Derek Johnson's Media Franchising

In Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries, Derek Johnson argues that despite their culturally “bankrupt” image, media franchises nevertheless provide unique sites of social and cultural exchange, where institutions and creative talent vie for power and where meaningful professional identities are negotiated. A widespread and lucrative industry practice, media franchising develops a single intellectual property into multiple tie-in products, sequels and spin-offs, and has generated such recognizable brands as Star Trek, The TransformersHannah Montana, and Law and Order.

Johnson states that media franchises are “shared” worlds, meaning that they are created and changed by collectives of individuals working across cultural and industrial contexts. This unique form of collaborative authorship is marked by tensions between parties of unequal power, namely the institutions that control intellectual properties and the creative professionals who generate and alter narrative worlds from those properties. Accordingly, Johnson places his methodology at the often-contentious crossroads of political economy and cultural studies. He draws from fan and trade journals, archival research, and interviews with industry professionals to shed light on both the economically-driven strategies of media franchising and the subjective experiences of the workers who find themselves caught up in this collaborative production network. Johnson’s focus on creative labor reveals the social tensions at play in franchised production, where creative professionals strive to establish their creative agency and authorship status while, contradictorily, working from shared ideas and resources.

In this excerpt, Johnson examines how these creative and social tensions play out in science fiction television franchising, focusing on writer, showrunner, and self-identified science fiction fan Ronald D. Moore. When discussing his work on Battlestar Galactica and multiple iterations of Star Trek, Moore focuses on the creative freedom afforded to him, emphasizing the originality of his work rather than the collaborative nature of its origins. Moore also describes a similar desire for creative distinction among discreet “peer” production communities. He recalls, for example, the sense of competition and resentment that existed between creative personnel working on different Star Trek series, despite sharing production resources and narrative elements. Ultimately, this passage reveals the ways in which producers like Moore strive to create autonomous creative identities for themselves while working with shared resources, sometimes in tension with the institutions that control franchise properties.

Media Franchising is a timely contribution that reaches across methodological frameworks to reveal the social, cultural and creative significance of franchised production

Johnson, Derek. Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries. New York: NYU Press, 2013.

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