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Print this article - Series - International Journal of TV Serial Narratives
GEOGRAPHICA
RESEARCHING
TELEVISION SERIAL
NARRATIVES
IN ITALY:
AN OVERVIEW
M A R TA M A R T I N A , AT T I L I O PA L M I E R I
1
ABSTRACT
In the essay the authors would like to review the main Italian
studies that have focused on the television series, including
both studies that have dealt with national production, and
those which have looked to foreign markets and its serial
products. In the multiplicity of disciplinary approaches, the
authors will focus on studies related to the language and narrative of serial products. The essay is divided into three large
blocks which cover three specific periods (the eighties, the
nineties and the block from two thousand to present). Each
of the three sections will try to give an account of the extent
of Italian studies on Italian products, on foreign products
and on more theoretical studies, which focus on innovative
formulas of the story. At the end of the survey, it is possible
to observe positive and thorough input regarding the status
of studies on the subject. From the eighties to present, in
89
fact, the studies have not only increased in number, but they
have spread out over different fields and divided themselves
between the analysis of the national scene and the analysis
of international scene.
KEYWORDS
Television serial narratives; narrative ecosystems; Italian television studies; television criticism; European television.
1 The essay was conceived and developed by the authors in close collaboration. However, as regards the draft of single sections, Marta Martina wrote the
paragraphs “The Eighties”, “The Twenty-First Century and Today”, “Conclusion”;
Attilio Palmieri “The Nineties”, “From the Television Series to the Narrative
Ecosystem”, “Role of Criticism”. “Introduction” was written jointly.
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FIRST LEVEL HEADINGS
In this essay we would like to review the main Italian studies2 that have focused on the television series, including both
studies that have dealt with national production, and those
which have looked to foreign markets and its serial products,
particularly the Anglo-Americans.
In our country, studying television means dealing with a
diversity of approaches (defined by different methods and
points of view) that have tended to follow six paths:
1. Television as a mass medium, capable of reflecting,
emphasizing and in some cases promoting dominant
ideologies. It is one of the original ways to gain insight into the understanding of television, as well as
being one of the most enduring traditions of academic
approach due to the interdisciplinarity that characterizes it (Ortoleva 2009; Menduni 2002b).
2. The peculiar role of the public service and its dialectic
with commercial television. In 1976, the judgment
delivered by the constitutional court in favor of the
liberalization of radio and television frequencies led
to an increase in competition between public and
commercial television; a competition particularly evident in the consequent production and importation
of serial entertainment for both sectors (Grasso and
Scaglioni 2003).
3. The development of technology has always constituted one of the most important strands of research,
from the invention of the medium to the synergy
and competition with new media. The television has
been increasingly at the center of analyses that have
tied technological aspects to the redefinition of the
national and international economic balance and to
the change in the media scenario after digitalization
(Scaglioni 2011; Menduni 2008).
4. Analysis of Italian and international television audiences related to the tradition of audience studies in film
and television (Anania 1997; Livolsi 2005). Television
consumption has undergone radical changes due to
the changing nature of technology that has made
contemporary television viewers something entirely
different from those of the past.
5. The differences between broadcast, commercial, thematic and satellite television and their effects on the
production of the series.
6. Analysis of the narrative and aesthetic specificity of
the television series.
In this multiplicity of disciplinary approaches, in which
emerges the difficulty of talking about television in a comprehensive manner, we will focus on studies related to the
last two points. In fact, points five and six are those in which
the language and narrative of serial products are put at the
center of the investigation and therefore they identify the
studies most pertinent to the objective of this essay. For the
sake of clarity we have decided to divide our essay into three
large blocks which cover three specific periods. In this way,
respecting a chronological order, we can have an overview
of the studies as clear as possible. Nevertheless, these three
periods have their specific characterizations: in the eighties
we have denoted the departure of the Italian studies on the
television series, in the nineties the period in which some lines
of research are imposed on others and different approaches
have seen a systematization and the block from two thousand
to present characterized by a proliferation of studies and their
specificities. Each of the three sections will try to give an account of the extent of Italian studies on Italian products, on
foreign products and on more theoretical studies, which focus
on innovative formulas of the story.
01 THE EIGHTIES
2 Note to the reader. To ensure legibility, citations from texts are always translated into English by the authors. The original quote is reported in the footnotes.
When necessary, a literal translation has been made for the Italian titles of books
and television programs.
The studies on intertextuality and hypertextuality in literature have led, in the field of film studies, to an overriding of
the concept of the closed narrative, and more generally, to a
major challenging of the concept of uniqueness. In light of
these changes, in the film studies field, adaptation, remake,
and the sequel have been understood as practices that characterize the period. These new studies have paved the way
for a series of analyses that have subsequently proved to
be enlightening in the understanding of the function of the
television series. In 1984 some Italian scholars questioned
the concepts of repetition and seriality in an attempt to
bring order to the vastness of the serial productions that in
those years began to populate the Italian schedules. Given
this crucial and radical change within the schedules, the
questions that scholars were posing, acquire a substantial
weight. In particular, Ai confini della serialità (lit.trans. The
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Edge of Seriality) by Alberto Abruzzese (1984) and La serialità
nel cinema e nella televisione (lit. trans. Seriality in Film and
Television) by Angelo D’Alessandro (1984), which pose as pioneering and fundamental works. Among these initial texts, it
is also important to point out L’immagine al plurale (lit. trans.
The Image in the Plural). The text edited by Francesco Casetti
in 1984 can be attributed to the origins of the theoretical
path. One of the most important points brought into focus
by this collection of essays is the basic distinction between
seriality and repetition. The term repetition signifies the return to or re-use of elements already known and in particular
with a “new occurrence that combines recall and originality”
(1984a: 9);3 now, the term seriality proposes a sequence of
textual objects organized in order to form a “list” which allows the emergence of a homogeneous group. Casetti adds
a third element: expansion. The expansion of the elements
that compose the serial forms is, according to Casetti, the
element that distinguishes the seriality. This element depends
on both the continuous procrastination of the ending and the
atrophy of the recurring elements, given their need to occupy
the maximum space possible.
