Furthermore there is disagreement about whether the task of the theorist is to identify genres so that programmes can be evaluated, or whether the task is to describe how actual audiences make use of genre in their understanding of programmes. From an evaluative point of view, “both television theorists and television fans might regard some programmes as transgressing the rules of genre and therefore evaluate these programmes as inferior” (Rose, p 103). For example, fans of Battlestar Galactica regard some episodes as the ‘real’ Battlestar Galactica and others as spoiled with irrelevant aspects such as soap opera or romance.
By contrast, one might argue that programmes which contravene the boundaries of a genre are more important because the conventional rules of television genre are potentially engaging the audience’s attention and therefore have a significant dimension. This dispute can be derived from the historical perception that genre applies most easily to mass-market popular culture texts, so the programmes that are within the boundaries of a genre can be seen as mechanically designed in some form. However, texts often participate in several genres at the same time as well as the fact that all texts contribute to genre to some extent.
Genre can be about working against the genre conventions as well as with them, it is not only a way of attaching programmes down to one specific genre, but by exploring other notions and mixing the genres is what makes the programmes more enjoyable to watch and more interesting. “The title sequences of programmes are sequences of signs which signify the boundaries between one part of the flow of television and those parts of the flow which precede and follow them” (Holland Patricia, Television handbook, 1997 p78)
In this respect, title sequences offer cues to viewers which enable them to identify the genre of a programme. The viewer will identify a programme in relation to its genre with the many different kinds of signs that a title sequence might contain. For example, showing the institutions such as parliament that are the creators of newsworthy events, the title sequence of news programmes often contain dramatic orchestral music and images representing the coverage of news events. But it is unusual for the components of programmes to go completely to a single genre.
In news, for example, there are interviews between presenters and experts or officials that are coded in the same ways as interviews in sports programmes, say in comparison of BBC news and Match of the day live . The address to camera found in news programmes can also be seen in sports programmes, or quiz programmes. BBC news contains sequences of actuality footage accompanied by a voice-over, but similar sequences can be found in documentary, current affairs programmes, wildlife programmes and other factual genres.
Although the content of news programmes is necessarily different in each programme because, by definition, the events in the news are new, the format of news programmes exhibits a strong degree of continuity. The separation of news programmes into separate items, the importance of the news presenter and reporters as a team which appears regularly in programmes, and the consistent use of settings such as the news studios, logos and graphics make today’s news programme look very similar to yesterday’s and tomorrow’s news.
Television police series personalise law and order in the personas of detectives and policemen, as do other genre programmes such as hospital drama. One of the difficulties in the study of genre in television is identifying which features of programmes are unique to a particular genre, to the extent that these features could form a list enabling the critic to establish the boundaries of a genre. In the BBC police drama series The Cops (1998) there is a consistent group of main characters who seem at first to be relatively conventional.
Indeed, the programme’s title is likely to trigger viewers’ generic knowledge of other television police series and set up a pattern of expectations. In the opening episode Mel, a young policewoman working with predominantly male colleagues, was introduced. Viewers also saw a young Asian policeman and a middle-aged veteran constable unhappy with the changes to policing, which he regarded with scepticism. These are familiar characters, and it is easy to see how storylines familiar in the police genre can develop around them.
There could be tensions between Mel and her male colleagues, explorations of racism within the police institution itself and in the community which the Asian police officer deals with and conflicts between the middle-aged veteran, his younger colleagues and his superiors responsible for carrying out modern police policies. The members of the public with whom the police characters came most into conflict with were the inhabitants of a local housing estate and further storylines involving tensions between the police and the community offered conventional stories in the police genre.
Problems of poverty, drugs, street crime and burglary, conflict between older and younger generations in the community and the difficult task of sustaining relationships between the police and people they grew up with while also enforcing law and order from the basis of the action in the episodes. But The Cops not only signalled conventional expectations of the police genre for the audience but also sought to manipulate these. The Cops was exciting television because of its negotiation with genre and the audience expectations which it mobilises.