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Social Issues in Primetime Television: Production Processes and Audience Responses

  • Start date: 01 January 2009
  • End date: 31 December 2010

Primetime television programming does not function as mere entertainment for viewers, but a site in which contemporary social issues are considered and negotiated. This project is designed to investigate the premise that entertainment programming offers the opportunity to broaden the frameworks through which audiences understand the social world. With a consideration of case studies across a range of television genres and a range of subjects, it will examine the production processes involved in representing social issues and identify audience responses to such representations. Programming that offers discourses that challenge traditional and typical framings of controversial subjects will be of particular interest. Semi-structured interviews with media producers and audience focus groups will be utilised to generate richly detailed, qualitative data.

As citizens increasingly turn to entertainment television over news and print media, the representation of social issues in primetime programming, the motivations and actions of producers and the responses of audiences require deeper critical exploration. How do media producers navigate the process of representing real-life social issues? How might unconventional discourses encourage audiences to think differently about subjects? What do these trends tell us about the possibilities and limitations of entertainment television as a representational tool? This project aims to address these questions and to deliver findings to both the academic and media producer communities.