‘Wanna be on top?’: America’s Next Top Model and evaluating presentational performance as televisual skill
James Bennett / London Metropolitan University

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American NTM host Tyra Banks

I began my series of Flow columns with a piece that suggested we could understand the qualities traditionally associated with television personalities (TVPs) as performed – their ordinariness, authenticity and ‘just-as-they-ness’. In this final column I want to move towards a debate about how we might evaluate that performance by judging the success of Tyra Banks’ performance as host of ANTM in comparison to her Australian counterpart Johdi Meares – an Australian model whom, similarly to Banks, had forged her success beyond modelling with entrepreneurial endeavours such as her own swimwear line.

To be clear, I am discussing TVPs performance here: not television actors, ‘stars’, ordinary people or newscasters. TVPs can be understood as those performers who ‘play themselves’, operating predominantly in factual genres: Jamie Oliver as ‘Jamie Oliver’, with the distinction between on- and off-screen self largely elided. Whilst Banks and Meares are also (super)models, this status is deployed as a kind of ‘vocational’ skill that validates their place on the show – it is the televisual skill of their performances, particular of Banks, that helps us understand them as TVPs. ((See Bennett, J. (2010) Television personalities: Stardom and the small screen, London: Routledge.)) Where performance has been discussed in relation to television it has tended to concentrate on one of three areas: firstly, the way ideological constructs and identities are ‘performed’ – for example, Jamie Oliver’s performance of masculinity etc; secondly, again ideologically, celebrity studies has addressed television performance within debates about the performance of the self – so that it is now more commonplace to assert that the authentic self is always-already ‘performed’; ((See Holmes, S. (2008) ‘“The viewers have … taken over the airwaves”?’, Screen, 49(1): 13-31.)) finally, television performance has been discussed as part of the aesthetic criticism of television drama

Whilst the first and second of these discourses tends to focus on factual television, the aesthetic criticism of television performance has focused on acting in fictional drama – rather than factual programming’s presentational modes. However, not only are presentational modes of performance capable of withstanding sustained critical attention, but so doing also provides a better understanding of the ideological and cultural roles such factual programming fulfils. Treating television presentation as a form of ‘televisual skill’ enables us to judge the pleasures, skill, achievements and meanings of performance that are potentially on offer. Susan Murray’s work on early television stardom offers a useful starting point for understanding the key attributes of televisual skill. She suggests that ‘the ideal television performer’ was initially understood as those able to best exploit television’s primary ‘aesthetic properties – immediacy, intimacy and spontaneity.’ ((Murray, S. (2005) Hitch Your Antenna to the Stars: Early Television and Broadcast Fame, New York: Routledge, xiv-xv.)) Given the continued association of television with an aesthetics of liveness (if not actuality) these qualities remain helpful in attempting to analyse televisual performance.

Formats, both in their international circulation – local hosts must ‘play’ the original hosts’ role – and in their very formatting – whereby hosts must continually repeat elements of their performance, such as catch-phrases – offer a useful site for analysing performance. The current series of ANTM and Australia’s NTM screening on LivingTV in the UK (cycle 13 and 4 respectively) is a particularly useful site for an analysis of such presentational modes of performance because it combines elements from a range of factual genres: lifestyle programming (the makeover), with reality television (the contestants’ place in the ‘model’ house), and the light entertainment forms of game shows and variety (the requirement for models to undertake a task or do a ‘turn’; the presence of a judging panel). The sequence from the Australian series below is taken from a highly formatted part of the series: the elimination of contestants at the end of each program. Here, following on from the judges’ deliberations, Meares is required to call forward contestants in order to permit or deny them entry through to the next round: dispensing a small nugget of advice to each contestant in so doing.

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Meares’ performance fails to imbue this segment with any sense of immediacy, spontaneity or intimacy. Her lines are delivered from a set of notes contained in a clipboard she hugs to her chest that both reveals the mechanics of production as well as inhibits any use of gesture. Whilst many game shows hosts deploy such notes successfully, Meares effectively uses these as a ‘crutch’: constantly referring to them in such a way as to produce a stilted delivery of her lines (figure 1). Moreover, the clipboard interferes with the construction of intimacy between host and contestant – creating a physical barrier between the two, and the audience in turn.

