Movie and Television Glossary



l'absent"The absent one." Jean Pierre Oudart's designation for that which is seeing in largely point-of-viewless movie narratives.

accelerated motion—Photographing action at a slower than normal rate so that when projected it appears faster than in reality.

act break—In commercial television, a usually dramatically justifiable interruption of an episode customarily created in the narrative by an advertisement often offering a minor cliffhanger or beat.

activated text—A television program which generates buzz.

adaptationTransforming a story conceived for another medium (a novel, a play) so that it may be retold in the movies or television.

allusionA conscious, meaningful reference to another work of art or indeed to any cultural or historical knowledge outside the film or television text.

ambient light—Also called available light or natural light. Footage captured in ambient light uses no technological enhancements in capturing the image.

ambient sound—Also called available sound or natural sound. Ambient sound captures voices and background noise without any attempt to select out the unwanted.

ancillary text—Both secondary (criticism, publicity) and tertiary (discussion and commentary occurring at the fan level) texts.

angleThe perspective on the vertical axis from which a shot is taken: low, high, medium, etc.

animationThe use of artificial means to make still images seem to move: claymation, stop-action, cartooning, digital animation, etc.

appointment showIn the pre-cable era, a favorite television program which a viewer schedules to watch, accommodating his or her life in order to keep an "appointment" with it.

arcA segment of narrative that constitutes an identifiable story element or elements for a character or a series.

art film—A special kind of genre film distinguished by its apparent absence of formula and its appeal to a highly specialized audience of film lovers (cinephiles).

aspect ratio—The relative size of the width to the height of the frame: 1.85 to 1 in the current "Academy ratio."

auteur theory—The hypothesis, originating in France in the 1950s as the "politique des auteurs" (as formulated by Truffaut and others) that a movie, though a collaboration (Bergman has likened the making of a film to the construction of a medieval cathedral), is given its essential identity by one person: the director. The body of films of a given director—the work of a director like Fellini, for example, or John Ford, and even that of lesser lights as well—will, according to the auteur theory, exhibit the distinctive signature(s) of its auteur and may be profitably studied as such. Only now emerging in consideration of television.

avant-gardeCutting-edge art, art ahead of its time (the advance guard—as in an army).



backlightingLighting an actor or actress from behind, thereby giving the character a sentimental halo effect. Common in early cinema, especially with leading ladies.

backstoryNarrative history, revealed retrospectively, of characters and events that have transpired prior to a story's own present tense.

basic cable—Those channels available with a "basic cable" subscription, many of which—AMC, FX, TBS, A&E, Comedy Central—have begun to offer their own original programming.

beatIn a television episode, an emotional or dramatic mini-climax punctuating the larger story.

binge viewing—Multi-episode watching of a television series by means of DVDs, DVRs, or streaming services. When Netflix made the entire first season of House of Cards available all at once, many viewers engaged in binge viewing of all available episodes, though some may have tempted to yield to the temptations of Netflix adultery.

biopicA biographical film, especially those from the 1930s and '40s.

B-movieOriginally a cheaply made second feature. More generally, any low-budget film with poor production values.

boutique television—A 1990s, cable era television programming concept in which programs were developed for small niche audiences with ideal demographics.

breakThe process of plotting out a single episode of a television series, positioning beats, act breaks, etc.

buzzCultural talk, at the water cooler and elsewhere, about a television series or other pop culture phenomenon.



cinéasteSomeone deeply involved in the cinema, though not necessarily an actual filmmaker. Truffaut was a cineaste before he became a director. His fellow cineaste Bazin remained a critic.

cinéma verité—A documentary style that arose in the 1960s and which emphasized real events captured usually with a handheld camera.

cinematic apparatus—Describes not just the cinema-machine but the whole "institution" of the movies, when "'institution' is taken more widely than the habitual notion of the cinema industry to include the 'interior machine' of the psychology of the spectator, 'the social regulation of spectatorial metapsychology,' the industry of the 'mental machinery' of cinema,' cinema as technique of the imaginary" (Stephen Heath). Camera lenses, for example, already inscribe ideology in that they organize a visual field according to laws of perspective.

cinematic calculus—Eisenstein's dreamed-of exact editing language which would have produced Pavlovian predetermined, pre-calculated precise emotions in its spectators.

cinematographerThe individual responsible for capturing a film's images on film.

cinephileLiterally a lover of film. Not quite a cineaste.

classic Hollywood text—The traditional, seamless Hollywood narrative, a system of representation which—according to Colin McCabe—"cannot deal with the real as contradictory" and always "ensures the position of the subject in a relation of dominant specularity."

