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Network television writers and the ‘race problems’ of 1968

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This article examines the development of television scripts in the crime drama genre within the context of US commercial broadcasting in the network era. In 1968, public discourse around race relations, civil rights and violence reached a height following the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert F. Kennedy, and the release of a government study on urban uprisings by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Ironside (1967‐75, NBC) and N.Y.P.D. (1967‐69, ABC) are two crime dramas that drew on recent events related to black militants and white supremacy in order to appeal to viewers with socially relevant entertainment during this time. The archival records of screenwriters Sy Salkowitz and Lonne Elder make it possible to trace the development of one episode from each series over the course of multiple drafts. This analysis of the script development process explores the relationship between public discourse, industrial context, commercial agendas and creative priorities. Ironside and N.Y.P.D. are both crime dramas, but an examination of both series yields points of divergence which help to illustrate the norms of the network system in terms of act structure, genre tropes, and the oversight of standards and practices.
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Keywords: Ironside television series; N.Y.P.D. television series; race and 1960s television; script development; television crime drama; television screenwriting

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000106744543University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Publication date: September 1, 2019

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  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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