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Dr. Aymar Jean Christian

Assistant Professor, Department of Communication

Office: Frances Searle 1-154

Phone: (847) 467-4199


Office hours: Monday and Wednesday, 1-3PM
Television is dead; television is in a golden age. Can both statements be true? This course focuses on how the art and business of primetime television changed after the introduction of “new media,” from cable to the Internet. Readings will explore production, storytelling, identity and distribution of TV and web entertainment. Students will watch, analyze and have the option to pitch or produce television.
The goal of this course is to give students a deeper understanding of the complexity and ever-changing nature of a media business. Television is arguably the country's most powerful medium, foundational to American culture and history in the post-WWII era. At first tightly regulated and controlled, television has fragmented, its networks folded into conglomerations and its programs spread across dozens of channels. Throughout the semester students are encouraged to question how changes in television production, regulation and distribution affects programming, culture and politics at large. 
The goal of this course is expose students to the changes in the art and business of television from the introduction of “new media” starting with cable in the 1980s and digital networks in the 1990s and 2000s. Students will learn:
-How to critically watch television programs in light of industrial or institutional contexts

- How new media reshaped practices in production, distribution, and financing and which legacy practices endure

- How these changes shifted modes of representation and conventions of narrative

- How new technologies shifted how audiences watch and interact with television.

You are responsible for all readings, unless they are marked "suggested" on the syllabus. Suggested readings provide greater context for understanding that week’s readings and screenings.
Each week you must view all of the assigned episodes, clips and websites. Screenings are listed by Title of the show, “Episode” (Season: Episode #, Air Date). Except for web series, all shows will be on reserve on DVD at Mitchell. Alternative screening options – via Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or YouTube – are specified.
We will be talking about the screenings in class. Be prepared to engage in discussion about the screenings in relation to the readings. When watching series, take note of themes, narrative, aesthetics and politics. Ask yourself:
-- Who/what is this show about?

-- Who is this show for?

-- Who does it represent? How are they depicted?

-- Who is not represented?

-- Visit IMDb for credits, and take note of who made the series, the year it was produced, its placement in the season and the network on which it aired.
Presentations: Critical Karaoke (2 Performances)
For this in-class presentation you must select a 3-5 minute clip, song, podcast or video and analyze its position within its market or its relevance to that week’s topic. Originality is prized but you are free to use the assigned screenings. Your presentation must be timed to the length of the work and include:

-- A display of the original work(s) (originality is encouraged but you may use assigned screenings)

-- Analysis of its formal properties

-- Analysis of its relationship to one key point in a required reading

Presentations will be graded on:

  • Strength of your argument: why and how has your subject failed/thrived in the contemporary television market?

  • Originality and quality of your presentation (see final paper guidelines).

Examples of original works include: videos (trailers, scenes, short films), photos (slideshows), audio (radio, music, podcasts), objects (paintings, sculptures, collages), games (gameplay, recap/play videos)

Midterm Proposal:
By midterm you must hand-in in a 3-page proposal for your final paper or project. 
The proposal should indicate you have a clear topic in mind and have thought broadly through the issues you wish to engage.
The proposal must include:

  • A tentative title and topic for your paper

  • A sustained discussion of one or two ways – ownership, labor, distribution, information, participation, innovation, etc. – your case study has achieved or challenged power within its industry

  • A three-item bibliography (scholarly books and articles, feature-length documentaries, lengthy news investigations)

    • Scholarly books include (in order of strength): books from university presses; books from academic trade presses (Routledge, Bloomsbury, IB Taurus, Polity, Intellect, Sage)

    • Scholarly articles include those in peer-reviewed journals like: Television and New Media, Journal of Communication, International Journal of Communication, New Media & Society, Continuum, Games and Culture, Journal of Popular Film and Television, Transformative Works, Journal of Electronic Broadcasting and Media, Media Industries Journal.

