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Participatory research of TV2/North-Digital - Semiotic perspective to understand enhanced television

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- 1 - Sebastian Armbrust House vs The Wire Procedure and Complexity in Contemporary US Serial Television Drama Over the last decade, US serial television productions have garnered critical acclaim and academic attention for their complex and innovative narrative structure. Labeled Quality Television and “not TV” (promo slogan of the pay- TV channel HBO) to signal their cultural value over the presumably lowbrow standard television fare, they have preferably been compared to more reputable narrative forms, such as the novel. This paper picks up on Mittell’s suggestion to read The Wire, one of contemporary television’s arguably most complex productions, as a procedural instead. This genre of television is characterized by a highly formulaic structure, resolving a profession-specific problem within each episode. The Wire’s episodes are neither formulaic nor self-contained. This paper compares The Wire to House, a typical, formulaic, contemporary procedural. It explores to what degree The Wire is, nevertheless, structured by comparable principles and how narrative theory can contribute to the analysis of serial plotting. 1. Introduction Until recently, serial television drama has been at best a marginal topic of aca- demic inquiry. This has changed with the rise of the Quality Television segment since the 1980s (with shows like Hill Street Blues, NBC: 1981-87; St Elsewhere, NBC: 1982-88; or Twin Peaks, ABC: 1990-91), and the proliferation of the pay- TV channel HBO as a producer of critically applauded serials like The Sopranos (1999-2007), Six Feet Under (2001-2005), and The Wire (2002-2008). Today, serial television is a highly regarded narrative form that may even threaten the status of film as the primary medium of audiovisual narration.1 While many features of ‘quality’ television have hence become standard ingredients of US prime-time serial television,2 Jason Mittell has introduced the term ‘complex television’ to refer t

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