Television studies is an academic discipline that deals with critical approaches to television. Usually, it is distinguished from mass-communication research, which tends to approach the topic from an empirical perspective. Defining the field is problematic; some institutions and syllabuses do not distinguish it from media studies or classify it as a subfield of popular culture studies.
Television studies is roughly equivalent to the longer-standing discipline of film studies in that it is often concerned with textual analysis. For example, analyses of quality television, such as Cathy Come Home and Twin Peaks, have attracted the interests of researchers for their cinematic qualities. However, television studies can also incorporate the study of television viewing and how audiences make meaning from texts, which is commonly known as audience theory or reception theory.
Charlotte Brunsdon argues that television studies is an "aspirationally disciplinary name given to the academic study of television." Since it is a relatively new discipline, Brunsdon notes that "...many of the key television scholars are employed in departments of sociology, politics, communication arts, speech, theatre, media and film studies." She argues that television studies developed during the 1970s and 1980s "...from three major bodies of commentary on television: journalism, literary/dramatic criticism and the social sciences." Critical methods for television have been "...extrapolated from traditional literary and dramatic criticism."
As a result, television studies is marked by a great deal of "disciplinary hybridity." Perhaps because television scholars are approaching the subject from so many different disciplinary and theoretical perspectives, there are many debates about how television should be understood and conceptualized from a political and methodological point of view. Another impact of the disciplinary hybridity is the diversity in the types of studies carried out. Early television studies included histories of television, biographies of television producers, archival research by historians, and sociological studies of the role the television set played in 1950s homes.
In television studies, television and other mass media forms are "...conceptualised within frameworks" such as "...ownership; national and international regulation of media production and distribution; professional ideologies; public opinion; [and] media audiences." As the field of television studies was being developed, it was influenced by the medium's longstanding issue of invoking "distrust, fear and contempt", as a purported cause of social ills. As well, television scholars had to prove that television was different from other "mass media", often by pointing to how television differed from radio and cinema.
In the 1970s and 1980s, television studies developed three strands of commentary:
- A journalistic approach, which reviews recent television programs
- A literary and dramatic criticism approach, which examines the television screenwriter in the same way that literary and dramatic criticism examines novels and plays
- A social science approach, which examines production and distribution, and the function of television in society.
The social science stream examined the social function and effects of television and analyzed the role that television plays in the social order and the public sphere. Some television scholars applied Marxist frameworks or the "critical sociology of the Frankfurt School". Since the 1970s, feminist television scholars have focused "... on programmes for women and those which have key female protagonists", such as Julie D'Acci's study of the police drama Cagney and Lacey and the "...now substantial literature on soap opera." Television studies in the 1990s includes "work on the definition and interpretation of the television text and the new media ethnographies of viewing" and histories of "production studies" - how television shows are developed, financed, and produced.
Scholars who principally work in television studies include:
- Robert C. Allen
- Ien Ang
- John Ellis
- Jane Feuer
- John Fiske
- John Hartley
- Henry Jenkins
- Amanda D. Lotz
- Toby Miller
- Jason Mittell
- Horace Newcomb
- Neil Postman
- Lynn Spigel
- Raymond Williams
- Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television
- Media psychology
- Quality television
- Social aspects of television
- Television production
- The A.V. Club
The following journals are either devoted to television studies or, at the least, frequently include TV-studies essays.
- Cinema Journal — published by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies.
- Critical Studies in Television: Scholarly Studies in Small Screen Fictions — a print journal and online research resource, published by Manchester University Press.
- Flow — an online journal of television and media studies published biweekly by the Department of Radio-TV-Film at the University of Texas at Austin.
- Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television — journal of The International Association for Media and History
- Journal of Film and Video — published by the University Film and Video Association.
- Jump Cut — review of contemporary media.
- Media Industries Journal - peer reviewed and open-access.
- New Review of Film and Television Studies — edited by Warren Buckland at Oxford Brookes University, UK
- Screen — film and TV journal, particularly influential during the 1970s and 1980s.
- The Velvet Light Trap — long-running film and media journal.
- Allen, Robert C. and Annette Hill, eds., The Television Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 2004)
- Bignell, Jonathan. An Introduction to Television Studies (New York: Routledge, 2004)
- Boddy, William. Fifties Television: The Industry And Its Critics. Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1990.
- Brandt, George. British Television Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
- Casey, Bernadette; Neil Casey, Ben Calvert, Liam French, Justin Lewis, Television Studies: The Key Concepts (New York: Routledge, 2002)
- Corner, John. Critical Ideas in Television Studies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999)
- Ellis, John. Visible Fictions London: Routledge, 1982, 1992
- Ellis, John. Seeing Things London: IBTauris, 1987
- Feuer, Jane, Paul Kerr, and Tise Vahimagi. MTM: "Quality Television." London: British Film Institute, 1984.
- Fiske, John. Television Culture. London: Methuen, 1987.
- Fiske, John and John Hartley. Reading Television. London: Methuen, 1978.
- Geraghty, Christine and David Lusted, eds., The Television Studies Book (New York: Arnold, 1998)
- Goldie, Grace Wyndham. Facing The Nation: Television And Politics, 1936-1976. London: The Bodley Head, 1978.
- Hall, Stuart. Early Writings On Television. London: Routledge, 1997.
- Halloran, James. The Effects Of Television. London: Panther, 1970.
- Kaplan, E. Ann. Regarding Television. Los Angeles: American Film Institute, 1983.
- Lembo, Ron. Thinking through Television. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
- Lotz, Amanda D. (2007) The Television Will Be Revolutionized. New York, NY: New York University Press.
- Miller, Toby ed., Television Studies (London: BFI, 2002).
- Morley, David. Television, Audiences And Cultural Power. London: Routledge, 1992.
- Newcomb, Horace. TV: The Most Popular Art. New York: Doubleday, 1974.
- Newcomb, Horace, and Paul Hirsch. "Television as a Cultural Forum: Implications for Research." In Newcomb, Horace, editor. Television: The Critical View. New York: Oxford, 1994.
- Silverstone, Roger. Television and Everyday Life London: Routledge, 1994.
- Sartori, Giovanni. Homo Videns: Televisione e Post-Pensiero, Laterza, 2000.
- Williams, Raymond. Television, Technology And Cultural Form. London: Fontana, 1974.