Monday, February 23, 2009

Telly Talk

What do you think of the television in your host country?


If you want to accentuate the single biggest difference between US and UK Television, the question should read, “Do Tits Belong on the Telly?”

Now, I profess to be one of those ‘sensitive’ type males you read about—I’m in touch with my feminine side, I feel the pain of women who are regarded as mere sex objects—but my answer to the above question is still a resounding, “Yes!” and not simply because I like to see women with their kit off.

I never truly appreciated how prudish Americans are (personally, I blame the Puritans) until I saw full-frontal nudity on the television and nobody here blinking an eye. Sexuality in Britain, and even more so on The Continent, is greeted with a casualness unknown in America outside of hippy communes, the impromptu party after the Senior Prom and the make-believe world of Sex and the City which, happily, leads me back to the telly.

Television seems more ‘real’ to me when I hear people swearing and see them doing things normal people actually do. And the best thing about it is, if I don’t want to watch normal people doing those things, I can turn it off, or surf to one of the three dozen or so channels broadcasting American shows.

As for the overall quality of programming, I think the Brits are the clear winners. I’m not saying Britain would end up as a wallflower at a “Crap Television” disco, or that the US hasn’t produced some cracking shows, but for my money (Note to the Americans: I mean that in the most literal sense) nothing beats a BBC documentary.

In America, sponsors fund programs, and sponsors have agendas. The BBC, funded by yours truly and 60 million other conscripted contributors, has the freedom to make shows simply for the sake of making shows and that has lead to some spectacular programs that otherwise would never have been made. Okay, it also led to “Lark Rise to Candleford” but you can’t have everything.

One thing I will say in favor of America is, I liked the programming schedule. While it may have become a bit less formalized in my absence, my recollection is that new programs started in the autumn, were show at the same time on the same day throughout the winter and in the spring went into reruns. Here, a new series, or a new season of a series, might start at any time. And the season might be four, eight, twelve or thirty-seven episodes long. If you watch the first two or three and really get into it, they’ll change the time or the day or both, and sometimes they’ll show several episodes in one week and then none for a few weeks after that.

It really makes it hard to plan your day, and I find it sort of sad that the only program I can really count on to be regular as clockwork is Big Brother.


Well, once again, I find myself in a violent agreement with Mike. (We’ll have to find a topic that causes an “international incident” next time.) Anyway, yes, I find American TV to be woeful on the whole. I have cable TV which, I believe, gives me about 4200 channels, yet I quite often can’t find a thing to watch.

(I have to preface all this with the admission that I rarely watch TV. With a ten year age gap between the oldest and youngest sprog, my evenings consist of dinner, bath, bed, nagging teenagers about homework, proof-reading said homework, getting stuff ready for next day, blogging, bed.)

My viewing window is usually 9-9.30pm if I’m lucky, - a slot on many channels reserved for forensic crime shows (yawn) or “news”, which we know in the US means east coast, west coast and perhaps a bit about the Middle East. The “harder-hitting” news shows generally consist of whoever is trying to sell a book and can shout louder than everyone else. If I want to sink my teeth into international news, I turn to BBC America, where segments last longer than three minutes, the anchors really grill the guests, and the ads are relatively infrequent. Oh yes, and they cover events all over the world.

One thing I don’t miss on US tv are soaps. Most of the soaps here are on daytime TV and feature impossibly gorgeous people leading ridiculously complicated lives. I can’t even relate, but at least I avoid the coma-inducing “real life” or “gritty” British soaps like Emmerdale, Corrie and East Enders. The mere sound of the opening drum beats of East Enders has me reaching for a vat of gin to drown their sorrows.

So in summary, I eschew most US tv, except for my dirty little secret – American Idol. I’ve already picked my winner and they’ve only just announced the final 12!

Got something you want us to address? E-mail your suggestion to us or just pop it into the comment box


  1. Mike- I watch almost no prime time American television, except for one show, "Friday Night Lights." Otherwise, I gladly pay the extra cash to watch HBO and Showtime programming which air British quality shows. Funny, a friend of mine just recommended "Candleford" to me yesterday. I guess it's a female thing.

