is, if seen at all, no more than a by-product of some other experience. Yet I see it as one of the primary processes of the technology itself, and one that may come to have increasing importance. And when, in the past, I have tried to describe and explain this, I have found it significant that the only people who ever agreed with me were painters.


We have looked at some uses of received cultural forms in the new technology of television, and we have looked also at some of the new and mixed forms which have been created within the technology. We ought now to look at the selection and association of these different forms in different kinds of programming. The concept of ‘programme’ needs, as we shall see, analysis. But it is useful, as a first step, to look in some detail at the distribution of varying forms of television within different kinds of service. We cannot properly speak of the uses of tele- vision until we have made these internal comparisons and con- trasts. But it will then be .all the more necessary to go beyond the static concept of ‘distribution’ to the mobile concept of ‘flow’.



The distribution of types of television programme, in five chan- nels – three in Britain, two in the United States – was analysed for a week in March 1973.

The channels are: BBC 1 , London. BBC 2, London. IBA, Anglia, Norwich . KQED (Public Television), San Francisco. Channel 7 (ABC), San Francisco.

The categories used are conventional, as follows:

(a) News and Public Affairs: This category can be subdivided into news bulletins, general news magazines, news magazines for particular ethnic groups, and public affairs discussions . There is some overlap between these, at certain points, in that there are often magazine items within news bulletins, news announcements within magazines, discussion within bulletins and magazines, and so on. The significance of the figures, while occasionally interesting for the minor categories, is mainly in relation to the category as a whole.

(b) Features and Documentaries: These are as defined in 3, B, (iv) (page 73 above). It is a category not always easy to separate from, for example, news magazines and public affairs dis- cussions. The normal criterion used is that an item is classi- fied as ‘feature’ or ‘documentary’ when a substantial part of it is offered as direct presentation of the substance of a problem or an experience or a situation, by contrast with the ‘discussion’ in which a situation or problem may be illus- trated, usually relatively briefly, but in which the main emphasis falls on relatively formal argument about it.

( c) Education: This is defined as items of formal educational


intention, as distinct from ‘educational’ elements in other kinds of programme. It is subdivided into course- programmes for schools, colleges and univers1ues; instructional programmes, not normally related to external courses, mainly on crafts, hobbies, etc.; and adult education of a more general kind – specific teaching of general skills, which is however not related to formal courses and qualifica- tions. There is again some overlap between these categories, and the course programmes, for example, are available to and often watched by the general public. The total figure for edu- cation is thus more significant than the subsidiary figures.

( d) Arts and Music: This is a difficult category to separate, since it depends on received definitions of ‘the arts’ – painting, sculpture, architecture, literature – and ‘music’ in the sense of the established classical concert repertory and opera. It is given as a separate category because it is usually planned in these terms and is then significant as a received inter- pretation and as a proportion.

( e) Children’s Programmes: This is defined as programmes specific- ally made for and offered to children, at certain special times. Children of course watch many other kinds of programme, but this separable category is significant. It is subdivided into programmes composed mainly of cartoons and puppet-shows; other kinds of entertainment pro- gramme, usually ‘live’ stories and plays; and educational programmes. This last subdivision needs explanation. Such programmes – Sesame Street, The Electric Company. Playschool – often use cartoons or puppets, and are often entertaining. But they are separately listed because their formal intention is to help with learning, and much specific teaching of skills is included in them, though often in informal ways.

(f) Drama: This includes all kinds of dramatic work (other than the special categories found in education, children’s programmes and commercials). It is subdivided into ‘plays’


offered singly, even if under some general title such as Play for Today or Armchair Theatre; ‘series’, in which each play is normally self-contained but in which certain regular char- acters recur – principal characterisation, for example, thus building up through several items; and ‘serials’, in which a connected dramatic presentation is offered in several linked episodes.

(g) Movies: This is defined as films originally made for distribu- tion in cinemas and movie theatres. Plays, series or serials which may in whole or in part have been filmed have been included under Drama.