cliffhangerA dramatic, episode-ending or season-ending, event intended to bring viewers back next week/next year and to inspire media buzz between episodes/seasons. The most famous cliffhanger in TV history was, of course, the "Who Shot JR?" ending on Dallas (1981).

closure, narrative—A conclusion giving the feeling that a narrative or narrative sequence has come to an end and providing it with an ultimate unity and coherence. An end creating in the receiver a feeling of appropriate completion/finality/satisfaction.

commodity intertext—Merchandise—official and unofficial fiction and non-fiction, games, action figures, clothing—produced to satisfy the often cultic needs of movie and television fans to extend their experience beyond the screen.

connotationThe suggestive or associative sense of an expression that extends beyond its literal definition. A second order system of signification which uses the denotation of a sign as its signifier and adds other meanings, other signfiers, often ideological in nature. A picture of Barack Obama denotes the actual person but connotes radically different meanings on the political left or right.

continuityThe ongoing logic and order of a narrative. Since television and movies are routinely shot out of order, making certain that props, sets, costumes, mise-en-scene, action, etc. are consistent and seem to follow naturally out of one another is a major problem for a film director or showrunner.

continuous serial—"The storylines of most 'continuous serials' . . . [are] deliberately left hanging at the end of each episode; nearly all plots initiated in a continuous serial were designed to be infinitely continued and extended. . . . the individual episodes of a continuous serial have much more of a linear feel, leading regular viewers to believe they 'could not miss an episode.' . . . in a continuous serial, narrative change is all" (Dolan).

conventionThe customary, "conventional" way of doing something in a work of art.

convergence culture—"The . . . ways the business landscape is changing in response to the growing integration of content and brands across media platforms and the increasingly prominent roles that consumers are playing in shaping the flow of media" (Convergence Culture Consortium).

co-optationThe absorption or expropriation of formerly oppositional ideas or practices into the service of ideological discourse. Godfrey Reggio's 1983 film Koyaanisqatsi, for example, was intended as an indictment of the insanity of modern American culture, but its visual style has now become prominent in contemporary advertising.

couch potato"A person who spends much time sitting or lying down, usually watching television" (

credit sequence: That segment of a movie or television episode's beginning in which the credits appear, either as titles overlaying the action or separately, outside the diegesis.

cross-cuttingMoving back and forth between two parallel scenes.

crossover—When the characters ordinarily appearing on a television series put in an appearance, crossing over to, another television series.

cult TVTelevision which attracts and sustains a usually small but rabid audience, the members of which begin to use the show in cultish fashion. According to Reeves: "By the 1990s, there were generally two types of cult television shows. The first type, in the tradition of Star Trek, is comprised of prime-time network programs that failed to generate large ratings numbers, but succeeded in attracting substantial numbers of avid fans. Twin Peaks is the most outstanding recent example of this category. Shows of the second type first appear on cable or in fringe timeslots and are narrowly targeted at a niche audience. Comedy Central's Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) and MTV's Beavis and Butthead (B&B) exemplify this category of cult programming that was never intended to appeal to mass audience."

cumulative narrative"Like the traditional series and unlike the traditional 'openended' serial, each installment of a cumulative narrative has a distinct beginning, middle, and end. However, unlike the traditional series and like the traditional serial, one episode's events can greatly affect later episodes. As Newcomb puts it, 'Each week's program is distinct, yet each is grafted onto the body of the series, its characters' pasts'" (Reeves).



decoupage—"[T]he editing process and literally translated, means 'to cut up.’ However, it usually indicates a particular style of editing, in which the transitions between shots lends continuity to the narrative" (How to Talk Like a Film Critic: Glossary of Film Terms).

deep-focusLighting and photographing a shot in such a way that all focal planes are in focus simultaneously. For Bazin, Orson Welles' and Greg Toland's democratic use of deep focus in Citizen Kane marked a decisive turn away from Eisenstein's manipulative montage.

denotationThe literal meaning of an expression. The first order of SIGNIFICATION. A photograph of Barack Obama denotes (is) Barack Obama.

diegesisThe fictional world of a narrative—for example, a television series or a movie; the "actual" world of the story created by a narrative.

discourse1) How a STORY is told; an aspect of NARRATIVE distinguishable from STORY; the expression plane of narrative as opposed to its content plane; the narrating as opposed to the narrated. 2) Sometimes used as roughly equivalent synonym for text, to refer to any sampling of verbal/non-verbal exchange/conversation singled out for critical study; for example: feminist discourse, academic discourse, sports discourse, cinematic discourse, etc.

dissolveWhen an image slowly disappears from the screen, replaced by another subsequent image which is momentarily superimposed upon it.

dramedyA 1970s television programming innovation in which comedy and drama are merged.

