is best understood as a television program genre which fuses elements
of comedy and drama. According to Altman (1986) new genres emerge
in one of two ways: "either a relatively stable set of semantic
givens is developed through syntactic experimentation into a coherent
and durable syntax, or an already existing syntax adopts a new set
of semantic elements." Semantic elements are the generic "building
blocks" out of which of program genres are constructed--those recurring
elements such as stock characters, common traits, and technical
features such as locations and typical shots. Syntax, or syntactic
features, describes the ways these elements are related and combined.
The recurring combination of semantic and syntactic elements creates
a conventional type or category of program called a genre.
one of the clearest examples of the dramedy genre emerged in 1985-86
when the Directors Guild of America nominated the hour-long television
series Moonlighting for both Best Drama and Best Comedy,
an unprecedented event in the organization's previous 50 years (Horowitz,
1986). Moonlighting combined the semantic elements or conventions
of television drama (serious subject matter, complex and rounded
central characters, multiple interior and exterior settings, use
of textured lighting, single camera shooting on film) with the conventional
syntactic features of television comedies (four act narrative structure,
repetition, witty repartee, verbal and musical self-reflexivity,
hyperbole). Not all dramedies, however, were an hour long. For example,
the half-hour series Frank's Place dealt with serious issues,
had rounded and complex central characters, textured lighting, multiple
settings, single camera shooting on film, no studio audience or
laugh track, and a four-part nanrative structure. Given the economic
organization of the American television schedule, in which "half-hour"
is usually equated with "comedy," and "hour-long" with "drama,"
many dramedies were considered more comic than dramatic and vice
like most popular culture forms, is strongly generic; audiences
come to television program viewing experiences with definite expectations
about genre conventions; indeed, according to Warshow (1964) audiences
welcome originality "only in the degree that intensifies the expected
experience without fundamentally altering it." However, as a commercial
enterprise, television piques audience members' interest and attracts
viewers, at least in part by offering innovations on familiar genre
forms. Thus, while dramedy may have taken the final step from invention
to genre evoluton in the 1980s, several series during the 1970s
occasionally experimented with individual "dramedic" episodes, including
M*A*S*H, Barney Miller, and Taxi. After Moonlighting
had garnered both popular success and critical acclaim, a number
of television producers turned to dramedy's unique duality as a
means of attracting audiences. Other television series which some
critics have called dramedies include The Days and Nights of
Molly Dodd, Hooperman, The "Slap" Maxwell Story, and Northern
Exposure. However as the short runs of several of these series
indicate, creating a highly rated dramedy is no easier than creating
a popular series in another genre.
Critics, on the other hand, have quite uniformly praised television's
dramedy series' sophistication and innovation. They argue that the
appearance of dramedies, whose self reflexivity and intertextual
references require a substantial degree of both popular and classic
cultural literacy from viewers for full appreciation of their allusions
and nuances, signifies a change in the relationships among television,
audiences and society and indicates that television has "come of
age" as an artistic medium.
R. Vande Berg
The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd
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