School isn't out for summer, despite what Alice Cooper might tell you. Mastering television is a year-round endeavor, and to make sure your minds stay sharp during what is mostly a lull, I've put together an academic summer curriculum for you. Please write a 20-page paper on each topic, and because I'll be busy drinking beer on the beach, go ahead and grade them yourself.
American Imperialism and Television
Courses: Wilfred 101 (FX, June 23), Free Agents 101 (NBC, this fall), Prime Suspect 101 (NBC, this fall). But you can also earn credits for The Office 301 and other classes.
Assignment: Watch the original version of an upcoming adaptation for American TV. Recommended: Australia's Wilfred and the U.K.'s Prime Suspect.
What You'll Learn: American television execs often think they can buy the rights to a beloved international show and tweak it for the better, but 10 times out of 10 those American television execs are morons and nine times out of 10 the result is a spectacular disaster. For this assignment, students will keep track of what's been retained and what's changed from the original series in order to analyze possible correlations between the American adaptation's success or stinkitude. In other words, why do so many American versions of other countries' TV shows suck? As an added bonus, students will also be able to smugly declare, "the original was so much better" to their uncultured friends whilst sipping mochaccinos and reading something by an up-and-coming writer from France who was mentioned in The Week.
Fairy Tales in Primetime
Courses: Grimm 101 (NBC, this fall), Once Upon a Time 101 (ABC, this fall)
Assignment: Read Grimm's Fairy Tales or Charles Perrault's versions of popular fairy tales.
What you'll learn: You probably know the stories of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Little Red Riding Hood, but years of retelling these famous tales has twisted the originals. If the two new fairy-tale based shows slated for this fall (ABC's Once Upon a Time and NBC's Grimm) have any respect for themselves, they'll use Grimm's Fairy Tales or Perrault's versions as source material rather than basing their takes on the stuff that airs on the Disney Channel. Plus, once Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel, and the other popular folks get their share of screentime, a whole lotta lesser-known tales will be thrown at you; consider Frau Trude, Jorinde and Joringel, King Thrushbeard, and several others that I just learned about on Wikipedia. Impress your friends at your Once Upon a Time viewing party by correctly identifying these under-the-radar fairy tale subjects.
Going By the Book: The Modern Translation of the Page for the Screen
Courses: Game of Thrones 201 (HBO, currently airing), GCB 101 (ABC, this fall), pre-requisite for Powers 101 (FX, in development), pre-requisite for Chew 101 (Showtime, in development), The Walking Dead 201 (AMC, October), True Blood 301 (HBO, June 26)
Assignment: Read books or graphic novels that have already been adapted or are currently being adapted for television.
What You'll Learn: You've always heard snobs cry about how "the book was better!" But as television has become more and more sophisticated, so too have adaptations for television. For this assignment, students will broach the subject from two angles: reading a book for a show they've already seen, and reading a book for a show they haven't seen yet. We'll take a look at what producers feel they need to keep, what they change, and how fans react to the adaptation. And when I say "we'll," I mean "you." Teachers like to ride banana boats in Jamaica, too. Suggested reading: Game of Thrones for those who haven't read it yet. For something that's currently in development, I'd go with Chew—a funny, unique comic about an FDA agent who can learn the history of anything he eats—that's being groomed for TV by Showtime.
International Relations: How Does the U.K. Think a U.S. Audience Thinks?
Courses: Torchwood 301 (Starz, July 8)
Assignment: Get on Netflix instant streaming and watch the five-part series Torchwood: Children of the Earth. No reading involved, thank God.
What You'll Learn: Mainstream American media, particularly in the film and TV world, dominates the global landscape. Hollywood blockbusters packed with special effects, explosions, and brawny men and sexy babes are as American as leveling a country for its oil. But what happens when the new season of an established British series is targeted toward an American audience and co-produced by an American cable company that's known for boobs and violence? Torchwood: Miracle Day has upped its budget and starpower for its Stateside debut, but will that mean a higher-quality of what we've seen in the past, or a facelift with the side effect of dumbing things down for a new country? In this assignment, we'll draw a conclusion about what a largely British crew thinks works for a Yankee audience.
A Critique on Spielberg: Is He Any Good Anymore?
Courses: Terra Nova 101 (Fox, this fall), Falling Skies 101 (TNT, June 19)
Assignment: Watch (or, more likely, rewatch) Jurassic Park and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Skip that War of the Worlds and Jurassic Park II crap.
What You'll Learn: In this critical analysis of film legend Steven Spielberg, we'll see how two of his landmark films stack up against two of the new TV shows that he's producing: the dinosaurs-meet-and-eat-man drama Terra Nova and the alien-invasion thriller Falling Skies. Why has Spielberg's perception of aliens changed over the years, from lovable candy-eating critters to bloodthirsty human haters? Is that T-Rex in Terra Nova the exact same one from from Jurassic Park? Is Spielberg's stamp really on either of these shows, or is he just putting his name on something to make an extra buck? When will he make a TV show
That's all for now, University of TV.com students; I'll be back for the Freshman Week keggers. For extra credit, please create your own TV curriculum in the comments.