(h) General Entertainment: This is a miscellaneous category, but as such significant; in Britain it is often grouped under a Light Entertainment Department. It is subdivided into ‘musical shows’ – where singers or groups are principally presented, at times with rather different supporting items; ‘variety shows’ – where the main emphasis is on comedy, in a num- ber of cases with supporting musical items; ‘games and quiz- shows’ – where in many different forms there is some kind of overt game-playing or competition (often of the ‘parlour- game’ kind, in its many modern variants, often with mem- bers of the public participating) and question-and-answer shows of the same competitive kind; ‘talk-shows’ – a cat- egory not always easy to separate from ‘discussions’ and ‘magazines’ but conventionally defined as a separate form and presented as entertainment, usually late at night: in matter and manner usually strongly linked to ‘show-business’.

(i) Sport: Televised Sport and sports discussion. (j) Religion: Religious services, discussions and features, pre-

sented at specific times.

(k) Publicity (internal): A channel’s presentation of its own programmes, by trailers, advance announcements, etc.

(1) Commercials: Advertising programmes of all kinds other than internal publicity.



The analysis is presented in table form, in hours and decimal fractions of hours. All timings have been carefully made, but it must be noted that in the absence of any published statistics of detailed programming, and in the absence also of any really adequate facilities for exact timing over several simultaneous channels, the figures are necessarily subject to some marginal errors. This is especially the case in relation to commercials and internal publicity, which break the form of the published sched- ules. In these cases spot-checks were made and then an average figure applied.


The figures as a whole are significant not so much for exact allocations as for purposes of general discussion and comparison.

Table 1: Programme Distribution by Hours

Sample week 3-9 March 1973

A. News and Public Affairs News News mag. (gen.) News mag. (ethnic) Public affairs dis.


5.7 7.1 3.1 8.3


B. Features and Documentaries Features 5.6 Documentaries 1.0


C. Education Schools, colleges, 17.9 etc. Instructional 2.9 Adult education 1.9


D. Arts and Music 1.2

BBC 2 Anglia KQED

3.5 5.0 5.2 5.1 5.1

2.5 4.3 3.0 8.5

7.8 13.1 21.3

6.2 4.5 4.5 5.9 2.0 1.0

12.1 6.5 5.5

16.5 10.7 18.6

1.7 2.2 3.5 2.5

18.2 12.9 24.6

1.7 4.5


11.6 5.3 0.3 1.8




0.9 2.0


Sample week

3-9 March 1973 BBC l BBC 2 Anglia KQED

1.1 4.6

E. Children’s Programmes Cartoons, puppets 4.4 Other entertainment 1.4 Educational 5.7

0.1 0.7 3.3 2.6 25.0

2.5 2.0 o.8

11.5 4.1 8.3 25.0 5.3 F. Drama

Plays 4.4 3.1 3.5 Series 6.3 0.9 8.7 Serials o.8 1.5 8.1

11.5 5.5 20.3

G. Movies 6.7 6.6 12.3

H. General Entertainment Musical shows 2.7 3.0 2.0 Variety shows 1.2 0.5 3.7 Games, quiz shows 1.5 1.0 3.2 Talk shows 2.0 0.9

7.4 4.5 9.8

I. Sport 5. 9 1.1 6.7

J. Religion 1. 1 o. 6

K. Publicity (internal) 1.1 0.7 .1.7

L. Commercials 10.8 Total Hours 99.9 103.0

1.0 16.3 3.7 6.1

4.7 22.4

5-2 23.8

1.1 0.4 15.9 15.0


2.0 6.4


94.2 133.4

Table 1: continued


Comment on Table 1

Of the five stations listed, three are public-service channels (BBC I, BBC 2 and KQED), two are commercial channels (Anglia, Channel 7). There are differences to be observed quite generally, between television programming in Britain and the


United States, but the most striking fact is a certain similarity of distribution within the public-service channels on the one hand and the commercial channels on the other. Since total hours vary so considerably, it is useful to express the distribution, by categories, as proportions of the total material broadcast. This distribution is shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Comparative Percentages in Programme Category Distribution (to nearest half-percentage point)

Sample week 3-9 March 1973

News and Public Affairs

Features and Documentaries


Arts and Music

Children’s Programmes

Drama – plays

Drama – series and serials


General Entertainment






24.5 6.5

23.0 1.0


4.5 7.0 6.5

7.5 6.o 1.0 1.0

BBC 2 Anglia

12.0 13.0 20.0 6.3 29.5 12.5

2.5 6.5 8.o

4.5 3.1 4.0 16.6 11.0 12.0

7.5 9.5 1.5 6.2

o.6 1.0 1.5




6.o 26.0

5.0 27.0





14.0 0.5 2.0

17.0 18.0

24.5 4.5 0.5 1.0

Comment on Table 2

Certain striking particular variations can be seen from this table – in particular in News and Public Affairs, in Education, in Child- ren’s Programmes, in Drama series and serials, and in General Entertainment. Indeed it is possible to distinguish two broad types of programming, which might provisionally be called Pub- lic Service (Type A) and Commercial (Type B). A comparative distribution of these types is shown in Table 3.



