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(Note: Introduction is taken from uncorrected proofs. Changes may be made prior to publication.)

Introduction to the Second Edition

This second edition of the Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Television contains almost 200 new entries. Additionally, approximately 500 entries from the first edition have been revised and updated to account for developments since 1997, including changes in cast or other personnel, industrial developments, changes in executive ranks, series endings, or, in some cases, with the addition of new readings or other ancillary materials.

As it was for the first edition, the selection of additional entries has been a difficult process. Some new entries are included because they should or could have been placed in the first edition. That is, their absence from that edition was an oversight. In most cases, however, they are here because they add depth and breadth to the overall attempt to represent television in the fullest possible manner. Others, however, do reflect new developments in the television industries, such as new programs, new companies, merged conglomerates, and individuals who have risen to prominence.

Satellites, videocassette recorders, cable systems, and computers continue to alter the profiles and processes related to the medium of television. By the end of the century these technologies had all but obviated any necessity for the locally familiar transmitting tower, the antenna, and even conventional forms of tuners and receivers. Regularized program schedules had given way in most cases to an array of choices, even in regions where official agencies still attempted to control access to televised content. Moreover, the shifts in technology, with consequent alterations in economic underpinnings, and the power alignments accompanying them, showed up new failures-shortcomings, really-in policies and legal arrangements designed to monitor and rationalize the systems of broadcasting commonly thought of as "television."

Still, some aspects retain familiar outlines. The GE/NBC purchase of Vivendi Universal in late 2003 was a clear example of old strategies of increased vertical and horizontal integration in the media industries. Whatever new technologies are applied in production or used in transmission and reception, it was in the interest of the network to own a major production facility, especially one that produced one of its "bread and butter" program franchises, the Law and Order "brand" of television fictions. Moreover, that brand may be popular precisely because it maintains "older" styles of narrative, marked by contained episodes in which familiar characters deal with issues of the day within a crime and punishment format.

In the case of both the more heavily revised and the many new entries, then, the variable, mutable, strategically positioned definitions of "television" mentioned in the Introduction to the first edition, including the most traditional as well as the more innovative, experimental, or postmodern, come into play. One fundamental question can be framed in terms of degrees of change: has "television" truly changed in less than a decade, or has it merely shifted shape? And in either case, has the type and degree of control by corporate and state interest or the type and degree of use by "viewers" and "audiences" been significantly altered? I have no intention of attempting a firm answer to those questions. Rather, I call attention to a few examples that could be fruitfully examined in such an attempt.

In the Introduction to the first edition, I noted the increasing use of personal video recorders, digitally based devices for recording television programs from broadcast or cable transmission. This topic is examined much more fully in a specific entry in this edition ("Digital Video Recorder"), where William Boddy outlines the development of the devices and explores some of the implications of their diffusion and uses. Interestingly, however, the same devices are mentioned in numerous other entries on topics such as "Advertising," "Time Shifting," "Programming," and "Zapping," among others. From discussions of dire predictions to comments about ease of use, the significance of the device is demonstrated in large and small shifts in our understanding of "television." Is "television" in the U.S. the same thing if commercials, so long a topic of anger, delight, scorn, and profit, are easily avoided? Will the entire financial structure of the industries falter? Will producers be influenced more directly by advertising agencies desirous of placing their products inside fictional narratives? Such questions indicate that the personal video recorder is perhaps more significant than its predecessor, the video cassette recorder, which seems now so basic, so useful primarily for recording programs and skipping a few commercials (if only it could be more easily programmed by someone in the house).

In other developments, programming decisions have altered the material that might be available for such recordings. Despite the claims of HBO, for example, that "it's not TV," original programming for cable television has adopted and adapted narrative strategies long familiar to viewers. In terms of content, however, cable television offerings have also pushed boundaries set by cultural restrictions and social expectations, opening television to subject matters and treatments long restricted in the era dominated by network broadcasting. Moreover, in response to the attraction of these newer programs, more conventional television venues have relaxed these restrictions in their own programming.

In part, these variations in content are made possible by the continuing segmentation of audiences. As more distribution outlets are developed with the capacity afforded by digitalization, as technologies make it easier to record for private viewing, and as creative communities take advantage of new freedom to experiment and challenge, the notion of the "mass audience" recedes in the design and dissemination of televisual material. While it is the case that the largest number of viewers can still be reached within the conventional network structure familiar since the days of radio, television programs remain available on schedules with far smaller numbers of regular viewers. As a result of some of these factors, corporate strategies also shift. New entries in this edition note the presence of new television networks such as The WB. The expanded holdings of conglomerates such as Viacom and Disney are discussed here as is the trend capped, for the time being, by the aforementioned GE/NBC purchase of Vivendi Universal studios, cable channels, and ancillary services.

These alterations are best understood, I believe, as evidence of incremental change, rather than completely new developments, and many were in some degree of progress at the time of publication of the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Television. They indicate the complexity of social attitudes and cultural patterns, and even more significantly the strength and flexibility of the powerful forces that exercise some forms of control over the multiple contexts in which "television" is made and experienced. Radical shifts, whether in the realm of policy, economics, creativity, or technology, are hard to come by.

In some ways, then, the new entries and revisions published here represent a best effort at "keeping up" with the topics that are very likely already in a process of transformation. More than that, however, they also represent an ongoing attempt to understand these processes. The selection of entries, then, continues to represent a useful map of the surface of television rather than a complete analysis of the entire phenomenon. The Encyclopedia of Television does not pretend to final answers for these questions. It offers no definition of its own for "television." Instead, it offers a multitude of beginning points from which to trace the intersections, conflicts, struggles, and convergences that can be applied, and used as partial explanations for particular events, policies, developments-even for the existence of particular television "shows."

In the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Television as in the first, connections are pervasive. Multiple explanations are essential. Comparisons are to be expected. Contradictions are inevitable. With a thorough analytical Index, and a network of Cross-References in the form of See-Alsos following most entries, an apparatus enabling the user to explore these connections is built into the structure of the work. The presence of 750 Photographs accompanying entries (486 of which are entirely new to the second edition) further enhances usage of the encyclopedia. In every case the connections, cross-references, explanations, comparisons, and contradictions should be sought out and used to understand any particular item presented here. These items are starting points on that surface map of television. Radiating from any single entry, crossing many others, are lines of inquiry. But they are also lines of influence. Providing those connections is the aim of this work. Pursuing them should be the delight of the user.


Horace Newcomb
Athens, Georgia
January, 2004

 

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