The television network as auteur: a case study of HBO and FX
Abbott, Angela Christine
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The auteur theory argues for the possibility that films produced within the highly regimented American studio system of the 1930's and 40's could be considered art, and their makers, auteurs (authors). This new theory, that both argued for the presence of a singular guiding intentionality behind a film, and for the critical canonization of films made in classic Hollywood changed the critical imagination of future film scholars. When Thomas Schatz took on the theory in his book, The Genius of the System, he argued that the collaborative nature of filmmaking in general and Hollywood filmmaking in particular complicated the existing theory, at least as it had been interpreted in America. Schatz's exhaustive study seeks to account for the masterworks of classical Hollywood through a systematic examination of the studio system, which he believed played a fundamental role in the films' success. While Schatz rails against some of the tenets of the auteur theory he simultaneously co-opts its critical system, and seems to make the argument for the studio as auteur. The idea that popular narrative entertainment produced within a highly regimented system can be taken as serious achievement, and that the large organization behind it can act as auteur, leads to the implied conclusion that a television network can function as an auteur as well. The television network is built on a studio-based production system much like classic Hollywood, and its directors of original programming provide the same guiding intentionality as the studio production chiefs of the past. To provide this hypothesis two case studies are performed on television networks, its products and its personnel. Section one discusses HBO as a prime example of a television auteur as its original programs are distinct and seem endemic to the networks overall style of presentation. Section two discusses FX as an example of a cable competitor who employs some of the same strategies as HBO, but with different programming executive who inflect the series with a distinct coherency and style of its own.
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