    Toni- You forgot to mention that our soaps include witches, hobbits and renditions of fairy tales. It's like panto every day of the year. Embarrassing.

  2. I detest the fact that there's commercials/adverts every 5 minutes on the USA telly. It would be slightly more bearable if they were good or funny, but they are neither. It's very rare I watch anything other than the news or BBC America these days because the programs are so so bad.
    The exceptions - I too have a secret crush on American Idol and I am a tad partial to Family Guy! Also, ABC sometimes has good documentaries. Last week they did one on kids in Appalachian Kentucky that was fab and has stayed with me for days. Those are rare though.

  3. well I am a fan of bbc drama, some itv, love bb3 and 4...and the rest are us imports actually, ER, men in apple trees, Westwing, I like to be selective, which is what tv now enables us to do with tivo, sky+, bt vision etc..I have Book quiz, Arena Tony Bennet and film of POLLOCK on record....

  4. With Obama's election there has been a lot of discussion about changing the US health care system. Which do you think is the better plan?

  5. Is this an appropriate place to rant about the cracktastic programming that is BBC America? I like their news and all, but did you know there's three hours of Cash in the Attic on every week day and more on Sat? I like Cash in the Attic, but seriously. The US has had a serious dearth of British TV for a long time and we finally get a way to show lots of good programming and instead we get an endless series of BBC America presents: a bunch of total wackjobs. Usually they go through one drama or comedy at a time with long gaps in between where nothing is aired during prime time but reruns of Dragons Den. The only shows they seem committed to showing remotely concurrently with what's airing in the UK are Graham Norton and Torchwood. So BBC America more scripted shows, less "Hey, it's your poo!" Oh and QI, you should totally air that stateside.

    On a more US vs UK note, since one has an other options to get TV nowadays I do get to watch a fair amount UK TV. I'd say I enjoy a higher percentage of British TV, but I still like more US shows. I do like that the US has started to make more finite series and we now have summer programming. It's my distinct impression that the UK is getting longer series runs for non soaps. That's all to the good too as far as I'm concerned, but I wish they would investigate the idea of actors being under 5 year contracts.

  6. Melissa - I tuined out of day time soaps when the 1980's cast of General Hospital all started coming back from the dead!
    Pam - we have that DVR thing where you can watch something half an hour later and whip through the ads. Cuts the shows down to about 10 minutes.
    FF&F - Men in Apple Trees? Interesting - it's just called Men in Trees here.
    Anon- great topic. Thanks and we will definitely post on that.
    Elizabeth - have to agree. They also used to show hours and hours of Changing Rooms, but I have a soft spot for Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen so that was OK.

  7. I agree with Elizabeth. I love the BBC America News, and I love one or two British shows, but there is a recycling of dross, on time after time after time, for which I can only use the word "relentless".

    I really enjoy the American version of "The Office", and "Scrubs", and "Family Guy". But by and large, the programmes don't come anywhere near British tv. It's unimaginative, and most of it isn't even entertaining. And the adverts drive me mad - I try to watch stuff only if I've recorded it in advance, so I can fast forward through them.

    If you've ever thought to complain about Children's tv in the UK, come to America and see what's on offer. Then you'll never feel bad about letting your kids watch tv again. In comparison, the British fare seems so educational, high quality, thoughtful, life-enhancing, funny, horizon-broadening... You get my point.

  8. Regarding BBC America, I deliberately paid for the 200 channel package so I could get BBC America and was appalled to discover I had spent good money on endless Cash in the Attic and the Poo Lady. The Poo Lady isn't even a BBC programme, they bought her and force her down our throats.


    If you're going to compare, it's worth considering that BBC TV costs the British watcher £140 a year, which is about the same as HBO costs in the US I think.

    Lastly, the worst thing about US TV is the promos they put on during the program. I was watching a tense action film, the hero was surprised in a darkened corridor by a bile-dripping alien - they fought... and while they fought, the bottom quarter of the screen filled with a cartoon face and the information that Family Guy would be on at 7pm on Tuesday. It fair takes you out of the moment, let me tell you.


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