When HBO’s hit show The Wire began its fourth season in 2006, critics and fans alike seemed to agree that television drama had reached a new era. Writing in Slate magazine, Jacob Weisburg suggested that “no other program [had] ever done anything remotely like what [The Wire did], namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature.” The New York Times simply called it Dickensian.Click here to buy and sell online with On Buy from www.onbuy.co.uk.

“Smart TV” explores a group of television shows with critical ambitions or at least, arguably, critical effects. Since its inception, the medium of television has been dogged by variety of accusations: it rots brains, it ruins morals, it makes people lazy. But the participatory culture long-occasioned by cult television shows—Star Trek, Twin Peaks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to name a few—suggests that viewers can in fact approach television with a level of attentiveness and sophistication typically thought to apply only literary texts, or works of fine art. The formal nuance, complex patterning and narrative density of a show such as The Wire capitalizes upon—indeed depends upon—the presence of a focused, agile and critical mind.

“Smart TV” will focus on the aesthetic and literary qualities of television shows as discrete entities, in a model that builds on disciplinary practices in visual and literary studies. Television is a medium particularly apposite for interdisciplinary study. Attentiveness to form augments our understanding of content, and an interdisciplinary approach that integrates visual and literary analysis will give students essential tools for navigating the complex and often contradictory ways through which meaning is produced and negotiated in contemporary culture. Besides gaining foundational skills in the techniques of literary, critical, and aesthetic analysis, students will approach contemporary social and cultural issues by exploring the complex ways gender, class, race and sexuality are constructed, represented and not represented in television.

In addition to traditional university instruction, this course involves industry professionals from actors to writers to production staff as guest instructors. These guests—some physical, some “virtual” or electronic visitors—address the practical and creative challenges entailed in producing serious, thought-provoking work in a multiply authored, complex, and high-cost popular medium.

Seed funding for “Smart TV” was generously provided by an Interdisciplinary Teaching Grant from the Office for Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Utah, with support from the Colleges of Humanities and Fine Arts and the Departments of English and Art & Art History. Special thanks to NBC/Universal Cable Productions for additional support.