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Meares’ stilted line delivery

In contrast, a clip from the same moment in the American series (cycle 13) sees Banks deliver her lines without notes and, at least the appearance of, spontaneous comments on the models’ performance. This establishes a clear flow between editing, narrative and performance that creates an ‘immediate’ performance – congruent with the aesthetics of television’s liveness. It therefore elides the sense of rehearsals, scripted dialogue and re-takes that would signify a performance rather than Banks’ appearance ‘just-as-she-really-is’: that is, her intimate and authentic self. I’m not suggesting that the perceived immediacy of Banks’ performance is therefore solely down to her ability to either memorise lines or produce on-the-spot commentary: as Karen Lury has noted, there is a confluence between technique and technology in the construction of televisual performance. ((Lury, K. (1995) ‘Television performance: Being acting and “corpsing”’, New Formations, 26: 114-131.)) Thus in contrast to Banks’ cohesive performance, it is impossible to avoid shots in which Meares appears to be reading her lines: this leads to an over-emphasis on editing, whereby the viewer is constantly returned to reaction shots of the contestant or elsewhere in the mise-en-scene in an attempt to conceal the mechanics of performance that are otherwise laid bare by Meares’ delivery.

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The fulfilment of the perceived ‘inherent’ aesthetic qualities of television – immediacy, intimacy and spontaneity – is, however, but one level of analysis that we can begin to undertake in evaluating successful performances. We might compliment an analysis of these by drawing on work from film studies and on quality television that have paid more attention to the question of performance and its achievement. In so doing we might judge achievement of performance as ‘the synthesis between performance style, visual composition and thematic progression’. ((Walters, J. (2008) ‘Repeat viewings: Television analysis in the DVD age’, in J. Bennett and T. Brown, (eds.) Film and Television After DVD, London: Routledge, 69))

The success of Tyra Banks’ performance therefore is best understood in relation to the cohesion between performance style, visual and aural composition, and programming aims. Ultimately, Banks’ performance is congruent with the aims of the program which, as Ouellette and Hay’s analysis of reality TV programming suggests, tend to emphasise self-enterprise and transformation. ((Ouellette, L. and Hay, J. (2008) Better Living Through Reality TV, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.)) This is perhaps most apparent in the final eviction of the losing contestant: Banks’ lines are delivered with the use of a series of gestures that position the series as an opportunity that each contestant has been given (figure 2), whilst her lines are phrased as a question that the revelation of the final photograph will answer (the contestant who remains in the competition). Her monologue works in conjunction with the soundtrack’s use of arpeggiated chords in a minor key, which emphasises tension and builds towards a crescendo for the moment of revelation. Crucially, despite one girl being eliminated, this revelation is structured largely as an uplifting moment via the cohesion of visuals (the focus is on Banks’ interaction with contestants), music (which opens out into a ‘soaring’ emotional resolution through use of a major chord) and performance – Banks is full of energy and expansive gestures, delivering a positive message about the self-improvement achieved by the loser as a result of this ‘opportunity’.

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Banks ‘evicting’ the losing contestant

Banks’ performance comes out ‘on top’ in contrast to the lack of synthesis achieved in the Australian version. The tension in the soundtrack gives way to a minor guitar riff that underscores the failure of one contestant, a message emphasised by the visuals that dwell on the teary goodbyes between the loser and the other contestants. The failure of Meares’ performance as spontaneous, immediate and intimate also results in a failure to achieve the entrepreneurial aims of the programming: the loser is positioned as a ‘really pretty girl’ who does not have ‘something behind the eyes’. The emphasis is on not quite being good enough, rather than the lessons learnt or continuing journey of the models.

It is through being attuned to the sensitivities of performance that we can not only understand the pleasures television’s presentational genres offer us, but also return to the text more alive to the ideological work being performed.

Image Credits:
1.) American NTM host Tyra Banks
2.) Meares’ stilted line delivery – Author Screen Cap
3.) Banks ‘evicting’ the losing contestant – Author Screen Cap






The BBC Presenter Pay Scandal: The Political Economy of Television Fame
James Bennett / London Metropolitan University


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BBC Television Personality Jonathan Ross

On 7th January 2010, BBC television personality Jonathan Ross announced that he was leaving the Corporation after thirteen years presenting a range of television and radio programs; most notably the late night talk show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Less than one month earlier Ross, the BBC’s highest profile and highly paid personality, had offered to take a 50% pay cut on his record £16.9million 3-year contract, which is due to expire later this year. It is clear that the BBC’s decision not to take up Ross’ offer was, as The Guardian’s media correspondents observed, motivated by a desire to rid itself of what had ‘become one of the BBC’s most toxic political issues’. But what does this parting of ways tell us about both the economies of television’s personality system, and what Su Holmes has suggested is the need to understand the ‘possibilities of … public service television fame’. ((Holmes, S. 2007. ‘The BBC and television fame in the 1950s: Living with The Grove Family (1954-7) and going Face to Face (1959-1962) with television’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 10(4): p. 436.))

