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July 2019, Week 3


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Cory Barker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 14 Jul 2019 16:46:59 -0500
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SCMS 2020 — Tentpole Television

The dramatic increase of U.S. original scripted TV productions over the
last decade has come to be known as “Peak TV.” As Hollywood
mega-corporations intensify their investment in streaming platforms to
compete with Netflix, new TV offerings will be more ubiquitous — yet more
isolated behind exclusive paywalls — than ever. Enter the industry’s latest
buzz-phrase: tentpole TV.

Borrowed from Hollywood’s abiding blockbuster strategy on the film side,
tentpole TV is expensive, sprawling, and calibrated to generate endless
memeable content as much as it's intended to reach the mythical “four
quadrants” of the audience. In theory, tentpole TV breaks through the
clutter of Peak TV and streaming silos and makes the studio’s significant
investment worthwhile. The label is attached to recent long-running hits
like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, or Stranger Things. Yet, the term
also commonly appears in trade think-pieces about the future of program
development on nascent platforms from Disney, Apple, and WarnerMedia, or in
speculation about how HBO moves forward without Thrones, its largest

For those that follow these industry discourses, tentpole TV emerges as a
contradictory phenomenon. It’s often framed as a modern artifact oriented
toward the streaming environment, but many noted examples come from veteran
media companies. Every corporation is desperate to develop their own
tentpoles, but Game of Thrones is regularly
the “last” one.

This panel seeks to interrogate the different contexts in which the
tentpole TV concept is mobilized. Possible approaches/topics might include,
but are not limited to:


   Formal characteristics of supposed tentpole shows, and any commonalities
   across different programs

   Tentpole TV in the transnational context

   Historical perspectives on prior generations of tentpole TV

   Promotional and publicity campaigns for tentpole shows

   Distribution strategies surrounding tentpole TV on streaming platforms
   and/or traditional networks and channels

   The economics of tentpole TV and transparency related to ratings,
   streams, etc.

   Cross-industry analysis between tentpoles in film and in TV


   Surveys of how tentpole TV discourses intersect with “quality” and
   prestige TV

   Circulation of memes and viral content related to tentpole TV

Please email paper proposals, including a title, 300-word abstract, 3-5
bibliographic sources, and a short bio to Dr. Cory Barker (
[log in to unmask]) by Wednesday, August 14. Potential panelists will be
informed of decisions by Friday, August 16.

Cory Barker
, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Department of Communication
Bradley University

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