“With 22 Episodes a Year”: Searching for Quality in US Network Television: the Cases of The Good Wife, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Jane the Virgin
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The notion of “quality television” has been endlessly revised over the last three decades. Given the medium’s technological, institutional, economic and aesthetic evolution, various scholars have probed and explored its forms of quality, focusing especially on the US scenario, a notable forerunner and leader in the development and international distribution of TV shows. Applied to the American industry, this ever-evolving definition has some recurrent features that make it a sort of “super-genre”, a label for TV series that share some elements of “prestige”. Concentrating on the US scenario, where nowadays “quality” mainly tends to be a label for cable series, this paper aims to identify those prestige features and to answer the question: is there such a thing as quality network television in a cable-dominated market? After establishing a theoretical framework by tracing how the notion of quality television has evolved, the article focuses on three contemporary case studies: CBS’s The Good Wife, The CW’s Jane the Virgin and Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine. We see how these three series share some aesthetic and narrative tropes that exploit broadcast television’s weaknesses and restrictions to appeal to a certain upscale audience, resulting in critical acclaim and awards. In conclusion, we argue that several characteristics of quality cable television can be applied to a wave of network television productions that, although based on the standard formats of broadcast storytelling, are critically comparable to more acclaimed shows, ultimately fitting into the prestige series super-genre.
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