For many commentators Ross’ departure from the BBC was inevitable following the Sachsgate affair of 2008, in which Ross and comedian Russell Brand left lewd messages on Andrew Sachs’ (who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers) answering machine as part of Brand’s BBC Radio 2 show. This incident had resulted in a record number of complaints about the program, the resignation of Brand and Radio 2 controller Leslie Douglas as well as the suspension of Ross. ((See Lisa Kelly’s excellent analysis of the affair and the role of ‘comedy’ in scandal: Kelly, L. 2010. ‘Public Personas, Private Lives and the Power of the Celebrity Comedian: A consideration of the Ross and Brand “Sachsgate” affair’, Celebrity Studies Journal, vol. 1(1): forthcoming)) Whilst undoubtedly, as TV critic Mark Lawson observed, Ross was shorn of some of his cutting edge by being forced to pre-record his shows post-Sachsgate, the notion that his ‘star’ was therefore inevitably on the wane deflects us from closer scrutiny of the political economy of television fame and the role of public service broadcasting in this.

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Historically there has been a popular incompatibility between BBC presenters and the commercial exploitation and reward of their televisual image. Jerome Bourdon has suggested that star salaries are just one of the key sites through which public service broadcasters must ‘carefully negotiate the popular’, arguing that such broadcasters have only reluctantly given ‘a place to its hosts, but never fully accepted them or rewarded them in proportion to their appeal’. ((Bourden, J ‘Old and New Ghosts: Public service television and the popular-a history’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 7(3): p. 283.)) For example, Jamie Oliver’s 2002 switch to Channel 4 and What Not to Wear hosts Trinny & Susannah’s 2006 move to ITV have all been linked to the restrictions placed on commercial endorsements by the BBC, whilst the Corporation has always stressed that Ross’ salary was lower than those offered by commercial rivals.

But there has always been a place for highly paid personalities both in terms of ‘popular’ personalities and what we might term the ‘public service personality’. As Espen Ytreberg has suggested, the public legitimacy of public service broadcasters is often communication ‘through persons of authority.’ ((Ytreberg, E. 2002. ‘Ideal types in public service television: paternalists and bureaucrats, charismatics and avant-gardists’, Media, Culture & Society 24: p. 759.)) Historically figures such as Richard Dimbleby or David Attenborough have personified this type of public service personality with their commercial and cultural value recognized by the BBC. For example, following an offer from the new ITV service in 1958 to Richard Dimbleby, made a counter offer of £10,000 a year for ten years to the man they described as ‘Mr TV’. ((BBC press clipping, Richard Dimbleby File 1b, BBC Written Archives; BBC Internal memo, From: Head of Talks, Television, To: Outside Broadcasts, Television, Subject: Richard Dimbleby; 30/04/58.)) This would have made Dimbley the top earner in UK broadcasting. However, performers who might be understood more firmly in line with the ‘popular’ were also valued by the BBC. Again fearing defection to ITV, the BBC offered [but was ultimately rejected] the first ‘golden handcuffs’ deal to Benny Hill to tie the performer to the Corporation for £15,000/year in 1959—a sum described as ‘far higher than any fee we have ever paid previously to any British Artist’. ((Letter from Tom Sloan, Assistant Head of Light Entertainment to Head of Light Entertainment on the subject ‘Benny Hill, dated 18th Feb 1960.))

So what has changed?

To my mind the ease with which many, particularly right wing, press outlets were able to depict Ross as a liability to the Corporation has to do with what Paul du Gay has described as a shift away from the bureaucracies of the public sector, which is perceived as a ‘moral danger that breeds dependency, limits growth and suppresses freedom’, to a discourse of self-enterprise congruent with neo-liberal discourses of privatization, personal responsibility and consumer choice. ((Quoted in Ouellette, L. & Hay, J. 2008. Better Living Through Reality TV: Television and Post-Welfare Citizenship, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, p. 23.)) As Ouellette & Hay’s study of reality television within this framework suggests, the entrepreneurial self and the private sector is seen as an efficient alternative to the red tape and bureaucracies of the public sector. ((ibid.)) In the depiction of Ross as a liability to the BBC, it was his pay, rather than his behavior, that was attacked as a highly visible example of such inefficiencies.

