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Cinematic TV

Serial Drama goes to the Movies

Rashna Wadia Richards

Publication Date - May 2021

ISBN: 9780190071264

248 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


For decades after its invention, television was considered by many to be culturally deficient when compared to cinema, as analyses rooted in communication studies and the social sciences tended to focus primarily on television's negative impact on consumers. More recently, however, denigration has largely been replaced by serious critical consideration of what television represents in the post-network era. Once derided as a media wasteland, TV is now praised for its visual density and complexity. In the last two decades, media scholars have often suggested that television has become cinematic. Serial dramas, in particular, are acclaimed for their imitations of cinema's formally innovative and narratively challenging conventions. But what exactly does "cinematic TV" mean?

In Cinematic TV, author Rashna Wadia Richards takes up this question comprehensively, arguing that TV dramas quote, copy, and appropriate (primarily) American cinema in multiple ways and toward multiple ends. Constructing an innovative theoretical framework by combining intertextuality and memory studies, Cinematic TV focuses on four modalities of intermedial borrowings: homage, evocation, genre, and parody. Through close readings of such exemplary shows as Stranger Things, Mad Men, Damages, and Dear White People, the book demonstrates how serial dramas reproduce and rework, undermine and idolize, and, in some cases, compete with and outdo cinema.


  • Includes detailed and innovative analyses of multiple TV series, such as Mad Men and Dear White People
  • Offers an original theoretical framework for TV analysis in relation to cinema
  • Includes specific investigations of concepts such as homage, evocation, genre, and parody

About the Author(s)

Rashna Wadia Richards is Associate Professor and T. K. Young Chair of English at Rhodes College. She is the author of Cinematic Flashes: Cinephilia and Classical Hollywood (2013) and co-editor of For the Love of Cinema: Teaching Our Passion in and Outside the Classroom (2017).


"Richards provides a good discussion on the history and current status of television, noting that both the first and second golden ages of television ended because of oversaturation of themes and characters ... thoughtful and enlightening." -- R. Ray, CHOICE

"Rashna Wadia Richards makes such a lively, resourceful, and compelling case for the remarkably complex and varied relations between contemporary television series and the cinema that you may never want to set foot in a movie theater again." -- Thomas Leitch, author of The History of American Literature on Film

"The word 'cinematic' has been widely used to describe post-network dramatic television, and yet until recently, the term has been used with little conceptual rigor. Rashna Richards addresses this problem head-on, developing a sophisticated theory of intertextuality to argue that the cinematic in today's serial dramas operates via (often unintentional) echoes and reverberations from the cinema's archives. Richards then provides nuanced readings of the eruptions of the cinematic in Mad Men, Dear White People, and a number of other series. The cinematic connections she finds are as surprising as they are enlightening." -- Angelo Restivo, author of "Breaking Bad" and Cinematic Television

Table of Contents


    Introduction What Is Cinematic TV?
    Chapter 1 "How about . . . We Watch a Scary Movie Together": Paying Tribute
    Chapter 2 "You See Everything": Evoking Cinema
    Chapter 3 "You're Nobody's Mommy": Overlapping Genres
    Chapter 4 "This Isn't Some TV Show, Okay?": Mocking Cinema
    Epilogue What Do TV Critics Dream about?