DVRA digital video recorder that captures television shows (usually off cable or satellite television) for later viewing.



episodic serial"[A] hybrid narrative form, combining the dramatically satisfying finitude of the episodic series with the linear narrative development of the continuous serial," presenting "narratives that were limited in length but multi-episodic in form . . ." (Dolan). Tulloch and Alvarez identify a closely related narrative form which they deem the episodic serial. Episodic serials exhibit continuity between episodes but only for a limited and specified number (ix). The subject of their study, Doctor Who, serves as an example, as does another famous British series, The Prisoner. Horace Newcomb uses a different designation for essentially the same narrative manifestation: "cumulative narrative.”

episodic series—In an "episodic series" (e.g., I Love Lucy or Star Trek), an individual storyline almost never stretched beyond the limits of a single episode. To a certain extent, routine viewers of an episodic series watched in the secure knowledge that, whenever something drastic happened to a regular character like Lucy Ricardo or James T. Kirk in the middle of an episode, it would be reversed by the end of the episode and the characters would end up in the same general narrative situation that they began in. . . . The individual episodes of an episodic series tends to have a circular feel to them, always returning back to their given comedic or dramatic 'situation' . . . . in an episodic series, narrative change is minimized . . ." (Dolan). Each episode tells an independent, discrete, stand-alone story that adds little or nothing to the cumulative memory of the show over seasons/years.

establishing shotAn opening shot of a film or television episode or sequence intended to reveal (often with the use of titles) the locale in which the action will take place.



fade-inWhen the screen goes from dark to light, gradually revealing an image.

fade-outWhen the screen goes from light to dark, gradually obscuring an imae.

fan fictionStories written by viewers (and often posted on the web) which make use of characters from film, television, and literature in new, sometimes improbable situations. See also slash fan fiction.

fan-scholarMatt Hills' term (Fan Cultures) for a fan whose interest/enthusiasm for the work he/she obsessively follow exhibits the kind of academic rigor ordinarily expected of an academic scholar. See also scholar-fan.

femme fataleA strong female character who proves to be lethal to the careers and or lives of the men who become involved with her. A common element in the film noir formula.

film genreThe deep structure, the "grammar," from which individual genre films draw (Schatz).

film noirA "genre," first identified by the French, which emerged during and after the Second World War in America. Characterized by pessimism, visual and moral darkness, an obsession with crime, and extensive use of voice-over.

final cutThe final editing of a film/television episode for release/airing. Though most Class A directors retain final cut privileges on their films, sometimes a studio or a prominent star may have final say.

flash forwardJumping ahead to an event(s) which will happen in the diegesis' future tense.

flashbackJumping backward in time to an event that transpired before the story's current diegesis.

flexi-narrative—The last two decades of television have seen the spread of what Robin Nelson terms a “flexi-narrative,” a “hybrid mix of serial and series forms . . . mixtures of the series and the serial form, involving the closure of one story arc within an episode (like a series) but with other, ongoing story arcs involving the regular characters (like a serial)” (82). The widespread appeal of the flexi-narrative is not difficult to understand, for it “maximises the pleasures of both regular viewers who watch from week to week and get hooked by the serial narratives and the occasional viewers who happen to tune into one episode seeking the satisfaction of narrative closure within that episode” (Nelson 82).

flowRaymond Williams’ designation for the overall system of television—"the defining characteristic of broadcasting, simultaneously as a technology and as a cultural form" [Wikipedia]—We do not just watch programs, Williams argued; we watch television as a whole.

formulaA customary, prefabricated, conventional style of plot/imagery/setting, etc. routinely/conventionally followed by an author/artist. Most genre films and television series follow formulae.

frame taleAny story which is told within another story, with the story's narrator remaining in the outer frame. Examples: Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or Princess Bride or Little Big Man.

frameThe border of a single exposed image.

freeze frameWhen a single frame is held on screen for a discernible amount of time (achieved by repeating multiple copies of the same image). Example: the last shot of 400 Blows.



gaze, the—Laura Mulvey's term (drawing from Jacques Lacan) for the tendency for classic Hollywood cinema to assume, for both male and female members of the audience, the scopophilic/voyeuristic perspective of a heterosexual male, objectifying the way in which women are seen.

