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The Office: Speech & Silence
by Jeremy Butler `

Speech in non-narrative television is frequently directly addressed to the viewer. News anchors and reporters look at and speak toward the viewer. David Letterman directs his monologue right at the camera. The announcers in advertisements cajole viewers directly, imploring them to try their products. Other programs are more ambiguous in the way they address the viewer. Some fiction shows, e.g. The Office (U.S. version, 2005–) and Modern Family (2009–), employ the conventions of TV news and “interview” the characters, having them look directly at the camera as if they were non-fiction. The “target” of address in game shows is ambiguous, too. They pose questions to the social actors on screen, but these questions are also meant for the viewer so that he or she can play along. Needless to say, the way that speech is addressed can be quite complicated, and even contradictory. 

Music and speech go hand-in-hand on television. In many programs, dialogue will always be accompanied by music. It is a rare line of dialogue in Ugly Betty, for example, that has no music beneath it. And portions of programs that have no dialogue—say, a car chase—will almost always increase the presence of the music. In any event, television is seldom devoid of both music and speech. It is not a quiet medium, which is why the awkward silences in The Office are so effective in emphasizing the characters’ embarrassing situations. 

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
Documentary-Style "Interviews" in Fiction TV by NBC (2005) "The Office" makes distinctive use of faux interviews and silence.