Within the book edited by Casetti, we can also refer to the
essay ‘I replicanti’ (lit.trans. ‘Replicants’) by Omar Calabrese
and the essay ‘Tipologia della ripetizione’ (lit.trans. ‘Types
of Repetition’) by Umberto Eco, which will be resumed in
‘L’innovazione nel seriale’ (lit.trans. ‘The Innovation of the
Serial’). Calabrese’s essay focuses on the illustration of the
aesthetics of repetition. Assuming that the uniqueness of
a work of art, an idea largely overcome by the creative and
productive practices of contemporary culture, Calabrese aims
to demonstrate through the tools of linguistics and semiotics,
the existence of an aesthetic based on “organized differentiation, love to polycentricity, the pace as aesthetic behavior”
(1984: 79).4
Eco’s essay presents rather a taxonomy of the complex relationships between original, copying, replication, repetition
within the narrative or creative production in the broadest
sense, leading to an outlining of different types of serial
forms: recovery (ripresa), tracing (ricalco), series, saga and intertextual dialogism. Looking at the cinematic, television and
literature production, Eco builds a useful case series to reflect
on repetition and seriality, a typology of relationships and
possible links between serial texts. The features highlighted
by these essays make evident a number of elements that correspond perfectly to narrative models of the television series
and the structures of production, distribution and promotion
that these products put in place.
If the studies described above helped shape the theoretical framework on the notion of seriality – at the same time – it
is necessary to highlight the significant contribution of a series of studies conducted by Rai-Radiotelevisione Italiana, the
Italian public service. This series of studies, which were subsequently named Verifica Qualitativa Programmi Trasmessi
- VQPT (Qualitative Testing on Transmitted Programs) at the
end of the seventies focus mainly on information and political discussion. In 1984, Casetti was the curator of Un’altra
volta ancora. Strategie di comunicazione e forme del sapere
nel telefilm americano in Italia (lit. trans. One more time.
Communication Strategies and Forms of Knowledge in
the American TV Shows in Italy), which is dedicated to the
American serial market. Four years later, Alessandro Silj was
the curator of the book A Est di Dallas, Telefilm USA e europei a confronto (lit. trans. East of Dallas, USA and Europe TV
Shows).
It is only from the Nineties that the editorial series VQPT,
began to focus, as we shall see, on the Italian and European
television fiction in a systematic way. By the end of this decade it was therefore possible to note the peculiarity of the
Italian publishing scene. On the one hand the studies proceeded along a more analytical and speculative line (working on
the systematization of the concept of seriality), on the other
hand, an important part of publications were concerned with
the observation and analysis of the television offer. Only in
the twenty-first century, have these binaries that proceeded
separated, begun to overlap.
02 THE NINETIES
In the nineties, it is relevant to recite the activities of the
Permanent Observatory5 on Italian Television Fiction. In particular, in 1991, Milly Buonanno with Il reale è immaginario.
4 ‘Differenziazione organizzata, l’amore per il policentrismo, il ritmo come comportamento estetico’ (Calabrese 1984: 79).
5 Created in 1986 by sociologists Giovanni Bechelloni and Milly Buonanno,
Permanent Observatory is a center of sociological studies that conducts research,
analysis, consulting and training in the field of media communications, with attention to the Italian and European television industry. The research centre employs
proven systems for monitoring the quantity and quality of the production and consumption of television, and publishes continuous and ad hoc reports that target the
decision making, professional environments, scholars and the media public <http://
www.campo-ofi.it/chi_siamo/chisiamo.php>.
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3 ‘Nuova occorrenza che mescola richiamo e originalità’.
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La fiction italiana. L’Italia nella fiction (lit. trans. The Real is
Imaginary. Italian Fiction. Fiction in Italy) presents the results
of a research started in 1988. From the 80s, the success of
American serial, a key element in the affirmation of private
broadcasters in Italy, contributed to a lively debate on what
was then called ‘telefilm’.
In the early nineties the Permanent Observatory highlighted some positive and negative aspects that still represent the
preferred areas of investigation for Italian studies. In 1991,
from the point of view of production, it became clear that
among the variety of programmes and information, fiction
was one of the most appreciated genres by the television
audience and was the only one able to be sold to foreign
markets, establishing a national independence in production
(Buonanno 1991: 14). Therefore during those years, fiction became the field on which the huge battle, or rather imbalance,
between import and export was played out in favor of the
latter (14). The importance of the Observatory was also to
analyze not only the production of serial narrative in Italy,
but above all to relate these products to changes in economic,
financial and infrastructure.
These studies pose both as a reflection of the panorama
of production, but also as a projection of possible lines to
be developed. For example, at the beginning of the nineties,
it was perceived that the serial narrative might be the testing ground for Italian television. With it you could increase
production capacity and inaugurate network strategies and
affirmation. In addition to the comprehensive overview of national productions, the Observatory, in its first report, provided an up-to-date review of the studies on serial storytelling.
These reports also serve to highlight the ‘bardic’ characteristic
of television. Moreover in 1991, since serial narratives began
to be perceived as the most impressive narrative corpus of
our day, it was imperative that the centrality of television
drama as storyteller be stressed. The Observatory also seeks
to work on the disruption of prejudice with respect to the
concept of a formula tied to the serial narrative which in those
years was deeply rooted in Italy (Buonanno 1991). Relying
on a series of studies by international figures such as Horace
Newcomb (1974), John Fiske (1987), Robert Clyde Allen (1992),
it is possible to see how the fiction provides valuable material
for understanding the culture and the society of which it is
an expression.
