HBO has long marketed its programming under the moniker “original,” suggesting that it is both unique and innovative. To understand how the essays in this section affirm, revise, and sometimes challenge this claim, it is useful, first, to reflect briefly on the textual dynamics of commercial network programming. Network TV is, by all accounts, a medium that traffics in what Todd Gitlin (1983) calls recombinancy, or the endless recycling of well-worn (and profit-proven) formulas and genres. Conforming to a logic of safety, commercial network TV is risk-adverse, a practice that has generated an array of easily recognizable and popular genres such as soap operas, daytime talk shows, game shows, situation comedies, hour long dramas, and reality programming. The appeal of commercial network TV lies, at least in large part, in the comfort and security offered by its predictability and reproduction of prevailing cultural norms and values. Network television texts are in a word conservative, not in a political sense so much as in an aesthetic sense. Their well-rehearsed visual conventions and banal narrative tropes function rhetorically to create

and fulfill audience appetites in a manner that pacifies and placates, rather than shocks and unsettles.