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Interpreting television narrative : how viewers see a story

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Questions have been raised about whether all viewers receive the same message from a television program. However, there has been little systematic investigation of divergence in interpretations. The present research investigated the nature and degree of divergence among viewers' interpretations of a soap opera narrative watched in natural circumstances. Four distinct interpretive positions were adopted by viewers which related closely but not straightforwardly to the two alternative readings made available to them by the structure of the program, and which also included intermediate or negotiated readings. Interpretative divergence appeared to depend on viewers' relationships with the central characters of the narrative, as expressed through character identification, evalution, and recognition. The implications of these findings for the empirical and theoretical study of divergent interpretations and their relation to program structure are discussed.

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