Help me learn more about the history and craft of television
October 22, 2015 9:28 AM   Subscribe

I've always been more of a TV person than a movie person. Now I think I'd like to get more serious with my interest, and really delve into the history and theory of television, both in terms of the shows themselves and the industry behind them. Help me get started with this!

I've always known people who were super into film and film history, and for some reason the subject never really grabbed me. But recently, I've realized that I WOULD actually love to be able to nerd out about the finer little points of TV the way film geeks can nerd out about movies. And now that it's easier than ever to actually watch old shows, I feel like there's never been a better time to learn about this stuff.

I read the great The Revolution Was Televised earlier this year, and I realized I want way more stuff like this - information not just about television shows themselves, but also about their cultural impact and the inside stories of how they were made.

So now, I'm looking for books, articles, documentaries, websites, or anything else that will get me started down the path of becoming an amateur television scholar, for lack of a less pretentious term. I'm more interested in American TV, but would be interested to learn about other countries as well.

Some of the types of things I'd like to learn about:
  • The overall trends of each era of TV
  • The most significant shows of those eras and their long-term impacts
  • Industry inside-baseball stuff - I found myself fascinated recently by reading about the recent trend in international co-funding for TV shows, for example, and I'd like to know more about the various industry unions, the development of writers' rooms, and so forth
  • Fancy snooty film theory as applied to TV
  • The development of the technology and craft of TV - from the different camera setups to the way the makeup tech evolved
  • Anything with a specifically anthropology-centered approach to TV would be interesting
And of course, I'm sure there's even more that I'm forgetting or don't know about!
posted by showbiz_liz to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control by Fred Friendly, former president of CBS news who worked with Edward R Murrow, (orig published in 1967, reprinted in 1999) for the early days of television journalism and how it devolved to entertainment.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:52 AM on October 22, 2015

Have you been to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens yet? They have a lot of what you're asking about (cameras and other equipment, plus lots of info on the early years, from a broadcast / equipment perspective).

For books, I don't have a good overview, but I love The Late Shift and Live From New York, and Street Gang for individual shows.

There's also a tour at 30 Rock that takes you through the studios and shows a lot of old equipment along with tons of early NBC history, which I totally recommend.
posted by Mchelly at 9:54 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Paley Center for Media has a lot of info online and you can also visit them in Midtown.
posted by plastic_animals at 10:25 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

And after the Museum of the Moving Image, there's also the New York wing of the Paley Center for Media on 52nd Street in Manhattan. I visited it a couple times, back when it was still called "the Museum for Television and Radio". Generally they have a couple of public exhibits of some random thing (I remember one exhibit on Star Trek makeup and costumes once when I went), but everyone mainly goes for the screening archive; sign up for a reservation at one of their computers when you get there, and when it's your time, you go to the screening room, sit down at the computer, and then you can search their database of television and radio shows that they have on file and watch/listen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:26 AM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Archive of American Television has a massive number of interviews with all manner of talented artists and the stories of how it really works, really a huge vault of everything TV.
posted by Freedomboy at 10:33 AM on October 22, 2015

Kliph Nesteroff doesn't write exclusively about TV, but anything he writes about TV history is solid gold. He also has an archive of his interviews here. He's asking for donations for to read his article about Keefe Brasselle. I've read it, and it's worth it.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 10:36 AM on October 22, 2015

In a past life, I was a media studies Ph.D. student with a focus on broadcast history. I have one entire bookcase full of things you should read, but here are just a couple of suggestions to get you going.

For a general history of the development of television both as a technological innovation and as a broadcasting medium, I would start with a book like "The Box: An Oral History of Television, 1929-1961" by Jeff Kisseloff

If you're interested in TV criticism, check out the work of Horace Newcomb, who wrote and taught at University of Texas Austin for a good many years. Also, Todd Gitlin, who wrote not just about television, but a variety of other cultural and political topics as well.

I am at work right now, but would be glad to go through a lot more stuff later if you want. MeMail me and we can discuss it.
posted by briank at 10:38 AM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

I really enjoyed PBS' "Pioneers of Television" series.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 10:55 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way by Ken Auletta is a great book about the decline of network television in the 1980s.
posted by Rob Rockets at 10:55 AM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

These are pretty foundational:
Television Culture by John Fiske
MTM "Quality Television" by Jane Feuer
Make Room for TV by Lynn Spigel
"Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse" by Stuart Hall
posted by thetortoise at 1:29 PM on October 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

One more - Watching Race by Herman Gray
posted by thetortoise at 10:15 PM on October 22, 2015

I found a copy of this book 'Television Writing - Theory and Technique' by Robert S. Greene, published in 1952 to be a fascinating read about how to go about writing drama for live television. And, it's available from the Google Books.
posted by drinkmaildave at 4:58 PM on October 26, 2015

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