Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 10 x 3 hours
Seminars / Tutorials None
Practical None


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%)  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Demonstrate a critical knowledge of the significant texts and events in recent factual broadcasting.

2. Coherently articulate the relationship between the TV industry, and its factual products.

3. Have developed a critical understanding of the changing nature of factual TV discourses.

4. Be familiar with current academic debates surrounding factual television.


This new module will be offered as part of a suite of Year 3, 20-credit critical practice options in the Department's revised Part 2 provision. It may be taken by students registered for any of the Film and Media Curriculum Group schemes (depending on the specification of their degree scheme pathway) and is a feature of the documentary provision.

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 accesible, 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 pressure 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 Apprentice' and 'Property Ladder', 'America's Next Top Model' and 'Project Catwalk' have reinvented the content of 'discourses of sobriety' as vehicles for entertainment. In addition, such shows have promoted the idealogy of the market as arbiter in the realm of cultural production, an idea which was, during the early 1990, anathema to large section of TV output. Why have such programmes come to dominate the schedules, and what is their effect on television discourse?

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.

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.


This module is at CQFW Level 6