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Seriality
Aesthetics & Narration











About
Seriality is nothing new. Television series and serials are based on a long tradition of serality. Novels, radio shows, serials in cinema preceded our modern television serials. Besides several "Golden Ages of Television" it is not too bold to say that we become or as some may say became witnesses of another Golden Age. The feuilletons are praising the American serials - even the German critics are delighted by shows that are widely known as Quality Television (Thompson 1996). Such serials are more complex than series. Horizontal narration dominates them. These shows are similar to more established cultural forms like complex novels - obviously this association tends to enhance the status of the well-praised products from "bad" media. Television itself is often accused as being dump (for example Adorno) and of being a low-grade form of media. This is the reason why the quality tv term and its connotation have to be reviewed critically.
HBO´s famous claim seems to be an answer to the bad image of television - quality serials are just not television any more. But not only this most welcome and ingenious marketing strategies caused/cause the contemporary era of television serials, the needs of the audience and the way people are watching television changed and are about to change.
On demand and binge watching seem to encourage those who are thinking that television is going to die. That may be overhasty - new channels and products are still made to be watched on television.
New economic structures are one of the most important characteristics of modern serials. Pay tv and on demand services are abetting productions for smaller audiences. Audiences that were often not interested in television.
Anyway the quality term and the emphasis of some kind of break suggest that there have been some changes: There are new viewer groups that demand on special products. And there is a group that became and is important to producers of traditional tv (free tv networks) and the new cable and pay tv channels coming up in den 80s: an educated audience that is willing to pay for quality productions. In consequence literature adaptions - often as miniseries - boomed. Of course the qtv term is kind of a marketing instrument that reaches out to an audience that is often - as mentioned in tradition of Adorno and/or an academic habitus - not fond of television, was thinking it is stupid or makes its audience stupid. This problem is still not solved and a popular topic in public discussion - sadly making obvious how little communication and media are understood. At least the Quality TV is nowadays accepted and prised for its critical approach and how such serials can make problems of society visible. Furthermore in the 70s/80s sound and image became more important on television (for example Caldwell 1995) - similar to cinema´s audiovisual narration. Now it is not longer about filming "a stage" as you will, it all about an intermedia narration.
In this time the narrative structures of series have become more complex, too. Despite the so-called status quo series (no development beyond the episode´s boundaries) the serial becomes more important - a way of telling long and complex stories, the episode is only a part in an ongoing quest. In a serial to miss an episode endangers to understand the whole story. Correspondent to that development - that diversification - we have to question if tv is still tv. Until the 1970s television was a "window to the world". Since it became a "window to different worlds" - a mass of free tv and cable channels; Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and so on seem to form another kind of tv, tv-ish forms. What was once carved out of stone - simple bipolar world concepts (good vs. bad) - is now vague. The end of the cold war may have intensified such feelings.
To be honest the common melancholy ("the good old times") is often based on the mis-presumption that the bipolar seeming world of the Cold War for example was really that simple. Actually the complexity of the world was just faded out - marked via the iron curtain for example. But still there are series and/or serials that offer stable worlds for those who are shocked of today´s complexity/to escape from the presence.
Back to the discussion about tv/tv-ish forms: Automatic forwarding, big data analyses of the users´ wishes and on demand access to your favourite series may confirm that often "revolution" called development. Despite that this modern or new tv is often quite similar to traditional forms: Automatisms of on demand tv equal the audience flow of free tv. Previews and advertising can be found in both forms. Together they create a paradox, often in different temporal directions moving narration/a new form of meaning (like Williams 2005 describes). And: On demand productions are sold to traditional channels, free tv productions are shown on pay tv ...
Much different from the German view on American qtv serials is the German criticism on German series/serials. A long time the German feuilletons tend to write/say, that the audience and the television creators are both not capable of complex television. A few examples of German serial production can prove the opposite: "Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter", "Deutschland 83", "Weissensee", "4 Blocks", "Weinberg" ... ... And those examples are in a compared to the USA much smaller market not that rare in percentage. Even in the US qtv is not everywhere and not every series/serial is a qtv product. The serial narration form 3 - the type 3 - dominates the US market: a story most of the time confined to an episode. Hence those viewers not watching every episode can understand what is happening whenever they watch an episode of that series, because the story ends when the episode ends. Those viewers that never miss an episode get another benefit: An arc continues from episode to episode.
--- The other types are: the status quo serie - type 1; the progressive serial - type 2; the mentioned hybrid of 1 and 2 - type 3; another hybrid - type 4: The miniseries narrates progressively but within a foreseeable volume of episodes (in particular compared to the never-ending serial) to a distinct conclusion. ---
Of course type 3 can be associated with quality, too. "The Sopranos" for instance combines progressive narration and an episode confined story - like type 3. But most type 3 formats must be considered less complex - like many procedurals: the "NCIS" franchise for example. However the free tv structure of German television and the structure of public broadcasting are making it extremely difficult to create serials for small quality audiences. Complex serials often only work in pay-tv. German Pay-tv has not entirely caught up to free tv. And the late creation of such serials and the public discussions sadly led to the fact that a part of the young quality audience lost track of German tv. Students often do not know any German program besides the famous sunday "Tatort".