Final Assignment:
Paper: 8-12 pages
Analyze how a contemporary broadcast, cable or web television series, group of series or network has failed or struggled in the post-network television market. Your objective is to consider the many different ways series, networks and producers have sought success in television and the constraints on that success.
Your essay must consider every aspect of television explored in the course, including production, distribution, technology, audiences, representation, financing, narrative, and the context of the post-network television market. Your argument will ideally focus on 1-3 aspects as leading reasons why your object of study was a failure or struggled. Your essay must consider how these aspects impose constraints on series, networks and producers as they seek to tell stories and profit from audience attention.
Papers must include primary and secondary sources. Required readings do not count toward your required secondary sources, but suggested readings do. If data on your topic is scarce or difficult to obtain you may use contemporary or historical cases for comparison to buttress your case.
You can work pairs (perhaps more if you're producing something) but please meet me in advance of the mid-term proposal to get approval. You also may choose to write on a “success” story – one that produced innovations – but please consult with me first.
Grades are decided on a 200-point scale. Points are deducted directly from that total. 
180-200: A

160-179: B

140-159: C

120-139: D

119-below: F 
Class Participation: 60 points
Presentations: 50 points (25 points each)

In-class contributions: 10 points
Class participation is based on your in-class contributions, including presentations, questions and comments. If you are shy or disinclined to talk during class, put extra effort into your weekly reactions to avoid deductions to your grade.
Mid-term proposal: 50 points, DUE April 22 (by 11:59PM)
Final paper: 90 points, DUE June 6 (by 11:59PM)
Final papers will be graded on three criteria (30 points each):
Final papers will be graded on three criteria:
1. Strength – For papers, depth of primary source analysis coupled with adequate secondary source support. For pitches, cohesion of the project.
10 points: Depth of primary source analysis or explanation of project

  • Clarity of the argument or pitch

  • Are the primary sources relevant to the paper or pitch

  • Do primary sources support the argument or pitch

10 points: Depth of secondary source support for all arguments

  • Does the paper meaningfully engage with at least 2 outside sources

  • Do the sources support the argument

  • Is the source of sufficient scholarly rigor

10 points: Use of comparisons, contrasts and/or counterarguments

  • Are the examples relevant to the argument

  • Are there substantial in number of quality to adequately address flaws and holes

  • Does the paper correctly situate its argument in the context of the industry, market and its stakeholders (corporate and independent)

2. Originality – For papers, originality of the argument. For pitches, originality of concept. 

10 points: Selection

  • Is this case the most useful to their argument

  • Does the writer adequately justify their selection

10 points: Critical thinking

  • Does the paper engage with the limits of using this case study for the argument

  • Does the paper demonstrate relevant and engaged critiques of their case study or industry

10 points: Sourcing

  • Do the sources demonstrate full understanding of how the case is situated in the industry

  • Does the paper fully integrate different aspects of industrial stakeholders and processes (stakeholders and key concepts) into the argument

3. Quality

10 points: Grammar

10 points: Organization

10 points: Style
Final papers are due Monday, June 6th by midnight via Blackboard. Each hour you are late deducts one point off your final grade.

This course adheres to policies and procedures for academic integrity as set forth by Northwestern University and the School of Communication. Students should avoid acts of plagiarism or academic dishonesty, any of which can result in failure of the course. For more on these university policies, including a definition of plagiarism and how to avoid it, please see the links listed below.

It is Northwestern University policy to ensure that no qualified student with a disability is denied the benefits of, excluded from participation in, or otherwise subjected to discrimination in any University program or activity. In response to a request made by a qualified student with a disability, the University will arrange, at no cost to the student, for the provision of educational auxiliary aids, including sign language interpreters, determined by the University to be necessary to afford such student the opportunity for full participation in University programs. Students who need to arrange for assistance or services should feel free to contact me or refer to the office of Services for Students with disabilities. 
Sexual Harassment

It is the policy of Northwestern University that no member of the Northwestern community—students, faculty, administrators, or staff—may sexually harass any other member of the community. For more information, including definitions of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which constitute harassment, visit: If any content in this course is triggering for you, please let me know.

Class participation

Behavior that detracts from the classroom community or shows disregard for the learning environment may range from passive (e.g. chronic lateness, sleeping, texting) to aggressive (vulgar language, unnecessarily critical, direct challenges) incivilities. If you are reluctant to speak, you must compensate by actively participating in the discussion online. Silence in-class and online will result in deductions from the final grade. Laptops and cell phones are not permitted.


Students must wait 24 hours after receiving graded assignments before making a claim for a higher grade. At the same time, students must also raise concerns or challenge grades within 7 days of receiving the assignment back. Also, when disputing an assignment, please submit a one-paragraph statement on what you would like me to reconsider along with the original graded material.


You are responsible for reading all emails sent by me to the class within 24 hours of receipt. At the same time, I am not obliged to entertain questions about the midterm, final or presentations within 24 hours of the deadline.

