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My generation(s): cycles, branding and renewal in E4’s 'Skins'

Woods, F. (2016) My generation(s): cycles, branding and renewal in E4’s 'Skins'. In: Klein, A. A. and Palmer, R. B. (eds.) Cycles, Sequels, Remakes and Reboots: Multiplicities in Film & Television. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, pp. 240-259. ISBN 9781477309001

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Abstract/Summary

In an era of fragmenting audience and diversified viewing platforms, youth television needs to move fast and make a lot of noise in order to capture and maintain the attention of the teenage viewer. British ensemble youth drama Skins (E4, 2007-2013) calls attention to itself with its high doses of drugs, chaotic parties and casual attitudes towards sexuality. It also moves quickly, shedding its cast every two seasons as they graduate from school, then renewing itself with a fresh generation of 16 year old characters - three cycles in total. This essay will explore the challenges of maintaining audience connections whilst resetting the narrative clock with each cycle. I suggest that the development of the Skins brand was key to the programme’s success. Branding is particularly important for an audience demographic who increasingly consume their television outside of broadcast flow and essential for a programme which renews its cast every two years. The Skins brand operate as a framework, as the central audience draw, have the strength to maintain audience connections when it ‘graduates’ those characters they identify with at the close of each cycle and starts again from scratch. This essay will explore how the Skins brand constructs a cohesive identity across its multiple generations, yet also consider how the cyclic form poses challenges for the programme’s representations and narratives. This cyclic form allows Skins to repeatedly reach out to a new audience who comes of age alongside each new generation and to reflect shifts in British youth culture. Thus Skins remains ever-youthful, seeking to maintain an at times painfully hip identity. Yet the programme has a somewhat schizophrenic identity, torn between its roots in British realist drama and surrealist comedy and an escapist aspirational glamour that shows the influence of US Teen TV. This combination results in a tendency towards a heightened melodrama at odds with Skins claims for authenticity - its much vaunted teenage advisors and young writers - with the cyclic structure serving to amplify the programme’s excessive tendencies. Each cycle wrestles with a need for continuity and familiarity - partly maintained through brand, aesthetic and setting - yet a desire for freshness and originality, to assert difference from what has gone before. I suggest that the inevitable need for each cycle to ‘top’ what has gone before results in a move away from character-based intimacy and the everyday to high-stakes drama and violence which sits uncomfortably within British youth television.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:47805
Publisher:University of Texas Press

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