Assignment 2: How producers construct media for audiences

When it comes to what we find on our televisions, we are subjected to the results of rigorous planning by media producers who are looking to appeal to a certain audience or market in order to get the best ratings. Every element is carefully picked with the particular target in mind in order to get a form of reaction, whether it be an obvious one, or subliminal.

The show I picked to place under my microscope was Curb Your Enthusiasm. Some people struggle in life to make one hit television show which still feels fresh decades after airing, however, Larry David has managed to do it twice; first with Seinfeld, the show about nothing, and now Curb.

Upon looking at how media producers tailor Curb to their target audience, I thought it would be a good idea to try and find out who that audience are exactly, or at least, get a rough estimate. The Facebook for the show didn’t reveal much in that regard, but the ratings on IMbD weren’t much more help either:

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As you can see from the user ratings report, it appears the vast majority of people who have watched it love the show, with the average score being well above 8. This means that the show is a hit with both male and female viewers, as well as young and old. The only real way to distinguish the real gender of Doreen would be to look where the number of votes came from, which is male, with 42117 (as of 18/12/2014), to the 6951 female votes.

The Essential HBO Reader by Gary Richard Edgerton also in a way backs up the notion that the target audience may be male:

“Although the revealing and frank depiction of four attractive women enjoying their sex life unquestionably offered voyeuristic pleasure for HBO’s long targeted male viewers, Sex and the City ultimately became a “girls’ show.”

“HBO’s subsequent comedic successes returned male characters to the forefront, in both Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-) and Entourage (2004-).”

According to the number of votes again, it also shows that the age of the Doreen will be between 18-29, although, it could be biased as more younger people within this bracket are more likely to use computers to review shows.

To reiterate a point made earlier though, the show is evidently loved by many and the audience varies massively.

The main character, Larry David, is a fictionalised version of the writer, enjoying semi retirement in Los Angeles with his wife Cheryl. The show solely revolves around David and the trouble he gets into on a daily basis as he repeatedly questions and refuses to abide by societies norms that he finds abnormal and at times frustrating. This feature rings true with most with viewers as, just like in Seinfeld, it speaks to us as people who live in the same type of world where we find the same society norms questionable yet keep quiet because we just want to fit in.

The latter point is something that is explored in Dr Steve Peters’ The Chimp Paradox, in which he explains that our brains have programs/gremlins that make us feel like we need to appease others to be part of a “troop” in order to be happy.

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If this is the case then you could argue that the show is designed intentionally to give the viewer the thrill of seeing somebody do something they are too scared to do incase it alienates them from a troop, to steal Dr Peters’ phrase.

The show also explores the idea that we enjoy watching on as things go wrong for somebody else, and despite us respecting Larry in a way, we also find it funny when his antics back fire and get him into trouble. It’s a bit like the same way we enjoy watching somebody fall off his bike on You’ve Been Framed.

Another thing which Curb shares with Seinfeld is Larry’s enforced “no hugging, no learning” rule, which removed any sentimental or moral obligations from the show, which other, more mainstream comedies such as Friends and Scrubs are full of. To me this indicates that it maybe goes for the more alternative crowd. Speaking from experience of myself and friends who also watch this show, this is the case as we enjoy indie music and tend to swerve the mainstream, without wanting to sound too hipster.

The Waiting Room Policy is a great clip to show Curb in its truest sense:

In this scene you see Larry at the doctors waiting room, discontent with its policy of how it sees patients. He voices it to the worker and fellow waiters, who remain silent, just as normal people do in real life in such situations.

The audience, knowing Larry is a personified version of how they want to be, naturally side with Larry as they feel he is being hard done by on both counts, when in reality he is being completely unreasonable.
It is a theme that is repeated in every episode, and different people identify themselves with different individual problems that Larry encounters.

People also side with Larry when it comes to his encounters with Susie Green, with the two constantly being at odds, despite her reacting, albeit taking it a bit far at times, justifiably.

The setting of the show is an interesting one that hasn’t been covered in great detail but to me personally, I feel LA (up until the latest season where he moves to New York) is a great choice. I feel this as when you hear about LA, people talk about how everything there is fake; so for Larry to be the voice of reason within a society, which is as materialistic and fake as LA further strengthens the audiences’, bond with him as the leading character.

The music of Curb tends to always be a form of classical or orchestra music; the most notable being Luciano Michelini’s Frolic which is used at the shows theme tune.

When you compare this to shows such as Friends and Scrubs again, which use more well known songs or artists, with one famously using U2, and the other using Dido, to appeal to the younger, more mainstream focused youngsters which make up their target audience, it again gives you the feeling that the audience for Curb is slightly older, more alternative and possibly, more intellectual, if you believe this chart which suggests people who listen to classical music tend to be smarter:

When looking at the artwork used on the season DVDs and advertisements, it gives you a sense of the type of humour and general attitude you will be subjected to while watching this show.

Denotation

– The image used for this season is literally a load of people all with Larry David’s head.
– “Deep inside you know you’re him”

Connotation

– The underlying message is whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all like the on screen Larry David deep down and we see him as a symbol of somebody who isn’t afraid to say what he feels, while we do.
– His facial expression isn’t happy which could make us feel like as a society we are pretty discontent with life as a whole.

Denotation

– Larry has placed is head in the middle of the famous fair ground game where you throw a ball etc at the heads.

Connotation

– It’s yet another negative look at life as a whole, as he is putting himself on the same line as the heads which objects are thrown at. It is as if he is saying that life is a series of events thrown at you regardless of whether you want it to or not.

Denotation

– It is Larry sat in his psychiatrist’s office talking about his problems, and in the background you can see his psychiatrist has hung himself.

Connotation

– The psychiatrist having killed himself implies that the problems Larry is talking about are so bad that he himself, a person who deals with other people’s problems on a daily basis, has gotten depressed and committed suicide.
– It’s a very dark piece of humour being used to promote the show that would only attract an audience who likes that genre. People who are easily offended would know to avoid this show at all costs if they didn’t like this.

When it comes to the artwork they usually range from fairy to very dark images with a negative outlook on life, which shows they are targeting people who share similar feelings or find them humourous.

The dark humour elements of the posters made me interested to look at what psychiatrists had to say on the subject.

“One of the reasons we laugh at tragedy is that it makes the enormity of the issue easier to deal with, but we do live in a society where tragedy has become something that we’ve become conditioned to laugh at,” said psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos in the BBC article exploring the matter.

This clip shows a scene where there is a great deal of dark humour which focuses on an argument between a Holocaust survivor and a contestant on the reality show Survivor as they face off in a fiery debate over who had the worse experience.

In an article Eric Jaffe says:

“The fact that people can find some humour in a tragedy of genocidal proportions suggests there’s nothing we can’t find a little funny — at least when it’s presented right.”

“humor permits one to cope better with the aversive experiences of life.”

In the same article Thomas Ford of Western Carolina University says:

“I think if people are able to find humor in their personal difficulties, they certainly are better off.”

So to conclude, the humour within the show appeals to the audience because it makes it easier to cope with the mundane, the confusing and/or the hard elements of life as a whole.

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