Getting back into theory, I thought I'd pick John Ellis's shorter piece "Broadcast TV Narration" because it sounded interesting and I've had a strange hankering to see Full Metal Jacket again for two days. Having now read through it with a wayward eye toward analysis, I am shocked by how little it says even as an excerpt of a chapter in his book. The basic things I could glean: television is live, television is repetitive, and television is live. (Heh.)
Liveness has been something that has been plumbed in such depth for me recently that I suppose I am jaded by an author even mentioning it anymore (though, in 1982, it made more sense I suppose.) Ellis first notes that there is no difference in models between fiction and nonfiction on TV, but that both can be thought of in terms of "the broadcast output... of segment following segment" (238-239). He goes on to call TV "a continuous update" on the same page, noting several formal elements of TV ("dead time", the "fragmentary nature" of broadcast TV, the "use of real time" in staging sitcoms, etc.) that make it seem more immediate and capital-ell Live (239-241). And yet, Ellis hardly ever pauses to discuss narration in his entire piece, except to note that it is "relatively perfunctory" in the entirely different cinematic arts (242).
As is pretty typical for me, I was drawn to a pretty insignificant paragraph to the essay that has quite a bit to say for me. In this section, Ellis compares the difference between a movie, which always has "a new story subject" (with the exception of recent Marvel/Disney films,) and a TV series, which "repeats a problematic" and "is based on the repetition of a problematic" (242-243). Far later on, he makes the most interesting statement about characters in a series: "They never learn." (244). I think that the novel show It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia has addressed the topic of staying the same fairly well by frequently mocking characters not changing over the course of their now twelve year run. It is one thing for four adults to be running an unsuccessful bar when they are 25, but what about 35? 40? 45? At a certain point, the life of a sitcom character is a doomed purgatory, waiting to change but forever unable to.
Alright, maybe I'm looking to deeply for meaning there. Maybe the real question is: If TV characters don't change, adapt, or grow, what hope do television journalists have?