Beyond Television: TV Production in the Multiplatform Era (Book Review)

Halskov, Andreas. 2021. Beyond Television: TV Production in the Multiplatform Era. Odense, Denmark: University Press of Southern Denmark.

First Edition
403 pages
Color illustrations.
Paperback (US): $39.95
ISBN: 9788740833508

I remember visiting my father’s apartment in 1997 and being both intrigued and ultimately disappointed with his newly acquired Sony WebTV. The image in the linked post is an exact model of the one in which I am referring. If I remember correctly, the device needed to be connected to his coaxial cable cord. A single page might load in five to ten minutes on his, perhaps, 27-inch television screen. The pixilation was somewhat blurry and smeared in translation on the domed screen (not a flat screen). The WebTV device was not a VCR. It wasn’t like you could simply adjust the “tracking” to get a clearer image. Anyhow, this was my first, albeit underwhelming, experience linking the wonders of the World Wide Web (www) with a television screen. As memory serves, I tried to check my newly minted Yahoo! e-mail account to eventual frustration and abandonment on the device that was, unfortunately, a little too ahead of its time. And while that remains my brief memory of that device, I would have my mind blown years later in 2010 with a Christmas gift of a first-generation (well, my first—more likely second-gen.) Roku box. I have upgraded through several models over the years and continue to use them today, streaming with subscriptions to Prime Video, Shudder, Showtime, HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+. It is even more difficult to get settled on content than it was on my grandparents’—at the time inconceivable—thirty-six-channel Jerrold cable box.

Delivering on its title, Andreas Halskov’s Beyond Television: TV Production in the Multiplatform Era establishes these exact periods of televisual innovations in distribution and production while noting continuing rapid growth in our current entertainment landscape. The central focus of this book is the effect of these multiplatform distributorships on production and storytelling on television series today. The book speaks to a kind of liberation of American isolation regarding television production as the multiplatform era opened the production environment to transnational remakes and adaptations. The multiplatform era as defined in this book is situated as directly responsible for this global turn. The multiplatform era is defined as “a phase in modern television, which is characterized by TV series that are distributed through various media and platforms (e.g. broadcast networks, cable and satellite television, DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming).”[1] The effects on production and storytelling are highlighted through interviews with those who have direct experience in the field and through a focus on varying series’ narratives.

The chapter organization of Beyond Television is designed to serve the reader as a television series might a viewer, with interstitial chapter-length interviews from television creatives and producers simulating commercial breaks that serve to buffer Halskov’s arguments between chapters. The interviews are grouped into three conversations carefully selected and curated to benefit the content of Halskov’s chapters. The questions and responses are relevant and valuable to the central arguments of the volume. Furthermore, Halskov shows a particular strength with staging his arguments. The relied-upon literature is stated up front, and readers will find his arguments clearly stated in the first two sentences of the second paragraph in any given chapter. The book is divided into two parts of three chapters each, “changes in the modern landscape” and “new modes of storytelling.”

In the first chapter, Halskov focuses on the first phase of the multiplatform era from 1990 to the early 2000s. That conversation is contextualized with examples of “Golden Ages” of television with HBO proving the bellwether of prestige television production. This was made possible by HBO’s 1977 win in a case against the FCC contesting “least objectionable programming” through the First Amendment and freedom of expression. In Chapter 2, Halskov turns to the second phase of the multiplatform era with more attention to the flood of content made possible through DVDs, Blu-ray, and streaming platforms. Some of you might remember the cost-prohibitive nature of complete television series on VHS. The storage and cost-effective nature of DVDs changed viewers’ habits, allowing multiple repeated viewings of a series, and this period’s effects become the sole focus through the rest of the chapters—what it changed for producers and marketing as well as creative approaches to storytelling. Chapter 3 focuses on international remakes and adaptations.

The global perspective of the well-traveled author adds a complexity to the understanding of the multimedia landscape’s impact. Readers will note his admitted focus on American production but also gain a balanced inclusion of worldwide series and innovations. Even in Chapters 4–6, which increase attention to American series and narratives in the multiplatform era, there remains inclusion of international productions. More of the book’s strengths include Halskov’s succinct breakdown of transmedia storytelling, which appears in pages 152 through 154. In his engaging contextualization with intentional errors and fan involvement, he opens this film and media text to researchers of Fandom Studies. For the fandom of Twin Peaks, included is a refreshingly clear-headed approach to understanding the intentionality of the errors in the transmedia novels of Mark Frost. Halskov makes insightful choices in the series he chooses to focus on, but there is undoubtedly additional attention to Twin Peaks and True Detective. For those fans, it will be a marketable attraction to the study, and given the wealth of information provided in the 409 pages, should not prove too much of a distraction for those less interested in those series.

Altogether, Halskov’s four years of research and interviews come together in an engaging format. His central thesis to prove the multiplatform era’s existence through its impact on technical production as well as genre and storytelling builds across chapters and through each well-placed and indispensable interview to form a case not easily dismissed. So, whether you come to this academic volume with memories of your neighbors’ array of imposing satellite dishes from decades ago, exciting sleepovers at a family member or friend’s house that had HBO or “Skin-emax,” or simply your childhood DVDs, this book will provide contextualization for those decades and prove crucial to understandings of our current media landscape and narratives. As late-night movie host Joe Bob Briggs says, “Check it out.”

[1] Halskov, 11.

Written by Rob E. King

I am a librarian, writer, and proud member of Twin Peaks and Robert E. Howard fandom. I've also somehow become the go-to writer for MTV's 90s animation series.

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