a
franchise product, such as the Green with Envy trailer, offers original cre-
ative content that contributes to the franchise narrative, then it deserves
attention as more than an ancillary object.
This discussion of hierarchies raises the question of whether any fran-
chise objects can be seen as fully ancillary, as only merchandise. There is
plenty of room for debate on this topic. After problematising the whole
idea of hierarchies in the franchise, I am reluctant to then stipulate
Aaron Calbreath-Frasieur 235

that certain objects are merely merchandise (effectively creating a new

hierarchy). On the other hand, some Muppet objects do not seem to
meet the given criteria – a pre-existing logo printed on a mug does not
constitute original creative content and does not provide new narra-
tive information. There is an argument to be made that all material
instances of the property do contribute to and enhance the overall fran-
chise, particularly as representations of the brand. Certainly franchise
objects should not be rejected from examination because they qualify
as ‘merchandise’; there is a degree of fuzziness here as in other franchise
concerns. I would argue, however, that certain kinds of merchandise
might be generally definable as generic licensed merchandise. In partic-
ular, the most common merchandise forms featuring a logo, used for
numerous IPs, are too common to make a unique contribution to the
Assuming it is still useful to have textual hierarchies at all, further
measures are needed to evaluate a text’s status. Much as the generic label
of ‘B-movie’ denotes the lower cultural status of certain films (though
such films are nonetheless accepted as primary texts), not all ‘primary’
texts within a franchise need be valued equally. The Muppet trailer cam-
paign can reasonably be seen as a lesser component of the franchise
whole than The Muppet Movie, but the presence of unique story ele-
ments (or performance spectacle or character elements) demands more
consideration than is given in the current hierarchies. A system used
to evaluate the relative status of texts in a transmedia franchise will
likely be somewhat subjective, but greater recognition of the presence
of creative content (a fairly empirical standard), including contribu-
tion to narrative, moves hierarchies towards a more balanced model
(away from a problematic economically focused one). To further develop
a model of relative status, different transmedia logics should be con-
sidered and specific measures chosen for each – such as canonicity
or unique story elements for narrative, continuity in creative labour,
perhaps distinctive performances for spectacle. These are only a few
of the myriad possible measures; each would vary in application and
would always retain an element of subjectivity. It is easy enough to
determine George Lucas’ Star Wars narrative canon empirically, yet the
use of that measure would subjectively exclude or de-value hundreds
of non-canon – yet licensed – Star Wars texts which may be quite
meaningful to some consumers. Moreover, one must choose which
transmedia logics to examine and whether to favour one over another.
Thus the film The Muppets (which provides significant and unique
236 Circulation and Reception

narrative information about the Muppets) will undoubtedly be deemed

to be of higher status than a The Muppet Show t-shirt (which pro-
motes the brand without original creative content), while the online
videos (featuring distinctive Muppet performance spectacle and min-
imal narrative) invite a more complex evaluation. Transmedia logics
have barely begun to be studied (especially those logics other than
transmedia storytelling); further examination can lead to better stan-
dards and tools for making these evaluations when creating new textual

1. Henry Jenkins, ‘The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Princi-
ples of Transmedia Storytelling’, Futures of Entertainment, 21 Decem-
ber 2009,
2. H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative 2nd edition
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 12. Italics in original.
3. Ibid., 16.
4. Ibid., 17.
5. Marie-Laure Ryan, ‘Toward a Definition of Narrative’, in The Cambridge Com-
panion to Narrative, ed. David Herman (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2007), 24.
6. Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media
Paratexts (New York: New York University Press, 2010).
7. Gérard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, trans. Jane Lewin
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
8. This earlier discourse is drawn primarily from these works: John Fiske,
Television Culture (London: Routledge, 1987); Jostein Gripsrud, The Dynasty
Years: Hollywood Television and Critical Media Studies (London: Routledge,
1995); John Thornton Caldwell, ‘Critical Industrial Practice: Branding,
Repurposing, and the Migratory Patterns of Industrial Texts’, Television & New
Media 7, no. 2 (2006), 99–134.
9. Paul Grainge, ‘Lost Logos: Channel 4 and the Branding of American Event
Television’, in Reading Lost: Perspectives on a Hit Television Show, ed. Roberta
Pearson (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 104.
10. P. David Marshall, ‘The New Intertextual Commodity’, in The New Media
Book, ed. Dan Harries (London: British Film Institute, 2002), 71.
11. Gray, Show Sold Separately, 215.
12. Denise Mann, ‘It’s Not TV, It’s Brand Management TV: The Collective
Author(s) of the Lost Franchise’, in Production Studies: Cultural Studies of Media
Industries, eds. Vicki Mayer, Miranda J. Banks and John Thornton Caldwell
(London: Routledge, 2009), 110.
13. Gray, Show Sold Separately, 215.
14. David Hesmondhalgh, The Cultural Industries 2nd edition (London: Sage
Publications Ltd., 2007).
Aaron Calbreath-Frasieur 237

15. Notably, the audiobook of Before You Leap is performed in character as Kermit
by Steve Whitmire. Again, it is problematic to make a distinction in status
between this text and other Kermit texts.
16. Gray, Show Sold Separately, 207.
17. Jocelyn Stevenson, personal interview with author, London, 23 August 2012.
18. Ibid.
19. Gray, Show Sold Separately, 209.

Note: Locators in bold type indicate figures or illustrations, those in italics

indicate tables. Locators followed by the letter ‘n’ refer to notes.

