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Stranger Things: Complex Serial, Complex Industry. The Institutional, Cultural, and Textual Significance of Internet-Distributed Television

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posted on 2021-12-08, 02:52 authored by Grandy, Caitlin

This thesis explores the emergence and significance of internet-distributed television by unpacking the industrial, cultural, and textual ramifications of programming originated for an online context. As one of the foremost streaming services both globally and within the United States, Netflix will be the central focus of this thesis. The programmes that Netflix originates facilitate discussions around the potential of this network and its online platform to encourage innovation and novelty in its long-form TV drama. Netflix’s Stranger Things (2016–), a programme concept that was reputedly rejected by a number of cable networks before being accepted by Netflix, provides a compelling case study of the creative possibilities afforded by streaming capabilities.  This exploration is structured into three chapters. The first examines the environmental and institutional factors of the US television industry from which internet-distributed networks emerged. This chapter also explores the different economic models and the associated storytelling methods of each. Chapter 2 demonstrates the cultural significance of streaming on consumption behaviours and explores how broadcast, cable, and internet-distributed TV networks conceive of and pursue audiences. The analysis of several seminal TV dramas, such as The Sopranos (HBO 1999-2007), Game of Thrones (HBO 2011-2019), and Breaking Bad (AMC 2008-2013), provides comparisons from which to better understand the significance of Stranger Things to both the network that commissioned it and to the American television industry at large. The third chapter offers a detailed analysis of Stranger Things as an exemplar of Netflix’s ability to commission what Trisha Dunleavy (2018) terms the ‘complex serial drama’ and in doing so emulate the successful strategies first deployed by US cable networks.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Media Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Dunleavy, Trisha