genre filmThe individual instance—a surface manifestation, roughly equivalent to a speech act ("parole")—drawing on, but capable of departing from or modifying, a deeper structure of a film genre (Schatz).

genreAn identifiable type or form of film or television—screwball comedy, westerns, hardboiled detective, horror, sci-fi, sitcoms, talk shows, soap operas, etc.—with its own distinct subject matter, formulae, iconography, and style.

grazingSee surfing.



hand-held cameraA camera held by a cameraman (not on a tripod or a dolly), creating a moving, jumpy, easily identifiable visual style. Highly prized in cinema verite.

hate watchingFollowing a television series a television series—ordinarily one of some quality and reputation—because you hate it.

high-angle shot—A shot from above. Usually makes that which is seen seem vulnerable, even in great danger.

homageA spoof, "send-up" of another work of art, usually done in admiration of the original rather than for purposes of ridicule.



iconographyPatterns, continuous over time, of visual imagery or symbols, of recurrent objects and figures, representative of a particular institution, system, genre. A given religion, for example, has its own iconography, but so too does, say, a Western film.

ideologyA relatively coherent system of values, beliefs, or ideas shared by a social group and often taken for granted as natural or inherently true.

independent filmmakingFilmmaking that works outside the studio system.

interpretive communityThe idea, pioneered by Stanley Fish, that "[s]imilar readings are produced . . . because similarly located readers learn a similar set of reading strategies and interpretive codes which they bring to bear upon the texts they encounter" [Radway].

intertextualThe tendency—typical of postmodernism—of texts not merely to allude to other texts but to depend upon the similarities, differences, and contrasts between texts in order to establish their own signification. "Intertextuality should not be, but frequently is, used to refer to the intentional allusion (overt or covert) to, citation or quotation of previous texts in literary texts" [The Literary Encyclopedia].

irisAn opening or closing circle which either reveals or occludes the images in a frame. An iris-in can serve as a kind of faux close-up calling the viewer's attention to a single aspect of a complex or larger image. A now largely quaint editing technique.



jump-cutA very rapid cut from one image to another, usually startling the viewer.

jumping the sharkThe "defining moment" when a television program "has reached its peak" and begins to go downhill. Named after a moment in Happy Days when its most memorable character (The Fonz) takes part in a shark jumping contest. See the Jump the Shark website:



Kuleshov effectThe tendency of a viewer to back-read images shown in montage, thereby creating metaphoric meanings. Shown a picture of a man followed by a picture of a baby, the viewer retro-reads the man's face as showing fatherly love; if the same face is followed by an image of a bowl of soup, the man will be understood to be hungry. Discovered by the Russian film theorist Lev Kuleshov.



laying pipe—Establishment of narrative fundamentals (e.g., characters, backstories, mythology (series "bible" stuff) in a television narrative prior to the task of setting up the inevitable pay-offs.

least objectionable programming (LOP)—The old school—pre-RCD—notion that a television program capable of retaining a viewer’s apathetic attention is most likely to be successful.

lifeysNeal Gabler's term (in Life, the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality) for those entertainments (the Simpson trial, the death of Princess Diana, the impeachment trial of President Clinton, the Caylee Anthony case, etc.) "written in the medium of life, projected on the screen of life, and exhibited in the multiplexes of the traditional media"; "the new blockbusters that preoccupy the traditional media and dominate the national conversation for weeks, sometimes months or even years at a time" (5).

long shotA capturing of an image from a great distance—one that reveals architectural or landscape detail.

long takeA substantial segment of a film or a television show/episode (a scene or even a sequence) captured in a single run of the camera. Bazin advocated it as a democratic alternative to Eisensteinian montage.

low-angle shotA shot from below, with the camera looking up at a person, a building, etc. Always makes that which is seen seem significantly more powerful or larger.



Mary SueIn fan fiction, a character who represents the identity of the author inserted into the story line of a series. "Superstar," a Season Four episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is a perfect example.

megagenreA large, all encompassing, umbrella genre, having no distinct subject matter or style or iconography or formulae. The megagenres of the movies might be thought of as non-fiction (documentary) film, fiction film, animated film, and experimental/underground film. The megagenres of television include drama, comedy, animation, reality television.

meta- —As a prefix, originally meant above and beyond (as in "metaphysics," the philosophical, non-scientific examination of the nature of reality), now routinely used to gloss self-aware/self-reflexive/hyper-intertextual film/TV/literary narratives.