3D, 29, 31–5 difficulty of anti-hero

24 (Fox), 205, 217 conclusions, 80
60 Minutes (CBS), 133 Don Draper, 76–7; see also Mad Men
and Machiavellian fascination, 77–8
Aarseth, E.J., 65, 72n45 moral judgement, the suspension
Abbott, H.P., 225, 236n2 of, 80
ABC prominence on American television,
audience share, 126 contextualising, 74–5
average audience member, 134 relative morality, 78, 83
About Digital Comics (Bigerel), 61 serial endings, importance of, 90
Adams, A., 221 Tony Soprano, 76–7, 80, 84, 89; see
Adams, G., 172n63 also The Sopranos
adaptation studies, Leitch on the state Vic Mackey, 80, 84; see also The
of, 40 Shield
‘After the End: Word of Mouth and viewer allegiance, key
Caché’ (Cousins), 193 components, 76
Allen, R.C., 26, 28, 37n24, 37n27 Walter White, 80–91; see also
Altman, R., 161, 172n55 Breaking Bad
Ambassadors (BBC), 130 ARGs (alternate reality games), 206,
Amélie/Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie 215, 228, 230–1
Poulain (Jeunet), 190 Arsenault, D., 36n8
American independent cinema, and Artificial Eye, 193, 197–201
the puzzle film, 112 Arvidsson, A., 175, 187n10
American serial dramas, European
Atkins, B., 38n42
distribution schedule, 208–9
Atlantis (BBC), 130
see also FlashForward; Lost
Ausiello, M., 171n37, 171n39
Analysing Discourse (Fairclough), 165
Auteuil, Daniel, 193–5, 197
ancillary franchise texts, see franchise
Avengers vs. X–Men #1: Infinite (Marvel
Comics), 60
Anders, C.J., 171n44, 177
Anderson, C., 187n16
Aonuma, E., 33 Balasubramanian, S.K., 105n9
anti-heroes Baltruschat, D., 6, 16n14
character change, expectations Banet-Weiser, S., 16n17
for, 79 Banks, M.J., 236n12
charisma, importance of, 76 Barber, J., 59, 62, 67, 70, 72n23,
in comedy, 75 72n33, 73n52, 73n64
concept analysis, 75 Barnett, S., 128, 145n24
Dexter Morgan, 77–8, 80; see also Barney, C., 187n25
Dexter Barrowman, J., 158, 160, 171n53

Index 239

BBC Bolter, J., 15n2, 47, 53n36, 58, 60, 66,

drama serials, 130 71n19, 72n26, 72n46
EastEnders, 128, 130 Booth, P., 153, 169n15
financial constraints, 128 Bordwell, D., 8, 17n20, 36n6, 111,
justifications for closure of BBC3, 120n14, 120n18
122–3 Borello, D., 105n12
mission statement, 125 Borgen (DR1), 130
Muddle Earth, transition from book Boriotti, N., 99, 101, 105n13, 107n36,
to television, 45; see also Muddle 107n41, 107n42
Earth Borrelli, N., 105n14, 106n30
new objectives, 130
Borsiczky, J., 220n16
‘Original British Drama’ branding,
Bothma, M., 63, 72n39
130, 139; see also Doctor Who;
Bradshaw, P., 203n20
Pride and Prejudice, 132 brand consistency
Torchwood branding, 155, 156, 157 concept analysis, 42–3
‘value for money’ discourse, 129 in Muddle Earth’s journey from page
Waking the Dead, 132 to screen, 46–7; see also Muddle
BBC1 Earth
audience share, 126 transmedial, 42, 44–50
peak time output data, 127 brand identity, place of in the US TV
The Beat That My Heart Skipped/De industry, 134
Battre mon Coeur s’est Arrêté brands
(Audiard), 200 and reputation, 175
Beaty, B., 171n2 storyworld – real world association,
behind-the-scenes featurettes, 176 101; see also product placement
see also Pixar Animation Studios Bread and Tulips (Pane e Tulipani)
Belch, M., 105n10 (Soldini), 98
Belloni, M., 92n20 Breaking Bad (AMC)
Bendis, B., 72n28 challenges to character allegiance,
Bennett, J., 203n9, 204n40 84–5
Bensi, P., 105n12 characters, 83
Bernstein, A., 147n90 importance of Walt and Jesse’s
Betz, M., 191, 194, 203n8, 203n27 relationship, 86
Beverly, Carl, 140
Machiavellian narrative, 86–9
Biddle, R., 44, 53n23
Malcolm in the Middle intertextuality,
Bielby, D.D., 218–19, 220n21, 220n24
The Big Bang Theory (CBS), 133
opening scenes of pilot, 83
Bigerel, Y., 61, 69, 72n30, 72n31,
73n62 relative morality in, 78, 83
Binoche, Juliette, 193–5, 197, 199 series finale, 87
Blanchard, P., 143n2 source of pleasure in watching,
Bland, A., 164 89–91
Bolin, G., 218, 220n23 Walt’s look and changing
Bollywood appearance, 82
main remake strategies, 116 Walt vs other anti-heroes, 84
remakes of American movies, 108–9, Bressoud, E., 104n9
110–12, 114; see also Ghajini Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
see also Indian cinema (Wallace), 74
240 Index

Britain, market for foreign-language Chatman, S., 48, 53n39, 153, 169n15
films, 190–2 Chaturvedi, M., 119, 121n38
see also Hidden/Caché Chibnall, Chris, 157–8, 162
Brooker, C., 154, 156, 158, 170n17, Chin, B., 173n75
170n26, 170n28, 171n35 Chocolat (Hallström), 195
Brookey, R.A., 176, 187n15 Chris, C., 16n17
Brook, S., 220n18 Clarke, M.J., 17n21, 219n4
Brotherhood of the Wolf/Le Pacte des Cohen, N., 167, 173n87, 173n88
loups (Gans), 190 Cohn, N., 55–6, 62, 68, 71n1, 71n8,
Brown, E.N., 146n55 72n32, 73n56
Brown, M., 172n64 Colombo, S., 106n32
Brown, T., 203n9, 204n40 Come Undone (Soldini), 99, 101–2
Bruce Almighty (Shadyac), Bollywood comics
remake, 109 change in the publishing
Buckingham, D., 47, 53n37 landscape, 57
Buckland, W., 112, 120n16 concept analysis, 55
Burgoyne, R., 52n12 remediation, 58
Burn, A., 53n37 space and time in, 55–7
Busse, K., 144n8, 144n12, 145n41, vs other visual media, 55
147n84, 147n86, 147n87, webcomics medium, development,
169n13, 172n59, 172n66 57; see also digital/web comics
Comixology, 58, 60–1
Calabrese, O., 36n3 The Commander and the Stork (Soldini)
Caldwell, J., 176, 187n13, 212, ‘difficult film’ categorisation, 99
220n12, 236n8, 236n12 other product placements, 101–3
Calhoun, D., 204n44 prominence of the Disaronno
Calleja, G., 36n5 placement, 103
Call The Midwife (BBC), 130 public funding, 99
Campbell, J., 52n6 setting and characters, 100
Campbell, T., 71n13 textual and extra-textual impact of
Canale5, 211, 212 Disaronno’s association with,
Capodagli, B., 174, 186n4 100–1
Carr, D., 53n37 Communications Act (UK 2003), 127
Carroll, N., 4, 16n8, 91n9, 115, copyright infringement, Indian
120n27 filmmakers’ defence, 111
Catmull, E., 187n24 Cosa voglio di più (Soldini), see Come
CBS Undone
audience share, 126 Couldy, N., 220n12
average audience member, 134 Cousins, M., 193, 203n23
branding dilemma, 134–5 Cranston, Bryan, 81–2, 89–90
emphasis of mass appeal, 133 creativity
peak time output data, 127 in franchise media, 232; see also
perceptions, 133 franchise media; Muppet
and the procedural drama, 134–5; franchise; Pixar Animation
see also Elementary Studios
promotional slogan, 126 transmedia texts as sites of, 232–3
self-promotion, 133 Creeber, G., 8, 17n21
showrunners’ panel, 123 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
Chartier, F., 104n9 (CBS), 135
Index 241

