Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Factual Television
Academic Year
Semester 2
Successful completion of Part 1
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 10 x 3 hours


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Essay 1 (2500 words)  50%
Semester Assessment Essay 2 (2500 words)  50%
Supplementary Assessment Essay 1 (50%); Essay 2 (50%)  Resits of assignments, when necessary, will follow the same structure but be on a different topic/creative structure.  100%

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module, students should be able to:
1. Demonstrate a conceptual understanding and knowledge of the significant texts and event in recent factual broadcasting.
2. Understand the changing nature of factual television discourses.
3. Coherently and critically articulate the relationship between the TV industry, and its factual products.
4. Demonstrate coherent and detailed knowledge of the field of documentary television, some of which is at, or informed by, current research in that area of study.

Brief description

This module offers an industrial history of the development of hybrid factual TV forms, an opportunity for students to familiarize themselves with the construction of such programming, and to place their growing familiarity in the context of recent academic debate as to the cultural impact of such programmes.


1. Introduction
This session will lay out the field, emphasizing the growth in factual programming on television during the 1990s and 2000s. Inter-generic hybridity will also be emphasised, drawing on the work of John Corner, and various competing explanations for such changes - technology, economics, politics - will be outlined.

2. Arts Programming: The Great, The Good and The Obscure
Arts programming has been represented as both the pinnacle of programming quality, and a trough in terms of the indulgence of a small elite of programme makers. Due to this dual identity, it has been fought over fiercely since the Peacock committee in 1986, but has managed to survive despite multiple reports of its death. This lecture will look at its varying forms and its production history.

3. Science and the Decline of 'Serious Programming'
The one main factual television genre to decline seriously since the 1980s, science programming was always contentious in how it made scientific discourse accessible, but was also held to account by strong bonds between broadcasters and academia. Why did science decline on television so drastically? This lecture looks into the forms which brought science to the screen, and asks why they became unpopular.

4. Wildlife Documentaries: Technology and Teleology
A seemingly protected area of broadcasting, under the personal aegis of David Attenborough at the BBC, and boasting a proud tradition at the old ITV franchise Anglia, Wildlife programming as taken on the technological revolution in cameras as much as any other factual form. But what kind of natural history is produced by television? In these days of environmental angst, the lecture looks at the forms and hidden messages of natural history programmes.

5. Leisure Programming: Gardens, Kitchens and Garages
A booming genre during the 1990s, leisure programming has been criticised for everything from devaluing the quality of factual programmes on television to acting as the vanguard of rapacious materialism. But can the audience be wrong? This lecture looks at the broadcasting strategies and forms that made this the most successful factual form of recent decades.

6. The Mockumentary: People Like Us?
As the conventional codes of factual television discourse are dispersed through many genres, the central authority of such codes are eroded, and a new television sub-genre develops, the Mockumentary. From the 'What If' drama-documentaries of the 1960s to 'The Office', this lecture charts the developing use of documentary codes to subvert the very idea of objective factuality.

7. Current Affairs: Accessibility and Democratic Debate
Once the jewel in the crown of British television, and especially independent television, the decline of current affairs programming in the 1990s is often blamed on the commercialisation of the media in the wake of Thatcherism and the Peacock committee. But how democratic were classic series such as 'World in Action', 'This Week' and 'TV Eye', and what were the pressures that brought about their demise?

8. Reality TV
As the predominant new factual form of the last decade, Reality Television has re-written the rules of aesthetic and ethical acceptability in television factual programmes. How did this form develop, how does this new form relate to its documentary forebears, and how has the relationship of audience and factual text been altered?

9. Co-production and The Victory of the History Documentary
Once the bookish preserve of Oxbridge-trained BBC classicists on one hand, and left-wing independent firebrands on the other, history documentary was once deeply unfashionable. Yet by 2004 history documentary had overtaken contemporary documentary in terms of volume, and viewership. How did this occur? What was it about the form which made it successful in the multi-channel environment of the C21's first decade?

