Making the Commercial Personal: The Authorial Value of Jerry Bruckheimer Television

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Steward, Tom. "Making the Commercial Personal: The Authorial Value of Jerry Bruckheimer Television." Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 24 5 (2010): 735-49. Print.



Auteurism, authorship

Narrative form

Narrative complexity

Genre narration


Main argument: Even though Jerry Bruckheimer’s productions are “commercial and formulaic” rather than “high art” his works exhibit “authorial coherence and unique artistic identity” and so should be considered an example of ‘auteurism.’

Subordinate arguments:

Bruckheimer’s stylistic influences are based on commercial considerations, including a concern with the value of the series in syndication, effective branding strategies and the ability to provide an aesthetically unique and identifiable product within a crowded marketplace.

The authorial voice of Bruckheimer is not directly applied but guides the work of the creatives, such as directors and videographers, involved with the actual production of series and episodes. The resulting similarities in products reflects a form of authorial voice that is usually not recognized by critics.

Artistic quality is a separate issue from authorial voice. Authorial voice generated by the search for commercial success has implications for the production of and popular reaction to television narrative that should be recognized by critics.

Distinctive features of Bruckheimer TV include:

Narrative form The fixed and repeated narrative patterns of Bruckheimer's TV episodes in which variegation between episodes is minimized are clearly driven by an impetus towards attaining syndication deals. . . . The self-containment of episodes and lack of diversity between them allows networks to show the series out of order without a loss of meaning or disparity between episodes, making the series more attractive propositions for syndication. . . . . The programmes are marked by the elliptical cropping of incidents outside the professional case narratives and a resistance to characterization. This is demonstrated by refusing to let emotional or domestic backstory become the basis of an episode,

Aesthetics The aesthetics of Bruckheimer's television series are dominated by computer-animated simulations and digitally enhanced camerawork. . . . integration of digital effects into the narratives of the episodes with several of the digitally animated sections containing key narrative information and lending 'a unique visual component to the writing'

Uniform throughout Bruckheimer's police procedurals are the establishing shots of city skylines taken by helicopter-mounted cameras that track across the tops and sides of skyscrapers.

“patterns of visual style in Bruckheimer' s police series extend to signature shots. Fast zoom shots completed by digital imaging that take the viewer from an exterior position of an object to a microscopic viewpoint within the interior of the same object are prevalent throughout the series.”

Genre narration

“Bruckheimer' s resistance to the generic development of the US police series into a character-based serial since the 1980s. Storylines are generally restricted to single episodes about discrete criminal cases, with the typical ending of CSI a cut-out to the credits screen at the very moment the outcome of the case is determined. Though the gender mix of the cast and the simultaneous storylines show that the last 30 years of police television have had some impact on Bruckheimer, narration is usually subordinated to one dominant storyline and the female characters contained by an authoritative patriarch.

“This differs from an increasing move towards liberal politics and moral ambiguity in the US police drama. Bruckheimer's police series have refused to accept liberal ambiguities into their framework”

This make the politics of Bruckheimer' s series seem stable and coherent. The self-containment of each episode is marked by a crime narrative resolved within the 45-minute TV hour through an act of scientific or technological discovery, which rehearses an argument that crime can be contained through scientifically supported police work rather than being an ongoing social problem.”

“The programmes advocate the use of security state tactics of mass surveillance not only as unproblematic tools of law enforcement but as narrative devices to increase efficiency. This ideology, consonant with right-wing thought on crime in society, is then repeated almost wholesale throughout the runs of all of the Bruckheimer police series. The coherence and consistency of politics within Bruckheimer's series is therefore tied to the set episodic formula and its repetition, which is the foundation of its appeal to syndication.”

A narrative idiosyncrasy of Bruckheimer's series is the non-linear fragmentation of chronological time. The series are permeated with flashback interludes, episodes are often premised on flashback scenarios, and they frequently layer images of past events on to representations of the present. . . They are signified by rigid conventions which emphasize the visual uniformity of the Bruckheimer brand, such as tinting the colour of flashback sequences or using a digitally imaged airborne tracking shot to make the transition from past to present

Questions for midterm/final:

How are authorship and artistic quality normally considered with regard to authorship? Why and how does steward question the normal relationship critics assert?

What markers of authorship does Steward identify in Bruckheimer television?

Steward asserts that Bruckheimer television asserts a right-wing vision of the world through its identifiable authorial markers. Outline his argument.

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