Television Directors in French-speaking Switzerland (1954-1990s). Birth and Construction of a Professional Group

Roxane Gray University of Lausanne

Even though the field of television history has developed different approaches to the medium, researchers have shown less interest for the analysis of television production and its professions.[1] In Switzerland, television professionals have significantly contributed to the writing of the history of television production. Through testimonial websites[2], anniversary books[3] or autobiographical writings,[4] they share stories, thoughts and memories of their own television history. These publications are valuable sources for reconstructing some aspects of Swiss television history. Nonetheless, they reproduce an institutional and regional history of Swiss television, and focus on its key figures and moments without deeper problematization and without national or international contextualization.

Part of the FNS project “Beyond Public Service: Towards an Expanded History of Television in Switzerland, 1960 to 2000”, my doctoral thesis revises a history of television considered too linear and proposes a less schematic definition of the medium. The thesis will re-examine the Télévision Suisse Romande’s (TSR)[5] history by paying particular attention to its production processes. I argue that analysing the professional trajectories helps to look beyond the television medium and reveals the porous boundaries between media. This approach also shifts the focus away from the institutional framework of television in order to understand the diversity of practices at its margins.

My doctoral thesis focuses on the professional group formed by television directors in the French speaking part of Switzerland. The regional framework of my subject fits into a broader analysis beyond institutional television and at different spatial scales. Indeed, my research examines the diversity of professional practices within the public service and the private sector and pays attention to the transnational and transmedia collaborations. Because of its geographical, cultural and linguistic proximity to French-speaking Switzerland, France is a priviledged partner of Swiss television professionals. This study also considers the circulations between Swiss television and independent cinema. The contiguity between both spheres is historically marked by the foundation of the association of Swiss film directors in 1962, and by the development of co-production platforms like the creation of the Groupe 5 in 1968. These different events are integral part of a national process of negotiations between the Swiss public broadcasting organization (SSR) and independent cinema.

 

My research retraces the professionalization of Swiss television directors from 1954 – the official launch date of the Télévision Suisse Romande (TSR) – to the late 1990s. This decade has seen a reconfiguration of television’s modes of production due to the generalization of digital technologies. The expansion of cable television and the creation of the TSR 2 channel in 1997 have marked the entry of the TSR into the era of the diversification of offers. In 1996 was also signed the Audiovisual Pact, which officially established the conditions for co-production between the SSR and Swiss independent cinema.

The history of television directors is, throughout this period, generally told as the decline of the profession.[6] This particular professional group has allegedly been the most affected by organizational and management strategies put in place by national television institutions from the 1970s on. However, the diversity of the areas of activity of the profession, and its constitution in different forms of organizations suggest that the identities and professional practices of television directors in Switzerland are multiple. They are (re)configuring according to the different networks and instances in which they evolve. To address this issue, different resources will be consulted, among others the Swiss Television Archives, the Swiss Film Archives, the Swiss Social Archives as well as press and professional publications. Interviews with television professionals will be conducted as well.

In line with the scholarship in the field of media industry studies, this thesis first of all aims at studying the reconfigurations of the profession inside institutional television. How did the group renegotiate its positions within the TSR and with the other professions? The definition of “television director” will be deconstructed and taken in its broadest sense. The profession will be understood as a ‘professional configuration’[7] characterized by exchanges, conflicts and negotiations between a multiplicity of actors competing for a field of skills, techniques and knowledge. This approach will pay attention to the attempts by groups or individuals to delimit and define a professional space.

My study will also take into account aspects of television directors’ paths outside the TSR and the connections between the group and other networks. To what extent has TSR been a central player in the history of the profession, and in the construction of this latter culture and collective identity? A first observation of the group shows that television directors belonged to groups and associations of varied natures: they met at professional associations and trade unions in both television and cinema spheres, through intermedia collaborations, at international meetings and festivals, or thanks to transnational exchange of programmes and technical cooperations. Television directors have also imported or exported knowledge and skills acquired during training abroad.

These professional meetings can finally be understood as many opportunities for these television directors to define and to highlight certain specificities of their profession at different times and in different geographic, institutional and media contexts. These multiple frameworks will make it possible to approach the variety of designations of the profession according to the contexts in which they are produced.

 

[1] Jérôme Bourdon, Histoire de la télévision sous de Gaulle, (Paris, 2014), p. 18.

[2] ‘TSR Notre histoire’, online at www.notrehistoire.ch/pages/about (last accessed 27 January 2018).

[3] Boris Acquadro and Raymond Vouillamoz, La TSR a 50 ans: un album de famille 1954-2004 (Genève, 2004); Nicolas Bouvier, Télévision suisse romande 1954-1979: 25 ans TV ensemble (Lausanne, 1979).

[4] François Bardet, Témoins de la Terre, Continents sans Visa (1959-1969), TSR Archives, Geneva; Robert Gerbex, En balayant devant ma porte et devant celles de la Télévision Suisse romande et de quelques cinéastes (Lausanne, 1997); Pierre Matteuzzi, ‘Passion TV’, Culture Enjeu, 50 (Genève, 2016); Raymond Vouillamoz, Zapping intime (Lausanne, 2015).

[6] Jérôme Bourdon, ‘Les réalisateurs de télévision : le déclin d’un groupe professionnel’, Sociologie du travail, 4 (1993), pp. 431-445; Pierre Corset, Philippe Mallein, Joëlle Périllat, Monique Sauvage, ‘Éléments pour l’histoire d’un corps professionnel: les réalisateurs de télévision’, Bulletin du Comité d’Histoire de la Télévision, 4 (1982), pp. 59-76.

[7] Andrew Abbott, The system of professions: an essay on the division of expert labor (Chicago and London, 1988).

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