TCF 311 Critical Studies in Television
Course Assignments Course Calendar Grading Texts/Resources
Course Objectives:
The objective of this course is to introduce the student to television critical studies, or what is commonly called, within academics, "television criticism" (a parallel with literary criticism).

We will seek, first of all, to understand television as a unique meaning-producing medium--dissecting television's narrative and non-narrative structures and its uses of mise-en-scene, cinematography/videography, editing, and sound. Second, we will confront the critical methods that have been applied to the medium over the past 20 years: semiotics, genre study, ideological criticism, cultural studies, and so on.

Our goal is to become more intelligent, alert, critical viewers of television.
Jeremy Butler
Office: 430C Phifer
Office hours: TT 3:15-4:45, & by appt. 348-6350
Course Assignments:
  • Four open book, open note exams, which will mostly consist of analytical essays of TV programs and be based on the principles in Television. The fourth exam will be held during the Final Exam period and will focus on Channels of Discourse. Worth 20 points each.
  • A final paper that analyzes a single TV program or commercial in depth. Worth 20 points.

    This analysis must be word-processed and will be graded based on conceptual rigor and fluency of writing style. Any use of outside sources must be properly cited (that is, use footnotes). A bibliography and the credits (principal cast and crew) for the programs analyzed must be provided. (Two online sources for TV credits and episode information are the Internet Movie Database [] and See links below to credits for programs used in class.)

    Please note: This is a seminar class which depends heavily upon students having done the readings and being prepared to discuss them in class. If the majority of the class fails to do a reading assignment then an in-class essay may be assigned and factored into the grading as part of the exam scores. Scooby Gangs.
Screenings & Credits:

Numerous TV programs will be shown on videotape/DVD in class. There will be no other screenings of the programs, but local video stores do carry a few of the titles, and two or three of them are available in the audio-visual section of the Gorgas Library.

Credits are available from the Internet Movie Database. Follow the links below to find credits.


Grades will be posted online via WebCT:

Grading scale:

A+ 97-100   C+ 77-79    F  59 and below
A  93-96    C  73-76
A- 90-92    C- 70-72
B+ 87-89    D+ 67-69
B  83-86    D  63-66
B- 80-82    D- 60-62
Course Calendar (subject to changes announced in class):




8/21 Introduction to the Course
The Andy Griffith Show (1966) Click for illustrations
8/26, 28 TV Structure, Narrative Structure
Friends (1999) Click for illustrations
Butler, chs. 1, 2
9/2 Characters, Actors, Stars Butler, ch. 3
9/4, 9 Beyond and Beside Narrative
Cops (1989-) , Who Wants to be a Millionaire ,
CBS/NBC news Click for illustrations
Butler, ch. 4
9/11 Exam #1  
9/16 Mise-en-Scene
Northern Exposure (1990-95) Click for illustrations
Butler, ch. 5
9/18 Cinematography/Videography
He Said, She Said (1991) , The Larry Sanders Show
(1992-98) Focal length illustrationsDVD illustrations
Butler, ch. 6
9/23 Editing: Single Camera Mode
Northern Exposure (1990-95) ,
Chevrolet ad Classical editing illustrationsTVCrit ClipsChevrolet commercial storyboard
Butler, ch. 7
9/25 Editing: Multiple Camera Mode
Seinfeld (1990-98) , All My Children (1970-)All My Children
Butler, ch. 7
9/30 Sound
Movie Magic (1994-)
Butler, ch. 8
10/2 Exam #2 (sample answers, grading)  

A History of TV Style
The Jack Benny Show (1950-65), Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
(1968-73) Clorox commercials

Butler, ch. 9


Special Topics I: Music Television
The Buggles, Guns N Roses, Peter Gabriel, Madonna

Butler, ch. 10

10/14 Special Topics II: The Commercial
Apple, Coca-Cola, The Gap, Mountain Dew, Victoria's Secret Click for illustrations
Butler, ch. 12

Special Topics III: Animation Click for illustrations
Steamboat Willie (1928) , Gerald McBoing-Boing (1951) ,
Pigs Is Pigs (1954) , Crusader Rabbit (1949-51,'57-69) ,
The Flintstones (1960-66) , The Simpsons (1989-)
For the Birds (2001), The Making of Toy Story (1995)

Butler, ch. 11
10/21 Critical Methods: An Overview Butler, ch.13;
Allen, Introduction
10/23 Exam #3  
10/28 Semiotics
The Wonder Years (1991) Click for illustrations
Allen, ch. 1
10/30 "Digital FX for Mutants," Mary Nelson  
11/4 Semiotics, continued
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1991) Click for illustrations
11/6 Genre Study
Roseanne (1988-97)
Allen, ch. 4
11/11, 13 Ideological Criticism
Designing Women (1991)
The Beverly Hillbillies (1962)
Allen, ch. 5
11/18, 20 Feminist Criticism
The Real World (1992) , Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991) ,
Justify My Love
On the Madonna controversy (Laurie Schulze)
(username/password: tcfuser)
Allen, ch. 7
11/25 Cultural Studies, Ethnography
My So-Called Life (1994)
Allen, ch. 8
11/27 Thanksgiving Holiday  
12/2 Cultural Studies, Ethnography, continued Allen, ch. 8
12/4 Postmodernism; Course Summary
The Simpsons (1999) Click for illustrations
Allen, ch. 9
**Final Paper, 4:45 p.m., TCF Office, 484 Phifer**  
Final Exam Period, Friday, 8-10:30 a.m.
Exam #4

Available at Local Bookstores:

Channels of Discourse cover Television Cover
  1. Robert C. Allen, Channels of Discourse, Reassembled, second edition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992).
  2. Jeremy G. Butler, Television: Critical Methods and Applications, Second Edition (Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2001). See the companion Website at

(Note: The above listings follow the guidelines for footnotes specified in Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Citations in a bibliography use a slightly different format. You must use Turabian or another recognized style guide when creating citations in your papers. For Web or other online citations, use a guide such as The Columbia Guide to Online Style by Janice R. Walker and Todd Taylor [Columbia UP, 1998].)

Attendance Policy:
Each student is permitted four absences. Each absence beyond four will result in one point being deducted from the student's final grade (maximum penalty: five points). Students who do not attend the first two meetings of class may be administratively disenrolled.
Cell-Phone Policy:
Cell phones must be turned off during classtime. Students who leave class to take a phone call will be counted absent for that day.
Disabilities Accommodation Policy:
Students with disabilities are encouraged to register with the Office of Disability Services, 348-4285. Thereafter, you are invited to schedule appointments to see me during my office hours to discuss accommodations and other special needs.
Academic Misconduct Policy:

All acts of dishonesty in any work constitute academic misconduct. The Code of Academic Conduct and Academic Misconduct Disciplinary Procedures will be followed in the event of academic misconduct.

GPA Requirements:

The College of Communication & Information Sciences requires that all students enrolled in upper division courses (300/400 level) have a 2.0 GPA overall. Students who do not have the 2.0 GPA may be administratively disenrolled on the first day of class.

Students must earn a "C" or better in all required and elective courses in a C&IS major. A "C" or better is required in all external courses required by the major whether they serve as a prerequisite to a major course or are simply required by the major. This means a "C" of any kind.

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Last revised: November 20, 2003
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