Mittell, Jason

Research Project
Complex Television: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Narrative

Over the past two decades, American television has undergone major transformations in terms of technology, industrial structure, viewer practices, and the rise of new genres like reality programming. One of the most notable impacts of these shifts is the emergence of highly complex and elaborate forms of serial narrative, resulting in a robust period of formal experimentation and risky programming rarely seen in a medium that is typically viewed as formulaic and convention bound. My project during my stay at Lichtenberg-Kolleg is to write a book, Complex Television, offering the first sustained analysis of the poetics of television narrative. Through close analyses of key programs, including The Wire, Lost, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, Arrested Development, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, The West Wing, and How I Met Your Mother, I trace the emergence of this narrative mode, focusing on issues like viewer comprehension, transmedia storytelling, serial structures, and cultural hierarchies. By applying theories of narratology developed in literary and film studies to the more culturally devalued medium of television, I hope to argue for a vision of television as the most vital and important storytelling medium of our time.
Additionally, my writing process will break new ground within the changing terrain of academic publishing. The book is under contract from New York University Press, and through cooperation with the digital scholarly network MediaCommons, I will be publishing the manuscript online throughout the Winter and Spring, allowing for “pre-publication peer-to-peer review.” Instead of writing the book in isolation and waiting for a print launch years later, the online discussion of the work as it is being written will help develop my ideas and circulate my scholarship broadly and immediately. Additionally, I will be developing a multimedia version of the book to be published for digital platforms at the same time as the print book, taking advantage of digital forms to include moving image materials. The goal is to build a scholarly community around a work-in-progress, develop broader conversations about my research, and explore the expanded possibilities of digital publishing, specifically concerning the audio-visual medium of television. See for the latest updates.

Selected Publications

Mittell, J. 2010. Television and American Culture. New York (u. a.): Oxford University Press.

Mittell, J. 2004. Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture. New York (u. a.): Routledge.

Mittell, J. 2010. «Previously On: Prime Time Serials and the Mechanics of Memory» in M. Grishakova and M.-L. Ryan (eds.): Intermediality and Storytelling. Berlin (u. a.): De Gruyter, pp. 78-98.

Mittell, J. 2009. «All in the Game: The Wire, Serial Storytelling and Procedural Logic» in N. Wardrip-Fruin & P. Harrigan (eds.): Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, pp. 429-38.