Fragment #003: Marcia Landy on Television Time in Monty Python’s Flying Circus

The overall form of the series is connected to the basic attributes of television – segmentation and flow. Drawing on and utilising every available genre – news, interviews, game shows, commercials, and films on television, the Flying Circus capitalised on and exploited the segmented character of television time. However, in its profligate “waste” of time through the disavowal, interruption, repetition and lack of closure of many sketches, the Flying Circus calls attention to the continuous and indiscriminate character of time inherent in the televisual. While individual programs have their time slots and are self-contained, they exist simultaneously with and absorb other media forms. Given the continuous and diverse character of the medium, the viewer always enters television in the middle of things.

Correspondingly, the Flying Circus episodes begin in media res, making no reference to any specific moment in time or specific identity of place, as if signaling their ongoing character. The abrupt and arbitrary beginning of each of the programs is further evidence of television as a technological medium that is always on and, unlike film, has no beginning or ending. The loose structure of the shows, their broken-up character, and their movements through different temporal dimensions and characteristic of the flow and heterogeneity of the medium, though many of the episodes make repeated reference to earlier sketches and gestures. The chronological or linear sense of the episodes is scrambled, miming the diversity of the medium. Television’s immediacy and liveness is often invoked in the Flying Circus through direct address, the play on new reportage, numerous interruptions, and the role of the “Vox Pops”. Through the appearance of randomness, the Flying Circus called attention to the character of television as a “continuous flowing river of experience”. This “flowing river” is characterised also by the segmentation of units of time and by “interruption”, all of which find their way into the Flying Circus addresses of the television medium. The format of the Flying Circus reveals that, unlike variety show skits, the episodes have no closure, no culminating punch line, and often seem to have no point.

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