The DVD Novel

How the Way We Watch Television Changed the Television We Watch

by Greg Metcalf


Is there anything worth watching on television anymore? The majority of programming would seem to be celebrity fanshows, biased news reporting, banal and predictable sitcoms, and reality television shows that celebrate the dysfunctional elements in our society. Actually, today's TV offers plenty of high-quality dramatic series and attitudinal comedy shows. Though some of the best programming fails to be a commercial success while being broadcast, these productions often sell well as DVD sets.

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Cover image for The DVD Novel

July 2012


Pages 231
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Popular Culture/Media, Television, and Radio

Now that television shows can live forever as DVD sets, the stories they can tell have changed; television episodes are now crafted as chapters in a season-long novel instead of free-standing stories. This book examines how this significant shift in storytelling occurred.

In 1981, NBC's Hill Street Blues combined the cop show and the soap opera to set the model for primetime serial storytelling, which is evident in The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad. In 1963, ABC’s The Fugitive showed how an anthology series could tell a continuing tale, influencing The X-Files, House, and Fringe. In 1987, NBC's The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd changed the situation comedy into attitudinal comedy, leading to Weeds, Nurse Jackie, and Entourage. The DVD Novel: How the Way We Watch Television Changed the Television We Watch not only examines how American television shows changed, but also what television artists have been able to create.

The book provides an alternate history of American television that compares it to British television, and explains the influence of Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective on the development of long-form television and the evolution of drama shows and sitcoms. The work considers a wide range of network and cable television shows, paying special attention to the work of Steven Bochco, David Milch, and David Simon, and spotlighting the influence of graphic novels and literary novels in changing television.


  • Presents a novel perspective into television history that explains how changes in the business and technology of television changed the stories on television
  • Explains why some of the American viewing public's favorite shows didn't survive on television but have sold well on DVD
  • Explores the influence of comics and graphic novels to American television
  • Examines dozens of long form television series in depth
Author Info

Greg Metcalf, PhD, is an artist and a scholar who teaches film, television, literature, modern art history, cultural history, popular culture, American humor, and sculpture at the University of Maryland, College Park, and art history at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He was faculty at Johns Hopkins University and lectured regularly at the Smithsonian Institution. His published works include many articles, essays, and book chapters, including a chapter entitled "The Same Yet Different/Different Yet the Same: Bob Dylan Under Cover of Covers" in Play It Again: Cover Songs in Popular Music and "Alien Place, Alien Race: The Western Roots of the Final Frontier."



"Greg Metcalf’s conceptualization is current, if not cutting edge; the research exhaustive; and the writing refreshing, smart, and engaging. Metcalf makes fascinating connections throughout, deftly weaving historical, technological, commercial and creative contexts. The book, and Metcalf's casually brilliant narrative, have broad appeal from the academic sphere to the popular intelligentsia to the casual TV episode devotee."—George Plasketes, Professor of Radio-Television-Film, Communication and Journalism, Auburn University

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