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Histories of telefantasy: the representation of the fantastic and the aesthetics of television

By Catherine Johnson


Over five case studies, this thesis brings together six 'telefantasy' programmes, television dramas that have been understood as 'cult' texts because of their fan audiences and that are centrally concerned with representing the fantastic. By situating the Quatermass serials, The Prisoner, Star Trek, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) within their contexts of production, this thesis challenges the characterisation of such programmes as 'unique' cultural phenomena.\ud Through this analysis, this thesis argues that the fantastic suggests itself as a particularly rich area for re-examining the central assumptions about the aesthetics of television. Challenging the notion of television as an intimate medium of 'talk' that addresses a distracted viewer through a small screen in the living room, this thesis argues that the display of the image in these programmes functions as an aesthetic and economic strategy to address an attentive viewer with distinctive programmes. However, this tendency towards spectacle and distinctiveness is not opposed to the 'intimate' model of television, but is used to negotiate a position for these programmes in which they are both spectacular and intimate, distinctive and familiar, addressing an attentive and a distracted viewer.\ud By analysing the different ways in which the representation of the fantastic is negotiated within each case study, this thesis reassesses the industrial and aesthetic history of 1950s/1960s television, and engages with the debates about the impact of the rise of satellite, cable and digital television services. Through an analysis of the different status of telefantasy on contemporary US network and JfK terrestrial television, this thesis explores the different ways in which these two industries have responded to the fragmentation of the industry over the 1980s and 1990s. By retheorising the aesthetics of television, this thesis argues that we need to have a clearer understanding of the complexity of television history if we are to assess fully the impact of the current changes on the future of the medium

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