‘Stealing the Show’ From the Brits

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Traditionally, British television has never reached much of an audience in America. Putting aside remarks that we Americans don’t understand irony or that famous British sense of humor, the recent success of the American version of “The Office” suggests that Americans are open to shows of a British influence. While countries around the world are exposed to countless American TV shows and our dominant pop culture, for the most part, Americans see very little shows from across the pond.
There seems to be an infinite number of channels and programs on American TV, but what they all have in common is the absence of a foreign perspective. In the past few years, many shows from abroad have been remade for American audiences. However, most of these shows bombed and were poor re-creations (excluding “The Office” and non-scripted shows like “American Idol”). So, why is it that U.S. channels never show popular British programs in primetime slots for American audiences? Yes, there is BBC America, but it seems to have the horrible show “Coupling” on a continuous loop.
Since networks will only offer shows with pop culture references familiar to Americans, they show a lack of faith in the American public’s ability to appreciate other cultures and a different sense of humor. Yet people around the world watch our shows and figure out American pop- culture references with little trouble. Conforming TV to rigid American standards is symptomatic of a narrow worldview. Other countries don’t usually recreate popular American shows; they rightfully air them as they were shown in the United States
It’s also apparent that American networks are afraid of exposing U.S. audiences to British shows because they assume they will receive poor ratings and that Americans don’t want to hear any “foreign” accents. However, there is clearly a market for British-created shows, but networks continue to offer only Americanized versions that damage the creativity and style of the originals. While the success of NBC’s “The Office” is noteworthy, one has to wonder why a nearly perfect show needed an American version in the first place. Unfortunately, when networks ignore or Americanize excellent British shows, U.S. audiences miss out on some great programs, either entirely or in their original splendor. Of course, the American version of “The Office” is a well-done sitcom that should now be seen as entirely separate from the original and departs from typical American comedies by omitting the much-hated laugh track.
The NBC version really found its voice during the second season and its development of the background characters is a positive change. However, there are times when the show steers into well-tracked sitcom territory with more outlandish behavior and scenarios, as well as catch-phrase dialogue. The more somber, awkward and realistic qualities of the original are missing for the most part, which reveals a striking difference that takes away from the integrity and brilliance of the first.
American networks would do well to show popular British shows so that interested Americans wouldn’t miss quality programs in their un-Americanized state. While DVDs can offer solace to those of us who pine for a good British comedy, they can be expensive and many shows are simply unavailable in America. Therefore, the following shows are just a few examples of great British shows that are outside of traditional American programming and could gain an audience in the United States. One can only hope they’ll escape the curse of Americanization, if they haven’t already been remade:
1.) “The Office.” It’s necessary to start off with “The Office” (the original) because far too many Americans say the words “the British version.” This is wrong because there is no “version” from England, there is only the masterpiece that is the original. In comparison to the NBC version, the characters and plot of the original have greater subtlety and there is a lack of gags commonly found in U.S. television. This show is brilliant for its realism and at the same time, its charm. It didn’t overextend its welcome either, which never occurs in America because as many episodes as possible are churned out in order to reach the holy grail of syndication.
2. “Spaced.” “Spaced” has a bit of a cult following in America and in the U.K., and for good reason. This show brilliantly reflects 20-somethings’ tendency to use pop cultural references to explain almost everything in their lives. The show focuses on Tim and Daisy, who decide to pose as a couple in order to rent a flat. It is easy to connect to the characters and their surreal adventures, and the skillful camera work of director Edgar Wright (from “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”) gives the show a distinctive feel.
Unfortunately, Fox has just announced that it will make an American version without the blessing of the show’s original creators, Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. As a result, the American version is dubbed “McSpaced” by devoted fans who deeply resent the tarnishing of a great show by unnecessary Americanization.
3. “Black Books.” This show can be purchased on DVD, but it is so consistently funny that it could gain a following on American TV. It centers on the cantankerous, foul-mouthed and slovenly book-shop owner Bernard, played by the great Irish comedian Dylan Moran. The dark humor and misanthropy of Bernard is offset by the always-pleasant and patient assistant Manny. Fran is the feminine touch to the show, but the three characters are at their best while in a perpetual state of drunkenness.
4. “QI.” “QI” stands for Quite Interesting and is hosted by the delightful and Cambridge-educated Stephen Fry. QI is like a game/quiz show, but it is actually funny, informative and enjoyable to watch, which is rare, especially if you’re familiar with truly awful American game shows. A group of panelists are rewarded points for interesting answers, not necessarily correct ones. It is an entertaining show that is both serious and silly and full of (purposefully) unanswerable questions.
5. “I’m Alan Partridge.” The show’s main character is wonderfully played by co-writer and creator Steve Coogan. The show follows an embarrassing buffoon who was downgraded from the BBC to a graveyard shift on Norwich radio. He is a complete narcissist as well as a bigot who is devoid of any real social skills. His awkwardness and insensitivity result in a hilarious parody of chat show presenters.
Other notable shows worthy of attention include “Fawlty Towers,” “Extras,” “Blackadder” and “The Mighty Boosh.”
While the above shows have already aired on British television, American networks no longer seem as hesitant to change older British shows for U.S. audiences, instead of just airing them as they should be

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