posted by Megan Wadsworth on Feb 7

The British don’t do TV the way American’s do it. It’s a difficult adjustment from growing up with an endless selection of shows.  Watching evening television in America is not so much a choice but an addiction. Once you find the shows you want to watch that’s it. You’re sucked in, for however many years they run the show. ER was on for 11 years. You are unable to forget when a program airs if you wanted to, even the ones you don’t watch. The constant barrage of advertising makes this impossible. You will always know the exact date and time a new season is starting, what channel it’s on and if there are any schedule changes. The later tends to happen rarely and if it does there will be so much press surrounding this major network decision you will know long before the event. And I don’t say ‘event’ lightly. American’s take their TV seriously.

The programming itself is brilliant. You cannot fault American TV. Those who do tend to be self- riotous, pseudo intellectual types or reformed television addicts who don’t watch it at all.  If they tuned in they’d love it too.  It’s impossible not to. Whether it’s mainstream network programming or the edgier HBO productions, there is literally something for everyone and now with the new gadgetry of digital TV, choosing is no longer necessary. We have the same technology over here but it’s not half as sophisticated. But it doesn’t have to be because there isn’t half as much to watch. This is where you might expect me to pontificate about quality over quantity but I will not. American TV is superior. Period.  There are, however, exceptions to this rule.

When the Brits get it right they get it oh so satisfyingly right. Comedy is where TV tends to soar over here. I’m not a fan of too many UK dramas as it often feels like I’m watching cheap imitations of American shows. Oh, but the comedy… sketch comedy is irreverent and brilliant. It’s Saturday Night Live on its best night, Kids in the Hall those first glorious seasons. Little Britain and The Sharon Tate Show are the two big ones of the decade over here. Still on comedy, there is The Office of course, which Americans know well since its Stateside makeover. More recently there is Gavin and Stacy, arguably the best comedy made in eons on either side of the pond. I watch with my mouth agape. The writing is dead on and the actors perfectly cast, it’s impossible not to need more more more after one episode. Father Ted, one of the older comedies was the same. Laugh out loud funny. The best comedies over here have this profound understanding of the comedy/tragedy link. Father Ted himself is a pretty lonely man. Sad and hysterical all at the same time. Just like life.  

The main trouble with all of these programs is you don’t get more. You’re expected to be satisfied with a couple of seasons and then settle for reruns and documentaries on the said program aired once a year or so. They air the best scenes, get you laughing again, and writers and actors are interviewed. The British don’t seem to see it this way but to me its manipulation tactics plain and clear. It’s a way of airing the program without the hard work and money involved in writing and making anymore. To be fair to Father Ted, the lead actor did die but I don’t think there were any more series in the works anyhow.  Now they just had a really good excuse to stop writing. But even death wouldn’t stop American’s from carrying on with a good thing. They’d simply cast a new a Ted.

The writers of Gavin and Stacy have literally stopped after three seasons. ‘Oh you can’t push these things’ people love to say. ‘It’s good to stop while your ahead’, is another one. ‘Wouldn’t want to ruin a good thing’.  ‘Rubbish’, is what I say. Come on already! Write another season. It’s not like Gavin and Stacy is all tied up. There are loads of story lines to carry on with. They just won’t. Can you imagine if Grey’s Anatomy stopped airing after three seasons? People would go mental. Even the Brits wouldn’t be happy with that. Because the TV over here is so hit or miss we rely heavily on US imports. Trouble is I never have clue when they are on. Thank God for friends who seem to be in the know and send me texts messages letting me know when a new season of the big hits are starting or I’d miss it all, Grey’s, Glee, Desperate Housewives, all of it. Occasionally you run across advertising for a favorite program and it will just say ‘Coming Soon on Channel 4!’ but that’s it. There will be no mention of when or what time. Someone would get fired for that in America, deservedly so.   

The other issue is that you normally know around the time of year something will start up again in the States. This is why they break shows up into seasons instead of series as they do in the UK. Things sort of start and stop all through the year over here and you never know when something good is going to pop up. It often changes from year to year and season duration over here is much shorter as they don’t show repeats in the middle of a run, which is, admittedly, one thing I don’t miss.

It’s a bloody big job keeping up with it all. For the most part I’ve given up. British television isn’t worth the investment because it’s just going to disappear as soon as you’re hooked anyway and American television aired over here is too unpredictable. I have the stuff I do my best to keep up with but it’s not half as much as it would be if I lived in the US. I’d love to say that’s a good thing and I watch far less TV but that would be a lie. I just watch what’s on. Lots of cooking shows, property and development programming, talent shows, and documentaries on those blasted ‘brilliant’ television shows of yesteryear. There is always stuff to watch but if I missed a week I’ve not really missed anything. Makes me question why I’m watching really.

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6 Comments to “TV Land”

  1. Patty Says:

    Woot! Great post. And I also love US TV. I’ll admit it, it’s total brain candy and a whole bunch of shit really – which is why I used to pretend that I wasn’t totally addicted but have given these lies up in favor of less stress. 🙂

    Megs – try out Modern Family if you get a chance. Brilliant. Funniest show on TV(dare I say even better than 30 Rock).

  2. Mark Says:

    I will never forget renting the original DVDs for the British Office…I had to stop watching it for a bit because it was so brutally honest. But I was hooked and went right back. So I think you are on target there.

    I wondered why it was so few episodes; I am still a little mystified. We like out products consistent and super prompt in the US. Perhaps this is the deciding factor on longevity.

    Some shows could definitely go by by a little sooner here.

  3. Craig Coffee Says:

    Very interesting Megan – my Australian friend, Gil, turned me on to “Little Britain” last year and I loved it!

    Thanks to your insight I can stop wondering why “Downton Abbey” on Masterpiece Theater was only 4 episodes – something that has been puzzling me for the last month.

  4. Pete Smith Says:

    I co-sign Patty’s recommendation of Modern Family. Re; your longing for American television’s pattern of sustaining the life of a show for as long as possible: don’t forget that it’s for good reason that the website ‘jumptheshark’ was conceived here in America: sometimes they just don’t know when to quit. As an adolescent, nothing was sadder for me than to watch Archie Bunker go from this well defined and hilarious bigot to a wishy washy, ambiguous creature, widowed, with implausably, a new child in his life. AGGH!

  5. Paul Says:

    I think I need to go out any buy another TV. Apart from the comedy I don’t like anything on Megan’s.

    Grey’s, Glee, Desperate Housewives… someone help me please!

  6. Pam aka Mom Says:

    Yes, we love our TV. I’m about to spend 3 1/2 wks with you and am trusting my DVR to have a few of my shows ready when I return. I could try watching on UK computer, but THEY, whoever THEY are,prevent Brits from watching US shows online. Yet, here at home, an evening of reading with Scarlatti piano sonatas playing softly in the background infuses me with a delightful sense of well-being. There’s a warm glow all around. I just don’t do it enough, ’cause Glee is on! I hate that in a way.

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