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Texture, realism, performance: exploring the intersection of transtexts and the contemporary sitcom

Knox, S. ORCID: and Derhy Kurtz, B. W. L. (2017) Texture, realism, performance: exploring the intersection of transtexts and the contemporary sitcom. In: Derhy Kurtz, B. W. L. and Bourdaa, M. (eds.) The Rise of Transtexts: Challenges and Opportunities. Routledge Research in Cultural and Media Studies. Routledge, pp. 49-67. ISBN 9781138944671

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Contemporary US sitcom is at an interesting crossroads: it has received an increasing amount of scholarly attention (e.g. Mills 2009; Butler 2010; Newman and Levine 2012; Vermeulen and Whitfield 2013), which largely understands it as shifting towards the aesthetically and narratively complex. At the same time, in the post-broadcasting era, US networks are particularly struggling for their audience share. With the days of blockbuster successes like Must See TV’s Friends (NBC 1994-2004) a distant dream, recent US sitcoms are instead turning towards smaller, engaged audiences. Here, a cult sensibility of intertextual in-jokes, temporal and narrational experimentation (e.g. flashbacks and alternate realities) and self-reflexive performance styles have marked shows including Community (NBC 2009-2015), How I Met Your Mother (CBS 2005-2014), New Girl (Fox 2011-present) and 30 Rock (NBC 2006-2013). However, not much critical attention has so far been paid to how these developments in textual sensibility in contemporary US sitcom may be influenced by, and influencing, the use of transmedia storytelling practices, an increasingly significant industrial concern and rising scholarly field of enquiry (e.g. Jenkins 2006; Mittell 2015; Richards 2010; Scott 2010; Jenkins, Ford and Green 2013). This chapter investigates this mutual influence between sitcom and transmedia by taking as its case studies two network shows that encourage invested viewership through their use of transtexts, namely How I Met Your Mother (hereafter HIMHM) and New Girl (hereafter NG). As such, it will pay particular attention to the most transtextually visible character/actor from each show: HIMYM’s Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris, and NG’s Schmidt, played by Max Greenfield. This chapter argues that these sitcoms do not simply have their particular textual sensibility and also (happen to) engage with transmedia practices, but that the two are mutually informing and defining. This chapter explores the relationships and interplay between sitcom aesthetics, narratives and transmedia storytelling (or industrial transtexts), focusing on the use of multiple delivery channels in order to disperse “integral elements of a fiction” (Jenkins, 2006 95-6), by official entities such as the broadcasting channels. The chapter pays due attention to the specific production contexts of both shows and how these inform their approaches to transtexts. This chapter’s conceptual framework will be particularly concerned with how issues of texture, the reality envelope and accepted imaginative realism, as well as performance and the actor’s input inform and illuminate contemporary sitcoms and transtexts, and will be the first scholarly research to do so. It will seek out points of connections between two (thus far) separate strands of scholarship and will move discussions on transtexts beyond the usual genre studied (i.e. science-fiction and fantasy), as well as make a contribution to the growing scholarship on contemporary sitcom by approaching it from a new critical angle. On the basis that transmedia scholarship stands to benefit from widening its customary genre choice (i.e. telefantasy) for its case studies and from making more use of in-depth close analysis in its engagement with transtexts, the chapter argues that notions of texture, accepted imaginative realism and the reality envelope, as well as performance and the actor’s input deserve to be paid more attention to within transtext-related scholarship.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:56220
Uncontrolled Keywords:sitcom, situation comedy, transtexts, transmedia, texture, realism, reality envelope, accepted imaginative realism, performance, actor


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