Anthology Drama is a term that is often associated with modern television programming that is running over multiple seasons (Campbell, Martin, Fabos, 2017). While the overall genera of these programs may differ from show to show, the overall principle that ties these dramas together is the sense of drama and tension, and multiple season run time that allows for multiple viewership’s and long-standing fans of these programs (Campbell, Martin, Fabos, 2017). Anthology dramas are programs that run for multiple seasons or episodes, but in each rendition of the show, whether that is episode to episode or season to season, the setting, plot, and characters are changed.
This formula for dramas began in the late 1920s with programing such as The Collier Hour on NBC, which paved the way for other such programs that provided new content and characters on an episode to episode basis (Evans, 2011). While these types of shows maintained strong popularity during much of the mid 1900s, but began to fall out of favor towards the 1990s as more well produced and complex narratives that appealed to audiences (Evans, 2011). However, around 2010 programs such as American Horror Story and other such programs began to resurface, modernizing the anthology genera, giving the season to season anthology formula, while captivating audiences with well written and developed characters by having recurring elements in their seasons (Campbell, Martin, Fabos, 2017).
The article, “Distinguishing Television: The Changing Meanings of Television Liveness” by Levine focuses on the changing landscape of television and how over time and through technological advancements that the forms and mediums of television are shaped. Specifically, in this article there is a discussion on the patterns of how and why anthology dramas appear and reappear in the television world over time (Levine, 2008). Its reading is that due to the episodic nature of anthologies, more often than not it is much harder to retain its audience. More character or plot focused programming often can hold on to audiences as the show has a common thread holding it together, whereas in anthology dramas there is more of a spontaneity that causes this aspect to be lost in early anthologies (Levine, 2008).
An important source that can be used to understand this topic is the book by Evans, Transmedia Television. In it there is a discussion on what it means to study and define media and has many different presentations on the multiple different mediums that make up the branching idea of media (Evans, 2011). Specifically, there is a section in this book concerned with what they call quality drama or in our case well produced or high budget anthology dramas. Quality dramas are what this texts calls both the early 2000s programming that brought about the demise of early anthology series, and what many modern anthology programs have adopted to maintain viewership (Evans, 2011).
There are ample examples of both past and modern ideas of anthology dramas and how they have changed over time, but what the overall basic of this medium is based on the idea of an episode to episode generation of plot and characters. Examples such as American Horror Story and The Twilight Zone are prime in helping aid in an understanding of what anthology dramas are as these more modern programs clearly show aspects of early anthologies in their episode to episode or season to season changes, while drawing from the quality drama aspects of well-developed characters and more centralized plots.
Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B (2017). Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a
Digital Age 11th Edition. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Evans, E. (2011). Transmedia Television. New York: Routledge.
Levine, E. (2008). Distinguishing television: the changing meanings of television
liveness. Media, Culture & Society, 30(3), 393-409.
The images used in this post are in the public domain (Creative Commons)
Written by Colin Levi, 2018