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Jump Cut


From the sea change in U.S. television in the 1980s emerged a programming trend variously described as "infotainment," "reality-based television," "tabloid TV," "crime-time television," "trash TV," and "on-scene shows."[1][open notes in new window] The welter of terms created by television critics to describe these new programs masked their underlying connection as a response to economic restructuring within the industry. This essay offers a rough categorization of these programs, sketches the industrial context from which they emerged, and points to the economic problems they were meant to solve.[2] Although my focus here is on political economy, rather than on textual or audience issues, I do not want to imply that these programs' cultural significance can be reduced to their relations of production and distribution. Yet without understanding the political-economic forces which drove the spread of this genre, textual and audience studies risk reifying it as an expression of audience demand, or of their creators, or of a cultural, discursive, or ontological shift unrelated to the needs of those who run the television industry. If this genre exhibits a kind of textual excess, its emergence reflects a relative scarcity of means. I conclude with suggestions for how textual and audience studies might link the new "reality" of television to shifts in the larger U.S. political-economy since the mid-1980s.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License. Copyright © Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1997, 2006. No changes were made.

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