Cumberbatch, Benedict, 124, 133, 164 page turn vs panel delivery

Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO), 75 techniques, 59–62
Cursality, 65 panel delivery, and the perception
Curtin, M., 133–4, 136–7, 146n50, of time, 62
146n53, 146n56, 147n66, 147n71 parallel narratives, 65
reader’s role, 69
Dagnino, G., 11–12, 93–107 space vs time, 67–70
Dalli, D., 105n12 Dirty Harry (1971), Bollywood
Danner, M., 145n34 remake, 114
D’Astous, A., 104n9 Disaronno product placement, 94, 97,
Davies, R.T., 154, 157–62, 165, 99–101, 103
170n23, 171n37, 171n52, 172n57 Disney
Davies, S., 165, 172n73 and brand coherence, 177
Dawkins, R., 109, 120n5 global distribution strategies,
Dawson, M., 8, 17n19 214–16
Days and Clouds (Soldini), 99, 101–2 Pixar and, 176
DC Comics, 60 purchase of the Muppet
Deans, J., 143n2 franchise, 227
Debnath, N., 166–7, 173n84–5, Dissanayake, W., 114, 120n26
173n87 distribution windowing
Delorme, D.E., 104n9 and audience hierarchy, 211
del Toro, G., 69–70
commercial advantages, 212
Den of Geek, 141
consumer impact, 214
De Pelsmacker, P., 107n39
definition, 207, 210
De Peuter, G., 38n37
and minimisation of risk, 211–12
Dequet, C., 202n7
patterns of, 211
Derhy, B.W.L., 159–60, 171n45
and the release of bonus content,
Dexter (Showtime)
European distribution delays, 210
simultaneous global distribution of
intertextuality of Michael C. Hall’s
FlashForward, 214–19
performance, 77–8
moral perspective, 76 and variable pricing, 210
sympathetic character framing, 77 Diverio, G., 107n35
Dial M for Murder (Hitchcock), Doctor Who (BBC), special event
Bollywood remake, 109 status, 132
digital convergence, and television Doherty, Rob, 123–4, 140–1
multi-platforming, 205 Doherty, T., 123–4, 140–1, 147n90,
Digital Fandom (Booth), 153 151, 169n5
digital/web comics Donaton, S., 94, 105n10
adoption of comic strip layout, 58 Donkey Kong (Nintendo), 29
animation, 67–9 Dormann, C., 44, 53n23
as both temporal and narrative Dovey, J., 32, 36n7, 38n37
map, 62, 64, 67–70 Downton Abbey (Carnival Films), 132
business model, 58 Dubit, 40–1
experimental work, 59 A Duck Has an Adventure
hypercomic, 65–6 (Goodbrey), 66
infinite canvas, 63–4, 66 Dunleavy, T., 144n14
Insufferable, 60–1 Dunlop, B., 183, 188n36
pages vs windows, 62–6 Dunn, A., 16n10
242 Index

DVD bonus features Fiske, J., 169, 236n8

and brand reputation, 177 FlashForward (ABC), 205, 207, 214–17
consumer proclivity for, 176 European distribution timings, 216
multiplatform components, 215
EastEnders (BBC), 128, 130 Flitterman-Lewis, S., 52n12
eccentric male lead, TV shows foreign-language films, limited appeal
featuring, 138 in Britain, 190
Eckel, J., 169n8 Foucault, M., 171n35
Eco, U., 27, 36n3, 37n25 fourth wall, breaking the, 229
Edwards, D., 204n36 Fox
Egner, J., 92n18 audience share, 126
Elementary (CBS) average audience member, 134
appropriateness of viewing slot, 137 Fraggle Rock (Henson), 233
canonical references, 140–1 France, television multiplatforming
and the CBS brand, 133–8 policy, 212–14
as commonplace, 128 franchise media
critical reception, 135, 141 creativity in, 232; see also Muppet
critics’ initial assessment, 133 franchise; Pixar Animation
scheduling, 136–8 Studios
target audience, 132 hierarchies, 223–4
as traditional CBS procedural, narrative in the Muppets, 224–7
135–6, 138 free-to-air networks, digital television
Ellis, J., 130–2, 145n35, 146n44 adoption and audience share, 126
The English Patient (Minghella), 195 Freeman, Martin, 124
Ensslin, A., 36n5 Freeview, 126
Epstein, M., 16n17
Freitas, A., 16n17
‘ergodic’ narrative, 65
French Beauty (BBC Four), 200
Espenson, J., 160
French cinema, genre blending, 190
European cinema identity, 191
French, P., 204n24
Evans, E., 8, 17n19, 17n21, 126, 140,
Fulton, H., 16n10
143, 144n16, 147n84, 219n3
FX, 74–5
Evans, J., 72n43
Ewing, M., 105n11
extratextuality, 42, 50–1 Gandolfini, James, 77
Gant, C., 193, 195, 203n21, 203n29
Fairclough, N., 159, 165, 171n41, Ganti, T., 12, 17n22, 114, 116,
173n77, 173n92 120n10, 120n23, 120n28, 121n30
The Fall (BBC), 130 Garratt, S., 163, 172n68
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer Garrone, M., 107n43
(Story), 192 Garwood, I., 117, 121n31
Fienberg, D., 92n21 Gatiss, M., 124, 139–41, 163–4, 167,
film production industry, EU 172n65, 172n67
support, 95 Genette, G., 183, 188n39, 228, 236n7
Finding Nemo (Unkrich, Stanton) Genre and Television (Mittell), 152
behind-the-scenes featurette, George, R., 38n28
179–80 Geuens, M., 107n39
critical reception, 185 Ghajini (Murugadoss), 108–12, 114–19
making-of featurette, 179–80 Giddens, T., 72n43
Fingers (Toback), 200 Gilligan, V., 80–1, 92n16
Index 243

