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SITUATION COMEDY AND THE STRUCTURE OF TELEVISION: A STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS

BROOKS ROBARDS, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Abstract

Television programming has not been subjected to close critical analysis of its underlying structure. Four tenets of structural analysis: transformation, intelligibility, self-regulation, and formalization, are drawn from the theories of Claude Levi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, and Jean Piaget and applied to television situation comedy.^ Preliminary examination of the genre establishes that it is more closely alligned to radio than film, while a survey of literary comedy reveals transformations which demonstrate the importance of analyzing television on its own terms.^ Analysis of "I Love Lucy," "McHale's Navy," and "All in the Family," establishes three precepts basic to television structure.^ Serial chronology represents television's way of structuring time. Rather than compressing time, television fragments it. Changes occur gradually and mimick real life as when Lucy becomes pregnant in "I Love Lucy." Technical experimentation in the sixties, illustrated by "McHale's Navy," led to a temporary dissolution of exploitation of serial chronology as a structural component. "All in the Family" heralds a return to capitalizing on serial chronology by extending action as well as character over time.^ Telemythic scope represents television's characteristic scale, which is limited in terms of setting and tends to make images recede into abstraction. This is illustrated in "I Love Lucy" by confinement of characters to the Ricardo living room and the focus on domestic events. In the sixties, illustrated by "McHale's Navy", producers attempted to expand scope using exotic settings. In the seventies, illustrated by "All in the Family," extreme close-ups, as well as the concentration of action and scene, show an appreciation of scope.^ The electron factor represents television's way of recomposing reality so that it becomes abstract and symbolic without losing its immediacy. It is present in diluted form in "I Love Lucy," which used cinematic techniques. It is most evident in "McHale's Navy" in dream scenes. In "All in the Family," videotape approximates the immediacy of live transmission which, along with topicality, works to capitalize on the vitality and abstraction of the electron factor.^

Subject Area

Mass Communications

Recommended Citation

BROOKS ROBARDS, "SITUATION COMEDY AND THE STRUCTURE OF TELEVISION: A STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS" (January 1, 1982). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. Paper AAI8229597.
http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI8229597

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