Table 3: Comparative Percentages of Types of Programming (to nearest half-percentage point)

Type A: News and Public Affairs, Features and Documentaries, Education, Arts and Music, Children’s Programmes, Plays.

Type B: Drama Series and Serials, Movies, General Entertainment.

Sample week 3-9 March 1973 BBC l BBC 2 Anglia KQED Ch. 7

Type A 71 75 42.9 86 20.5 Type B 21 22.5 38.1 10.5 59.5

Comment on Table 3

If comparisons are made only between the British channels or between the American channels, the distinction between Public Service Television (Type A) and Commercial Television (Type B) is especially clear. Yet when all five channels are compared, it is clear that the situation in American television is more sharply polarised. The American commercial channel (Channel 7) is a more complete representation of the predominantly commercial distribution than its British counterpart (Anglia) which shows some of the same tendencies but is midway between the British public-service type (BBC 1 and 2) and the American commercial type. Correspondingly, the American public-service channel (KQED) is more markedly of a public-service type, and in that sense less of a general broadcasting service, than its British public-service counterparts.

Genera\ comment on “Tables 1 1 2 and 3

‘Tables of distribution by categories can show us some signifi.cant features of the uses of television in different kinds of broad- casting institutions.Mme.over, some of these features aresignin.ca.nt


indicators of quality. But some are not, and we must try to make this clear, as a way of seeing beyond simple equations of quality and type.

Thus a category such as drama serials can vary from · classic serials’ and ‘masterpiece theatre’ to what is still, in very much the original terms, ‘soap opera’. Movies, obviously, can vary enormously, from routine productions to significant works in the film repertory. It is true to say that distribution, in these respects, often follows the general tendency of the program- ming, but in the case of movies, especially, this is by no means universally so. A film on KQED is likely to be of the ‘repertory’ type, and serials on KQED and BBC 2 of the ‘classic’ type, while serials on Anglia and Channel 7 are quite often ‘soap-opera’. But there is no such distinction between the selection of movies on, for example, BBC 1 and Anglia and Channel 7. The same general point holds for games and quizzes. In general those on BBC 1 and BBC 2 off er themselves as of a ‘cultural’ type, while those on Channel 7 are wholly commercial in conception and presen- tation, and those on Anglia vary between the two kinds. There is some real variation of quality here: University Challenge and Top of the Form are in real respects different from The Golden Shot and Double Your Money. But the difference does not necessarily hold for games like Call my Bluff, where the surface material – the meanings of rare words – is ‘cultural’ but the essential presentation is a matter of straight show-business.

What can be discerned, indeed, is not only a general distinc- tion between ‘cultural’ and ‘commercial’ programmes – of the kind roughly indicated by Type A and Type B programming – but also an equally significant cultural ‘set’ in each type of programming. Thus Type A is based not only on assumptions about education and the learning process – though these are evident – but also on characteristic definitions of public and general interest which often, on analysis, show themselves as essentially abstract and at times merely passive. In Type B there are


evident assumptions of entertainment and distraction, but these involve definitions of interest which are sometimes more closely centred on individually presented persons and on a kind of par- ticipation (these elements are particularly evident in some of the serials and in some of the relationship games) . It is then only on the assumption of a particular cultural ‘set’ – itself related to the character of education and daily life, and containing within it quite evident class characteristics – that one can assume that, for example, a documentary on international aviation is more serious than a serial or a game involving the presentation of a relation- ship between husbands and wives or parents and children . The mode of attention in each case has a specific character, and if the latter is trivialised or vitiated by a manner of presentation, so may the former be abstracted and in its own way trivialised by its more conventionally ‘serious’ abstract examination. That is why. though the distribution shown and the broad distinction between types are necessary elements of analysis, they are only one kind of analysis of real content, either generally or in terms of the particular television experience. It is then to another mode of analysis that we must now turn.