The librarian for Communication Studies is Stacey Devine ( If you need help planning for your final papers, she is offering her assistance and will give brief introductions to the resources available to Northwestern students.
Regular reading suggestions for this course:
Television and Online Video Periodicals (pick 2-4):
New York (Vulture), Deadline, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Antenna, Flow, AV Club, TV by the Numbers, Shadow and Act, Tubefilter, News for TV Majors, Multichannel News, Reel SEO, Broadcasting and Cable, Will Video for Food, The Video Ink, New Tee Vee (GigaOM)
Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, New Yorker, New York, New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, The Nation, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, Los Angeles Times, NPR, The Guardian, Indiewire
Advocacy and Academics:
New American Foundation, Free Press, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Social Media, Berkman Center (Harvard University), Center for Internet and Society, Flow, Terra Nova
Social media (pick 2-4):
Twitter @: n4tvm,* jmittell, mattzollerseitz (New York), emilynussbaum (New Yorker), alyssarosenberg (Think Progress), kristenwarner, memles, tvoti (AV Club), willapaskin (Salon), marcgraser (Variety), awallenstein (Variety), _mesk 
-- Critical karaoke

-- Introductions

-- Course overview

-- Introductory Lecture: How has television changed?

-- Defining quality TV

Required Readings: 
-- Amanda Lotz, “Understanding Television at the Beginning of the Post-Network Era,” The Television Will Be Revolutionized, pp. 27-48, 2007

-- Herman Gray, “The Politics of Representation in Network Television,” Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for Blackness, pp. 70-92, 2004

-- Soul! “The Roots of Black Protest” (1971) (PBS – in class)

-- A Different World, “Pride and Prejudice” (1990) (Netflix)

-- The Boondocks, “Return of the King” (1:9, 2006) (DailyMotion, Netflix)

-- The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, “The Stop Sign,” (1:1-2, 2011) (YouTube)

Suggested readings:
-- Aymar Jean Christian, “The Black TV Crisis and the Next Generation,” Flow, August 2013,

-- Herman Gray, “The Transformation of the Television Industry and the Social Production of Blackness,” Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for Blackness, pp. 57-69, 2004

-- Ethan Thompson, "Key and Peele: Identity, Shockingly Translated," Antenna, February 7, 2012,

-- Todd VanDerWerff, “A Different World was the last black sitcom to be a hit—but why?,” AV Club, January 14, 2013,,90788

Required Readings: 
-- David Gurney, “Auto-Tune the News: Remix Video,” in Thompson and Mittell

-- Amanda Lotz, “Television Outside the Box: The Technological Revolution of Television,” The Television Will Be Revolutionized

-- T.S. Stanley, “How Vine's Hunky Goofball Logan Paul Plans to Become a Mainstream Superstar,” Adweek, January 24, 2016,

-- Louisa Stein, “Gossip Girl: Transmedia Technologies,” in Thompson and Mittell

-- The Good Wife, “The Great Firewall,” (2001, Amazon)

-- High Maintenance, “Jamie” and “Rachel” (2012, 2014,

-- “makeup tutorial for when your date cancels on you,” Anna Russett (2013) (YouTube)
Suggested readings:
-- danah boyd, "Why youth ♥ social network sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life," The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning, pp. 119-142, 2008,

-- John Caldwell, “Trade Machines and Manufactured Identities” (online via NUCat), Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television, pp. 150-196, 2008
-- Henry Jenkins, “Introduction: Why Media Spreads,” Spreadable Media: creating value and meaning in a networked culture, pp. 1-46, 2013

-- Jason Lynch, “A First Look at Nielsen’s Total Audience Measurement and How It Will Change the Industry,” Adweek, October 20, 2015,

-- Suzanne Scott, “Battlestar Galactica: Fans and Ancillary Content,” in Thompson and Mittell

-- Gayle Wald, “The Black Community and the Affective Compact,” It’s Been Beautiful: Soul! and Black Power Television, pp. 70-103, 2015

-- Looking, “Looking for Now,” (1:1, HBO)

-- Empire, “Pilot,” (1:1, ABC)

-- Black Gay University, “PILOT Episode - Ball Queenz Be Like…” (YouTube)

-- Eliot Glazer, “Reluctant Gay Dude’s Guide to Modern Gay Vernacular” for Looking (HBO) (YouTube)

-- Kyle Humphrey & Graydon Sheppard, “Shit Girls Say” (YouTube)

-- Franchesca Ramsey, “Shit White Girls Say…to Black Girls” (YouTube)

Suggested readings:
-- Mark Andrejevic, “Watching Television Without Pity: The Productivity of Online Fans,” Television & New Media 9 (24), pp. 24-46, 2008

-- Niall Connolly, “Welcome to the Ballroom, where Voguing is always in style,” Boingboing, March 6, 2013,

