Hills (2004) attempts to define cult TV\in three ways. Firstly through textual analysis, secondly through analysis of secondary texts or inter-texts and lastly through observation of fan based practices. Without over stressing the role which fans play in the creation of a Cult TV show, as According to Hill their role is only as pivotal as his first two definitions, it is this process and the influence of new media which we will look at. Hill (2004) credits fan services with helping through the construction of non industry led groups which are basically groups which are formed without any official reason other than appreciation of that text. These groups then go on to create commentaries, fan fictions, episode guides and production histories which broadens the world of the show. Fans actively use the term Cult to distinguish themselves as an entity set to praise a certain work. Alex Gearins claims to have coined the term in 1983 in a magazine called infinity. finally it is these groups which lead to the creation of a market for props and memorabilia relevant to a certain show. This adds to the Cult like status of a certain work.
The purpose of media in the creation of these shows is discussed as a specific processes of development. For instance, the hiring of staff that have worked on shows previously, that are now regarded as Cult TV, Josh Whedon would be an example of this, having worked on such cult shows such as Buff, Firefly and now the Marvel movies. There are also certain particular narrative devices which are common place amongst Cult TV, Wilcox and Lavery (2002) list some, such as narrative puzzles, a strong sense of community and large ensemble casts. In some cases, a repressed romance that drives character development and plot. Look at any of the biggest TV shows of the last decade, Game of Thrones, The Wire, The Big Bang Theory, they all utilize one if not more of these common elements. What this suggests is that the status of Cult is not a grassroots movement driven exclusively by fan service but that these shows are developed with the purpose of them gaining these types of dedicated followings. Perhaps this is a two fold process. Where its inception is both a specific activity at the industry level and then a natural movement by fans at home? However media has changed overtime and these changes are forcing media to play a new role.
TV time slots would have played a role in the development of cult television in the past. This theory was presented in the book, rewriting the x-files (Reeves,Rodgers &Epstien 1996) The idea was that some shows were aired at prime time hours but failed to gain an audience. It was then after this first airing, when the show had been either cancelled or moved to a different time slot, did the avid fans emerge and create what would be regarded as a cult following. The reverse of this example would be shows placed at non prime times, but managed to gather a large following despite this. This process has now changed and this is largely due to the changes in technology. Television has lost its prominence as the device with which people consume TV. McDonald & Rowsey (2016) Note that internet and streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu have overtaken cable networks and have created the era of TV binging. They go on to explain how now these streaming services offer a continuous feed of your favorite show, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in a narrative for hours on end. In a Guardian article, Netflix Co-founder, Marc Randolph, talks about the creation of the streaming service Netflix and its rise to dominance. Netflix began as a DVD hiring service that came into competition against the giants in the industry of the day, blockbuster. Surviving the early years where Netflix struggled to stay afloat, the company would eventually out last its competitors. There is now only one Blockbuster left. Once this had happened and the internet had grown into a useful tool, the service switched from a DVD hiring service to the platform we know today (Levin 2019)
Though the history is still relevant. Just because the technology has changed does not mean that the more crucial elements of the formation of cult TV have. Hill (2004) touches on this when he talks about the internet. It is worth mentioning that his version of the internet was still rather limited, however what he says is that Cult TV, at its heart will only be developed by avid fans who religiously worship a show. Without the in depth knowledge gained from this obsession, one can not be regarded as an avid fan. New media has made TV more accessible, but it has not changed this important rule.
What Hill summarizes is that Cult Tv can not simply be the product of one definition. Cult television is developed by an industry to be just that, however fan services are also a massive component of creating a cult status. In a sense, it is the audience which carries the show onwards. From its conception as a possible cult show, the fans are the ones who cement this definition with their dedicated practices and devotion to the text. Seen in fan fictions and online discussions.
Hills, M. (2004). Defining cult TV; Texts, inter-texts and fan audiences, in R. C. Allen & A. Hill (eds) The Television Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge
Jimme L. Reeves, Mark C. Rodgers, and Epstein, (1996) Rewriting Popularity: The Cult Files
McDonald, K. Smith,Rowsey, D (2016) The Netflix Effect: Technology and Entertainment in the 21st Century. Bloomsbury Publishing USA
levin, S (2019) Netflix co-founder: ‘Blockbuster laughed at us Now there’s one left: retrieved from; https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/sep/14/netflix-marc-randolph-founder-blockbusterlevin, S (2019)
Wilcox, R. & Lavery, D. (2002) Introduction, in R. Wilcox & D. Lavery (eds) Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.