Meet the team: Dr Paul Rixon, Film, TV and Media Tutor

Meet the team: Dr Paul Rixon, Film, TV and Media Tutor

29 July 2022
Posted in: Courses, Stories, Humanities

— Meet Dr Paul Rixon

  • Recently the Film programme took a decision to expand its provision to include the study of television and the media. Ahead of a suite of new television courses beginning in October 2022 and running throughout the year, we asked TV tutor, Paul Rixon, to tell us a bit about himself and to explain why studying television can be so rewarding. 
 Portrait image of Paul Rixon - Film, TV and Media Tutor at City Lit Portrait image of Paul Rixon - Film, TV and Media Tutor at City Lit
Dr Paul Rixon - Film, TV and Media Tutor at City Lit

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Q: Tell us about yourself and your teaching?

A: I studied sociology at what, was then, Northern London Polytechnic. During my last year I took an option course on the media, which included some discussion and viewing of television programmes. I remember watching a handful of programmes exploring various social and political issues, such as Boys from the Black Stuff, Edge of Darkness and Police, which we discussed at some length in class. When I graduated, I wanted to continue this interest in the media and with television in specifically, and so took an MA in Film and Television Studies.

What I enjoyed about television was not just talking about the programmes, but also exploring the connected questions related to the nature of the broadcast institutions which made programmes, how these had to be regulated, what their overall function was and how we, as the viewer, consumed television. I then went on to take a PhD at Leeds University, where I explored how broadcasters acted as active mediators in the way that television, as a form of public service, was changing with the development of global and European television flows.

I then started work at Staffordshire University, and then later University of Roehampton, where I taught on various television courses and undertook research on American and British programmes and their respective broadcast industries.

 

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Q: Do you have a favourite TV show/series?

A: With seventy years or so of television to choose from, of all different genre, this is a hard question to answer. Also, I must admit, my favourites do change over time, often when a new series or serial grabs my attention and supplants a programme I might have classed previously as one of my favourites. There is also the question of how one categorises a programme as a favourite. I have favourite programmes for watching with my children or favourite programmes I enjoy when relaxing, or programmes which challenge me in various ways. Anyway, if I cut to the chase, I would say that there are programmes like ER, The Sopranos and Madmen which I would class as staying in my favourite list for some time. They are well written, well crafted, with rounded believable characters and captivating storylines. They also connect to times in my life which make them special.

That said, I am currently really enjoying watching Stranger Things (2016-: Netflix) with my children. I really love the way it references the 1980s, a time I grew up in, which helps to open-up discussions with my daughters about that formative decade. In terms of a British programme which I really loved, at the time, I would choose This Life. I watched it in a shared house in Basford, Stoke on Trent, with a group of other academics. Just thinking about it now, brings back a lot of memories. And, lastly, two series which I can watch again and again, are Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy and Smiley’s People. I really like the storyline, the script, the portrayal of George Smiley by Alex Guinness, as well as the performances by the other actors so well cast for these series. Two absolute classics!

Q: How do you see the future for broadcast television in the current era of streaming, on demand TV, etc?

A: For the last decade or so, some have predicted the end of broadcast television. In some ways these predictions are similar to those made about other media forms when a new media technology has come along. For example, when television started to become popular people thought that cinema going would end; likewise, the CD was thought to sound the death knell of vinyl records.

What usually happens, is that the old medium finds a new role or function. Cinema, over time, became a first run arena for films, where they gained kudos, before the film moved on to pay per view and subscription TV channels.

Also, cinema-going became an event, a special outing with friends, a place not just see a film but to socialise. In this way, broadcast television will not disappear, instead it will continue to play a role in the delivery and consumption of television.

For example, broadcast television is perfect for certain things, such as sport or shared cultural events, watching a royal wedding, or a place to share a national experience that you can talk about at the water cooler, such as Strictly Come Dancing. Broadcast TV allows a relatively large audience to watch something together, to experience it at the same time, and then discuss this, in person or over social media.

The streaming forms cannot really replicate this. There are too many of them, the way we watch them is not attuned to national routines and they do not usually deliver nationally specific events or productions. I do think the broadcasters’ share will continue to drop, but they will still be important for some time going forward. 

Q: Did/has the Covid-19 pandemic changed national viewing habits do you think?

A: Undoubtedly during the pandemic, many of us were spending more time-consuming television from an array of different sources. Netflix did very well. Also, at this time, Disney+ came on stream and Amazon Prime continued to develop its television service. For many it seemed that the pandemic encouraged many of us to embrace streaming more quickly than forecast. As I note, Netflix did very well in this period.

However, with the economic turmoil we have now entered, as people cut back on spending, including some of the streaming services they can no longer afford, it would seem that we have taken two steps in one direction and one back. For some of us the pandemic reinforced the way we were moving more towards, what some have called, a Me-TV form of pull television, where we selected what we wanted to watch and when. Indeed, many of us have become increasingly used to binge watching series and serials, probably helped in the pandemic by the extra time many of us had on our hands.

While Netflix did well, so did the traditional broadcasters, who also offer catchup and streaming services alongside their broadcast output. The important national television programmes, like East Enders, Strictly Come Dancing and British Bake Off, did well for traditional broadcasters.

I would suggest that, while our viewing habits changed in the pandemic, some of those developments have weakened since, partly through the economic situation but also because some of us still like watching in the way that we used to. That said, the pandemic has reinforced these shifts with the younger generation, who were already changing their viewing habits.

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Q: Finally, what for you are the benefits of studying TV?

A: Television has been one of the most important mass media for the last 90 years or so. It has televised important events, from royal weddings, wars, elections, sport, music and the like. It has been an important part of our culture, politics, economy and society; it is part of who we are. It is also going to be, looking forward, an important part of our society for the rest of this century.

By studying television one can start to understand how it has played such an important role in our society, in the way we experienced events, how we consumed our culture and how this industry has become the soft power of our nation, among other things. Just to take a few events to illustrate how important television has been and why we need to study and understand its role: Cathy Come Home, a film about the problems of homelessness, led to the setting up of Shelter, the Homelessness Charity; television allowed the public to watch and follow the Falklands war nightly, with all its ups and downs. The coverage of the 1953 Coronation was watched by 20 million people, though many did not have a TV. Instead, those with a set, invited friends and neighbours in to watch it together. It was a national event.

"By studying television, we can understand the important role it has played in our society, and it helps, hopefully, for us to argue and discuss, in an informed way, what form of television we want going forward."

 

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