-- Margaret Lyons, “How Television Without Pity Shaped Pop Culture,” Vulture, March 2014,

-- Jason Mittell, “An Arresting Development,” Flow, December 2005,

-- Eve Ng, “Reading the Romance of Fan Cultural Production: Music Videos of a Television Lesbian Couple,” in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Critical Reader, eds. Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez, pp. 553-562

-- Streeter Seidell, "I Waste People's Time Online. How? Don't Ask Me," New York Times, April 20, 2008,
-- Aymar Jean Christian, “Indie TV: Innovation in Series Development,” in Media Independence: working with freedom or working for free?, pp 159-181, 2014

--         Aymar Jean Christian, “Web TV Networks Linear Business Models,” Media Industries Project,, 2014

-- Jennifer Fuller, “Branding blackness on cable,” Media, Culture and Society 32(2): pp. 285-305, 2010

-- Amanda Lotz, “Revolutionizing Distribution: Breaking Open the Network Bottleneck,” Television Will Be Revolutionized, pp. 131-166, 2014



-- Girls, “Vagina Panic,” (1:2, 2012) (HBO Go)

-- Maude, "Maude's Dilemma," (1:9-10, 1972) (YouTube: part 1, part 2)

-- You’re So Talented (Open TV)

-- Kids React (YouTube)

-- Ratchetpiece Theatre, “Rasheeda (Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta)” (YouTube)
Suggested readings:
--         Aymar Jean Christian, “Development Report 1,” Open TV,,
-- Michael Hiltzik, “Netflix, ‘House of Cards’ and the limits of binge-watching junk,” Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2014,,0,3297583.story#axzz2xf001q7v

-- Ryan McGee, “How Fresh Off the Boat highlights the potential power of Peak TV,” Boob Tube Dude, February 3, 2016,

-- Myles McNutt, “Limited Series Are A Product of Brand Management, Not Innovation,” Carsey-Wolf Center: Media Industries Project, February 24, 2014

-- Emily Nussbaum, “Cool Story, Bro: The shallow deep talk of True Detective,” New Yorker, March 3, 2014,

-- Amanda Lotz, “How to spend $9.3 billion in three days: examining the upfront buying process in the production of US television culture,” Media Culture Society 29, 549-567, 2007

-- Amanda Lotz, “The New Economics of Television,” Television Will Be Revolutionized, pp. 167-206, 2014

-- Ted Magder, “Television 2.0: the Business of American Television in Transition,” Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture, pp. 141-164, 2009

-- Rocket Jump, "The Cost of a Webseries,"

-- Kevin Sandler, “Modern Family: Product Placement,” in Thompson and Mittell
-- RuPaul's Drag Race, “Glamazon by Colorevolution,” (6:7, 2014, Logo)

-- Breaking Bad, "Box Cutter," (4:1, 2011) (Netflix)

-- Whatever this is, "Reality," (1:1, 2013) (Vimeo)

-- Video Game High School (1:1, 2012) (YouTube)

Suggested readings:
-- Advertising Age, “What It Costs: Ad Prices From TV’s Biggest Buys to the Smallest Screens,”

-- Amy Chozik and Bill Carter, “A Rough and Bawdy Ad Magnet,” New York Times, March 27, 2012,

-- Chad Raphael, “The Political Economic Origins of Reali-TV,” in Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture, pp. 123-140, 2009

-- Edward Wyatt, "TV Contestants: Tired, Tipsy, and Pushed to Brink," New York Times, August 2, 2009

-- Alyxandra Vesey, "An Absolut Drag," Antenna, December 31, 2012,

-- Miranda J. Banks, “I Love Lucy: The Writer-Producer,” in Thompson and Mittell

-- David Dayen, “The Real World of Reality TV: Worker Exploitation,” In These Times, October 14, 2014,

-- Amanda Lotz, “Making Television: Changes in the Practices of Creating Television,” The television will be revolutionized, pp. 81-118, 2007 (online via NUCat)

-- Beejoli Shah, “In the White Room With Black Writers: Hollywood’s ‘Diversity Hires,’” Defamer, December 20, 2013,

-- All in the Family, “Cousin Maude’s Visit,” (2:12, 1971) (YouTube)

-- UnREAL, “Relapse” – (1:2, 2015) (Hulu+, Amazon, iTunes)

-- Broad City, (1:15-19, 2010) (YouTube)

-- Broad City, “Stolen Phone” (1:6, 2014, Hulu+)