Even though quality tv and serial narration are much discussed, they are - besides abstract and philosophical theories - not well explored. Hahn tries to change this situation. He wants to make scientists and every person interested in serial narration able to understand serial forms - in an interdisciplinary approach including economic, aesthetic, narrative and theoretical facets. He believes that serial narration is not confined to television and even more not to stories we tell kids. Serial narration is all around us - the experience of shopping in a supermarket is internalised, the corporate design makes us understand different and unknown spaces in a blink of an eye. The common sense of justice - the serial "justice" if you will - often collides with the "professional" interpretation of law - the serial "law" - and so on ...
So it is very important to make the serial meta-level more visible - so we can understand the world/our worlds better.

From 2012 till 2017 Hahn worked towards his doctoral degree (Ph.D.) at the Bauhaus University, Weimar, Germany - focussing on aestethics and narration of television serials in context of French philosopher Michel Foucault´s concept of heterotopia.

Within his doctoral thesis Hahn developed a concept for an innovative publication/anthology: TV seriality - its theories, narrative types, its history, its economic influencse, the qtv debate - are explained. But the texts - created by five authors - are besides their scientific content - presented in a narrative struture that simulates tv in traditional and modern form. The text are devided into episodes and season - so what is introduced can be experienced in that simulation as well.
More information about "Vier Typen seriellen Erzählens im Fernsehen" ("Four Types of Serial Narration on TV") here.
ISBN 978-3-7322-8778-9
Publication



  • "Vier Typen seriellen Erzählens
    im Fernsehen.
    Eine illustrative Einführung
    in Theorie, Geschichte und Diskurs
    2017

    › more (Page Book)

    › order (publisher)


  • "Bunker-TV, TV-Bunker:
    Heterotope Mechanismen
    am Beispiel von Schutzbauwerken
    und (Fernseh-)Serien
    2017

    › more

    › read


  • "Wo ist das Gaffer Tape? Das müssen wir faken.
    Am Rand des Wahrnehmbaren:
    Der implizit-banale Trash ..."
    in: Banal, trivial, phänomenal
    2017

    › more

    › order (publisher)


  • "Reality TV
    Untersuchung eines heterogenen Konzeptes ..."
    in: Banal, trivial, phänomenal
    2017

    › more

    › order (publisher)


  • "Sex. Lies. Storyboards.
    Die Geschichtenerzähler in Mad Men,
    The Hour und The Newsroom"
    in: Gegenwart in Serie
    2015

    › more

    › order (publisher)


  • "The Miniseries"
    Living Handbook of Serial Narration
    Universität des Saarlands,
    2015



  • "Zwischen Stagnation und Progression:
    Die Miniserie."
    in: Quality-TV


    › more

    › order (Amazon)


  • Von Flow zu Flow
    Konvergenzen und (TV-)Serien
    Versuch eines historischen, technischen
    und ästhetischen Überblick
    in: Journal of Serial Narration IV/2013

    › more



  • "Ich schaue kein Fernsehen,
    nur Qualitätsserien"
    Hintergründe eines kontroversen Begriffs
    und Beispiele qualitativer, serieller Produkte
    und Tendenzen aus Deutschland.
    in: Journal of Serial Narration II/2013

    › more



Talks
& Workshops

& Course


  • "This is the end"
    oder eben auch nicht: Dystopie in Serie
    Bauhaus University Weimar, 2014/15, Faculty Media, Studiengang Medienkunst und Mediengestaltung (Master), Fachmodul.

    › more


  • "All this has happened before ....:
    Über Enden und Nicht-Enden",
    Konferenz Quality TV:
    Zwischen Laudatio und
    in Memoriam,
    Universität des Saarlands,
    Saarbrücken 2014

    › more


  • "Vom Storyboard zur Postproduktion"
    praxisorientierter Workshop,
    Konferenz Quality TV:
    Die narrative Spielwiese
    des 21. Jahrhundert?!,
    Universität des Saarlands,
    Saarbrücken 2013

    Konferenz Quality TV:
    Zwischen Laudatio und
    in Memoriam,
    Universität des Saarlands,
    Saarbrücken 2014

    › more


  • "Zwischen Stagnation und Progression:
    Miniserie und Event(-Programmierung)",
    Konferenz Quality TV:
    Die narrative Spielwiese
    des 21. Jahrhundert?!,
    Universität des Saarlands,
    Saarbrücken

    › more


Projects