mindscreen. Bruce Kawin's term for that cinematic narrative technique in which an individual's thought-world become visible on screen. In My Left Foot, for example, Christy Brown's nurse reads his autobiography, and as she reads, the events of the book are enacted.

miniseriesA miniseries is a narrative drama designed to be broadcast in a limited number of episodes. If the distinction is maintained between "series" (describing a group of self-contained episodes) and "serial" (a group of interconnected episodes), the term "miniseries" is an acknowledged misnomer, for the majority of broadcast material presented in the genre is in fact produced in serial form. There are, of course, exceptions. Boys from the Blackstuff (1982), for example, consisted of five narratively independent, but interlocking, episodes which culminate in a final resolution. The miniseries may also be seen as an extended telefilm divided into episodes" (Encyclopedia of Television)—See episodic serial.

mise en scéneAll those aspects of a movie that pertain to arrangement of an image in a frame.

mobisode—"[A] term first coined by Daniel Tibbets then trademarked by his employer, Fox Broadcasting Company, for a broadcast television episode specially made for viewing on a mobile telephone screen and usually of short duration (from one to three minutes)" (Wikipedia)—A new factor in multi-platform storytelling.

mogulA powerful, commanding figure in a major studio during the studio era.

montageThe often rapid juxtaposition of images, cutting from one to another to create an effect. Eisenstein believed it to be the essence of film art.

motifAn element—incident, device, reference, formula—which recurs frequently in a work or works.

multi-platform (or cross-platform)—Originally a designation for software capable of running on different operating systems, now refers as well to media forms appearing on multiple media. Lost, for example, is incarnated not just on television but in books, videogames, board games, websites, internet-based "alternative reality games," cell phones, music CDs, and DVDs.

multiple exposure—A special effect in which more than one frame of film is exposed at the same time.

must-see TVPhrase created by NBC to describe/market its 1990s Thursday night lineup, which included Seinfeld and ER.

mythologyFor Barthes, investigation into the acquired connotative meanings of cultural signs in order to divest them of their acquired, taken-for-granted meanings. For example, television, though an object of wonder at the beginning of its history, is now a commonplace; its significance now so caught up in the culture's semiotic system that it is difficult to describe or explain. A mythology of TV would seek to decode it, to make its connotations again fresh and visible.



narrateeThe specified or unspecified person to whom a narrator is supposedly speaking. May include "the live studio audience" before which a television show was filmed, the perfect listener (the host of a talk show, the anchorman/women to whom reporters tell their tale), or the "laugh track" which represents the audience's idealized response.

narrationWhen an off-screen, extra-diegetic voice speaks to us in a movie.

narrative redundancy—The tendency, common to serial narratives like soap operas, to repeat/review previous kernel events in the story.

narrative special effect—Jason Mittell's term for an original form of storytelling—Lost's surprise introduction of flash forwards, for example, or its final season "flash sideways"—intended to provoke buzz and generate fan involvement.

narrativeThe fancy word for story telling.

narratologyThe systematic multi-media study of narrative—of storytelling and its techniques.

neo-realismA post-WW II movement in Italian filmmaking, lead by directors DiSica, Rossellini, and Fellini and the writer Zavattini, which sought to tell stories about the ordinary lives of ordinary people, often using non-actors.

Netflix adulteryWatching ahead of a partner (thus being unfaithful) an item—typically an episode of a television series—in a Netflix streaming cue.

netletAny of the newer, smaller networks (UPN, the WB, now the CW) which do not yet offer a full schedule of daily programs.

new wave (nouvelle vague)A late1950s/early 1960s movement in French filmmaking led by directors like Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, and Resnais that placed new emphasis on the creative role of the director and made frequent use of on location filming, innovative editing, handheld camerawork.

niche audienceA carefully targeted demographic with narrow interests likely to be attracted to a particular kind of programming and easily targeted by advertisers.

nickelodeonAn early (1905-1915) American movie "theatre."

nighttime soapMelodramas like Dallas (1978-1991) and Dynasty (1981-1989) which attempted to translate the previously daytime-only genre of the soap opera into primetime.

non-fiction filmAnother, perhaps better, name for documentary.

nonsynchronous soundSound that does not have a visible source in the film's diegesis.

not TV—HBO’s branding designation, an attempt to assert their Quality TV uniqueness, for its premium channel TV series.

novelizationTurning a movie screenplay into a novel. The reverse of adaptation as normally conceived.



on locationFilming in real locales, often using ambient light and sound, instead of in a studio.

one hundred eighty degree ruleThe unwritten rule in editing that warns against showing a character from opposite camera positions in subsequent images.

