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Performing the identity of the medium: adaptation and television historiography

Bignell, J. ORCID: (2019) Performing the identity of the medium: adaptation and television historiography. Adaptation, 12 (2). pp. 149-164. ISSN 1755-0645

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/adaptation/apz017


This article focuses on how histories of television construct narratives about what the medium is, how it changes, and how it works in relation to other media. The key examples discussed are dramatic adaptations made and screened in Britain. They include early forms of live transmission of performance shot with multiple cameras, usually in a TV studio, with the aim of bringing an intimate and immediate experience to the viewer. This form shares aspects of medial identity with broadcast radio and live television programmes, and with theatre. The article also analyses adaptations of a later period, mainly filmed dramas for television that were broadcast in weekly serialised episodes, and shot on location to offer viewers a rich engagement with a realised fictional world. Here, film production techniques and technologies are adapted for television, alongside the routines of daily and weekly scheduling that characterise television broadcasting. The article identifies and analyses the questions about what is proper to television that arise from the different forms that adaptations took. The analyses show that television has been a mixed form across its history, while often aiming to reject such intermediality and claim its own specificity as a medium. Television adaptation has, paradoxically, operated as the ground to assert and debate what television could and should be, through a process of transforming pre-existing material. The performance of television’s role has taken place through the relay, repetition and remediation that adaptation implies, and also through the repudiation of adaptation.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:83766
Uncontrolled Keywords:History, Performance, Medium, Drama, Television, Britain, Adaptation
Publisher:Oxford Academic


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