Analysis of a distribution of interest or categories in a broadcast- ing programme, while in its own terms significant, is necessarily abstract and static. In all developed broadcasting systems the characteristic organisation, and therefore the characteristic experience, is one of sequence or flow. This phenomenon, of planned flow, is then perhaps the defining characteristic of broadcasting, simultaneously as a technology and as a cultural form.

In all communications systems before broadcasting the essen- tial items were discrete. A book or a pamphlet was taken and read as a specific item . A meeting occurred at a particular date


and place. A play was performed in a particular theatre at a set hour. The difference in broadcasting is not only that these events, or events resembling them, are available inside the home, by the operation of a switch. It is that the real programme that is offered is a sequence or set of alternative sequences of these and other similar events, which are then available in a single dimension and in a single operation .

Yet we have become so used to this that in a way we do not see it. Most of our habitual vocabulary of response and description has been shaped by the experience of discrete events. We have developed ways of responding to a particular book or a particu- lar play, drawing on our experience of other books and plays. When we go out to a meeting or a concert or a game we take other experience with us and we return to other experience, but the specific event is ordinarily an occasion, setting up its own internal conditions and responses. Our most general modes of comprehension and judgement are then closely linked to these kinds of specific and isolated, temporary, forms of attention .

Some earlier kinds of communication contained, it is true, internal variation and at times miscellaneity . Dramatic perform- ances included musical interludes, or the main play was pre- ceded by a curtain-raiser. In print there are such characteristic forms as the almanac and the chapbook, which include items relating to very different kinds of interest and involving quite different kinds of response. The magazine, invented as a specific form in the early eighteenth century, was designed as a miscel- lany, mainly for a new and expanding and culturally inexperi- enced middle -class audience . The modern newspaper, from the eighteenth century but very much more markedly from the nineteenth century, became a miscellany, not only of news items that were often essentially unrelated, but of features, anecdotes, drawings, photographs and advertisements. From the late nine- teenth century this came to be reflected in formal layout, culminating in the characteristic jigsaw effect of the modern


newspaper page. Meanwhile, sporting events, especially football matches, as they became increasingly important public occa- sions, included entertainment such as music or marching in tl1eir intervals.

This general trend, towards an increasing variability and mis- cellaneity of public communications, is evidently part of a whole social experience. It has profound connections with the growth and development of greater physical and social mobility, in con- ditions both of cultural expansion and of consumer rather than community cultural organisation. Yet until the coming of broad- casting the normal expectation was still of a discrete event or of a succession of discrete events. People took a book or a pamphlet or a newspaper, went out to a play or a concert or a meeting or a match, with a single predominant expectation and attitude. The social relationships set up in these various cultural events were specific and in some degree temporary.

Broadcasting, in its earliest stages, inherited this tradition and worked mainly within it. Broadcasters discovered the kinds of thing they could do or, as some of them would still normally say, transmit. The musical concert could be broadcast or arranged for broadcasting. The public address – the lecture or the sermon, the speech at a meeting – could be broadcast as a talk. The sports match could be described and shown. The play could be performed, in this new theatre of the air. Then as the service extended, these items, still considered as discrete units, were assembled into programmes. The word ‘programme’ is charac- teristic, with its traditional bases in theatre and music-hall. With increasing organisation, as the service extended, this ‘pro- gramme’ became a series of timed units. Each unit could be thought of discretely, and the work of programming was a serial assembly of these units. Problems of mix and proportion became predominant in broadcasting policy. Characteristically, as most clearly in the development of British sound broadcasting, there was a steady evolution from a general service, with its internal



criteria of mix and proportion and what was called ‘balance’, to contrasting types of service, alternative programmes. ‘Home’, ‘Light’ and ‘Third’, in British radio, were the eventual names for what were privately described and indeed generally understood as ‘general’, ‘popular’ and ‘educated’ broadcasting. Problems of mix and proportion, formerly considered within a single ser- vice, were then basically transferred to a range of alternative programmes, corresponding to assumed social and educational levels. This tendency was taken further in later forms of reorgan- isation, as in the present specialised British radio services One to Four. In an American radio programme listing, which is before me as I write, there is a further specialisation: the predominantly musical programmes are briefly characterised, by wavelength, as ‘rock’, ‘country’, ‘classical’, ‘nostalgic’ and so on. 1 In one sense this can be traced as a development of programming: extensions of the service have brought further degrees of rationalisation and specialisation.

