How to read television using The Television Handbook

Review of The Television Handbook by Jeremy Orlebar published by AMU Press

Television is the “daily media bread” of the population; however, there is only a handful of works that reflect on this phenomenon, either from the theoretical or the practical perspective. There is practically no comprehensive study that would address the issue of television in its entirety. The uninterrupted flow of the fluid of television broadcasting, numerous channels, a wide range of various programmes and many technological innovations makes it problematic to maintain the requisite distance from the issue, thus also rendering it difficult to comprehend and perceive television as a sociocultural phenomenon. In consequence, except for sporadic attempts, there is still a lack of analyses of the television landscape on the Czech book market.

The Prague‘s AMU Press has therefore decided to compensate for this lack by publishing a Czech translation of The Television Handbook by the British author – producer, lecturer and TV director Jeremy Orlebar. This refreshing work the fourth updated edition of which has been translated by Helena Bendová, is definitely a valuable read, even despite the fact that it focuses primarily on the British television landscape.

The book is impressive especially in terms of its extent, topicality and also its concept. It is divided into six parts, in which Orlebar tries to outline the current television trends as well as theoretical concepts supported by case studies and factual information. Moreover, it also serves as a practical guide to television production as well as basic introduction to key names and terms associated with television industry. The merit of the book also consists in a decent bibliography at the end of each of the twenty-three chapters containing references to numerous foreign studies on television, and a glossary of selected terms at the end of the book.

TV boundaries of documentary film

In the part entitled “Factual Television”, Orlebar provides fans of documentary film, among other things, with an overview of specific elements characteristic for some of the documentary film types. His classification of the variants of the documentary film format also includes a number of original observations, for instance a comment on creative documentaries. Orlebar has noted a recent trend that this type of documentary films is no longer made primarily for television but they are intended for cinema release. Because the current tendencies of television broadcasting move toward the presentation of an increasing number of factual programmes, creative documentaries will eventually appear on television, but in the form of “feature films, thus avoiding any regulations regarding bias and balance” (p. 86). The fact is that in the UK, television legislation strictly requires that standard television news, documentary and news programmes must not be biased but provide multiple perspectives of the problem, thus aiming at apparent “objectivity” and “balance”. By means of this mechanism, creative documents, although distinctly accentuating the author’s perspective of the problem concerned, are included in the television schedule despite British regulations.


On the other hand, the prism of objectivity together with the criterion of realistic representation is now and then randomly violated in the very text of Orlebar’s book, thus leading to questionable conclusions that the author himself fails to decipher satisfactorily. In a chapter entitled “Documentary” he does not hesitate to compare individual types of documentaries with an “objective documentary”. Here, he presumably means “observational documentary”, the objectivity of which he himself questioned several pages earlier (and also in the following chapter “Making Factual Programmes”). Although in the chapter dedicated to documentary films, Orlebar outlines the possible script-writing and drama conceptions and rules applicable to various types of documentaries, the chapter “Reality TV” also includes the section “Boundaries between Authenticity and Performance”. At the same time, it is at least questionable, in view of the above-mentioned facts, whether such boundaries are not only an empty concept and whether these two notions are actually each other’s opposites. Moreover, it is not clear why the section has been included in this particular chapter and not in the chapters focusing on documentary film. And it must be admitted, that the contradictory arguments in the individual parts of the text and the varying balance of information are not an uncommon occurrence in The Television Handbook, which, together with the not so commonly used terminology makes a rather confusing and non-systematic impression.

How to describe television?

The above-mentioned textual problem draws attention to the concept and structure of the publication. The Television Handbook is actually not a linear text, but a cluster of autonomous shorter texts. It rather resembles an encyclopaedia, replacing the alphabetical order with topical arrangement. Orlebar pushes the boundaries of traditional studies by including texts showing various qualities, thus creating a varied, although not always well-arranged, almost hypertext composition. However, the structure of The Television Handbook most of all resembles its own subject – television broadcasting. It assembles texts of a varied nature, length, level of subjectivity, information depth, and representing different perspectives. The essay style is transformed into a medallion of the author, then into a handbook, or a fill-in form for performers. However, it is unbelievable that Orlebar has managed to create such a complex image despite the pitfalls of such a mosaic form.