Milly Buonanno continued the path of analysis on Italian
seriality with the volume of 1994, Il bardo sonnacchioso (lit.
trans. The Sluggish Bard), dedicated to the 1992-1993 television season, the Observatory’s fifth year of research. It is
possible now to understand that the most lasting results of
the Permanent Observatory are those of creating a systematic
historical background of the Italian television drama which
can be drawn on for study and research, or for purposes
connected with the professional practices of producers and
programmers. In the five years between 1988-93, for the first
time in production policies and programming the fiction was
recognized as having a strategic role thanks to the presence of
serial production of private television stations that redefine
profiles and positions of traditional networks.
As regard contents, the Observatory was concerned with
both drawing up tabs of the programmes aired, and producing
insights into genres or themes that emerge as dominant (eg.
family comedy and police drama in 1992-93 report). The first
five years of investigation were already sufficient enough
to draw up the results of the Observatory; for example, as
regards the year 1992-1993, there was a certain weariness of
inspiration and a lack of brilliance and in the following years,
a drastic reduction of the investments in the field since in the
hierarchy of forms of expression was considered the most
irrelevant. The nineties also saw the release of two essential
books for broader history of television in the nation. From
1991-1992 Aldo Grasso and Franco Monteleone, with their
texts on the history of television, subsequently updated year
after year, started to cover the evolution of Italian television
certifying the growing importance of television series from
a historical perspective.
During that period, the television series began to be
studied in other disciplines. The 1994 publication, Le passioni
nel serial Tv. Beautiful, Twin Peaks, L’ispettore Derrick (lit.
trans. Passions in TV serial. Beautiful, Twin Peaks and Derrick
Inspector) by Pier Luigi Basso, Omar Calabrese, Francesco
Marsciani, and Orsola Mattoli is dedicated to investigating,
from a semiotic perspective, the thematic and passionate
dimension.
As for the Italian studies on international television serial productions, the year 1997 is of great importance, as the
first Italian report on the production of original television
drama in Europe was published, based on a monitoring and
analysis of all original programmes of television drama, produced and broadcast in first-run from the public and private
television companies of the five largest European countries:
Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Italy. The
1997 Eurofiction Report is the first volume and follows the
structure of the reports of the Observatory. In addition to the
comparative analysis of the data relative to the five national
television systems, in which Italian production is systemati-
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cally compared with other European countries, the Eurofiction
Report is also a stimulating read on genres and formats used,
on industrial and commercial, political and cultural strategies.
Through the comparison with international television systems
and their production, the importance of thinking about the
impact of serial fiction on the proliferation of channels and
the consequent increasing complexity of the television offer
emerged. This analysis began to impose the need for increased investment in original productions in order to achieve
national serial products that could compete with those coming from the United States. In the 1997 publication, Analisi
della televisione (lit. trans. Analyses of Television), Francesco
Casetti and Federico Di Chio investigate the complexity of
television outlining the need to delineate the object of study
in three major themes: production, supply and consumption.
Under production falls the whole analysis of the technological
aspects related to the study of the properties of the signal
(emission techniques, coverage, utilization of bands and frequencies, types of support, production equipment, post-production); aspects of economic enterprise (organization of
the television, logical, commercial and financial, production
routines); of cultural and social aspects of production (types
of channels and networks operating in the area, established
communication systems); aspects of political institutions
(political control over the media, different editorial lines). In
terms of what television has to offer, different dimensions are
outlined: programmes, programming, scheduling, TV flow, TV
market. And finally in the category of consumption, the two
scholars focus on the analysis of audience data, demographics
of audience, practices of vision, processes of understanding
and appreciation of programmes.
The final part of this study is dedicated to the identification of some objects endowed with their own stability and
autonomy ‘linguistic and communicative creations [...] [that]
obey strict rules of composition’ (209), 6 thus highlighting
the need to focus more on the elements that characterize
them than on the content of the programmes. In this way, it
is possible to highlight the architecture and the functioning,
the discursive drive of the text and the strategies that unfold
in these types of programmes. The authors identify a first
change of perspective that attempts to rewrite the limitations
of content analysis: if the latter tended to operate on units
isolated from one another, it is clear that television texts
mobilize much more complex configurations ‘build true own
worlds that tend to amalgamate the various suggestions
offered and cover the whole of reality presented’ (211).7 The
nineties are also the years in which the television series began to be the subject of specific case studies. In 1996, Franco
La Polla dedicated several essays and books devoted to Star
Trek both the classic series (1966-1969) that Next Generation
(1986-1994). In particular, Foto di gruppo con astronave (lit.
trans. Group Photo with Spaceship) (1996), the edited volume
Star Trek. Il cielo è il limite (lit. trans. Star Trek. The Sky is the
Limit) (1998) and Star Trek al cinema (lit. trans. Star Trek in
Cinema) (1999). The only Italian scholar to have worked in
a systematic way with Star Trek, highlighting its important
transmedial potential and how it helped to bring science
fiction into its adulthood.
To draw some conclusions we can say that during the decade of the nineties the studies on Italian television serial narratives have seen the rise of essays intended to systematize
the analysis of domestic and international serial productions,
in particular thanks to the Observatory TV. At the same time
in this decade, there is also the emergence, in the field of
academic studies, of some of the first monographs concerning
the television series, such as Franco La Polla’s studies.
6 ‘Realizzazioni linguistiche e comunicative [...] [che] obbediscono a precise regole
di competizione’ (Casetti and Di Chio 1997: 206).
7 ‘Costruiscono veri e propri mondi che tendono ad amalgamare le diverse indicazioni offerte e a coprire l’intera realtà presentata’ (Casetti and Di Chio 1997: 211).
