History by HBO
Televising the American Past
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Imprint: The University Press of Kentucky
Sales Date: 07/12/2022
The television industry is changing, and with it, the small screen's potential to engage in debate and present valuable representations of American history. Founded in 1972, HBO has been at the forefront of these changes, leading the way for many network, cable, and streaming services into the "post-network" era. Despite this, most scholarship has been dedicated to analyzing historical feature films and documentary films, leaving TV and the long-form drama hungry for coverage.
In History by HBO: Televising the American Past, Rebecca Weeks fills the gap in this area of media studies and defends the historiographic power of long-form dramas. By focusing on this change and its effects, History by HBO outlines how history is crafted on television and the diverse forms it can take. Weeks examines the capabilities of the long-form serial for engaging with historical stories, insisting that the shift away from the network model and toward narrowcasting has enabled challenging histories to thrive in home settings. As an examination of HBO's unique structure for producing quality historical dramas, Weeks provides four case studies of HBO series set during different periods of United States history: Band of Brothers (2001), Deadwood (2004–2007), Boardwalk Empire (2012–2014), and Treme (2010–2013). In each case, HBO's lack of advertiser influence, commitment to creative freedom, and generous budgets continue to draw and retain talent who want to tell historical stories.
Balancing historical and film theories in her assessment of the roles of mise-en–scène, characterization, narrative complexity, and sound in the production of effective historical dramas, Weeks' evaluation acts as an ode to the most recent Golden Age of TV, as well as a critical look at the relationship between entertainment media and collective memory.
2. Building a Historical World: Deadwood
3. Constructing and Inventing Historical Characters: Boardwalk Empire
4. Crafting Complex Historical Narratives in Serial Television: Tremé
5. Listening to History: Band of Brothers
This rich, revelatory study of four of HBO's groundbreaking historical dramas—Deadwood, Boardwalk Empire, Treme, and Band of Brothers—greatly expands our understanding of how visual history represents and interprets the past. Of interest to scholars in film, television, and history, as well as fans of these series, Weeks's book urges us to take historical television seriously and offers a methodology for doing so.~Jennifer Frost, author of Producer of Controversy: Stanley Kramer, Hollywood Liberalism, and the Cold War
In this engaging and persuasive book, Rebecca Weeks argues for television's capacity to communicate historical meaning, providing a fresh contribution to existing theoretical debates alongside an in-depth examination of four key HBO dramas. Her finely detailed account explores the historiographic work involved in the crafting of sets, costumes, character arcs, narrative structures and sonic environments, generating fascinating new insights into television's engagement with the past.~Allan Cameron, author of Visceral Screens: Mediation and Matter in Horror Cinema
Rebecca Weeks' examination of History by HBO is a superb extension of scholarship on the ways in which different media add layers to our understandings of how historical narratives operate. Too many scholars confine their notions of 'real' history to academic scholarship published in book form in spite of lip service paid to other forms and formats. Weeks' puts the 'reel' in history, even if this is a notional concept in the digital age. In bringing the background to the fore, from sets to sound, Weeks exposes and explores not only HBO's historical narratives but also their historical importance. This is skillfully done not only in terms of what stories are being told, but also and especially of the HOW in HBO. The craft of the historian always hinges on the understanding of context, and Weeks has added vital layers and textures to a craft that should always be evolving.~Dr. Sara Buttsworth, University of Auckland, co-editor of War, Myths and Fairy Tales