one-er—A long, unbroken take of a scene involving a movie camera but no cutting, which shows the unfolding action without interruption.



panA slow movement of the camera on an axis from left to right or right to left.

paradigm/paradigmatic—The relationship of a narrative element(s) to any/all other possible comparable elements. The opposite of syntagm/syntagmatic.

pasticheDescribes a work of art made up almost entirely of assembled bits and pieces from other works. According to Frederic Jamieson, the characteristic form of expression in postmodernism.

pay-off—A satisfying return at a later point in the story, offering some sort of closure, to a narrative crux/conundrum introduced earlier.

persistence of visionThe ability (disability?) of the mind that holds an image on the retina when it is no longer present to the eye. Its existence makes movies possible.

photogenicAlthough it now means tending to photograph well, it originally meant the magical power of photographic images.

pilot"[A] sample episode of a television show, [which] acts as a model for new programming which may be chosen by networks for the following fall's schedule" (Encyclopedia of Television).

plotThe main incidents of a NARRATIVE; the outline of situations and events thought of as distinct from the characters involved in them or the themes illustrated by them.

podcast"[A] series of digital-media files . . . distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds for playback on portable media players and computers" (Wikipedia). Many television shows inspire their own official (Ron Moore's podcast commentaries for each episode of Battlestar Galactica for example) or unofficial/fan-produced podcasts.

point of viewThe perceptual or conceptual position in terms of which narrated situations and events are presented.

point-of-view shotA shot in which the action as seen from the general perspective of a character. Also known as subjective camera.

postmodernismA cultural style or sensibility, a response to and evolution from modernism, which exhibits—indeed embraces—disunity, superficiality, self-referential, intertextuality, parody, pastiche, recombination, irony, indifference, discontinuity, disrespect, alienation, meaninglessness.

post-synchronizationAdding sound after filming.

previously on—Intended to get viewers caught up on the narrative so far, a recollective montage, ordinarily preceding the teaser and the credit sequence, of moments from already aired episodes of a television series relevant to the episode to follow.

prime time—The traditional major evening television viewing hours, ordinarily 8-11 p.m., ET or 7-10 p.m., CT.

producerlyJohn Fiske's designation (Television Culture) for a text which "does not produce a singular reading subject but one that is involved in the process of representation rather than a victim of it," treating its "readers" "as members of a semiotic democracy, already equipped with the discursive competencies to make meanings and motivated by pleasure to want to participate in the process" (95-96).

producer's mediumCharacterization of television in the 1970s and 80s, a period in which powerful producers like Steven Bochco were seen as the individuals primarily responsible for the creation of television.

producerThe individual/s responsible for the money side of filmmaking. May  manifest itself in various forms, including "executive producer," "producer," etc.

production values—The quality (or lack thereof) of the visuals, sound, special effects, etc. of a movie or television show—all those things that are dependent on technology, expertise, and money.

propAny object—from a gun to a hat to a breakable window—needed on a set in a given shot or scene.



quality television—A new concept in 1970s programming, often credited to Grant Tinker and MTM Enterprises, that held that intelligent, well written, sophisticated programs, not LOP, would be most likely to retain viewers.



rack focusSee selective focus.

RCDA remote control device, any gadget used to control a television set (or other electronic device) at a distance.

readerlyRoland Barthes’ designation for a "text" requiring the active participation of the reader in the “production” of uncertain meaning.

reader-response criticismA school of criticism which argues that the reader/viewer is as responsible for the construction of a text as the author.

realismAny approach to art which holds that art's function is to "hold a mirror up to" the actual world.

reality television/reality programming—any program which makes use of real people as performers in (usually) contrived situations or scenarios.

rear-screen projectionA special effect in which projected images become part of the visual field of a frame (as when we see a road disappearing behind a "moving" car when the car and its occupants are actually sitting stationary on the set).

recombinant programmingTodd Gitlin's term (Inside Prime Time) for the creation of a television program by genre-splicing together other, existing formulae.

remakeUsing a film made before as the inspiration for a "new" film.

remote control device—See RCD.

reverse angle shot—A shot that shows the action from a position exactly the reverse of the previous shot.

reverse motion—Projecting film backwards; resulting in actions "unhappening."

rough cut—An unfinished, unpolished editing together of film footage that merely approximates the finished film.



sceneA discernible segment of narrative usually defined by a specific locale.

scholar-fanMatt Hills' term (Fan Cultures) for an academic whose interest/enthusiam for the shows he/she investigates exhibit certain fannish behaviors. See also fan-scholar.