Giorni e nuvole (Soldini), see Days and Handke, C., 15n1

Clouds Handlen, Z., 144n9
Gistri, G., 105n12 Haneke, Michael, 195–7, 199–201
Golder, D., 171n43 Happy Go Lovely (1951), 116
Gombos, M., 37n26 Hardy, J., 106n6
Goodbrey, D., 10–11, 54–73 Harrigan, P., 36n5, 38n30
Goodman, T., 124, 134–5, 138, Harrington, C.L., 218–19, 220n21,
144n10, 146n52, 146n59, 147n74 220n24
The Good Wife (CBS), 123 Harvey, C.B., 140
Gordon, Andrew, 182 Harvey, S., 127, 140, 144n22
Gould, A., 179 Haslop, C., 171n35
Gould, S.J., 104n1, 105n11 Havens, T., 214–15, 219n8, 220n15,
Govil, N., 118, 121n34 220n19
Grabner-Kräuter, Sonja, 105n11 Hayashida, K., 34
Grainge, P., 16n16, 230, 236n9 HBO, 74–5, 78, 85, 134, 137, 205
Grand Theft Auto (Rockstar), 24 Hempel, J., 178, 187n20
Grant, C., 204n40 Henson, B., 229
Gray, J., 6, 16n15, 169n3, 171n53, Henson, J., 233
175, 187n9, 188n40, 219n3, 223,
Herman, D., 16n5, 16n6, 36n4, 236n5
228, 230–1, 233–4, 236n6,
Heroes (NBC)
236n11, 236n13, 237n16, 237n19
availability to French audiences, 213
Green with Envy parody trailer,
comic publication, 206
221, 229
European distribution delays, 210
Greene, R., 91n9
Italian transmission, 206
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), 138
Hesmondhalgh, D., 107n43, 232,
Griffiths, N., 170n24
Gripsrud, J., 236n8
Hidden/Caché (Haneke)
Groensteen, T., 55–6, 62, 64, 71n2,
71n11, 72n29, 72n34, 72n40 British distribution and release
Grusin, R., 15n2, 47, 53n36, 58, 60, pattern, 193, 195–6
66, 71n19, 72n26, 72n46 Daily Mail review, 199
Gruss, S., 110, 120n9 DVD releases, 197–9
Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite Comics genre appeal, 194–5
#1 (Marvel Comics), 60, 62 marketing; box set, 199–201; DVD
Guneratne, A.R., 120n26 release, 197–9; UK cinemas,
Gupta, P.B., 94, 101n4, 103, 104n1, 194–6
104n7, 105n11 Mirror review, 196
release date, 192
Hackley, C., 105n11 synopsis, 193
Hall, J., 146n47 theatrical campaign and exhibition,
Hall, M.C., 77–8 193–6
Hall, T., 122, 130, 143n1, 145n31 trailer, 194
Halo (Microsoft) UKFC support, 194
mature content, 24 Hight, C., 176, 187n11, 187n13
seriality in, 26–7 Hill, L., 144n11
Halo 3 (Microsoft), 26 Hill, T., 229
Halo 4 (Microsoft), 27 Hills, M., 13, 38n30, 143, 144n8,
Hamm, Jon, 77 144n12, 151–73
Hammond, M., 16n16 Holden, S., 185, 188n48
244 Index

Hollywood, product placement in, Irreversible (Noé), 112

104n8 Isaacson, W., 188n27
Holt, J., 144n16 Ishikawa, M., 32
Horton, D., 92n15 Italian film industry, legalisation of
House (Fox), Italian distribution product placement, 93
policy, 211–12 see also product placement in the
Howard, D., 92n16 Italian film industry
Huffstutter, P.J., 36n10 It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Huisman, R., 16n10 (FX), 75
Humphrey, A., 136, 147n63 ITV, audience share, 126
Huppert, Isabelle, 199 Iwata, S., 24–5, 35, 37n18, 37n20,
Hutcheon, L., 110, 120n6 37n21, 38n32, 38n33, 38n35,
hypermediacy, 59, 66 38n36, 38n41
Iyer, M., 120n4
I am Sam (Nelson), Bollywood
remake, 109 Jackson, L., 174, 186n4
Ibrus, I., 8, 17n21 Jancovich, M., 203n7
Il Comandante e la Cicogna (Soldini), Jean de Florette (Berri), 195
see The Commander and the Stork Jeffries, S., 145n40
Immonen, S., 72n28 Jenkins, H., 4, 15n1, 16n9, 36n5,
The Incredibles (Bird), 185 169n1, 206, 218, 219n3, 219n4,
Indian cinema 220n22, 224, 236n1
Bollywood remakes, 108–9, The Jim Henson Hour (NBC), 232
110–12, 114 Jobs, Steve, 181–2
‘chutneyed’ discourse, 114 Johns, I., 190, 202n3
colonial perspective, 114 Johnson, C., 129, 134, 137, 143,
diversification of narrational 145n27, 146n51, 147n70
modes, 117 Johnson, J., 16n3
Ghajini and the contemporary Jones, E.E., 173n84
Bollywood remake, 114 Jones, P., 143n5
indigenisation discourse, 114 Jones, S.E., 25, 29, 37n14, 37n16,
length of Bollywood flashbacks, 116 38n31
main remake strategies, 116 Jones, W.E., 91n9
popular mistaken identity plot-line, Justified (FX), 85
116 Juul, J., 36n2, 36n5, 37n15, 38n38, 47,
remakes and copyright issues, 111 53n38
use of musical sequences, 116–17
India, presence of American studio Kania, A., 113, 120n19, 120n27
bases in, 111 Karrh, J.A., 107n41
Infinite Comics, 61 Kaur, R., 114, 120n25
To Infinity and Beyond (Paik), 180 Kavoori, A.P., 120n7
Innovate the Pixar Way Kennedy, H.W., 32, 36n7, 38n7
(Capodagli/Jackson), 174 Kermit Unpigged (1994), 223
Inside the Hub (Walker), 156 kernels vs satellites, 153
institutional specificities, 7 Khan, Aamir, 111, 115
Insufferable (Waid/Krause), 60–1 Khwaja, A., 43, 45–6, 52n17, 52n19,
intertextuality, 42, 50–1, 165, 168 53n24, 53n28, 53n31, 53n42
Irma La Douce (1963), Bollywood Kim, H., 105n11
remake, 114 King, G., 38n42, 52n15
Index 245