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03 THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
AND TODAY
After having gone through the years in which the texts were
founding and pioneering and years before systematization,
we are now entering a period in which academic writing on
the television series is on the increase. In continuity with the
previous paragraphs, the contributions examined in this section will be presented in chronological order while trying to
bring out the mutual affinity of the studies (and it is therefore
possible to present the various contributions in an essentially chronological order.) In this climate where the concept of
seriality in its breadth, enjoys widespread attention it seems
important to mention another course of study that, while
addressing the issue in a slightly tangential way, sheds light
on some crucial features that will accompany the seriality up
to the present day. We refer to the studies on the origins
of serial films (Dall’Asta, 2009) which have revealed some of
the dynamics of production, distribution and creativity (tie-in,
cliffhanger, etc.) that similarly recur in the television series.
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In Trame spezzate. Archeologia del film seriale (lit. trans.
Broken Plots. Archaeology of the Serial Film) the connection
between the sense of precariousness, which is the aesthetic character of the cliffhanger, and the concrete experience
of workers in the film serial forced to ensure still very high
productivity levels, is highlighted. In this same volume also
highlighted is the way in which, in the cultural industry, the
link between seriality and continuity emerges as a structural
feature of the system, providing the most appropriate tools
to optimize the performance of the intellectual workforce.
From an analysis of the serial film of the second decade of
the twentieth century emerges an already developed set of
techniques that guarantees a rhythm of regular production,
rendering the serial format a reservoir of standard formulas
that reduce the variability of the process to a minimum.
Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the
narrative complexity of serial worlds has become the main
theoretical subject on which most academic studies focus.
Serial television has become the real expression of our time
where a great amount of apparently unreadable meanings
collide with each other (Grasso 2007: 25). Scholars’ interest
in the TV series has been in continuous growth due to the
sophistication of the mise en scene, elaborate promotional
structure, increasing narrative complexity and a more intense
audience participation. For example, in Ai confini della realtà.
Cinquant’anni di telefilm americani, (lit. trans. The Twilight
Zone. Fifty years of American TV series) Diego Del Pozzo
(2001) using a typical approach of cultural studies in which
creative texts are connected to the society and its imaginary,
devotes an analysis to the U.S. TV series. From The Twilight
Zone (1959-1964; 1985-1989) to X-Files (1993-2002), the products are analyzed in light of changes in society, taking into
account that the imagined world of the great television tale
is articulated in a highly branched and polyhedric way.
During the beginning of the twenty-first century, seriality
was analyzed as a combination of horizontality (the development of the recurring plots and story arcs) and verticality
(the construction of the drama within the single episode)
(Thompson 2003). This structure is presented as an alternative to the traditional narrative format which provides in its
text several hints to the viewer whose task is to collect and
follow them episode after episode. This new approach implies
the attempt to interpret the serial television language not
as a series of cause-effect links, but as a world construction,
not as a matter of meaning but one of functioning. Major
attention is given to the study of genres in relation to TV seriality. On this matter, it is particularly important to mention
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Giorgio Grignaffini’s (2004) book, I generi televisivi (lit. trans.
Television Genres), which deepens our understanding of the
relationship between the narrative genre and the different
serialization formats. The work of Grignaffini highlights the
way in which the combination of genres, the flexibility of their
features, composes one of the most important characteristics
of the contemporary TV series.
In 2004 La lunga serialità televisiva. Origini e modelli
(Long Running TV Serials. Origins and Models) was released.
In the first part of the book, the author Daniela Cardini, reconstructs the beginnings of seriality and identifies American
radio seriality as the real progenitor of the television serial
form. In the second part the author approaches the notion
of seriality starting from its definition and highlights a great
amount of cultural prejudices. The third part is concerned
with the development of long seriality in Italy. Starting from
the description of the TV series from the origins (paleotelevisione) to new television (neotelevisione) it focuses on the
changes that the Italian television system has gone through
over the course of the nineties and which have led to the
development of the long-running series, after decades of resistance. Daniela Cardini’s contribution also reconstructs the
debate on seriality, which had affected Italy in the seventies
and the eighties. She focuses, for example, on some feasibility
studies commissioned by Rai, the outcome being in favor of
seriality production and the establishment of production studios (unfortunately, this innovative idea has not seen the light
for both ideological resistance and low industrial capacity).
In addition to the analysis of three Italian case studies Un
posto al sole, Vivere, Centovetrine, Cardini sheds some light
on the scheduling strategy of the foreign TV series. Thanks
to the analysis of E.R. (1994-2009), Beverly Hills 90210 (19902000) and Friends (1994-2004), Cardini demonstrates how
different types of scheduling can influence the success of a
TV series.8 The work of Cardini aims to depict the progressive
openness towards the long-running series and the clash with
the resistance of the Italian television system and its inability
to accept the mechanisms of industrial production, ie, long
running times, long running series, the need to consolidate
8 On the same topic, the monographic issue of Comunicazioni Sociali journal
‘Moving at Different Speeds. The Commercialization of Television Systems in
Europe and their Consequences’, edited by Luca Barra and Massimo Scaglioni, presents an essay ‘Dallas, Italia. Cronaca di un successo (non troppo) annunciato’ (lit.
trans. ‘Dallas, Italy. A success (not so much) Expected’) by Davide Bassi (2013, 1, 90100), that focuses on the analysis of the scheduling of Dallas, both on Rai and Canale
5 and demonstrates how an understanding of the U.S. programming strategies, have
turned a failure into a success.
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the audience in a progressive and constant way and the slow
construction of successful actors and characters initially
unknown. In the same year another book was published
on different types and formats of the TV series. Le logiche
della televisione (lit. trans. The Logic of Television) edited by
Gianfranco Bettetini, Paolo Braga, Armando Fumagalli offers
in-depth analysis dedicated both to short seriality and long
running seriality.