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The New Pathways to Fame

Moreover, in an era where fame is no longer a rarefied commodity, Ross’ pay stands in contradistinction to the radical, supposedly democratic potentialities of contemporary ‘do-it-yourself’ celebrity. Thus whilst Ross is castigated for his pay, Simon Cowell (a figure not unknown for unkind comments to vulnerable performers) is held up as a figure who might revitalize public debate—via a commercial television format—for his entrepreneurial skill in creating formats and pop stars. Similarly a DIY celebrity, such as Digg.com’s Kevin Rose, is celebrated by mainstream media outlets — described as the ‘poster boy’ of web 2.0 culture and ‘The Most Famous Man on the Internet’ ((Business Week Tech Team, ‘The Poster Boy: Kevin Rose’, Business Week, n.d. 2008, http://images.businessweek.com/ss/08/09/0929_most_influential/18.htm; Max Chafkin, ‘Kevin Rose of Digg: The Most Famous Man on the Internet’, Inc Magazine, November 2008, http://www.inc.com/magazine/20081101/keeevviin_Printer_Friendly.html.)) — for his entrepreneurial success in the creation of the site, which had amassed 30million unique users and US$40million in venture capital by late 2008. Much like other DIY celebrities, such as Sandi Thom, Rose’s fame is achieved through self-promotion: mastering a myriad of social networking tools; his Twitter following of 1,159,960 places him well ahead of Ross’ 489,083. Interestingly, Digg.com itself allows users to rate and discuss news stories, fulfilling the ‘participatory turn’ of web 2.0 culture celebrated by new media theorists like Henry Jenkins, but also effectively creating a privatized public sphere congruent with neo-liberalism.

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Digg Founder Kevin Rose

The desire to distinguish the BBC from the perceived inefficiencies and bureaucracies of the public sector was not only evident in the departure of Ross but also BBC Director General Mark Thompson’s attempt to defend the Corporation’s pay structures in its wake. Claiming ‘we are not a county council, we need the best’, Thompson’s comments extended the debate about presenter-pay to the BBC executive, and the economies of public service broadcasting itself. In a year, if not era, ahead that is already being termed ‘austerity Britain’ high profile arguments about the (over)pay of public sector workers, including celebrities like Ross, serve to exacerbate the neo-liberal ideologies of free markets and DIY citizenship—and celebrity—as the antidote to ‘big government’.

Deals such as Ross’ are unlikely to be repeated as the BBC seeks to slash its presenter wage bill. But two significant exceptions remain that shed further light on the political economy of television personalities and public service broadcasting. Firstly, and unsurprisingly, the pay of ‘public service personalities’ such as David Attenborough or Simon Schama—who’s televisual images are congruent with a Reithian notion of public service as ‘improving’, through education and information—have not come into question. More interestingly, at the ‘entertainment’ end of the public service spectrum Jeremy Clarkson—whose image is aligned with conservative ideologies—has struck a pay deal for a cut of the exploitation of Top Gear’s intellectual property rights through the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide. Operating within the efficiencies of the global market for television formats, an eyelid has not been batted at this highly profitable deal for Clarkson in these recent debates.

Image Credits:
1. BBC Television Personality Jonathan Ross
2. The New Pathways to Fame
3. Digg Founder Kevin Rose




Television Celebrity: Extras and the Cultural Value of TV Fame
James Bennett / London Metropolitan University


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Ricky Gervais, star of Extras

In the hit BBC-HBO co-production Extras’ Christmas special finale, Ricky Gervais’ character Andy Millman has a moment of self-realisation about the value of his ‘celebrity’ status. Having apparently ‘made it’ as a ‘TV star’, Millman is now out of work after quitting his successful, but catch-phrase driven, When the Whistle Blows sitcom. ((A sitcom within the internal narrative world of the sitcom Extras.)) Despite complaining that this has made him famous with the ‘wrong audience’ by ‘shouting a catch phrase to a bunch of morons’, Millman finds himself desperate for the fame and attention that this success has granted him and has subsequently agreed to appear in Celebrity Big Brother. Stuck in a D-List celebrity hell, Millman has a (long overdue) epiphany. Sitting on the couch and surrounded by his fellow ‘celebs’, Millman launches into a scathing monologue on the ills of modern fame. Delivered predominantly in television’s familiar mid-close-up to the house ‘CCTV’ cameras, Millman directly addresses the watching home audience: both ‘us’—the viewers of Extras—and those in the narrative world of the program, represented here by Millman’s best friend Maggie.

