Somehow, I always find myself approaching big, multi-media conferences with a faint edge of paranoia. How will television studies fare in the context of a set-up which was originally organised around Cinema Studies and in which different kinds of work is often subject to a severe (though sometimes unspoken) hierarchy of value and importance? I guess everyone feels some version of this. I know that sound specialists often feel ignored, for instance, some national cinemas may feel neglected and I imagine that maybe those working in ‘new media’ feel not enough attention is paid to them. But at least the latter have the conviction that the future is theirs while those of us working on television over the past few years have got used to being told that television is probably dead and that it’s certainly less interesting than the hermeneutics of film theory.

So when I first got to Università Cattolica Del Sacro Cuore in Milan for the 2014 conference of NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies), I was ready to feel slighted (even though my own paper was not specifically on television). The clue after all is in the title which gives a specific place to Cinema and while everything else is in Media Studies. There were 466 scholars from all over the world  with 421 presentations and a number of workgroup meetings and special events.

NECS map

A first glance at the timetable (available at seemed to indicate that the conference was heavily dominated by Cinema Studies. This was in part because of the impressive amount of work on film exhibition, distribution and reception including that generated by the heavyweight HOMER (History of Moviegoing, Exhibition and Reception) Project which alone had nine panels and was reinforced by panels organised around film festivals and European film production.

Nevertheless, further study revealed there seemed to be very roughly 30 papers which squarely covered some kind of television (it is hard to be exact because the organisers didn’t publish abstracts) but excluding those which might include television in a discussion of online transmission or reception. Of course I wasn’t able to go to all of these papers, partly because of timetable clashes, partly because I am interested in cinema as well and partly because I like, as a conference strategy, sometimes to seek out papers about which I know nothing – my favourite here was a panel on ‘The work of Boredom in the Age of Digital Consumption’ which reminded us that boredom could be productive (always a useful thought at a conference). Among those papers on television that I did hear I particularly enjoyed Eva Novrup Redvall (Københavns Universitet) talking Downton Abbeyabout her work on Downton Abbey(2010-) which is part of a funded project on Transnational Patterns of Film and Television Production and Distribution in Europe; a session on ‘Socialist TV and Creativity’ which had a particularly interesting paper on the body language of presenters and celebrities on Soviet television in the 1950s-1970s (Simon Huxtable, Loughborough) and some riveting insights into doing ethnographic work on Romanian television in the Ceaușescu era (Daniella Mustata, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen); and of course the paper of my fellow panellist, Shannon Wells-Lassagne (Université de Bretagne-Sud) on ‘Adapting Film’s Serial Killers to the Small Screen’. I was sorry that I missed two panels specifically about contemporary television drama: ‘Developing a New TV. Narrative Strategies, Scheduling Practice and Cultural Values’ and ‘Creativity Goes (Not-so) Small Screen: TV as the New Medium for Epic Storytelling?’

Given that there were relatively few television papers, it could be argued that the organisers in fact overdid in the efforts they made to incorporate television into the plenary events. Perhaps others thought so but that was not reflected in the attendance at the two main televisions specials – a plenary lecture by Jason Mittell (Middlebury College) and a screening of episodes from the international version of the Sky Italia television series Gomorra (2014). Mittell overcame the acoustic difficulties which plagued the plenaries held in a splendid but unsuitable grand hall (the appropriately named ‘Sede Monumentale’) to give a lucid and thoughtful lecture entitled ‘Complex Television and the Serial Functions of Authorship’. Mittell argued that American television over the past 20 years has been marked by an increased use of narrative complexity and seriality, a trend that has also seen a growing prominence of authorial figures. Rather than promoting authorship as itself a mark of quality, Mittell outlined the way in which authorship has been constructed to support the commercial needs of the studio/producer and the needs of viewers to find a figure to support their hunt for comprehension and engagement. Rather than the active audiences of 1980s television studies, these viewers seemed to be searching rather needily for an authoritative figure to confirm or deny their speculations about the tv series and found it in the showrunner. Modestly delivered (this is a compliment!) with humour and wit, the keynote was, like much work on television, more complicated than first appeared and I look forward to reading the forthcoming book.

Gomorra logo

Gomorra was certainly not modest and there were no problems with hearing it. The episodes were screened on the last evening and were introduced by Stefano Bises, the Head writer. He gave an account of how the series had come about following the success of the book and film. His main emphasis was on how hard the team had worked to provide an account rooted in Italian traditions of realism. Heemphasized the importance of the architecture of the estate where the filming was done and explained how the opacity of the young actors’ local dialect had forced them to make dialogue changes, despite the commitment to realism. It was also clear from the screening that the series’ HD glamour and assertive sound design is reinforced by the emphasis on car chases and gun battles associated with action films, Despite Biso’s emphasis on realism and on the political importance of the expose in Italy, it may well be these factors which have made the series so successful for Sky Italia. The series has been sold in over 50 countries and will be screened by Sky Atlantic in the UK in August when there will be the opportunity to see how far it fits Mittell’s description of complex television.



Christine Geraghty is an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Glasgow. Her publications on television include a contribution to the 1981 BFI monograph on Coronation Street; Women and Soap Opera {Polity, 1991); and My Beautiful Laundrette (I B Taurus, 2004).  Her BFR TV Classic on Bleak House was published in 2012 and her reflections on the beginning of her work on soap opera appears in ‘The BFI women and film study group 1976 – ?’, Renewing Feminisms, Radical Narratives, Fantasies and Futures in Media Studies H. Thornham and E. Weissmann (eds) I B Taurus 2013.  She is on the editorial board of the Journal of British Cinema and Television and sits on the advisory boards of a number of journals, including Screen.