In the panorama of the critic’s journal, Segnocinema is
considered one of the first journals to have shown interest in
serial language in a systematic way. Volume 138 (2006) gave
birth to the Segno Serie TV column. The aim of the column
was to elaborate a method of analysis and an evaluation of
the most important contemporary TV series. The special issue
entitled ‘Mondi a puntate’ (lit. trans. ‘Episodic Worlds’), edited
by Luca Bandirali and Enrico Terrone, covers production between 1999 and 2006. In that period the two scholars identified the birth of specific aesthetics and the original narrative
structure and for this reason they argue that it is necessary
to adapt the traditional analytic instruments to these new
types of narratives. In 2006, as the Segnocinema special issue
pointed out, ‘There is a resounding absence of a continuative
and methodic analysis for TV series’(12).9 The special issue
was divided into five essays, starting from the Paola Valentini
one that is based on the relationship between TV series and
genres and the strong cinematic influence (2006:13-16). In ‘Le
serie tv e l’esperienza del transito’ (lit. trans. ‘TV Series and
the Transit Experience’), the author, Attilio Coco, underlines
a primary theoretical point: the narrative world shows its essence during its progressive changes. From this perspective,
the TV series places less importance on the traditional role
of the author who controls the whole narrative world (24-26).
In the Bandirali and Terrone essay, ‘La Forma del Mondo’ (lit.
trans. ‘The Shape of the World’), it is argued that the style of
the TV series is more innovative than both past TV series and
the average quality of contemporary cinema. To gain a better
understanding of why the TV series reached this specific outcome, scholars have drawn on the relationship between TV
series productive investments and their innovative elements
(27-30). Among the other academic journals it is important
to mention the sense of timing of Cinergie, in particular the
eighth issue (September 2004), which started to focus on
the TV series thanks to a special section dedicated to film
and television called ‘Speciale TV Files’, where the column
9 “Permane clamorosa l’assenza di una riflessione continuativa, articolata e sistematica” (Bandirali and Terrone 2006: 12).
TV Files was launched. This column was active until 2009,
at which point it was integrated into a new, bigger section
called Art& MediaFiles (issue 19, 2010) composed of theoretical researches and case studies in different disciplines. The
attention surrounding the TV series is also addressed through
the particular approach of the concept of cult television.
In 2006, Massimo Scaglioni in TV di culto. La serialità
televisiva americana e il suo fandom (lit. trans. Cult TV. The
US TV Series and its Fandom) worked mainly on the American
context and went to the roots of the phenomena of cult, with
the objective of explaining the various forms of fandom production. The starting premise is the description of a television
scene in continuous expansion: starting from the tripartite
division of the age of television (scarcity, availability and
abundance), the volume focuses on the contemporary age,
indicating the narrative complexity and the ecosystem structure as the most important reason for the cult phenomenon.
Mainly dealing with the US context, where fandom studies
are consolidated for several decades, (Matt Hills 2003), the
book seeks to answer several basic questions: who generates
the cults? Are they generated by a top-down or bottom-up
dynamic? The answers contemplate both theories: the cult is
derived from both particular design modes of serial products,
and the adoption of different types of enjoyment and sharing.
The work of Scaglioni is divided into two distinct parts; the
first has a more historical and theoretical approach, while
the second presents the results of an empirical research on
fandom. Fandom is analyzed within the broader discipline
of audience studies, and first investigated as a phenomenon
capable of generating money, i.e. to create the specific markets that lie between the mainstream and niches then as a
phenomenon linked to individual and collective needs that
binds the viewer to the object of cult. The second part of the
work, as mentioned above, is characterized by an empirical
study conducted with ethnographic tools on a community of
Italian fandom dedicated to Buffy The Vampire Slayer (19972003) and its spin-off Angel (1999-2004). Buffy is also the focus
of several other studies, one being Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Legalizzare la cacciatrice (lit. trans. Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Legitimize the Hunter) edited by Barbara Maio (2007). In particular, the essay ‘L’apocalisse come Weltschmerz. Le radici
culturali di Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ (lit. trans. ‘Apocalypse
as Weltschmerz. Cultural Roots of Buffy The Vampire Slayer’)
by Franco La Polla, a study on the cultural roots of Buffy and
the concept of apocalypse in American culture. La Polla
identifies in Buffy the elements of camp, popular culture and
postmodernists (highlighting how Buffy can exceed post-
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modernism itself) and shows how the series contains books,
movies and television references and tributes, both past and
contemporary.
Among the other academic journals, Link – Idee per la
televisione published by RTI, deserves a mention. The project was born in 1999 and became available to public from
2002. The year 2007 marked the primacy of the presence of
the TV series in Italian and European TV scheduling. Among
the essays, there were some dedicated to the market of format and interviews with members of the television industry
about the practices of Italian acquisition of foreign products
or the selective processes that a script needs to undergo in
order to become a TV series: the pilot the screenings, from
production to programming. The following number, Link 5,
published in the same year was focused on the transformation
of audience behavior after digitization. Link 5 questions how
new platforms affect ratings and what the editorial strategies
outlined by the broadcaster in order to retain old and new
audiences are. It is also focused on the increasing importance
of shared viewing and the disappearance of the public in favor
of audiences. In 2008, the book Mondi Seriali. Percorsi semiotici nella fiction (lit. trans. Serial Worlds. Semiotic Paths in
Fiction) edited by Maria Pia Pozzato and Giorgio Grignaffini
was published for the Link series. The essays originated from
interventions made at the conference entitled Semiotica e
Fiction held in San Marino in 2007. The starting concept is
that semiotics should be actively focused on the television
drama, because it could be a fertile ground for the scholars
of the area. At the same time there is also the need to pay attention to these types of texts because of their wide international circulation, the increasing complexity of their formats
and the social importance of this type of product. In the book
the same approach for each chapter is used: each question is
addressed with the help of one or more case studies, mainly
US TV series. The main questions considered are on the evolution of genre and format, the cases of narrative originality,
the relationship between TV series and national history, and
finally the problems related to reception, investigating the
reasons for the cult as well as the reasons for TV flops.
