Telecom alumna, Dr. Amanda Lotz, talks TV and her interdisciplinary journey

By: Niki Fritz

According to Dr. Amanda Lotz, the plan wasn’t always academia. She started out as a communications major at DePauw University, interested in management. But after one truly awful internship in the cellular telecom industry, Lotz jokes she “was just horrified by the real world.” She was tossing around the idea of going to law school when a fellow student’s presentation on the impact of medical dramas changed her mind.

“A light bulb went off and I was like ‘Oh, that’s how you talk about TV.’ I applied to grad schools and got into [the Department of Telecommunications at IU],” Lotz says. “The first week of grad school I thought, ‘This is what undergrad would be like if people did the reading.’ I loved it.”

Lotz jokingly referred to her last year as a master’s student at Indiana University as the “year of the divorce.” In 1997, the year Lotz completed her MA, cultural studies faculty left Telecommunications.  But her own studies benefitted from the presence of both social scientific and critical studies faculty in the same department, as she got exposure to both research on industry practices and critical studies. She in particular got interested in gender related questions in course of her studies at IU, which led her to pursue her PhD at the University of Texas in the Department of Radio-Television-Film.

At Texas, Lotz combined feminist critical studies with TV industry practices, a difficult feat considering the constantly changing TV landscape around the turn of the century. While Lotz’s dissertation focused on textual analysis of female characters, right around the time she was finishing her PhD there was an explosion of new female characters such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After receiving her degree, Lotz spent time reframing her first book, which was based on her dissertation, called “Redesigning Women: Television after the Network Era.”

Lotz landed in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, where she took on her next big project, “The Television Will Be Revolutionized,” a book which questions the general notion that TV was dying and contemplates the post-network era.

After tenure, Lotz explains that she was able to put more time and energy into projects she wanted like writing a text book on media critique and having children. Eventually, Lotz returned to explore the other side of “Redesigning Women,” the changing role of men in television.

“When I finished writing ‘Redesigning Women,’ I knew I wanted to eventually write a book about men although I didn’t know what it would be about … ‘Cable Guys’ was a trudge. I would reinvent the book every summer when I would think about it,” Lotz explains of the writing process. “Finally I got ‘Cable Guys’ published and then it was time to redo ‘The Television Will Be Revolutionized.’”

Lotz also contributes to the popular press, writing for atenna.com and salon.com.

“You have to jump through enough hurdles to [write opinion pieces],” Lotz says. “For me part of it is the conversations in the field are a little navel gazing. Writing for popular press forced me to think about why this matters. In trying to translate these things to a broader audience, I am trying to participate in the cultural conversation.”

Lotz says for her it always comes back to the questions. She told me of the first time she met Dr. Annie Lang.  It was at the orientation for her incoming class, where Annie asked her “What questions do you want to ask?” Lotz admits that she was a bit intimidated and unsure of her answer.

“I answered something I’m sure but it has taken some time to figure out the answer. I’ve realize it is all about questions,” Lotz explains. “The method and the theory comes later, but the core of it is the questions. That is most fun part of this job.”

Third Half with Amanda Lotz – April 24, 2015

Being Wired: How U.S. Television was Revolutionized

Amanda Lotz, Department of Communication Studies, University of Michigan

Lotz_Third HalfHow is it that “cable,” an industry that spent 30 years as the dark horse of US television, found itself, by 2010, as both the home of content and industrial practices that resurrected television, and as the gatekeeper to the Internet for 80 percent of American homes? Amanda Lotz presents the first chapter of this story — spanning 1996-2002 — as she introduces her new book that charts the unexpected story of how cable revolutionized television and its owners became the barons of the information age.