'What is this Show About?' The Renaissance of Theme in contemporary Television Drama.

Authors: Mathews, P.

Conference: The Film and History Conference

Dates: 27-31 October 2014


The exploration of themes is nothing new in drama however there has arguably been a sizable shift in the focus of television dramas in the last ten to fifteen years with various elements conspiring or aligning to facilitate this change with the resurgence and development of theme being a pivotal element as Maras suggests Screenwriting seems to be on the brink of a significant transformation. (Maras, 2009, 186) The idea of theme as a framing device for television narratives is evident in the original series of Star Trek (1966) with the mantra ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before.’ Later rephrased in less androcentric terms as ‘To boldly go where no one has gone before’, however more and more series in the last fifteen years have utilised a thematic focus or concern as the framing device for the narrative and in particular the characters who function within it. Sex and the City (1998 – 2005) explored sexual expression and politics as a theme, Ronald D Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2004 – 2009) explored themes of existentialism and teleological debates, and more recently Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013) explored themes of personal morality.

This paper explores what is it that makes theme such a compelling screenwriting device or focus for television and whilst not a new concern, arguably we are experiencing a resurgence of this device in driving stories and engaging audiences.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Phil Mathews

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