Regarding the systematization of the language, forms and
genres of television series, in 2008 the volume Le nuove forme
della serialità televisiva. Storia, linguaggio e temi (lit.trans. New
forms of Seriality. History, Language and Themes) by Veronica
Innocenti and Guglielmo Pescatore was published. In this publication the differences between series and serial are addressed,
as well as the new form of serialized TV series and an attempt
to overcome the reductive definition of ‘telefilm’, a word not
used in the English-speaking world, but only in Italy with slightly derogatory connotations towards television series. In this
volume a historical reconstruction is carried out that passes
through the golden age of the sixties, the second golden age of
the eighties, and reaches as far as the contemporary age with
its medial and television system reconstructions. The book underlines the characteristics of each aesthetic narrative relating
them to the respective production types and places importance
on the economic modes of production and marketing related to
TV series and their uses, as well as the systematization of the
concept of High Concept TV series which cannot be analyzed
without considering the different economic aspects of the media franchise. The book is divided into two distinct parts: in the
first part the systematization of the concept of seriality from
its origins up to the systematization of the mechanisms of the
television series of the first half of the twenty-first century is
explored; the second part consists of an anthology of essays
that reflect on the discourse of seriality from its roots, in order
to provide a mixed picture about the theoretical contributions
on the subject.
Another scholarly journal that provides an essential
contribution to the discourse on seriality, is Comunicazioni
Sociali published by the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
di Milano. The first issue of 2009 entitled ‘Arredo di serie. I
mondi possibili della serialità televisiva americana’ (lit. trans.
‘Furnished TV series. Possible Worlds in American Serial
Narratives), begins to concentrate on the specific ability
to build worlds that are, with the new serial productions,
amplified. Starting with Umberto Eco who, in The limits of
Interpretation (1990) begins to explore the idea that the
narrative is finding new ways to furnish its possible world.
This definition of the narrative as a ‘possible world’ and cult
like ‘furnished world’, refers to environments populated not
only by the main characters but filled with figures in the background, with accessories animate and inanimate, and with
minor but essential details which render the story plausible
and engaging. In the same issue, a reflection on media convergence phenomenon that transforms the textuality of the
series, making it extended among television, internet, video
games and movies is also made.
The issues at play in the special issue of Comunicazioni
Sociali are those which speak to us of contemporary seriality
highlighting how its world-building activities have changed.
In all the essays there is, on the one hand, the reference to
the variegated universe of industrial television production,
made by the creators, producers, writers and directors, but
also - in a highly convergent context - screenwriters, game
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developers, mediators of various kinds (adapters, translators
etc.). And on the other hand, the equally kaleidoscopic ground
of consumption, in which the figures of the casual spectator
and that of the fan, avid collector of any item of serial franchise, mingle their faces. The various essays try to detect the
way in which industry strategies and tactics of consumption
of the audience are found in the text, such as in the fluctuating
and unstable boundaries of extended text (which also includes
secondary texts made by the production, such as mobisodes
and webisodes, and tertiary texts produced by the fan). In the
essay entitled ‘Variazioni di mondo’ (lit. trans. ‘World variation’), Massimo Scaglioni analyses a particular mode of world
building that is evident in all contemporary television series
(from Buffy to Lost). A further two essays analyze how the
‘possible world’ of a series can be adapted and translated in
cultural contexts different from those of origin. ‘Restaurare i
mondi seriali’ (lit. trans. ‘Restoring Serial Worlds’) by Cecilia
Penati explores the practice of reversioning, ie the creation
from scratch of a product of fiction from a format produced
in another cultural context (Yo soy Betty, la fea/Ugly Betty10).
Meanwhile, in ‘Lost in Translation, e oltre’ (lit. trans. ‘Lost in
Translation and Beyond’) Luca Barra takes into account the
problem of the adaptation of an extended product (which is
spread over other media and texts), for a different cultural
context. So, how can a “furnished world”, consisting of at least
primary and secondary textuality, be translated for another
audience? If the extended world of the series undergoes
transformations and, for the most part, reductions, it’s up to
the viewer/fan to fill in the void. The last part of the journal
contains one essay that address more directly the relationship
between extended possible worlds, and the media on which
this extension takes place. In the final paper ‘Questioni di
canone’ (lit. trans. ‘Matters of Canon’), Matteo Tarantino and
Simone Tosoni illustrate how the relationship between the
worlds of a series and those created by video games relating
to the television franchise have changed. In particular, the
authors focus on the definition of canon in relation to the
expanded narrative universes. Furthermore Il testo espanso
(lit. trans. The Expanded Text) by Stefania Carini, published
the same year, focuses on the spatial and temporal extension of the television series. Through the analysis of products
such as Lost (2004-2010) and 24 (2001-2010), Carini questions
further the strategies which involve producers and audience.
In particular, she highlights the close links between primary,
secondary and tertiary textuality.
In 2010, Aldo Grasso and Massimo Scaglioni edited the
volume Televisione convergente. La TV oltre il piccolo schermo (lit. trans. Convergent Television. TV Beyond the Small
Screen) published in the Link Research Series. Right from
the title it is clear that the two scholars will question the
relationship between television, once considered the mass
medium par excellence, and convergence culture, as theorized
by Henry Jenkins (2006). Extension, access and brand are identified as the keywords for interpreting the phenomenon of
convergence, and therefore the main questions are: What are
the dynamics that characterize the convergent television?
What results can we expect?
Though it is not the only driver of change, technology is
identified as one of the major causes of the new TV assets,
particularly because of the growing relationship between TV
and the Web, and because of the overhaul which began with
the digitization of the television signal. The multiplication of
access to television also implicates the broadcasting station,
which must evolve to take advantage of the opportunities of
new platforms and new audiences. Another mutation is also
that of text television, more and more detached from the concept of ‘closed work’ in favor of ‘brand,’11 constituted by a text
matrix but also by many extensions able to position themselves in a more or less spatial and temporal independent way.
The reticular dimension of the text expands even more if we
take into account not only the top/down extensions but also
the extensions produced by users that in many cases become
to all effects part of the narrative universe of the TV series.