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Millman (Gervais) directly addresses both the audience and Maggie

Declaring that the ‘Victorian freak show never went away’ he suggests it is now simply called ‘Big Brother or X Factor’ ((Or, for international marketing purposes, American Idol on the program’s US airing.)) where ‘we wheel out the bewildered to be sniggered at by multimillionaires’, before going on to insist that the producers, audience and he himself should all be ashamed of their part in this culture. Millman’s vitriol becomes primarily aimed at himself, because ‘I’m the worst of all … one of those people that goes “Oooh, I’m an entertainer, it’s in my blood”. Yeah it’s in my blood cause a real job’s too hard … So I go “it’s what I do”’.

Millman’s diatribe, its narcissistic self loathing and setting in the Big Brother house, draws our attention to one of the central ways in which television fame, particularly its conveyor belt production of reality TV ‘stars’, produces celebrity and its resultant value: that is, television fame is premised on people appearing ‘just-as-they-are’, without any extraordinary talent, and/or the revelation (and commoditisation) of the authentic self. This has been termed television’s ‘personality effect’, whereby the medium’s rhetoric of familiarity and intimacy, combined with the domestic context of its reception, are said to mitigate against the paradoxical and enigmatic construction of cinematic stardom as understood in film scholarship. This dichotomy between film and television stardom has functioned largely to devalue television fame, whilst the emergence of reality TV has tended to cement this hierarchy by associating television inextricably with what many perceive as a cultural decline in the value of celebrity. Yet it is precisely the impossibility of these distinctions, and the subsequent play with notions of celebrities’ on-/off-screen, ordinary/extraordinary self where much of the humour in Extras, and its satirical edge, comes from.

Extras is of course premised on the cameos of the film stars, television personalities, TV actors, pop stars and the plethora of other celebrities, who appear in each episode as a parodic version of their intertextual celebrity persona. In particular, the series has exploited our ‘ongoing fascination with how big screen stars will appear (and whether they will be “different”) on the small screen’. ((Jermyn, J. 2006. ‘Bringing out the star in you?: SJP, Carrie Bradshaw and the evolution of television stardom?’. In: S. Holmes and S. Redmond, eds. Framing celebrity: New directions in celebrity culture. London: Routledge, 96-117.)) Thus stars such as Kate Winslet, Samuel Jackson and Ben Stiller make appearances that play-up specific aspects of their personas. Whilst obviously played for comic effect, this ‘playing oneself’ is precisely what has been criticised in describing the hallmarks of television’s register of fame, setting it apart from, and inferior to, cinema. Yet such film stars’ appearance alongside a plethora of British television personalities who are also ‘playing themselves’ (from Shaun Williamson’s persona as ‘Barry off EastEnders’ to Les Dennis’ washed up variety show host) demonstrates how the series foregrounds the diverse forms of television fame that have coagulated under the derisory catch all ‘television personality’ distinction. But it also emphasises how the perceived specificities of television fame are primarily evaluative: whilst ‘ordinariness’ and ‘authenticity’ are often qualities praised in relation to stars, being ‘oneself’ has hardly been applauded as a skill in reality television or presentational modes of television more generally. ((Holmes, S. & Bennett, J., 2009. ‘The “place” of television in celebrity studies’, Celebrity Studies Journal, 1(1), forthcoming.))

Some may respond that such a comparison is unhelpful in a discussion of Extras when the program works on a register somewhere between pastiche and parody. But, as Richard Dyer’s study of pastiche has suggested, it is precisely in such play that affect can be generated so as to ‘move us even while allowing us to be conscious of where the means of our being moved come from.’ (( Dyer, R. 2007. Pastiche London: Routledge, p. 138.)) Thus to return to the moment from Extras I have been discussing, Gervais’ performance as Millman draws our attention to the way ‘ordinary’ people, such as BB contestants, have become more adept at managing a performance under the aesthetics of surveillance that characterises reality television via his use of direct address. ((See for example Big Brother 3 contestant Alex Sibley’s performance to ‘That’s the way I like it’, characterised by mime and direct address to the camera.)) In so doing, the performative nature of authenticity in television fame, which has been greatly prized in reality TV, is also exposed. ((Hill, A., 2002. ‘Big Brother’, Television & New Media, 3(3), 323-340.))

