As layered and long works, television fiction series have aesthetic properties that are built over time, bit by bit. This thesis develops a group of concepts that enable the study of these properties. It argues that a series is made of strung pieces, a system of related elements.
The text begins by considering this sequential form within the fields of film and television. This opening chapter defines the object and methodology of research, arguing for a non-essentialist distinction between cinema and television and against the adequacy of textual and contextual analyses as approaches to the aesthetics of these shows. It proposes instead that these programmes should be described as televisual works that can be scrutinised through aesthetic analysis.
The next chapters propose a sequence of interrelated concepts. The second chapter contends that series are composed of building blocks that can be either units into which series are divided or motifs that unify series and are dispersed across their parts. These blocks are patterned according to four kinds of relations or principles of composition. Repetition and variation are treated in tandem in the third chapter because of their close connection, given that variation emerges from established repetition. Exception and progression are also discussed together in the fourth chapter since they both require a long view of these serial works. The former, in order to be recognised as a deviation from the patterns of repetition and variation. The latter, in order to be understood in its many dimensions as the series advances. Each of these concepts is further detailed with additional distinctions between types of units, motifs, repetitions, variations, and exceptions, using illustrative examples from numerous shows. In contrast, the section on progression uses a single series as case study, Carnivàle (2003-5), because this is the overarching principle that encompasses all the others.
The conclusion considers the findings of the research and suggests avenues for their application.