Kittler, F., 2–3, 16n3 Levine, E., 173n86

Kline, S., 38n38 Levine, K., 73n61
Klinger, B., 176, 187n12, 191, 203n9 Lewis, A., 146n61, 147n73, 147n88
Knatchbull, Philip, 198 Lewis, J., 232–3
Kondolojy, A., 143n6 Leydon, J., 108, 119n1
Krause, P., 60, 72n27 Liddle, R., 204n41
Krzywinska, T., 38n42, 53n41 Line Of Duty (BBC), 130
Kumar, S., 118, 121n36 Lister, D., 124, 143n7
Locker, M., 92n17
LaBarre, P., 174, 186n3 Long, G.A., 52n15
La Franco, R., 187n24 Lord, K.R., 94, 103, 104n4, 104n7
Lambert, C., 36n3 Lord of the Rings (Tolkien), 41
Landow, G., 72n48 Lost (ABC), 205–6, 217
La Pastina, A.C., 105n11 availability to French audiences, 213
Lasseter, J., 180, 182, 185, 187n24, distribution comparison with
188n37 FlashForward, 215
Last Tango In Halifax (BBC), 130 Italian distribution policy, 211
Latzer, M., 15n1 UK advertising, 230
Lavery, D., 16n17 The Lost Experience (alternate reality
La Vie en Rose/La Môme (Dahan), 196 game), 206
Lawson, M., 157, 164–6, 172n70, Lotz, A.D., 16n17, 91n4, 92n24, 206,
172n71 219n2, 219n5
Lazzareschi, A., 96–7, 106n16, 106n21 Lovink, G., 173n82
The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo), 25–34 ‘Lucas-Spielberg Syndrome’, 179
audience, 27 Luciano, B., 104n3
storyline, 27 Lumière & Co, 93, 97–9
utilisation of the Wii Motion Plus Lury, C., 175, 186n6
technology, 33–4 Luther (BBC), 130
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Lyman, R., 182, 187n24, 187n25,
Worlds (Nintendo), 28, 30–1 188n35
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
(Nintendo), 28–9, 31 Machiavellian fascination
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask with anti-heroes, 77–8
(Nintendo), 37n26 Machiavellian narratives, in Breaking
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Bad, 86–9
(Nintendo), 30 Mackay, T., 105n11
The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Macnab, G., 201, 204n46
Hourglass (Nintendo), 33–5 Mactavish, A., 34, 38n42
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Mad Men (AMC), characterisations,
(Nintendo), 30–1, 34–5 75–7
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Maher, K., 190, 192, 202n5, 202n6,
(Nintendo), 32 203n14
Lehrer, J., 186n1, 189n49 making-of documentaries, 176
Lehu, J.-M., 104n9, 105n10 Malcolm in the Middle (Fox), 81
Leiendecker, B., 169n8 Maloney, D., 173n90
Leitch, T., 40–1, 51n1 Mangan, L., 165, 172n74
Leith, S., 178, 186n1, 187n19 Mann, D., 231, 236n12
Lemming (Moll), 200 Manon des sources (Berri), 195
Lequeret, E., 190, 202n4 Maras, S., 5, 16n13
246 Index

marketing materials, Nintendo’s, 29 Mitovich, M.W., 140, 147n89

Marshall, P. D., 230, 236n10 Mittell, J., 5, 8, 11–12, 16n6, 16n11,
Marvel Comics, 60 17n21, 36n6, 74–92, 112, 120n15,
Matheou, D., 202n2 135, 137, 146n57, 147n69, 152,
Maxwell, R., 118, 121n34 168, 169n7–10, 188n46
Mayer, V., 236n12 Moffat, S., 124, 131, 133, 136, 139–40,
Mazdon, L., 16n16, 194, 203n26, 145n40, 146n46, 163, 167,
203n28 172n63–4, 172n67
McCabe, J., 16n16 Moilanen, T., 175, 186n5
McCann, B., 204n45 Moll, D., 200
McCarthy, A., 220n12 Molloy, C., 112, 119n3, 120n17
McCarthy, T., 184–5, 188n43, 188n44 Monsters Inc (Docter, Unkrich,
McCloud, S., 55–6, 63–4, 71n3, 71n6, Silverman), 176
72n35, 72n37, 72n41, 72n49 Montgomery, C., 189n50
McDonald, P., 126, 144n16, 191–2, Moonves, Les, 135
195, 201, 203n9, 203n10, 203n19, Moore, F., 130, 144n19
204n45 Moran, C., 129, 132–3, 139–40,
McKee, K.B., 107n41 145n26, 162, 172n61
McLean, C., 171n42 Morgenstern, J., 185, 188n47
McMurria, J., 118, 121n34 Morik, T., 37n26
McNally, K., 145n32, 170n20 Morrissey, S., 204n44
McNutt, M., 140, 147n92 Mount, H., 146n42, 162, 172n60
Means, S.P., 187n24 ‘The Movie Vanishes’ (Pixar DVD
media convergence bonus feature), 183
definition of, 1–2 The Mr. Nile Experiment (Goodbrey), 67
global impact on television Mrs Doubtfire (Columbus), Bollywood
industry, 205 remake, 108
Media, O., 73n59, 73n65 MTV, 134
Mediaset, 210, 212 Muddle Earth (Stewart/BBC)
medium affordances, 48, 50–1 adaptation journey overview, 40–1
medium specificity, 4–6 adaptation selection factors, 43
Meehan, E., 175, 187n7 book’s plot and humour, 44
Meikle, G., 15n1 brand consistency; importance of,
Mellor, Louisa, 148n94 43; and the transmedial
meme, concept analysis, 109–10 narrative journey, 44–50
Memento (Nolan), 108–13, 115–19 commissioning, 41
and the American independent cross-gender appeal, 46
puzzle film, 112–14 examples of ‘remediation’ in
see also Ghajini narrative elements, 47
The Mentalist (CBS), 135–8 and fidelity, transmedial, 42–4
Midsomer Murders (ITV), 132 game adaptation process, 41
Miller, Jonny Lee, 124 gameplay, 47–9
Miller, T., 16n8, 118, 121n34 ‘gamifiability’, 43
Mills, D., 204n44 influences of game conventions, 49
Minkel, E., 151, 155, 169n4, 170n22 journey from page to screen, 44–6
Miracle Worker (Penn), Bollywood ludic elements, 48
remake, 109 narrative elements, 47
Mirrlees, T., 2, 16n4 plot, 44
Mitchell, R., 203n22 publisher’s description, 41
Index 247