But the development can also be seen, and in my view needs to be seen, in quite other ways. There has been a significant shift from the concept of sequence as programming to the concept of sequence as flow. Yet this is difficult to see because the older concept of programming – the temporal sequence within which mix and proportion and balance operate – is still active and still to some extent real.

What is it then that has been decisively altered? A broadcast- ing programme, on sound or television, is still formally a series of timed units. What is published as information about the broadcasting services is still of this kind: we can look up the time of a particular ‘show’ or ‘programme’; we can turn on for that item; we can select and respond to it discretely.

Yet for all the familiarity of this model, the normal experience of broadcasting, when we really consider it, is different. And indeed this is recognised in the ways we speak of ‘watching television’, ‘listening to the radio’, picking on the general rather


than the specific experience. This has been true of all broadcast- in~, but s~me significant internal developments have greatly remforced it. These developments can be indicated in one simple way. In earlier phases of the broadcasting service, both in sound and television, there were intervals between programme units: true intervals, usually marked by some conventional sound or picture to show that the general service was still active. There was the sound of bells or the sight of waves breaking, and these marked the intervals between discrete programme units. There is still a residual example of this type in the turning globe which functions as an interval signal in BBC television.

But in most television services, as they are currently operated, the concept of the interval – though still, for certain purposes, retained as a concept – has been fundamentally revalued. This change came about in two ways, which are still unevenly repre- sented in different services. The decisive innovation was in ser- vices financed by commercial advertising. The intervals between programme units were obvious places for the advertising to be included. In British commercial television there was a specific and formal undertaking that ‘programmes’ should not be inter- rupted by advertising; this could take place only in ‘natural breaks’: between the movements of a symphony, or between the acts in Hamlet, as the Government spokesman said in the House of Lords! In practice, of course, this was never complied with, nor was it ever intended that it should be. A ‘natural break’ became any moment of convenient insertion. News programmes, plays, even films that had been shown in cinemas as specific whole performances, began to be interrupted for commercials. On American television this development was different; the spon- sored programmes incorporated the advertising from the outset, from the initial conception, as part of the whole package. But it is now obvious, in both British and American commercial television, that the notion of ‘interruption’, while it has still some residual force from an older model, has become


inadequate. What is being offered is not, in older terms, a pro- gramme of discrete units with particular insertions, but a planned flow, in which the true series is not the published sequence of programme items but this sequence transformed by the inclusion of another kind of sequence, so that these sequences together compose the real flow, the real ‘broadcast- ing’. Increasingly, in both commercial and public-service tele- vision, a further sequence was added: trailers of programmes to be shown at some later time or on some later day, or more itemised programme news. This was intensified in conditions of competition, when it became important to broadcasting plan- ners to retain viewers – or as they put it, to ‘capture’ them – for a whole evening’s sequence. And with the eventual unification of these two or three sequences, a new kind of communication phenomenon has to be recognised.

Of course many people who watch television still register some of these items as ‘interruptions’. I remember first noticing the problem while watching films on British commercial tele- vision. For even in an institution as wholeheartedly commercial in production and distribution as the cinema, it had been pos- sible, and indeed remains normal, to watch a film as a whole, in an undisturbed sequence. All films were originally made and distributed in this way, though the inclusion of supporting ‘B’ films and short features in a package, with appropriate intervals for advertising and for the planned selling of refreshments, began to develop the cinema towards the new kind of planned flow. Watching the same films on commercial television made the new situation quite evident. We are normally given some twenty or twenty-five minutes of the film, to get us interested in it· then four minutes of commercials, then about fifteen more ~inutes of the film; some commercials again; and so on to stead- ily decreasing lengths of the film, with commercials between them, or them between the commercials, since by this time it is assumed that we are interested and will watch the film to the