As a result, The Television Handbook thus provides an integrated view of the contemporary, mainly British, television broadcasting. Using a playful mosaic of texts, Orlebar does not try to solve the problems of television analyses, rather offering a substrate in relation to which the mind of a critical reader raises numerous key questions. There is no doubt that a set of questions need to be raised primarily in cases where there is practically no defined area of interest or literacy background. Orlebar’s multi-faceted view should not be missed by anyone who is interested in the issue of television broadcasting and wishes to obtain in-depth knowledge of the television landscape. At the same time, it will certainly be a useful as a basic and well-arranged publication for those who intend to get acquainted with the topic because The Television Handbook, similarly to television broadcasting, offers something for everyone. Nevertheless, in both these cases it is evident that reading that is sufficiently critical is an integral part that pushes the boundaries of knowledge.





more articles from a section:  New Book

dok.revueTrue Detective: Svět, ve kterém se nic nevyřeší„Žijeme ve světě, v němž máme pouze jedinou jistotu: Time is a flat circle,“ píše sémiotik a teoretik médií Martin Charvát v narážce na známou hlášku detektiva Rusta Cohlea ze seriálu True Detective. Tato televizní show Charvátovi natolik učarovala, že jí věnoval knihu. V následujícím textu přibližuje, jak svou publikaci koncipoval.
dok.revueKam oči, tam hlavaAutorská kniha fotografky Markéty Kinterové Kam oči, tam hlava, vydaná v Nakladatelství AMU, je výsledkem kombinace fotografického, uměleckého a výzkumného přístupu.
dok.revueDočíst se neslyšené: Matematika zločinu jako knihaReportážně investigativní knížka Matematika zločinu navazuje na úspěšný stejnojmenný podcast, který natočily Magdalena Sodomková a Brit Jensen a jenž odhaluje problémy současné české justice. Kniha se kromě dalšího sledování aktérů z případu známého z podcastového seriálu věnuje plagiátorským kauzám soudních znalců, aktuálnímu media capture a problému cenzury českých médií i pátrání po tom, proč dokumentární detektivku dlouho nechtěl odvysílat Český rozhlas. Nyní je již v jeho nabídce na portále mujRozhlas. Kniha vyjde v únoru v nakladatelství Albatros Media, vydání podpořil Syndikát novinářů, její vydání lze však ještě několik dní podpořit v rámci kampaně na Hithitu.
dok.revueŽeny o ženáchLiterární dokumentaristka a nakladatelka Barbora Baronová chystá na podzim k vydání knihu Ženy o ženách zahrnující dvacet osm rozhovorů s dvaceti devíti filmovými a literárními dokumentaristkami působícími v Česku, prostřednictvím kterých zkoumá, jak ženy-dokumentaristky v Česku tvoří. Práce vzniká jako součást její dizertace na Fakultě multimediálních komunikací Univerzity Tomáše Bati ve Zlíně. V následujícím textu popisuje genezi projektu i jeho obsah.
1.18Digital Media and Documentary: Antipodean ApproachesAdrian Miles, Associate Professor at RTMI University in Melbourne introduces his bookAdrian Miles
2.16How and why a book on Slovak auteur documentary films was createdMartin Palúch about his new book focused on auteur documentary films in Slovakia
1.16Controversial View of the Society on Computer GamesHelena Bendová on her new book The Art of Gaming
2.15How My Book on Observational Filmmaking Became Almost a Family SecretHow Helena Třeštíková was writing a book about observational filmmaking methodHelena Třeštíková
1.15How to Capture a Sea of Short FilmsA book review of Atomy věčnosti (Atoms of Eternity) by Lucie Česálková dealing with Czechoslovak short films of the 1930-50’s
1.12Chris MarkerBook by David Čeněk released by Jihlava IDFF and AMU Publishers in the year of the famous filmmaker’s death

1.13DOK.REVUE
04. 03. 2013


from current issue:

New releaseOn Adultery as Mirror of Our Own SelvesBarbora Jíchová Tyson, a visual artist, who has been living in America for seventeen years, has finished her first feature film Talking About Adultery this year. According to the author, the film is an essayistic collage and represents a perspective on humanity, which holds the mirror up to us all.Barbora Jíchová TysonNew releaseFREMWhat is it like to shoot a film in Antarctica? Is it possible to get into the head of artificial intelligence? And what is GAI? All this is described by the documentarist Viera Čákanyová in the text she wrote about her new film FREM in dok.revue.Viera ČákanyováNew releaseHavel Speaking, Can You Hear Me?What were the two last years in the life of former dissident, ex-president Václav Havel like? How did he reflect on the fact that he was gradually leaving this world? Documentarian Petr Jančárek talks about his upcoming documentary film capturing the final stretch of Havel’s, life, the rough cut of which was shown at the Ji.hlava IDFF in the Studio 89 section marking this year’s anniversary of the so-called Velvet Revolution.Petr JančárekThemeEmerging Czech female documentariansIs there a new tide of emerging female documentarians in Czech cinema? What’s fascinating about the work of Czech female filmmakers like Johana Ožvold, Greta Stocklassa or Viera Čákany?Will TizardSportHow to Teach Documentary FilmmakingThis year’s Ji.hlava IDFF offered a panel discussion on how documentary filmmaking is taught in Visegrad countries. Methods used to teach documentary filmmaking in different V4 countries were discussed by lecturers from selected schools. Vít Janeček introduced documentary courses at Prague’s FAMU, Attila Kékesi represented Hungarian University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest, Viera Čákanyová talked about study programmes at Slovak Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava – VSMU, and Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz discussed documentary education at National Film School in Lodz. What emerged from their fruitful discussion? Vít Janeček, Kamila Boháčková, Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, Attila Kékesi, Peter KerekesPoemThe reanimation of Mr. PuiuKhavn De La CruzReviewA Place to Take a BreathThe film journalist Janis Prášil compares two documentary portraits of this year – Forman vs. Forman and Jiří Suchý: Tackling Life with Ease on his blog.Janis PrášilReview Music as a Lag Between Death and InfinityJanis Prášil ruminates on Solo – this year´s winner of Ji.hlava Czech Joy section – which comes to cinemas. Did the picture succeed in depicting the inner world, so hard to portray, of a mentally ill musician? And what if it is the illness itself which enables people to take a look into the grievous core of being?Janis PrášilReviewOn Sounds by ImageThe film journalist Antonín Tesař writes about the new film The Sound Is Innocent directed by Johana Ožvold.Antonín TesařInterviewGreta Stoklassa: I Read Rather than Preach the RealityAn interview with the director Greta StoklassaKamila BoháčkováInterviewTo Surprise MyselfWhile the main competition at the International Karlovy Vary Film Festival does not feature any Czech title, the festival’s documentary section has one Czech film to offer: A documentary road movie by Martin Mareček entitled Over the Hills exploring the relationship between a father and a son, as well as the distance that separates us from others. Unlike his previous socially engaged films, the latest title provides a personal and intimate insight. But as Martin Mareček put it in his interview for dok.revue – what is intimate is universal. Marek Hovorka, Petr Kubica, Kamila BoháčkováInterviewKarel Vachek: Films Just Have to Make You Laugh!One of the most original Czech filmmakers Karel Vachek made his ninth film novel called Communism and the Net or the End of Representative Democracy. Fifty years after Prague Spring and thirty years after the Velvet Revolution, Karel Vachek “with his inner laughter” looks back on the evolution of our society and predicts a transformation to direct democracy based on the possibilities of the internet that will allow for the engagement of the whole mankind without the need of representatives. His film Communism will be screened at the beginning of next year at the International Film festival Rotterdam.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionCzech docs of the year 2019Welcome at the English double issue of dok.revue 2019. This winter issue looks back upon the Czech documentary scene in the year 2019 and serves as an annual book of the most (internationally) interesting Czech documentaries and articles about them at dok.revue.Kamila Boháčkovávideo dok.revueMasterclass: Sergej Dvorcevoj23rd Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

related links:

Nakladatelství AMU
Knihu si můžete zakoupit zde