This volume was the result of a research (between 2009
and 2010) made by Ce.RTA - Center for Research on Television
and Audiovisual at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
di Milano. Founded in 2008, the Ce.RTA. is led by Aldo Grasso
and conducts research on issues related to the evolution of
the media system with particular attention to the television
series. The main lines of research are technological convergence, economic and institutional; the evolution of consumer
habits; textual and linguistic features of various products;
the reading of the schedules and the interaction between
television and the web. Among the many scientific publications of the research center is the column which reports on
the television series and can be found within the quarterly
journal of film studies Bianco e Nero. As regards the work
aimed at investigating the US scenario - and in particular
10 Yo soy Betty, la fea (1999-2001); Ugly Betty (2006-2010).
11 In Romanzo Criminale. Transmedia and Beyond (2013) Marta Boni focused on
the issue where the TV series is addressed as ‘a galaxy of texts and performances
which contribute to the transformation of an Italian narrative into a complex world
or an epic work’(p. 7).
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pay TV - the volume edited by Barbara Maio entitled HBO.
Televisione, Autorialità, Estetica (lit. trans. HBO. Television,
Authorship, Aesthetics) (2011) should not go without mention. The same author went onto edit the book Cult TV in
2013. Alongside the publications, and also curated by Barbara
Maio, Osservatorio TV, an independent research project which
publishes a free e-book each year in which TV series produced
in the previous 2-3 years are analyzed, should also be noted.
Drawing on a more philosophical perspective is, Filosofia delle
serie tv. Dalla scena del crimine al trono di spade (lit. trans.
Philosophy of the TV series. From the Crime Scene to Game
of Thrones) by Luca Bandirali and Enrico Terrone, published in
2012. In the first part of the book, TV series are considered as
objects worthy of a philosophical treatment. The fundamental thesis that the authors carried out is that the television
series represents a synthesis of the two major contemporary
narrative forms that have dominated previous centuries: the
epic form of the novel and the dramatic form of plays and
cinema. The most interesting television series – the authors
are concerned with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000-), The
Sopranos (1999-2007), 24 (2001-2010), Game of Thrones (2011), among others – are able to construct relevant philosophical
discourses that help us to gain an in-depth understanding of
the forms of our existence in the world in which we live. Also
interesting is the attention that the authors give to the spoiler
phenomenon and subsequent spoiler policies, linking them to
the way in which the TV series is viewed by the community of
fans. Several areas of study are dealt with, starting with the
name “TV series” which suggests a very tight bond with the
TV medium whereas in reality it is no longer so important due
to the de-institutionalization of TV viewing.
Another focus is the comparison between television seriality and cinematographic seriality: if in the latter we have
episodes that form a series, in the case of the television series
we have a continuous narrative that is divided into episodes.
Cinema and television series are often analysed together like,
for example, in the book L’illusione difficile: Cinema e serie
TV nell’età della disillusione (lit. trans. The Difficult Illusion:
Cinema and TV series in the Age of Disillusionment) by
Federico Di Chio (2013) which, following the evolution of the
illusion in classic American cinema up to the contemporary TV
series, analyses textual strategies and the forms of enjoyment
that characterize them. In the form of provocation, Daniela
Cardini in Serial tv. Come la televisione ha sconfitto il cinema
(lit. trans. Serial TV. How Television Has Defeated Cinema)
(2013) analyses the TV series as a text rich in intertextual
references, comparable with movies for content and modes
98
of expression, and whose strength lies, among other things, in
its ability to create group identity (evident in online activity)
and to propose completely new ways of viewing unlinked to
the traditions of the television medium.
3.1 From the Television Series to the Narrative
Ecosystem
The studies that we have reported so far have moved forward the theoretical and critical discourse on television serial
production. Some have highlighted fundamental connections
with specific structures in American television and others
have focused on alternative forms of consumption. Since
2005, the Italian debate has become more complex taking into
account all the different aspects of the production of seriality,
involving most of the Italian research centers. The increasing
complexification of serial television production tends to make
obsolete even the most precise definition of the serialized
series. Guglielmo Pescatore and Veronica Innocenti focus, for
example, on the transition from the concept of series to that
of narrative ecosystem (2013: 57-72).
Since 2009 the University of Bologna has undertaken a
fruitful path of research on contemporary mediality, viewed
from different perspectives and with a marked interdisciplinarity, which finds its greatest fulfillment in the Media
Mutations conferences.12
The contemporary TV series is no longer simple textual
objects, but the result of an ecosystemic design, where the
model is designed in advance as an evolutionary system with
a high degree of density between the various components. For
this reason, from the idea of text we arrive at the narrative
ecosystem.
The narrative, which no longer has a single center of irradiation, tends to develop along different paths. The traditional
tools of narrative analysis (semiotics, narratology), which once
would have considered the story as something oriented and
with a clear direction, even if complex and labyrinthine, are
no longer sufficient enough to give an account for all the
complex shapes of the television serial narrative. Watching
a television series is now a distributed experience, which
creates a new kind of participation and stimulates further
consumption. Narrative ecosystems are non-procedural sys12 The event editions have grown in their international dimension and their ability to attract major Italian and foreign media scholars. The first two editions were
concerned respectively with contemporary cinema and its relationship with the web
(edition of 2009) and the definition of the concept of popular in old and new media
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tems (Pescatore and Innocenti 2013: 68), meaning that they
are not determined by a syntagmatic sequence of functions,
but are determined by declarative elements that describe the
environment, characters and relationships, making the narrative material a universe traversable by viewers, and where the
experience can be reconfigured. The episodes are therefore
textual objects that allow us to relate and connect to the narrative universe. The configuration of the fictional universe is a
process of negotiation between the mode of use (enjoyment,
experience and production) and the project (media delivery
and marketing) and the proliferation of non-linear marks a
point of rupture in the narrative “consensual” and a universe
as an ecosystem is driven simultaneously by the industry and
users (65).