10. Elimination Shows: Competition and Choice?
Programmes such as 'The Dragon's Den', 'The A

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number
Communication * Students' written communication skills will be developed (e.g. appropriate language and style, accuracy, precision and ability to be concise). * Opportunities will be given, through interactive lecture-workshop sessions, for students to develop confidence in using their speaking and listening skills when communicating their ideas.
Improving own Learning and Performance * Students will be able to develop their skills of information location and retrieval. * Students will be given opportunities to develop effective note-taking skills. * Students will develop their critical thinking skills. * Through group and whole class discussion students will be given opportunities to develop an awareness of the opinions of others and reconsider initial ideas where necessary.
Information Technology * Students will be given the opportunity to develop their authorial and note-taking skills when planning and preparing for the written assignments and will be encouraged to dedevelop their note-taking skills in lectures. * Students will be given opportunities to develop their skills using electronic search and retrieval of sources both on the web and on the AU LIS. * Students will develop their skills when referencing from the web and related sources and will focus on the selection of materials appropriate to the task. * E-mail and Blackboard will be the main forms of communication and information-sharing in this module, so students will be encouraged to actively engage in these processes.
Personal Development and Career planning * Students will be given the opportunity to evaluate current knowledge and skills and set targets for self-improvement. * Students will be encouraged to take increasing responsibility for managing their own learning. * Students will be encouraged to build upon the knowledge gained from lectures through developing skills in self study (supported by the general and specific reading lists and other resources distributed throughout the module). * Students will gain important industrial knowledge which will be invaluable if they seek a vocational entry into documentary production.
Problem solving * Students should be able to identify tensions and debates in the field and will be encouraged to critically reflect. * Students should gain experience in applying different approaches and materials to understand texts and their contexts.
Research skills * Students will be able to develop their skills of information location and retrieval. * Students will be given opportunities to develop effective note-taking skills. * Students will be encouraged to evaluate, interpret and reflect upon a variety of sources and to make links to accomodate new ideas.
Subject Specific Skills
Team work * Most sessions will involve group work where students will be able to collaborate through discussion.

Reading List

Recommended Text
Barnet and Seymour (1999) 'A Shrinking Iceberg Travelling South...': Changing Trends in British Television: a Case study of Drama and Current Affairs London: CQT Primo search Bazalgette, P (2005) Billion Dollar Game Little Brown Book Group Primo search Born, G (2004) Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke and the Reinvention of the BBC Vintage Primo search Bromley (ed.) (2001) No News is Bad News: Radio, Television and the Press Longman Primo search Brunsdon, C (2003) International Journal of Cultural Studies Lifestyling Britain: The 8-9 Slot on British Television Vol. 6, No. 1, 5-23 Primo search Cannadine, D (2004) History and the Media Palgrave Primo search Corner, J (2002) Television New Media Performing the Real: Documentary Diversions Vol. 3, No. 3, 255-269 Primo search Darlow, M (2004) Independents' Struggle Quartet Primo search Dingwall and Aldridge (2003) European Journal of Communication Teleology on Television?: Implicit Models of Evolution in Broadcast Wildlife and Nature Programmes Vol. 18, No. 4, 435-453 Primo search Dingwall and Aldridge (2006) Public Undersyanding of Science Television wildlife programming as a source of popular scientific information: a case study of evolution Vol. 15, No. 2, 131-152 Primo search Dover and Barnett (2004) The World on the Box: International Issues in News and Factual Programmes on UK Television 1975-2003 London: 3WE Primo search Dovey, J (2000) Freakshow: First Person Media and Factual Television Pluto Press Primo search Gray and Bell (2007) European Journal of Cultural Studies History on Television: Charisma, Narrative and Knowledge Vol. 10, No. 1, 113-133 Primo search Holland, Patricia (2005) The Angry Buzz: This Week and Current Affairs Television I.B. Tauris Primo search Hunt, Tristram (2006) Journal of Social History Reality, Identity and Empathy 39.3, 843-858 Primo search Kilborn, R (2006) Jump Cut A walk on the wild side: the changing face of TV wildlife documentary No. 48, winter 2006 Primo search Paget (1998) No Other Way to Tell It Manchester University Press Primo search Phillips, D (2005) International Journal of Cultural Studies Transformational Scenes: The Television Interior Makeover Vol. 8, No. 2, 213-229 Primo search Roscoe and Hight (2002) Faking It: Mockumentary and the Subversion of Factuality Manchester University Press Primo search Ward, P (2005) Documentary: The Margins of Reality Wallflower Press Primo search Wyver, J (2007) Vision On: Film, Television and the Arts in Britain Wallflower Press Primo search


This module is at CQFW Level 6