end. Yet even this had not prepared me for the characteristic American sequence . One night in Miami, still dazed from a week on an Atlantic liner, I began watching a film and at first had some difficulty in adjusting to a much greater frequency of com- mercial ‘breaks’. Yet this was a minor problem compared to what eventually happened. Two other films, which were due to be shown on the same channel on other nights, began to be inserted as trailers. A crime in San Francisco (the subject of the original film) began to operate in an extraordinary counterpoint not only with the deodorant and cereal commercials but with a romance in Paris and the eruption of a prehistoric monster who laid waste New York. Moreover, this was sequence in a new sense. Even in commercial British television there is a visual signal – the residual sign of an interval – before and after the commercial sequences, and ‘programme’ trailers only occur between ‘programmes’. Here there was something quite differ- ent, since the transitions from film to commercial and from film A to films B and C were in effect unmarked. There is in any case enough similarity between certain kinds of films, and between several kinds of film and the ‘situation’ commercials which often consciously imitate them, to make a sequence of this kind a very difficult experience to interpret. I can still not be sure what I took from that whole flow. I believe I registered some incidents as happening in the wrong film, and some characters in the commercials as involved in the film episodes, in what came to ~eem – ~or all the occasional bizarre disparities – a single rrresponsible flow of images and feelings .

Of course the films were not made to be ‘interrupted’ in this way. But this flow is planned: not only in itself, but at an early stage in all original television production for commercial sys- tems. Indeed most commercial television ‘programmes’ are made, from the planning stage, with this real sequence in mind. In quite short plays there is a rationalised division into ‘acts’. In features there is a similar rationalised division into ‘parts’. But


the effect goes deeper. There is a characteristic kind of opening sequence, meant to excite interest, which is in effect a kind of trailer for itself. In American television, after two or three min- utes, this is succeeded by commercials. The technique has an early precedent in the dumbshows which preceded plays or scenes in early Elizabethan theatre. But there what followed the dumbshow was the play or the scene. Here what follows is apparently quite unconnected material. It is then not surprising that so many of these opening moments are violent or bizarre: the interest aroused must be strong enough to initiate the expectation of (interrupted but sustainable) sequence. Thus a quality of the external sequence becomes a mode of definition of an internal method.

At whatever stage of development this process has reached – and it is still highly variable between different broadcasting systems – it can still be residually seen as ‘int~ruptio_n’ of a ‘programme’. Indeed it is often important to see It as this, both for one’s own true sense of place and event, and as a matter of reasonable concern in broadcasting policy. Yet it may be even more important to see the true process as flow: the replacement of a programme series of timed sequential units by a flow seri~s of differently related units in which the timing, though real, IS undeclared, and in which the real internal organisation is something other than the declared organisation.

For the ‘interruptions’ are in one way only the most visible characteristic of a process which at some levels has come to de.fine the television experience . Even when, as on the BBC, there are no interruptions of specific ‘programme units’, there is a quality of flow which our received vocabulary of ~scre~e response and description cannot easily acknowledge . It IS evi- dent that what is now called ‘an evening’s viewing’ is in some ways planned, by providers and then by viewers, as a ~hole;_ that ~t is in any event planned in discernible sequences which m t~s sense override particular programme units. Whenever there IS



competition between television channels, this becomes a matter of conscious concern: to get viewers in at the beginning of a flow. Thus in Britain there is intense competition between BBC and IBA in the early evening programmes, in the belief – which some statistics support – that viewers will stay with whatever channel they begin watching. There are of course many cases in which this does not happen: people can consciously select another channel or another programme, or switch off altogether. But the flow effect is sufficiently widespread to be a major elem- ent in programming policy. And this is the immediate reason for the increasing frequency of programming trailers: to sustain that evening’s fl.ow. In conditions of more intense competition, as between the American channels, there is even more frequent trailing, and the process is specifically referred to as ‘moving along’, to sustain what is thought of as a kind of brand-loyalty to the channel being watched. Some part of the fl.ow offered is then directly traceable to conditions of controlled competition, just as some of its specific original elements are traceable to the financing of television by commercial advertising.

Yet this is clearly not the whole explanation. The flow offered can also, and perhaps more fundamentally, be related to the television experience itself. Two common observations bear on this. As has already been noted, most of us say, in describing the experience, that we have been ‘watching television’, rather than that we have watched ‘the news’ or ‘a play’ or ‘the football’ ‘on television’. Certainly we sometimes say both, but the fact that we say the former at all is already significant. Then again it is a widely if often ruefully admitted experience that many of us find television very difficult to switch off; that again and again, even when we have switched on for a particular ‘programme’, we find ourselves watching the one after it and the one after that. The way in which the fl.ow is now organised, without definite intervals, in any case encourages this. We can be ‘into’ some- thing else before we have summoned the energy to get out of the


chair, and many programmes are made with this situation in mind: the grabbing of attention in the early moments; the reiter- ated promise of exciting things to come, if we stay.

