Digital Television



Television programming options and ownership structures have changed significantly from the network era following the introduction of cable and Internet distribution. Yet series development — the selection, financing, production and marketing of new programs — has been slower to adapt to new technologies and viewing practices.

This course offers an overview of traditional and new practices in the development of television programs. Students will be exposed to changes in how corporate broadcast and cable networks select and finance scripted and unscripted series as well as how independent and corporate digital networks are reshaping the production and marketing of television in the 21st century.


This course introduces students to how to develop video storytelling projects by teaching them how series are developed within and outside of corporate development. Students will learn:

  • How traditional networks select, produce and finance new series
  • How creatives develop series independent of corporate institutions
  • How indie video projects mobilize producers, fans and sponsors.




WEEK 1/January 10: Introduction: The Uses of Video

How can video storytelling serve your project?


WEEK 2/January 17: History of Television Industry: Broadcast –> Multichannel –> Networked Eras

Topics: studio-network relationship; channels and niche marketing; storytelling possibilities



Aymar Jean Christian, “Introduction: Independents Change the Channel,” Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood (forthcoming)

Amanda Lotz, “Understanding Television at the Beginning of the Post-Network Era,” and “Making Television: Changes in the Practices of Creating Television,” The television will be revolutionized, pp. 81-118, 2007 (online via NUCat)

Herman Gray, “The Transformation of the Television Industry and the Social Production of Blackness,” Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for Blackness, pp. 57-69, 2004


Assignment: Pick a possible topic of inquiry for your final project and describe how producers relate to distributors and how distributors relate to their consumers/audiences and sponsors/financiers.


WEEK 3/January 24: The Pilot Process in Legacy Television

Topics: series selection, producer-network relationships, race/gender/sexuality in development



William T. Bielby and Denise D. Bielby, “‘All Hits Are Flukes,’ Institutionalized Decision Making and the Rhetoric of Network Prime-Time Program Development,” American Journal of Sociology

Todd Gitlin, “The Problem of Knowing,” “Predicting the Unpredictable,” “By the Numbers,” “Making Schedules,” Inside Prime Time

Josef Adalian & Maria Elena Fernandez, “The Business of Too Much TV,” New York,


Screenings: Nikki & Nora (YouTube; rejected UPN pilot)


Suggested readings:

Darnell Hunt, “2014 Hollywood Diversity Report: Making Sense of the Disconnect,” Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, February 2014


WEEK 4/January 31: Financing in Legacy Television

Topics: rating audiences, setting costs and prices, marketing programs



Aymar Jean Christian, “Scaling Open TV: The Challenge of Big Data Television,” Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood

Amanda Lotz, “How to spend $9.3 billion in three days: examining the upfront buying process in the production of US television culture,” Media Culture Society 29, 549-567, 2007

Ted Magder, “Television 2.0: the Business of American Television in Transition,” Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture, 141-164, 2009



WEEK 5/February 7: Introduction to Indie TV

Topics: innovation, development, community-based art and representation



Aymar Jean Christian, “Developing Open TV: Innovation for the Open Network: 1995-2005,” Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood

Aymar Jean Christian, “Open TV Representation: Reforming Cultural Politics,” Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood



WEEK 6/ February 14: Indie Production Strategies

Topics: collaboration, storytelling, creative ownership, creative freedom



Aymar Jean Christian, “Open TV Production: Revaluing Creative Labor,” Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood

William Boddy, “Alternative Television in the United States,” Screen 31(1), 1990, 91-101

Deidre Boyle, “Underground Video” and “The World’s Largest TV Studio,” Subject to Change: Guerrilla Television Revisited, 3-13, 36-47



Broad City, (1:15-19, 2010) (YouTube)

Brown Girls, (

F to 7th (

Miranda Sings (

Unboxing (Seriously.TV)

Transparent (2:9, 2015)

The Try Guys (Buzzfeed)


Suggested Readings:

Aymar Jean Christian, “How Does a Web Series Jump to TV?” Indiewire,



WEEK 7/ February 21: Indie Curation


Topics: organizations/networks, marketing, publicity, social media, in-person

Romi Crawford, “’Do For Yourself’: The AACM and the Chicago Style,” Support Networks, Chicago Social Practice History Series, 109-115, 37-46

Jennifer Fuller, “Branding blackness on cable,” Media, Culture and Society 32(2): pp. 285-305, 2010

Henry Jenkins, “Introduction: Why Media Spreads,” Spreadable Media: creating value and meaning in a networked culture, pp. 1-46, 2013



Black & Sexy TV,


Open TV,


New Form Digital,


Suggested Screenings and Readings:

Aymar Jean Christian, “Development Report 1 and 2,”

Aymar Jean Christian, “Introducing Open TV Re-Presents,”

Numa Perrier, “Pioneering Underground TV,” Televisual, April 23, 2013,

The Verge, Small Empires on Vimeo:



WEEK 8/February 28: Indie Financing Strategies

Topics: Crowdfunding, subscription, advertising (local, corporate)


Aymar Jean Christian, “Open TV Distribution: Struggling for an Independent Market,” Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood

Devorah Heitner, “Reverberations of the King Assassination,” Black Power TV, 1-23

Bryce Dwyer, “Alternative Arts Funding in Chicago,” Support Networks, Chicago Social Practice History Series, 109-115


Suggested Readings:

3Arts (Sponsored Crowdfunding) Guidelines, 2016-17

Aymar Jean Christian, “How To Raise Money on Kickstarter: A Case Study,” Televisual,