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Fifty Key Television Programmes. First edition - The Television History Book. First edition
May 27, 2005

Anyone hoping to select the 50 key television programmes ever is setting themselves a Herculean task, but Fifty Key Television Programmes succeeds in providing undergraduate media students with a very useful survey of some of the most influential programmes to hit British and American screens. Glen Creeber, the editor, is transparent about how he came up with the final 50, and in addition to including programmes already addressed by earlier studies (for example, Dallas and Coronation Street ), has included coverage of programmes that have been ignored, such as The Benny Hill Show . The history, textual properties and reception of shows are surveyed, and each selection is justified by its popularity (and hence, recognisability to readers) and its ability to raise important issues relating to TV.

A wide range of genres is represented, including more recent hybridised forms such as reality TV ( Big Brother, Popstars ). The demands of the North American market have limited selections to British and American programmes with the exceptions of the German drama Heimat and the Australian soap Neighbours . (Non-English speaking readers would come up with a different list, but the main audience for this book is English-speaking undergraduates.)

The best test of a textbook is to give it to students and see what they think. The second and third-year undergraduates I lent this volume to found it a useful starting point for their research into pre-school television ( Teletubbies ) and situation comedy ( The Cosby Show, The Monkees, I Love Lucy, The Simpsons, Till Death Us Do Part/All in the Family ) respectively. Each entry is written by a well-qualified contributor and includes useful pointers to further debate in the form of questions and additional reading. It might have been useful to include details of video/ DVD availability.

As the author makes clear, these are not necessarily the “greatest” television programmes of all time but a selection of those that have captured the public’s imagination, and therefore merit further discussion.

The Television History Book , edited by Michele Hilmes, represents a further instalment of the British Film Institute’s broader-ranging project on television. This volume provides media studies undergraduates with an accessible overview of key historical developments in television in Britain and the US. Choosing these two countries allows useful comparisons between the different traditions of public-service television and commercial television.

However, as the authors freely admit, by concentrating on the dominant English-speaking nations, the television histories of other geographical or linguistic groupings are omitted.

The book is divided into sections dealing with technologies, institutions, programming and audiences. The section on institutions is split between the institutional origins of British and American television on the one hand, and the conflicts and changes that have shaped their development on the other.

The section on programming is divided into issues from the 1950s to the 1980s, followed by a section on more recent developments such as the introduction of Channel 4, the advent of cable and satellite, the debate about dumbing down and the impact of global formats. There is an excellent bibliography that provides a platform for further research.

This is a well-structured, comprehensive volume that gives students an important historical context for a medium that is only just coming to terms with its past. Its publication does indeed “stand as a marker for just how far television studies has come”.

Jeanette Steemers is principal lecturer in television studies, De Montfort University.

Fifty Key Television Programmes. First edition

Author - Glen Creeber
Publisher - Arnold
Pages - 282
Price - £14.99
ISBN - 0 340 80943 4

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