shaping factors, 50–1 Nakamura, T., 39n4

television adaptation, episodic Nanjappa, V., 120n13
narratives, 45 Nannicelli, T., 91n8
Mulholland Drive (Lynch), 112 narractivity, 154
The Muppet Christmas Carol critic-led, 154
(Henson), 226 definition, 153
Muppet franchise fan, 153, 164, 166
‘autobiographical’ Muppet official, 154
books, 233 narrative complexity, 112, 152
characterisations, 226 ‘Narrative Complexity in
children’s picture books, 233 Contemporary American
contributions to the Muppet Television’ (Mittell), 152
storyworld, 223 national specificity, 6
Green with Envy parody trailer, Nayar, S.J., 114, 120n23
221, 229 NBC, average audience member, 134
hierarchy of ancillary materials, 224 NCIS (CBS), 123, 133
historical perspective, 226–7
Ndalianis, A., 36n3, 38n42, 39n43
online videos; creative content, 232;
Nebenzahl, I.D., 104n9
more than promotion or
Nelli, R.P., 104n6, 105n12
paratext, 227–30; as sites of
Nelson, A., 105n11
creativity, 232
Nelson, R., 151, 169n6
overview, 222–3
Never Shoot the Chronopath
promotion and creativity, 230–4
(Goodbrey), 64, 65
purchase of by the Walt Disney
company, 227 Newman-Baudais, S., 106n19
self-reflexivity, 229 Newman, M.Z., 17n17, 173n86
standards, expectations, 233 New Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo),
trailers as examples of 31–2
hybridisation, 230 New Super Mario Bros. U (Nintendo), 28
The Muppets (Bobin), parody New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Nintendo),
trailers, 221 21–2, 28–30; see also Super Mario
The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody Newton, F., 105n11
(2009), 222, 227, 232 Nichols, A., 138, 147n75
The Muppet Show (Henson) Nichols, P.M., 187n14
format, 226 Nick, D.W., 38n38
UK marketing, 230 Nintendo
The Muppets: Ode to Joy (2008), 222 audience preferences and
The Muppets: Pöpcørn (2010), 227–8 competencies, significance of in
Muppets from Space (Hill), 229 content creation, 35
Muppet Treasure Island (Henson), 232 hardware systems, 24
Murdoch, J., 73n61 self-consciousness with game
Murphet, J., 16n10 history, 29
Murray, J.H., 67, 72n50, 75, 91n5, target audience, 24
91n7, 91n9 Nintendo DS, 25–6, 29, 33
Murugadoss, A.R., 108–9, 111, Nintendo Entertainment System
120n11, 120n13 (NES), 21, 24, 34
My Best Friend’s Wedding (Hogan), Nintendo EAD, 25, 33–4
Bollywood remake, 109 Nintendo GameCube, 25, 29
248 Index

Nintendo narratives Pardun, C.J., 107n41

contextual analysis, 23–6 Pariser, E., 173n83
paradigmatic seriality: techniques, parody trailers, 221, 229
30–3; technological Peacock, A., 72n44
background, 33–5 Peaky Blinders (BBC), 130
seriality in, 26 Pearce, C., 47, 53n38
Nintendo Wii, 21, 24–6, 28, 30–2 Pearce, Guy, 113
Nussbaum, E., 167, 173n89 Pearson, R., 1–17, 122–48, 169n13,
Nyuyen, N., 71n2 170n19, 173n91, 187n7,
Oeming, M., 72n28 Penny, L., 165–7, 173n79, 173n89
Oldboy (Chan-wook), 112 Perception (TNT), 138
Olek, D., 169n8 Person of Interest (CBS), 123, 136
O’Neal, S., 143n3–4 Piepiorka, C., 169n8
Oyama, Y., 32 Pixar Animation Studios
behind-the-scenes access and
Page, R., 2, 15n1–2 features, 176–81, 183
Paik, K., 180, 188n26, 188n29, brand reputation, paratextual stories
189n51 and, 175–6
Palmer, A., 187n25 childish adult, appeal to the, 179
Palmer, R. B., 17n20, 36n6 creative production culture, 174
panel delivery critical reception, 184–6
Barber’s approach, 59 and Disney, 176
and the concept of time, 62 ‘dream factory’ trope, 180
flexibility, 61 DVD bonus features: Finding Nemo
Pantoliano, Joe, 113 making-of featurette, 179–80;
paradigmatic seriality, 28–30, 32–4 privileged consumers and,
as key selling point, 29 176–7; ‘Studio Stories’, 183
in Nintendo’s marketing Emeryville studio space design,
materials, 29 180–2
Super Mario, 28–9 headquarters, 174
techniques, 30–3 idiosyncratic behaviour, 178–80
technological background, 33–5 imaginative narratives, 174
paratext The Incredibles, 185
and added value, 175–6 legitimation of the animated film
brand and, 175–6, 185 for adult consumption, 185
Doherty on, 151 the Love Lounge, 182–3
Gray on, 6, 175, 223, 228, 230, 233 media fascination, 174, 178
Legend of Zelda material, 37n26 Monsters Inc. 176
nationally specific reframing, 6 on-screen and off-screen linkages,
orienting, 152 183–6
the ‘paratextual cohort’, 153 production culture, identification
as primary texts, 229–30 with, 178–80
as promotional tool, 215, 221–3, Ratatouille, 174
229, 231 reification of as ‘architecture with a
relationship between text and, plot’, 180, 183
183–4 Toy Story franchise, 174, 183–5
rise of viewer-created, 151 ‘underlying carpentry’ trope, 184
storykilling, 160 Up, 174, 184
Index 249

Wall-E, 184 Rai, A., 114, 120n24

see also Finding Nemo RAI, 210
Plantinga, C., 91n7 Rainisto, S., 175, 186n5
Plechl, H., 37n26 Ratatouille (Bird, Pinkava), 174
Plunkett, J., 143n2, 144n18 Ray, S., 117, 121n33
Polan, D., 5, 16n12 Reeves, J.L., 16n17
Polasek, A.D., 169n13 Reid, L.N., 104n9
police procedurals relative morality, in antihero
CBS’s embrace of, 135 narratives, 75
value to advertisers, 134 remediation
Polson, Bill, 178 Bolter and Grusin on, 58
Poore, B., 170n21 definition, 2
Porter, L., 143n8, 160, 169n16, examples of, 47–8, 60
171n38, 171n51, 225, 236n2 Renaud, C., 14, 190–204
Pretty Woman (Marshall), Bollywood Riddell, C., 10, 51n5
remake, 109 Rimmon-Kenan, S., 16n5
Price, D., 187n15 Rixon, P., 140, 147n86, 156, 162–3,
Pride and Prejudice (BBC), 132 169n16, 170n30, 172n59–60,
product placement 172n62, 173n80, 173n91
academic research on, 94 Roberts, F., 148n93
scholarly interest, 94 Robinson, M., 37n17
script integration, 100–1 Rock Center (NBC), 137–8
strategies, 94 Rogers, M.C., 16n17
product placement in the Italian film Rosen, C., 219n7, 220n14
industry, 98–103 Roshan, R., 114, 120n22
Come Undone, 102 Rostain, Philippe, 190
context, 93–5 Russell, C.A., 104n9, 105n10
Days and Clouds, 102 Ryan, M., 133, 136, 146n48, 147n64
legal perspective, 95–8 Ryan, M.L., 4, 16n5–6, 36n5, 38n42,
motivation, 97 225, 229, 236n5
rarity of audio-visual form, 94
reports on, 94–5 Salen, K., 47, 53n8
see also The Commander and the Stork Sam and Friends (NBC), 226–7
Psych (USA network), 138 Sanson, K., 144n16
public service broadcasting Sardar, Z., 181, 188n32
impact of neoliberal deregulation, Scandal (ABC), 137–8
125–6 Schauer, B., 204n37
national debate about the future Schott, G., 53n37
of, 123 Scolari, C.A., 8, 17n21
regulatory obligations in the UK, Scott, D., 170n34
127–8 Scott, A.O., 184, 188n41–2
and scheduling, 130–1 Secunda, E., 104n9
Punathambekar, A., 120n7 Sega, 24
puzzle films, post-millennial, 112 Segel, Jason, 221, 229
Pyne, B., 215–16, 220n13, 220n17¸ Segrave, K., 104n8, 106n25
220n20 Seinfeld (NBC), 81
The Selfish Gene (Dawkins), 109
quirkiness, in characterisation, 41, 44, Sepinwall, A., 135–6, 141, 146n60,
141–2 147n65, 148n97
250 Index

seriality Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers,

and the ‘hardcore’ gaming and Other Media Paratexts
audience, 27 (Gray), 228
Nintendo’s attitude towards, 27–9 Siegel, P., 105n9
paradigmatic, 28–30, 32–4 Silence of the Lambs (Demme),
Shattuc, J., 133–4, 136–7, 146n50, Bollywood remake, 109
146n53, 146n56, 147n66, 147n71 Simon, W.L., 182, 188n34
Shelley, J., 170n18 Sivasubramanian, K., 37n26
Sherlock (BBC) Six Feet Under (HBO), 78
and the BBC brand, 129–33 Sky1, 208, 217
canonical references, 141 Sloan, D., 36n11
critical reception, 124, 141, smartphones, 54, 57–9, 61, 66
163–5, 167 Smith, A.N., 1–17, 21–39, 92n22
Doctor Who influences, 139–40 Smith, G.M., 91n7
intertextual influences, 139 Smith, I.R., 108–21
from ‘must-see’ to ‘crime-free’, Smith, M., 75, 77, 91n5, 91n7, 91n9,
162–9 92n10
national value, 124 Soldini, Silvio, 93–4, 98–9, 102–3
Penny’s defence, 165–6 Solomons, J., 204n43
pre-image, 162 Sony PlayStation, 24, 32
relationship focus of series three, The Sopranos (HBO)
163–4 breakthrough, surprise, 74
scheduling, 132 character relationships, 76
source of appeal, 124 finale, 79
as special event, 128 moral perspectives, 76
special event status, 132–3 Sorfa, D., 204n45
target audience, 132 Southall, J.R., 170n33, 172n58
UK tourism promotion Staff, E., 37n17, 38n29
function, 139 Stam, R., 16n8, 42, 52n12
use of to justify closure of BBC3, Stanton, A., 179–80, 187n22
122–3 Star Wars franchise, hierarchy of
and ‘value for money’ discourse, 129 ancillary material, 223
viewer expectations, 131–2 Starz, 159
viewer ratings, 123, 132 Stein, L., 144n8¸ 144n12, 145n41,
and the viewing watershed, 131 147n84, 147n86–7, 169n13,
Sherlock Holmes television 172n59, 172n66
adaptations Stevenson, J., 233, 237n17
categorisations, 139 Steward, T., 132, 139, 145n41,
chimera and clone, 139–42 146n43, 147n77
reasons for success, 126 Stewart, P., 10, 51n5
relationships to their broadcasters, storykilling, 154, 162
125–38 storyworlds, 5–6, 22–3, 27, 68, 76,
similarities and differences between 101, 233
US and UK adaptations, 124–5 subtitled films, British attitudes, 190–1
see also Elementary; Sherlock Super Mario (Nintendo)
The Shield (FX) audience, 27
breakthrough, surprise, 74 concluding scenes, 21
finale, 79–80 development, 21
moral ambiguity, 85 narrative goal, 21–2
Index 251

