Most of the time the audience of a television fiction programme will determine its content and the types of issues that are raised in it. Eastenders is seen as family viewing, aired on BBC1 before the 9 o’clock watershed and after the usual ‘dinner’ time. Whereas Father Ted is shown after the 9 o’clock watershed, and shown on the more specialist Channel 4, it is aimed at a more direct audience. It is the media Institution that determines what the television fiction is about and who it is aimed at, but over time the audience has a lot of influence on what the programmes can contain.
Particularly on storylines in Eastenders that may at one time have only hinted at creating sexual connotations, whereas nowadays there is often more explicit content as there are more open discussions on such topics in our society with people of younger ages. The audience that is built will certainly increase over time, as once younger generations grow up and encourage even younger generations to watch. Soap operas have to gain and hold audiences over long periods of time to see new plots develop and old ones finish.
The content of Soap Operas is often the same, and tends to be repeated in cycles, with more dramatic social issues included as they occur in the world and influence society. Soap operas are basically dramatic representations of everyday life, created to be realistic comments on society, Sitcom such as Father Ted deliberately aims to keep the realism of society but play with it to create a humorous overtone. Therefore issues that may raise moral debates in Eastenders would be more socially accepted in Father Ted as they are meant to be as a joke rather than for serious viewing.
In sitcom the audience has less time to feel attached with the story, there is less involvement and because it is easier to watch when you feel like it rather than because it’s on. The audience watching the television fiction all have something in common, the programme obviously captures their individual interest in some way, this may be different for different age groups, but generally Eastenders is popular with all because it make other peoples lives look a lot worse than our own.
In many television programmes there is an influence by the producers that is there to create certain representations and connotations, they use this to build the storylines. Such connotations that are created by a character such as Phil Mitchell. Someone as vengeful and violent as him can still take time to love his child and care about him more than anything else in the world, that is until the next moment when all he can think about is getting his hands on thousands of pounds! Media language creates other reflections of society within television fiction programmes.
For example props and settings are used to make us believe that the Queen Vic is in fact a pub with walls and that it actually exits as a place to go for a drink. Again, the stereotypical domestic settings make the fiction plausible and realistic. Simple things such as the background music that plays, songs that are currently in the charts, programmes that the characters are watching on the TV are those which the audience at home would be familiar with, this is an attempt to make the audience feel as if what they are watching on screen is as up to date as their own lives and they are watching it almost as it is happening.
In any one episode of Eastenders there is never more than a day and night time span, as it has to move with ‘real’ time. The settings have to appear plausible and realistic and the characters have to move and react in the way that a normal person would. The use of camera shot and angle are used to make it seem as if the audience is choosing what they look at. It is always the most important scenes that we see, anything irrelevant happens in the background. Close ups of faces are used to show emotions, as in the fear of Steve Owen when he cant get out of the car.
There are no unnecessary shots, only those that aid the understanding of how a character is feeling or what they are doing. Whereas in sitcom an immediate difference is the fact there is a laughter track. In a sense this directly takes you back from the scene, you feel more as if you are watching than taking part. In soap operas, such as Eastenders, when watching it feels as if you have a more intimate relationship with the characters, like you are there with them, this could be to do with the fact that narratives are ongoing, but this kind of relationship with the fiction shows how we are a society that gets emotionally involved.
Sitcom takes the audience a step back. The media language within a programme such as Father Ted is much more ‘arty’ in a sense. Camera views and angles are used to aid the humour, for example when the milk float drives over the camera. This creates less of a realistic feeling, but creates more of a pace and drive through the programme. In Father Ted there is a montage, so the feeling of ‘real’ time as in Eastenders is taken away, the programme still appears to be realistic but less so as it is more like we are forced to see the funny events.
Also there is a lot of intertextuality in Father Ted. The idea of a comical tone and aiming to make the audience laugh means the realism that could be created is changed, for example with the use of a blurred motion shot to show a dream. Dialogue differs depending on the television fiction; soap operas may include length one to ones about a topic, characters talking about trust and forgiveness for example. Whereas sitcom is often more about getting the audience to laugh with punchy brief statements and one-liners.
Dialogue also reflects the degree that a television fiction programme reflects society, as it is interesting to note how a British sitcom like Father Ted differs to an American one like Friends. One-liners feature heavily in American sitcom whereas in British sitcom there is a lot of set up and pay off, being that a joke or funny situation may be set up at the beginning and resolved at the end, this could be a reflection of the British sense of humour!
I believe it is correct to say that themes and characters in television fiction do reflect the society in which they are produced; obviously this statement is truer of some programmes more than it is of others. With all the television fiction programmes that there are, huge numbers of people watch them and keep on watching them and therefore they must feel something drawing them to watch it. I think that social issues are raised and discussed within television fiction, and also to some extent, new issues are provoked by television fiction.