Thus through gesture Millman makes us aware of the range of cameras filming the sequence, but then focuses his performance on one which, via its acute angle, emphasises reality TV’s ‘fly on the wall’ aesthetic as he builds towards his crescendo.

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Millman (Gervais) acknowledges the additional cameras…

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…and then directly addresses the audience.

This takes the form of Millman answering a stupid question Maggie had asked earlier about being a flying fish or a penguin. Choosing the latter to quite surprising comic and emotional effect, Millman is able to reveal his true, authentic, self and finally find validation in the ‘right’ audience: Maggie. However this ‘authentic’ self is immediately perceived by a fellow housemate as an ‘amazing’ performance, whicih can be rewarded in the form of commoditisation. Thus she seizes on Millman’s announcement that he’s leaving the BB house to try and come with him, ‘just give me 5 minutes, there’s paparazzi out there, I’ll put on a bikini’.

There are a number of layers at work here. Gervais’ performance as Millman is directed at us the home viewer of Extras, whilst the sentimentality of the monologue is heightened and permitted by its narrative address to Maggie. This allows for an emotional closure to the series’ finale that Extras’ register of pastiche might otherwise have precluded, but it does so by again playing with the notion that celebrities can have authentic, and distinct, on-/off-screen selves. In turn, the relationship between the Millman character and Gervais persona is raised. In a Flow column on The Office, a follow up comment posits Millman as an extension of the Brent persona Gervais established there, suggesting that Extras similarly places a priority on friendship over fleeting fame in determining the meaning of ‘success’. ((See “Jean’s” comment on Stephen Harrington’s ‘The best 10 minutes of television? … Ever?’)) Whilst this appears to be confirmed by the ending of the series—which sees Gervais’ character refuse the de-valued currency gained as a celebrity Reality TV contestant and instead drive off into the sunset with his best friend Maggie—such a comment is also suggestive of the continuousness of persona associated with television fame’s elision of on-/off- screen self. Indeed, Gervais has described Extras as his ‘study of fame years’, ((Wyatt, E., 2007. ‘Going out, Gervais picks bang over whimper’, New York Times, 15 December, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/15/arts/television/15gerv.html?_r=1)) admitting the diatribe on celebrity discussed here didn’t involve ‘a huge veil of character … That was me’. ((Itzkoff, D., 2009. ‘Winning Oscars and demolishing celebrities with Ricky Gervais: Part 1’, New York Times, 25 March, http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/25/winning-oscars-and-demolishing-celebrities-with-ricky-gervais-part-1/ ))

To a large extent, the series works on the premise that it is poking fun at the excesses and self-aggrandisement of stardom’s ‘extraordinariness’. However, it does so at the same time as conferring this success on Gervais. Thus as the curtain closes on Extras, Millman sets out in search of a place where ‘no one knows me’, to which Maggie sarcastically offers the possibility of ‘Hollywood?’ Of course, this is where Gervais himself has headed in search of the legitimisation, and financial reward of Hollywood stardom. This suggests that, like the devalued audience Millman finds his fame amongst via the success of a derivative TV sitcom, ‘stardom proper’ for Gervais remains a quality to be conferred by cinema.

I, for one however, hope that Gervais is quickly returned to the ‘mire’ of telly fame. For Gervais is perhaps one of the few bona fide ‘television stars’ ((As I’ve suggested elsewhere, this is a complicated term, but suffice to say here that it does not preclude success or appearances in other media forms. See Bennett, J., 2008. ‘The Television Personality System: Televisual Stardom Revisited After Film Theory’, Screen, 49(1), 32-50.)) whose fame is based on the successful manipulation of television aesthetics, techniques, performance modes and the fame it confers on the ‘authentic’ self. Gervais’ fame therefore draws our attention to the way cultural hierarchies devalue TV fame and deflect our attention from its possibilities.

Image Credits:
1. Ricky Gervais, star of Extras
2. Millman (Gervais) directly addresses both the audience and Maggie (Author Screen Capture)
3. Millman (Gervais) acknowledges the additional cameras… (Author Screen Capture)
4. …and then directly addresses the audience. (Author Screen Capture)

Please feel free to comment.