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Bonner, Frances. Ordinary Television: Analyzing Popular TV.

Bonner, Frances. Ordinary Television: Analyzing popular TV. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage, 2003. Pp. viii, 219. ISBN 0-8039-7570-8 (hbk.) $82.95; 0-8039-7571-6 (pb.) $34.95.

Given the amount of time that most of us spend watching television, we might find it at least a little surprising that scholars ignore most of that television content. Perhaps it manifests another version of that cultural snobbishness that regards television itself as unworthy of attention: when people do examine it, they examine only certain, relatively "high" genres, like drama or news programming, or perhaps police procedurals. In this fine book, Frances Bonner inquires into the rest of television--the bulk of the broadcast day, which most of us watch but to which few readily admit. She inquires into games shows and talk shows, morning and night shows, food shows and found video (bloopers, home video, and so on), home repair and light entertainment, reality television, and all the rest.

Because academic study of television has taken firm root in the soil of effects and cultural studies, Bonner must begin with a review of how scholars usually look at television. Her review, though brief, hits all the right topics. Often following Raymond Williams, she examines studies of genres. As a scholar in the Anglo-Australian tradition (having spent part of her career in the UK, she teaches now in the School of English, Media Studies, and Art History at the University of Queensland), she looks at Lord Reith's vision for the BBC--to inform, educate, and entertain. Following Len Masterman, she tries to make sense of "television mythologies" as program types.

With all this in mind, Bonner proposes her approach to "ordinary television": this is television that is quotidian, that features people like ourselves, that is routine, that marks out our days. "I regard ordinary television as constituted in opposition to special television, whether that is seen as a TV special or ... a media event" (p. 43). This television possesses two key elements: it is mundane and its presentation is ordinary, in presenters, in location, in format. In the chapter on defining the ordinary, she roots her discussion in the work of a wide range of contemporary theorists: Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau, Alice Kaplan and Kristin Ross, Roger Silverstone, Stephen Heath, and Paddy Scannell.

After these two more theoretical chapters, Bonner turns to her specific study of that ordinary television. Chapter 3 introduces the reader to the people involved: first the special people (presenters, reporters, regular personnel, celebrities, and experts) and then the ordinary people (participants, audience, and active viewers). In each instance, she bases her discussion on specific personalities--an easier task with the "special people" since readers (and presumed viewers) will recognize their names from television.

Chapter 4 joins analysis to narrative. Bonner considers ordinary television from the perspective of its discourses: What kinds of programs appear on ordinary television? Here's a surprise:
 When one looks across the considerable range of
 programmes that constitute ordinary television,
 there is not the discursive diversity that such an
 ostensibly disparate body of work might be
 imagined as generating. A relatively small number
 of discourses and discursive positions recur.
 ... Quite a small group of preoccupations cover
 the entire range, though few programmes draw
 on the full set. Consumption, family, health, sexuality
 and leisure are at the core. (p. 98)

The rest of the chapter examines these in turn. Shopping shows of every type appear frequently, as do programs dealing with family or family advice. The same things apply to health and sexuality, though programs addressing sexual concerns have increased dramatically in the recent past. Leisure shows include travel programs, lifestyle shows, and both personal and property make over shows. The latter hold viewer interest both from the design and do-it-yourself possibilities.

The next chapter examines the inverse of the former: what discourses have become disguised or absent? "The expansion of ordinary television under the rubric of infotainment has led to certain discourses, which had had important legitimating roles under the previous regime, having to be minimized because they militated against entertainment" (p. 137). These included educational programs but also programs that moved from the informational category of ordinary television to the entertainment sector--primarily law and order shows including Crimewatch or Australia's Most Wanted.

The last two titles hint at the topic for Bonner's last substantive chapter: the globalization of ordinary television. Programs that have succeeded in one market move to others, given the likelihood of imitation by producers across the globe. Examples of such transplants include the crime shows already mentioned, variations of Survivor, Big Brother, Real World, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and wildlife programs. In addition, where shows themselves do not travel well, their formats do: talk or chat shows, talent scouting, and so on. Bonner puts these into a larger context by examining facilitating infrastructure (satellite broadcast systems, for example or the growth of cable distribution) as well as the challenges of cultural differences in a globalizing world. Some of this analysis has deep roots in the communication literature under the "media imperialism" title, but the move to localizing programs or recognizing national differences seems more rooted in the ordinary of ordinary television.

Throughout the book, Bonner anchors her discussion with examples of programs; perhaps not surprisingly, this seems incredibly easy as everyone can recognize what she discusses, even when the particular program may not appear in one's own country. But this is part of the attraction of ordinary television.

A concluding chapter recaps the findings of the book. One such finding will suffice as summary:
 The key characteristics of ordinary television
 were identified as being its mundanity, a style
 which attempts to reduce the gap between viewer
 and viewed and the incorporation of ordinary
 people into the programmes themselves. It is the
 latter which may be regarded as the most significant
 ... (p. 211).

After reading this book, one will never view television in the same way again.

The book has an extensive bibliography and an index.

Paul A. Soukup, S.J.

Santa Clara University
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Author:Soukup, Paul A.
Publication:Communication Research Trends
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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