Suggested Readings:
-- John Caldwell, “Industrial Auteur Theory (Above the Line/Creative),” Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television, pp. 197-231, 2008 (online via NUCat)

-- Eddie Huang, “Bamboo-Ceiling TV,” Vulture, January 13, 2013,

-- Gary Levin, “Testing the bonds of best ‘Friends,’” USA Today, May 4, 2000, p. 1D

-- Organize Reality TV:

-- John Vanderhoef, “Guilds Struggle to Organize Reality TV,” Carsey-Wolf Center: Media Industries Project, December 2, 2013,

-- Susan Douglas, “Fantasies of Power,” Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism's Work Is Done, pp. 14-35, 2010

-- E. Alex Jung, “Real Talk With RuPaul” Vulture, March 23, 2016,

—         C. Riley Snorton, “Referential Sights and Slights,” Palimpsest, 2(2) pp. 175-186, 2013
—         Susan Stryker, “Biopolitics,” Transgender Studies Quarterly, pp. 38-42, 2014

-- Kristen Warner, “’I’m glad no one was hung up on the race thing:’ Grey’s Anatomy and the Innovation of Blindcasting in a Post-Racial Era,” The Cultural Politics of Colorblind Casting, pp. 62-94, 2015

-- Brennan Williams & Gazelle Emami, “How to Make a Black Sitcom: Be Careful How You Talk About Race,”
-- Aymar Jean Christian, “Nupita Obama Creates Vogua,” Nupita Obama (1:1, 2015) (Open TV)

-- Transparent, “Man on the Land,” (2:9, 2015) (Amazon)

-- Her Story (1:1-6, 2016) (YouTube)

-- Zackary Drucker, Southern for Pussy (2015) (Open TV)

-- White Fetish (1:1-4, 2014) (YouTube)

-- Decoded, “8 Comebacks for Transphobic Relatives Over the Holidays” (MTV)

Suggested readings:
-- Aymar Jean Christian, “The Story of Open TV,” Open TV,, 2015

-- Amanda Lotz, “Trying to Man Up: Struggling with Contemporary Masculinities in Cable’s Male-Centered Serials,” Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the 21st Century, pp. 52-81, 2013

-- Phillip Maciak, “Kill the Leading Man: Two Histories of 21st Century Television,” Los Angeles Review of Books, August 13, 2013,

-- Alfred Martin, "It's (Not) In His Kiss: Gay Kisses, Narrative Strategies, and Camera Angles in Post-Network Television Comedy," Flow, September 2012,

-- Debra Merskin, “Three Faces of Eva: Perpetuation of the Hot Latina Stereotype in Desperate Housewives,” in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Critical Reader, eds. Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez, pp. 327-334, 2011

-- Marnie Pratt, “‘This is the Way We Live…and Love!’ Feeding on and Still Hungering for Lesbian Representation in The L Word,” ,” in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Critical Reader, eds. Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez, pp. 337-348

-- Janani Subramanian, "A Bitter Pill: Nurse Jackie and a Discourse of Discontent," Flow, June 2010,

-- June Thomas, “Why Did Maura Pfefferman and Her Daughters Go to a Trans-Exclusionary Wimmin’s Festival?,” Slate, December 14, 2015,

-- Karen Thompson, “Transparent Contempt for Dyke Culture,” Liberation Collective, December 23, 2015,


-- Bambi Higgins, “Homicide: Realism,” in Thompson and Mittell

-- Jason Mittell, “Complexity in Context,” Complex TV: the poetics of contemporary television storytelling, 2015, pp. 17-54

-- Jeffrey Sconce, “Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!: Metacomedy,” in Thompson and Mittell
-- Arrested Development, “SOBs," (3:9, 2006) (Netflix)

-- Louie, “Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 2” (3:5, 2012) (Netflix)

-- Community, “Virtual Systems Analysis” (3:16) (Hulu+)
Suggested readings:
-- Aymar Jean Christian, "Netflix's Arrested Development Will Not Change TV. Web TV Already Did," Televisual, January 11, 2013, 

-- Richard Butsch, “Ralph, Fred, Archie, Homer, and the King of Queens: Why Television Keeps Re-Creating the Male Working-Class Buffoon,” in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Critical Reader, eds. Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez, pp. 101-110

-- Michael Kackman, “Quality Television, Melodrama, and Cultural Complexity,” Flow, October 2008,

-- James Poniewozik, “Louis CK’s DIY TV,” Time, June 26, 2011,,8816,2078110,00.html

WEEK 10: In-Class Presentation
June 1
No readings or posts!

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