paradigmatic seriality, 28–9 Thorpe, P., 37n26, 38n39

pastiche in, 29 Thussu, D.K., 120n7
usual storyline, 27 Tieber, C., 116, 121n29
see also New Super Mario Bros. Timberman, Sarah, 140
Super Mario 3D World (Nintendo), 31 Tiwsakul, R.A., 105n11
Super Mario 64 (Nintendo), 26 Tominaga, K., 30
Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo), 21–2, Tomlinson, J., 219n1
28–31 Top Of The Lake (BBC), 130
Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo), Torchwood (BBC)
25–6, 31 branding, 155, 156, 157
Super Mario Sunshine (Nintendo), Brooker on, 156
25, 29 criticism of Miracle Day, 159, 162
Super Mario World (Nintendo), 31, 34 fan complaints, 158, 160
Super Nintendo Entertainment System formatting, 157
(SNES), 24, 28, 31, 34 reformatting, 158
Sutton, D., 5, 16n13 success of Children of Earth, 158
‘syntagmatic axis’, Allen’s term, 26 Torchwood Declassified, 159
Torchwood, from ‘jarring’ to ‘padding’,
Taberham, P., 91n8 155–62
tablet-based digital comics, 60 Tornatore, G., 107n43
see also digital/web comics touch screens, 8, 25, 33, 57–8, 66
tablets, 54, 57–9, 61, 66 Towse, R., 15n1
Tanner, A., 37n26 Toy Story franchise (Pixar), 174, 183–5
tax credit, association of product transmedia
placement with, 93 cross-border capacity, 218
see also product placement in the definition, 206
Italian film industry transmedia creativity, and the WGA
Taylor, W., 174 strike, 231
Taylor, W.C., 186n3 transmedia narratives, in the Muppet
Taylor, Z., 165, 173n76, 174 franchise, 224–7
technological specificity, 7–8 transmedia narratives of US TV series
television drama, UK vs US FlashForward and simultaneous
broadcasting systems, 125–9 global distribution, 214–19
Tell No One/Ne le dis à personne France’s TF1 Vision and the creation
(Canet), 192, 196 of audience hierarchies, 212–14
temporal reordering windowing across Europe, 207–12
in comics, 55–7 transmedia storytelling, 151
in digital comics, 62, 64, 67–70 transmedia texts, as sites of creativity,
in film, 112 232–3
TF1 Vision, 206, 213–14, 217 Tranter, J., 171n42
Thadani, R., 118, 121n35 True Blood (HBO), 205
Thatcher, Kirk, 232 Tucker, K., 135, 137–8, 141, 146n62,
Thiruvathukal, G.K., 25, 29, 37n14, 147n72, 147n76, 148n98
37n16, 38n31 Turner, J., 63, 72n39
Thomas, B., 2–3, 15n2 TV Drama in Transition (Nelson), 151
Thomas, J., 37n26 The Twilight Zone (CBS), 74
Thomas, R., 114, 118, 120n20,
120n23, 121n37 UKFC (UK Film Council), 191–2, 194,
Thomson, D., 185, 188n45 198, 201
252 Index

Unkrich, L., 179–80, 187n22 Weing, D., 63, 72n38

Up (Docter), 174, 184 Weissmann, E., 125, 144n13
Upstairs, Downstairs (London Weekend Wenner, L.A., 105n9
Television), 132 Westerfelhaus, R., 187n15
Uricchio, W., 187n7 Wheatley, C., 194, 203n26
Urry, J., 177, 181, 187n17, 188n30 When I Am King (Demian 5), 68
‘Where’s Gordon?’ (Pixar DVD bonus
Vaage, M.B., 80, 91n8, 92n14 feature), 183
Vanacker, S., 143n8 Whitmire, S., 221, 237n15
Van den Bergh, J., 107n39 Wii Fit (Nintendo), 25
Vegas (CBS), 133 wikis, 153
Veltman, C., 180 Wilding, J., 170n20
Vermeule, B., 77, 87, 92n11, 92n23 Williams, Raymond, 7, 17n18
Vernezze, P., 91n9 Williams, Rebecca, 171n35, 171n45
Vice, S., 91n9 Windisch, L., 105
viewer-created paratexts, 151 windowing, definition, 207, 210
The Village (BBC), 130 see also distribution windowing
Vincendeau, G., 204n31 Wingate, Roger, 198
virtual worlds, 43, 46 The Wire (HBO), 85
‘visual onomatopoeics’, 67 Wloszczyna, S., 187n24
Wohl, R. R., 92n15
Waid, M., 60–1, 69–70, 72n25, 72n27,
Wolf, M.J.P., 36n8
72n30, 73n59, 73n65
Wolfson, S., 166–7, 173n80–1
Waking the Dead (BBC), 132
Wood, R., 179, 187n21
Walker, S.J., 156–7, 170n18, 170n29
World Service, 128
The Walking Dead (AMC), 205, 217
Writers Guild of America (WGA),
Wallace, D.F., 74, 91n1
strike, 231
Wall-E (Pixar), 184
Wynne, C., 143n8
Walter, B., 145n33
Wang, T., 118, 121n34
Wardrip-Fruin, N., 36n35, 38n30 Young, J.S., 182, 188n34
On the Waterfront (Kazan), Bollywood Young, S., 15n1
remake, 108 YouTube, 227–8, 232
web comics, see digital/web comics
The Wedding Singer (Coraci), Zeitchik, S., 146n58, 148n95
Bollywood remake, 109 Zimmerman, E., 47, 53n38