screenplayThe literary text of a film to be shot, including dialogue, shot breakdown, stage directions, etc.

screwball comedyA 1930s American movie genre, distinguished by its clever dialogue and strong heroines.

seasonA single "year" of a television show or series, ordinarily stretching, in the US, from September to May. In the UK and elsewhere abroad, known as "series."

selective focusWhen different planes of focal depth come in and out of focus selectively. Also called rack focus.

self-referentialityThe tendency of a work of art to become self-conscious, to call attention to itself—its conventions, structure, signification—as part of its own discourse.

semioticsThe systematic study of signs and their significanc.

sequelA movie or television series that continues the story of another movie.

sequenceA discernible segment of narrative containing scenes and marking an identifiable dramatic part of the overall story.

sequential seriesOnce the continuous serial broke free from its daytime prison, migrating to prime-time first in the form of night-time soaps lik e Dallas, the sequential series was born: television schedules were quickly populated by shows “that, had they been made a decade earlier, would almost certainly have been constructed in almost purely episodic terms,” series which “could very often not be shown in an order other than their original one, since events in one episode clearly led to events in another” (Dolan).

serial"[A]ny narrative with an open-ended story" (Dolan). Existing contemporaneously with the episodic series, ghettoized, however, in the very different mediacosmos of daytime television, continuous serials told stories that “were by contrast, deliberately left hanging at the end of each episode; nearly all plots initiated in a continuous serial were designed to be infinitely continued and extended” (33). Linear, as opposed to the episodic series’ inherent circularity, the continuous serial makes narrative change its raison d’etre.

shooting ratioThe ratio of exposed film to amount of film actually used in a final cut.

showrunner—The mastermind, answerable both to the controlling network or production company and to the production team, from directors of photography to writers and directors, in charge of the overall daily management of a television series.

signifiedThe immaterial aspect of a sign; that which the signifier represents. May be approached only through the signifiers of any given text.

signifierThe material aspect—an image, an object, a sound—of a sign. Signifiers tend to take on meaning through opposition to other possible alternative signifiers (i.e., woman/horse) not represented in a given syntagm. According to Saussure, the relationship of the signifier to signified in language is entirely arbitrary.

sitcomA television-specific form/genre of comedy in which the main characters (often members of an ensemble cast) become involved in a "situation" or situations from which they will be extricated by the end of the episode.

slapstickPhysical, visual comedy.

slash fan fictionFan fiction which links together, usually in sexual situations, pairs of characters who are not so involved in the diegesis. In slash fan fiction, Mulder and Skinner might become lovers, or Spock and Kirk.

slow motionShooting at a faster than normal rate of speed so that, when projected, the images will appear slower than in reality.

spec scriptA script, customarily for a different show, submitted as part of an application to become a member of the writing staff for a television show.

spin-off—"The spin-off is a television programming strategy that constructs new programs around characters appearing in programs already being broadcast. In some cases the new venue is created for a familiar, regular character in the existing series (e. g. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. from The Andy Griffith Show). In others, the existing series merely serves as an introduction to and promotion for, a completely new program (Mork & Mindy, from Happy Days)" (Encyclopedia of Television).

spoiler whoreA fan who actively seeks out and/or propagates spoilers.

spoilerInformation, avidly sought by some fans, available in advance of airing, about narrative developments in an ongoing story.

spreadableMedia dispersed widely on a variety of formal and informal platforms.

stickyOld-model media aggregating in centralized locations (like networks).

story1) What happens to whom in a narrative, distinct from discourse; 2) a perceived narrative which implies a general kind of pointedness or teleology, producing in the listener/viewer expectations about patterning and content (Scholes).

streamingNarrowcasting over the internet of a movie/television show/video to a computer, tablet, cell phone.

subgenreAn identifiable subclass, having its own distinctive subject matter, formulae, style, and iconography, of some clearly defined larger film genre.

subjective camera—A point of view shot in which the camera seems to become the eyes of a character.

subtextAn underlying, emergent theme in a work or works.

subtitleVisible words on the screen translating the words being spoken on the soundtrack.

super-narratorThe voice, usually, speaking for the network and outside any particular program, whose voice-over gives us directions about "staying tuned."

surfingUsing an RCD to move back and forth across the cable spectrum looking for something of interest. Sometimes called grazing.