But the impulse to go on watching seems more widespread than this kind of organisation would alone explain. It is signifi- cant that there has been steady pressure, not only from the television providers but from many viewers, for an extension of viewing hours. In Britain, until recently, television was basically an evening experience, with some brief offerings in the middle of the day, and with morning and afternoon hours, except at weekends, used for schools and similar broadcasting. There is now a rapid development of morning and afternoon ‘pro – grammes’ of a general kind. 2 In the United States it is already possible to begin watching at six o’clock in the morning, see one’s first movie at eight-thirty, and so on in a continuous flow, with the screen never blank, until the late movie begins at one o’clock the following morning. It is scarcely possible that many people watch a flow of that length, over more than twenty hours of the day. But the flow is always accessible, in several alternative sequences, at the flick of a switch. Thus, both internally. in its immediate organisation, and as a generally available experience, this characteristic of fl.ow seems central.

Yet it is a characteristic for which hardly any of our received modes of observation and description prepare us. The reviewing of television programmes is of course of uneven quality, but in most even of the best reviews there is a conventional persistence from earlier models. Reviewers pick out this play or that feature, tl1is discussion programme or that documentary. I reviewed tele- vision once a month over four years, and I know how much more settling, more straightforward, it is to do that. For most of the items there are some received procedures, and the method, the vocabulary, for a specific kind of description and response exists or can be adapted. Yet while that kind of reviewing can be useful, it is always at some distance from what seems to me the


central television experience: the fact of flow. It is not only that many particular items – given our ordinary organisation of response, memory and persistence of attitude and mood – are affected by those preceding and those following them, unless we watch in an artificially timed way which seems to be quite rare (though it exists in the special viewings put on for regular Reviewers). It is also that though useful things may be said about all the separable items (though often with conscious exclusion of the commercials which ‘interrupt’ at least half of them) hardly anything is ever said about the characteristic experience of the flow sequence itself It is indeed very difficult to say any- thing about this. It would be like trying to describe having read two plays, three newspapers, three or four magazines, on the same day that one has been to a variety show and a lecture and a football match. And yet in another way it is not like that at all, for though the items may be various the television experience has in some important ways unified them. To break this experience back into units, and to write about the units for which there are readily available procedures, is understandable but often mis- leading, even when we defend it by the gesture that we are discriminating and experienced viewers and don’t just sit there hour after hour goggling at the box.

For the fact is that many of us do sit there, and much of the critical significance of television must be related to this fact. I know that whenever I tried, in reviewing, to describe the experi- ence of flow, on a particular evening or more generally, what I could say was unfinished and tentative, yet I learned from cor- respondence that I was engaging with an experience which many viewers were aware of and were trying to understand. There can be ‘classical’ kinds of response, at many different levels, to some though not all of the discrete units. But we are only just beginning to recognise, let alone solve, the problems of description and response to the facts of flow.



We can look at some examples of flow in television, in three different orders of detail. First, there is the flow (which is at this stage still, from one point of view, only sequence) within a particular evening’s programmes. For this we can use the general notation which has become conventional as ‘programming’ or ‘listing’. Second, there is the more evident flow of the actual succession of items within and between the published sequence of units. Here notation is already more difficult, for we have to move beyond the abstract titles and categories of listing, and yet we are still not at the stage of the detailed sequence of words and images. Flow of this second kind, however, is centrally important in our experience of television, since it shows, over a sufficient range, the process of relative unification, into a flow, of other- wise diverse or at best loosely related items. Third, there is the really detailed flow within this general movement: the actual succession of words and images. Here notation of a kind is avail- able, but it is still subject to the limitation that it notes as discrete (if then related) items not only the planned combination and fusion of words and images, but the process of movement and interaction through sequence and flow. Some of these limita- tions are, in print, absolute. But my examples are presented, with some commentary, as experiments towards some new methods of analysis.

(i) Long-range analysis of sequence and flow

(a) BBC 1, 14 JUNE 1973 5. 15 Children’s programme: Robinson Crusoe 5.40 Children’s puppet-show: Hector’s House 5.45 National News 6.00 News magazine: Nationwide 6.45 American western serial: The Virginian

  • Flow
    • Comment on Table 1
    • Comment on Table 3
    • General comment on “Tables 11 2 and 3

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