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Sean O'Sullivan

Serial storytelling has received comparatively little attention in narratology, as a discrete set of conceptual and publishing effects. While my larger research interests address serial narrative across media, my current project focuses on the specific inventions and experiments of the most recent generation of television drama. The book, tentatively titled The Sonnet-Season and the Transformation of American Television, foregrounds the development of the season as a clearly defined but imaginatively flexible narrative unit since its debut with The Sopranos in 1999. I term the 13-episode season the "sonnet-season" because of its parallels with the limits and possibilities of poetic form. Television has always had to operate under practical restrictions--tight shooting schedules, the hour-long confine of each installment, the rituals of weekly consumption. As I argued in a 2010 article published in Storyworlds, the sonnet-season has succeeded in making a virtue of necessity, just as the sonnet deploys fixed rules of meter, pattern, and organization to open up vast ranges of expression.

What marks this new American narrative design is its constant and energetic negotiation between restriction and freedom, between the fixed practical parameters of television production and a re-invention of the storytelling possibilities of the medium. The book will offer a snout-to-tail analysis of this new narrative form by examining how sonnet-season series function from their first moments to their dying breaths--and beyond. Individual chapters will consider the peculiar narrative beast that is the pilot; fifth episodes, which often serve as key moments of narrative discovery; the pauses between seasons; and the problem of serial entirety, including the myth of satisfaction.