Is the UK trying too hard for America’s love?
|FEATURES - TV|
Caleb's not looking to close up the Brit/USA cultural divide anytime soon...
For many years, the only way you could see British programming in America was on Public Television. WGBH in Boston was one of the first stations that set out to culture we savages, by bringing us comedy programs like Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Are You Being Served?, and well as dramas, and established programs like Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! PBS helped establish my long love of Doctor Who, and made me a fan of a whole new slew of actors that my contemporaries had never heard of (although now, many of those actors are quite popular with Americans). I soon found myself laughing at Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry in Jeeves and Wooster, and then in A Bit of Fry and Laurie, as well as loving them with Rowan Atkinson in the various Blackadder series. A small group of my friends started watching these imported shows, and soon we were all calling each other “smeg heads” and going on about how we wanted to be lumberjacks (and we were okay).
Cable stations like A&E soon started showing more of these programs, and I couldn’t get enough. Finally one day in the mid-nineties, my satellite provider added a new station to our package that made my life a little brighter: BBC America. Suddenly, I was handed even more British programming that I had never seen, as well as some old favorites. It was nice to have so many alternatives to regular television viewing. And it has paid off. Suddenly, my fellow Americans are finally getting it. In the last year, several programs have made Doctor Who references, the most recent being the Dalek-inspired “Funny-Bot” on South Park, and both Matt and Karen have been guests on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Today Show anchor Meredith Vieira has even filmed a cameo for the sixth series of the long-running sci-fi show. However, I fear that maybe programmers are trying a little too hard for the American audience.
There are some who have questioned the decision to film episodes of Doctor Who in America. I thought it was a great decision, as it allowed for The Doctor and company to check out new locations and environments. The new settings for the two-part opener of the series accentuated the storytelling in amazing new ways. But the cynic in me has to ask the obvious question, which is simply did they do it to expand the universe of The Doctor, or was it merely a ploy to get more American viewers?
Steven Moffat is a brilliant writer, and has done great things since taking over as executive producer. I thought it was a brave new challenge to bring the crew of the TARDIS across the pond, and made a larger world for them to explore. It wasn’t the first story to take place in America (William Hartnell actually visited Tombstone). But it was the first time they did any substantial filming here. So was it more for publicity than for the story? I don’t believe so, but that doesn’t mean that others aren’t trying to cater to more American sensibilities.
Russell T. Davies is no stranger to American television. His popular series Queer as Folk was re-invented as a program for American cable, and more recently, he has been working here in the states to produce the fourth series of Torchwood with John Barrowman and Eve Myles joining an American cast. RTD has explained that it was an effort to make Torchwood feel more universal, but we also know that he loves working in America. And you really can’t blame him, because our television producers have more money to throw at programs, and here we can afford to have a group of writers, which makes for less work on his part.
To his credit, RTD has written some fantastic stories, and I have no doubt that the new series – due to hit Starz next month – will be some of the best television that we’ve yet seen. But as has been pointed out by some fans of the series, there’s a certain charm that the first series had. Basing it in Cardiff and giving it a very Welsh feel made it an original show, and very entertaining. I would certainly hope that the show will still capture much of the magic that made it worth watching in the first place (although, former cast members will of course be missed, because their characters were a big part of what made it special). Even still, I get that feeling of dread thinking that the show will be Americanized to the point of being nothing more than another sci-fi action show. I’ll still watch every episode, and I’m certain it will be better than a great deal of what television has to offer, but will it still be Torchwood, or simply a pale shade of what it once was?
"I want a station that will continue to show the programs that I can’t otherwise watch without spending an arm and a leg to order on DVD"
Which brings us to BBC America, that wonderful station that brings programming with a little something different. Over the last year, their programmers have started showing American-made shows, like Star Trek: The Next Generation, The X-Files, and coming soon, Battlestar Galactica. All fine series in their own right, but not exactly what I have in mind when I want to watch British programming. Even re-runs of Kitchen Nightmares have given way to the American version. They still make my list of stations I watch more than others because of Doctor Who, The Inbetweeners, Being Human, Demons, and seeing Graham Norton make an ass out of himself (still, I dig the guy’s show).
But they seem to go out of their way to show American movies (recently showing Batman and Superman II), and avoid showing much that might alienate the casual American viewer. I say bollocks (which I’m not sure I’m allowed to say being an American, but since I’m fighting for British programming, I’ll go with it), because I want a station that will continue to show the programs that I can’t otherwise watch without spending an arm and a leg to order on DVD. I don’t know whether or not the BBC has much influence on what happens at their US base, but I beg for someone to listen. Give me more of those Britcoms I’ve grown to love. Give me period dramas and historical costume pieces. Hell, I’d take Mr. Bean if it means that I can watch something that is even a little different from the ordinary.
Time and again, I have heard my foreign friends say that they love the programming they get from America. Why is it so difficult, then, for us to accept their programming? It doesn’t need to cater to us, because it’s great as it is. Exploring other aspect of storytelling is fine. Let the TARDIS land in America, and have the Torchwood gang fight aliens here. But don’t lose sight of what made those programs so magical to begin with. They were original, and in a time of cookie-cutter reality shows and run-of-the-mill sitcoms and too many doctor/cop/lawyer shows, it’s nice to see what else is out there.
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE HELP SUPPORT OUR SITE, AT NO COST WITH ONE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK 'LIKE' BUTTON BELOW:
If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.