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From Dallas to Berlin on Demand: The Transnationalization of Meaning? A Multilevel Replication Study in Israel and Germany

When Liebes and Katz (1990) conducted their ground-breaking study on international and intercultural audience decoding of the American TV series Dallas (1978 - 1991), an important change within the television market occurred. The daily hours of television (TV) broadcasting available had increased drastically and led to an increase in the distribution of American programs into homes around the globe. Liebes and Katz took this development as the starting point for their work. They looked beyond the text of popular TV series to the different readings by different audiences. By complicating the reading practice with 55 cross-cultural focus groups in Israel, the two researchers respected the diversity inherent in the spectator position.

Today, multi-channel and on-demand structures have transformed production and reception practices, introducing new actors and aspects into the process of exporting meaning.

German TV series set in Berlin are the focus of this study. Historically, Berlin has not only been a major production site in Europe but has also promoted the image of Germany and the imagination of Germans internationally. In particular, the multi-layered images of Berlin have become a cultural and commemorative resource for both national and international audiences (Eichner and Mikos 2017).

In the late 2010s, international streaming platforms discovered the export potential of German series such as Deutschland 83 (2015), Berlin Station (2016), Babylon Berlin (2017), Charité (2017), and 4 Blocks (2017). Dark (2017), being the first original German Netflix production, was an international streaming success and received critical acclaim. After additional productions such as Dogs of Berlin (2018) and Unorthodox (2020), Netflix opened production offices in Berlin in 2019 to focus on original European and German serial TV content. Berlin has become a transnational projection space and while the environment moves from Dallas to Berlin and the focus shifts from Americanness to Germanness, decoding remains firmly anchored in the city as something that represents a larger cultural complex.

Thirty years after the publication of the original Dallas study, its updated replication, will ask how various groups in Israel and Germany read the city of Berlin, engage through it, make it mean something for themselves and to each other. There will be a transfer of the methodological approach of comparative textual studies and comparative culture. It means comparing texts with each other to achieve insights into their content structure, design, and consumption, which will carry over into the field of communication science and sociology. Thus, we turn a humanities-based, a tried and tested approach, into a state-of-the-art study of streaming TV as a comparative communicative practice in the second decade of the 21st century.

The project is a collaboration between Freie Universität Berlin and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Further information about the project can be found here.