Situation comedy and the female audience : a study of the mistress
This study examines the relationship between a television text and the women in the audience, using Carla Lane's situation comedy, The Mistress [BBC], broadcast in 1985, as a case study. The project is entirely directed by the audience point of view. An eclectic multi-disciplinary approach was taken to devise an 'open' conceptual model of the audience which located women as key actors in the viewing process. The concept of the Skilled Viewer was developed, incorporating elements from feminist film and television theory, reader response theory, and Uses and Gratifications theory. A feminist perspective, systematised by an ethnographic account and feminist sociological principles, guided the qualitative methods of data collection from 14 individual and nine groups of women viewers. Their discussions were recorded, transcribed, categorised, and analysed. Audience responses were classified into Uses and Gratifications categories. Viewers responded on emotional and/or intellectual levels, pointing up concerns relating to identification with stars/characters; aspects of realism; confirmation of personal values; and aesthetic criticism. Responses were defined within a framework of expectation, in terms of anticipations-expressed/fulfilled and/or hopes-expressed/ fulfilled. Viewers' 'interpretive strategies' and their source 'interpretive repertoires' via which they understood and enjoyed the text were explored. Reasons were posited for response. Major findings are as follows. A multi-disciplinary theoretical design supported by a reflexive, compatible methodological approach is effective. Application of the concept of the Skilled Viewer produces a number of findings not available via pre-existing theoretical models. Viewers are active, self-monitoring participants in the viewing process. The text/audience relationship is in constant negotiation. Viewers' enjoyment depends to a great extent on the priorities with which they approach it. Placing theoretical priority on the female viewer can prove methodologically effective. Legitimating their voice successfully empowers the women in the audience.