In the context of media ecology, it is about giving an
organic vision: The ecosystem perspective imposes a point
of view that goes beyond the concept of media specific and
considers the abiotic dimension as an integral part of the
development of the biotic dimension.13
On the basis of these research advancements, 2011 and
2012 were highly relevant editions of the above-mentioned
conference, in which, for the first time, the objective was to
explore these forms of extended narrative. Ecosystem narratives became the privileged focus of the event, described as
lasting worlds, persistent and sharable as places inhabitable
and full of manipulable objects, which are investigated for
both their structure and function. These two editions found
their natural continuation in the volume edited by Claudio
Bisoni and Veronica Innocenti (2013), which is a collection of
the interventions.
In 2013, Media Mutations 5 was dedicated to Ephemeral
Media. Time, Persistence and Transience Screen in
Contemporary Culture (organized by Sara Pesce, Paul Grainge
and Roberta Pearson). On that occasion and on the basis of
previous editions, the nature and behavior of all the textual forms that make up ecosystem narratives, but which are
not part of the matrix text, were questioned. The paratext
especially, in all its forms and in relation to the main text to
which it refers, proved to have a decisive influence [publication forthcoming].
The sixth edition of the conference, in 2014, entitled Modes of Production and Narrative Forms in the
Contemporary TV Series (organized by Paul Noto, Veronica
Innocenti, Leora Hadas and Luca Barra), drew attention specifically to extended narrative in television, looking at systematic studies on the seriality. In particular, the perspective
examined was the relationship between the modes of production and the different aesthetic-narrative characteristics
of the products. With regard to the latter, both national and
international forms of serial production were analyzed, taking
into consideration the development of new technologies and
their impact on serial products and their distribution (e.g. the
advent of over-the-top channels and straight-to-series production), the relationship between the viewer and serial products
and the role of video games in the design and sale of the vast
narratives.
3.2 Role of Criticism
13 ‘Ecosystems have a biotic and abiotic component. The biotic component is the
narrative form, a living subject that underlies the processes of competition, adaptation, change and modification, while the abiotic component is provided by the media
context in which the series is placed’ (Pescatore and Innocenti 2013: 68).
We have noticed that, with regard to the television series,
academic studies have only in recent years started to pose
specific questions regarding serial products. Studies belonging to the field of criticism, on the other hand, have acquired
and are still acquiring a special dimension. For this reason,
the last part of this paper will attempt to give an account
of the vitality that surrounds the studies on the television
series, also taking into consideration non-academic spaces,
such as those of the online criticism. Currently, there are no
printed journals focused primarily on the criticism of the
television series, whether it is national or international, nor
are there official spaces on the web. Not always the absence
of an institutional coverage leads to a total vacuum, indeed,
what occurs in Italy exactly reflects the ecosystemic and participatory nature of the contemporary television serial. The
absence of a real critique on the television series has been
filled by some blogs that, starting from the boundless passion
of the fans, were able to offer unprecedented, great value.
Now, the two sites that stand out for completeness, quality
and competence of the reviews produced are Serialmente and
Seriangolo, whose birth have a common origin: mourning. In
the case of Serialmente, the founders of the site started from
the series finale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, presented the
site as a place of mourning where the need for discursive
discussion on serial products was so urgent that the it had to
be created. A few years later, the same thing happened with
Seriangolo: this time it was the turn of the series finale of Lost
to act as a trigger for the birth of the site. In both cases, these
are amateur writers, among whom there are people who study
and work in the world of film and television, as well as others
who write only for pleasure.
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The most innovative feature of these websites are the
reviews of television series episode by episode following the
original calendars of each country.14 Regarding the American
TV series, the reviews are published a few days after the date
of the original transmission and consequently much earlier
(with rare exceptions) than the Italian one. This habit, encouraged by some fansubbing sites that offer the subtitles of the
series aired in a very short time, has the benefit of introducing
the viewer to a vision of the series in its original language,
as well as allowing them to be aware of the airing and the
scheduling of their favorite show. Despite the fact that almost
all the authors of these blogs are amateurs, their knowledge
of the world of the television series has given rise over time
to indepth sections and thematic monographs which can be
read alongside the reviews of individual episodes on the site.
04 CONCLUSIONS
At the end of this survey, it is possible to observe positive
and thorough input regarding the status of studies on the
subject. From the eighties to present, in fact, the studies have
not only increased in number, but they have spread out over
different fields and divided themselves between the analysis
of the national scene and the analysis of international scene.
In the eighties, the studies had a pioneering nature, especially
given the novelty of the subject, and were addressed by scholars from different disciplines. The nineties were the years of
systematization and affirmation of the first research centers
on television series. The last fifteen years, in addition to being
the years in which structured searches are produced (facing
the economic point of view, the point of view of the text and
consumption), are the years in which different paradigms depending on the skills of the individual research centers have
been proposed.
Given the speed of technological change involving television and new media, new research perspectives have opened
up and must necessarily focus on social TV and the interaction
between vision and sharing on social networks, piracy and the
new forms of distribution, the increasing reduction of the windows of distribution time and finally the customization of the
act of viewing as a result of mobile and on-demand devices.
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TV SERIES AND FILMS CITED
24 (2001-2010)
Angel (1999-2004)
Beautiful (1987-)
Beverly Hills (1990-2000)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Centovetrine (2001-2015)
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000-)
Dallas (1978-1991)
Derrick (1974-1998)
E.R. (1994-2009)
Friends (1994-2004)
Game of Thrones (2011-)
Lost (2004-2010)
Romanzo criminale (2008-2010)
Star Trek (1966-1969)
Star Trek: Next Generation (1986-1994)
The Sopranos (1999-2007)
The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
Twin Peaks (1990 -1991)
Ugly Betty (2006-2010)
Un posto al sole (1996- )
Vivere (1999-2008)
X-Files (1993-2002)
Yo soy Betty, la fea (1999-2001)
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