suture—"[T]the processes by which we are 'stitched into' the story-world, or 'fabric,' of a film–-. . . 'drawn into' the film, taking up positions as 'subjects-within-the-film' such that we experience the film-world as an enclosed world unto itself, and . . . make sense of and respond to what . . . [it] represents as we are encouraged to do so by the film itself–that is, along, or according to, “the film’s own terms.” ["What is Suture?"]

swish pan—A very rapid left to right or right to left movement of the camera on a fixed axis.

synchronous soundSound which seems to have a source in the images on screen and in the film's diegesis.

syndication"[T]he practice of selling rights to the presentation of television programs, especially to more than one customer such as a television station, a cable channel, or a programming service such as a national broadcasting system" (Encyclopedia of Television).

syntagm/syntagmaticThe relationship of a narrative element(s) to those which precede and/or follow.



tabloid televisionAny exploitative program, usually in the form of a talk show, dealing with sensational subject matter.

takeThat which is captured on film in one run of the camera.

target audienceThe demographic group a network/channel and its marketers presume will show up for a certain series or show.

target audienceThe demographic group a studio and its marketers presume will show up for a certain film.

tease/teaserThe opening segment of a television episode, customarily coming after the previously on and before the credit sequence, offering an introduction to/setup for the story to follow.

telephiliaA love for television.

telephoto lensA special lens that enables images shot from afar to appear as up close.

television culture—Culture (high and low) created and sustained by television’s circulatory system.

textAny division of discourse—a poem, a painting, an advertisement, a music video, a film or all the films of Sam Peckinpah, a television series, an episode of that series.

tiltMovement of the camera up and down on a fixed axis.

time-lapse photographyA cinematic technique, similar in principle to animation, in which the exposure of "individual frames of film at pre-determined intervals" results in a "compressed visual record of events occurring over long periods of time" when these frames are later projected at normal speed (Katz 1135).

titleAny words (credits, subtitles, etc.) on screen but not part of the image proper.

tracking shotA moving camera shot in which the camera (hand-held, on a dolly, etc.) follows along with the action.

TV I["A] short-hand term for the broadcasting system that emerged in the 1950s, triumphed in the 1960s, and was slowly displaced in the 1970s, the term "TV I" refers to what has also been studied as "network era television." A period dominated by a three corporation oligopoly, TV I played a central ideological role in promoting the ethic of consumption, naturalizing the nuclear family ideal, selling suburbanization, sustaining Cold War paranoia, publicizing the Civil Rights Movement, and managing social upheaval." [Reeves, Rodgers, Epstein]

TV II The post-network period in which increased competition encouraged "networks to develop programming forms that inspire devoted, rather than casual, engagement." Driven by a "grand logic of flexible accumulation," its "complicated product / producer relationship" is the result of a "combination satellite and cable distribution system, augmented by remote controls, personal computers, and video cassette recorders" [Reeves, Rodgers, Epstein].

TV IIIThe current media situation: the networks in steep decline; television viewing in real time plummetingespecially among the young; DVRs and DVDs, binge-viewing, and streaming (on Hulu, Amazon, Netflix) increasingly popular; new, multi-platform programming generated by not-only broadcast networks and basic cable and premium (subcription) channels but by the likes of Amazon and Netflix.

two shotA shot capable of capturing two individuals talking at least from the waist up.



underground/experimental filmNon-theatrical, independent, "art" film, usually of an avant-garde nature.

voice-overWhen the voice of one of the characters speaks over the narrative on the sound-track, helping to tell the story. Dexter, for example, uses frequent voice-over, as does Desperate Housewives.



water cooler showA program which is likely to be talked about in public, generating buzz, after its airing.

webisode"[A]n episode of a television show that airs initially as an Internet download or stream as opposed to first airing on broadcast or cable television" (Wikipedia). A new factor in multi-platform storytelling.

WGA"The Writer's Guild Of America (WGA) founded in 1912 is the official trade union and collective bargaining unit for writers in the film and television industries and actively monitors working conditions for writers" (Encyclopedia of Television).

wide-angle lensA special lens capable of capturing a wider than normal perspective on the horizontal plane.

wipeAn editing technique in which a horizonal or vertical line or curtain wipes an image off the screen, usually replacing it with a subsequent image which follows behind the line.

writerlyRoland Barthes’ designation for a traditional "text" with conventional, seemingly fixed meanings.

writers room—The inner sanctum where the writing staff of a television series collaboratively creates episodes, arcs, and seasons.



zapTo skip past segments (usually commercials) of a recorded television program.

zipTo move rapidly through a recorded television program.

zoomUsing a special (zoom) lens in order to move, seemingly from a great distance, rapidly into or out of an image.