Textual analysis and TV News – What examples can you use to support various themes in exam questions?

Transparency – the studio or the way the news is presented as coming to the viewer without being censored!

  • Glass e.g. BBC and opaque glass walls behind presenters or on Look East where the window behind looks out on the Norwich Castle Mall Shopping Centre, or BBC Breakfast which looks across the Thames…
  • Blue / green screens, sometimes even the floor e.g. ITV CGI’s projected on floor and walls e.g. during the Iraq war when there was a map of the region and the presenter stood in the middle of it explaining…
  • Use of outside broadcast to increase believability factor even when there’s nothing going on e.g. the shot of the aeroplane con trail and the presenter saying ‘even if that’s not his plane…’ (See tape with TWTM and NN) i.e. completely pointless! Or the footage of the Charles Kennedy story at the closed shop!
  • Perhaps easier to appear transparent now with so much amateur video or even camera phone footage available now e.g. first from 9/11 then from the Tsunami and more recently the London Bombings.
  • But the fact that Michael Buerk’s Ethiopian Famine Story would never have got to our screens had it not been for the lack of other international or important home news at that time, shows how easy it is to miss a story of such horrid significance or scale.
  • The fact that the government criticised the BBC for its anti-war stance over the Falklands or even more recently over the Iraq war and of course the now infamous 45 minute dossier, when the BBC was again hauled over the coals and punished for its ‘daring challenge’ to the government, again indicates that there is a preferred view or reading which is dictated by the current ideology of the country.
  • The demonisation of Saddam Hussein (as per Propp’s categories of characters) as akin to Hitler and the assumption that the viewing public must agree with that assessment gives no thought for those who might not see things that way; or that the terrorists are always Muslim nowadays and Islam has become a threat, no wonder that ethnic minorities are turning off in droves.
  • Editing too suggests links and attitudes by the privileged camera angles for some or the amount of time given to others.
  • Transparency always fails as soon as something goes wrong with the technology!
  • The number of different segments which make up any one story: live interviews, video, archive, expert comment, CGI etc. all increases the appearance of ‘realism’ or transparency.

Audience – things done to gain, retain or increase an audience:

  • Younger better looking presenters e.g. Fiona Bruce, Kirsty Young, Natasha Koplinski, also remember the new face of Newsnight Emily Maitlis and her comment that television is a ‘lookist industry and people need to get over that fact’. (Guardian March 06)
  • Representatives of ethnic groups e.g. Krishnan Guru Murthy Channel 4
  • Mise en scene of studios and use made of it e.g. Channel 5 multi-coloured, two-level, young presenter, walking around
  • Language e.g. ‘Hi and welcome’ Newsround, the use of the personal ‘you’ and the invitation to re-join next time: ‘Join us again won’t you,’ T McD


Celebrity and Tabloidisation of news

Textual Analysis of Sit-com

How do the following help to construct or reinforce our ideas of gender?


Camerawork: TV sit-coms have short shooting schedules, small budgets and a limited, repeatable set. Live mixes often are put together with exterior footage, significant close-ups and reaction shots. There is a tendency to conventional framing of shots, mostly mid-shots and medium close-ups plus continuity editing creates a ‘transparent’ style, thus the audience are allowed to understand the action without the process of construction being too obvious. (This is the notion of ‘realism.’)

How are particular angles used to show e.g. Jim Royle as a slob – by using a low angle-shot to emphasise his size and sloth, whereas Cliff Huxtable in The Cosby Show has many close ups to show the audience his mugging to camera! Look at who gets in the shots with these characters and where they are positioned or how. What does this suggest to the audience?

Another way the camera is used is to generate comedy – in Only Fools the bar shot… we see him fall through the bar but only hear him hit the ground because the camera, in a two-shot focuses on Trigger’s face who doesn’t even notice his friend’s misfortune.

Malcolm in the Middle adopts a more filmic style and uses the piece to camera, video diary like for effect.


Editing: How and why are different shots juxtaposed with one another? Studio based sit-coms favour simple cuts to maintain continuity editing rules. But cuts in general are used to: control time / distribute narrative information / privilege or marginalise characters / create comedy from the actions or dialogue on screen. Thus: Cut is used to suggest some sort of relationship between juxtaposed shots; Dissovle is used to suggest a strong relationship between juxtaposed shots particularly those separated in space or time; Wipe is often used to suggest a transition from one sequence or section to another.

Watch short extracts with the sound down to see how visual meaning is built up, count the number of edits and cameras used.


Mise en scene: including such aspects as: sets and location, costume and make up, props, lighting, use of colour.

Sets often appear cheap to film, but they communicate specific ideas about the characters who live there. (Monica‘s alphabetical labelling of everything on her shelves in the kitchen area / Frasier‘s minimalist apartment but his dad’s chair stands out like a sore thumb!)

Costume and make-up – what do the characters wear? (Patsy in AB Fab is always overdressed, hugely made-up and ends up looking like a pantomime dame! / George in Drop the Dead Donkey wears a cardigan – loser!)

Props – look to see what characters hold in their hands, or what they are physically seen to do. (Will does the cooking in Will and Grace / Mary-Ann in Cybill has drink in her hand!)

Lighting – look at how hybrid sit-coms adopt the style of lighting for the genre. (Red Dwarf, often quite dark in corridors, red flashing lights in emergencies / Ambient or natural lighting played a huge role in M*A*S*H, because high key lighting wouldn’t have been realistic.)

The use of colour is perhaps most obvious in Blackadder Goes Forth where the iconography is from the First World War trenches and the low key lighting when they go over the top creates a threatening battlefield – definitely not for laughs.


Sound: The dialogue is uninterrupted as far as possible despite ‘ambient’ sounds to ensure the viewer gets the joke. Is there a laughter track? Or is the programme filmed in front of a live audience? Why? Why is laughter put on the sound track? To guide the reactions of the home audience, to provide a community response, laughter is easier when experienced as a group, it also masks the processes of construction such as cuts and edits, preserving the ‘transparency.’


Intertextuality: To make reference to other TV programmes, films, literature etc gives the audience a sense of shared culture. They gain pleasure from identifying the references and in particular if those references are subverted or adapted. Think here of The Simpsons and their fondness for allusions to other programmes or films and in using it to make an entire programme out of. (The Young Ones were asked to represent Scumbag College on University Challenge.)