No. 5, Fall/Winter2000

Special Issue:
The Arab World

Issue 5 home page
Return to current issue
Return to Archives main page


Horace Newcomb, ed. (2000) "Television: The Critical View" (6th edition). New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press. 721 pp. ISBN 0-19-511927-4.

Reviewed by Keval J. Kumar, Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Pune, India

Now in its sixth edition, Horace Newcomb's popular reader on television was first put together in the mid-1970s. That was a time when television studies had just begun making a mark, under the influence of literary and cultural studies in Britain as well as of the feminist movement. The media education movement, too, played a vital role in propagating a critical view of the medium during that period.

The millennium edition of the reader comprises 35 research articles with over half from recent research; however, the focus of attention remains American network television. This, despite the several references to "the end of the network era" in both Newcomb's introduction and the other essays, which are divided into four sections: production, texts, reception, and overviews. Network television is clearly on the comeback trail with new modes of delivery such as cable and the Internet, and with shows like "Survivor" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

The few essays that deal with non-American television are largely by American researchers, with some exceptions like Gripsrud's piece on Norwegian television or Corner's on the British documentary. However, browsing through the anthology would give the student of international television the impression that television does not exist outside the western world. The revolution in transnational cable and satellite television that has taken place during the past decade in Asia, the Arab world, and Latin America does not figure anywhere in the new edition; there isn't as much as a nod to television in the "two-thirds world." Nor is there much discussion on the ferment in European television, especially the increasing threat to public service broadcasting, though Gripsprud and Hay do discuss this in the context of Norway and Italy, respectively.

This is the greatest drawback of the anthology: it does not go beyond "white" television and "white" scholarship. Charlotte Brunsdon upbraids television studies for this apartheid when she observes that there is widespread avoidance and deferral of racial difference in critical television analysis: "the television of television studies, to a considerable degree echoing the address of Anglophone broadcast television, in the post-war period has been constructed 'whitely' " ("What is the 'Television' of Television Studies?" p. 624). Of course there are exceptions, such as Eric Michael's fascinating account of one Aboroginal tribe's use of television to express itself in Australia ("For a Cultural Future") and Lewis and Jhally's incisive analysis of The Cosby Show (not included in this work).

Newcomb's introductory piece on "television and the present climate of criticism" and Brunsdon's deciphering of "the television" in television studies delineate the broad framework for the thirty-odd studies that comprise the reader.

The United States has woken up rather late to the need for media literacy. The essays by Meyrowitz ("Multiple Media Literacies") and by Lewis and Jhally ("The Struggle over Media Literacy") give the flavor of current debate in the field. But perhaps the most delightful piece in the anthology is Ellen Seiter's perceptive narrative of a "troubling interview" on soap operas with two men in their mid-fifties. It succeeds in raising several questions about the new ethnographic thrust in reception research. Lynn Spiegel's "Women's Work," and the historical study of early television's tavern audience ("The Front Row is Reserved for Scotch Drinkers") raise challenging issues about the over-hyped concept of the "public sphere." TBS

Copyright 2000 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo