About British TV

As a final post on my trip to England in May, I feel compelled to write about TV in Great Britain. When we were tired from a long day of driving or walking around (or both), we switched on the TV. What we had to choose from did not “wow” us at all, and that’s important to me because I have a particular antipathy for making broad statements of condemnation without knowing enough about the facts.

Throughout the time that I’ve been writing this blog and checking Facebook sites about “Doc Martin,” I have read many comments about how much better British TV is than American TV. Now that I’ve been to England and spent 3 weeks there, I feel somewhat qualified to assess the quality of British TV and compare it to what we have in the US. At the risk of causing an uproar, I am taking a stand in defense of American TV and in favor of a more reasoned response when comparing the two. This is not to say that I think American TV is so great; rather, it’s to say that when we take into account the number of channels available on American TV as compared to British TV and also look at what makes a regular appearance on both, I find it difficult to arrive at this sort of gross approval of British TV over American.

First of all, I do not watch much daytime TV. What I’ll be discussing is the shows that are on starting around 5 pm and running through 11 pm, or what we usually call primetime. Secondly, although I have sampled many shows on American TV, I’m not a fan of reality TV unless it’s something that’s educational. Thirdly, I will never assert that I am thrilled with the choices we have and I tend to record the shows I like and watch them at a time that suits me rather than when they are actually on TV. Having the option of recording shows has made my viewing experience much better. In addition, I watch shows on Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, etc. and consider the choice of alternate sources other than network TV an important bonus.

One thing I quickly discovered when I looked at the TV guide in “The Guardian” newspaper is that there are a lot of American TV shows on British TV. Even if Americans consider their TV awful, the British certainly don’t. If you turn on the TV schedule in England, you’ll find “The Mentalist,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Simpsons,” and many hours of “The Big Bang Theory,” just to mention a few. In fact, there are many British TV shows that are versions of American shows, e.g. “Law & Order: UK” or game shows. There is also a judge show along the lines of “Judge Judy” there. Their talk shows are reminiscent of those in America. I like some of them, but they are not original nor are they an improvement over American TV — they are American TV! Plus they offer Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” and Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show.” In fact they have the Comedy Central TV channel as well as The Disney Channel, A + E Networks UK, AMC/CBS Networks International, Spike TV, Nickelodeon UK, BET, Discovery Networks including Animal Planet, TCM, National Geographic, Bloomberg TV, CNBC Europe, and QVC. They know and want to see our TV shows.

If anything, I would say they might argue that American TV is better than their TV.

Another thing we have to understand is that the British TV shows we see in America are a distillation of the best of British TV. We aren’t comparing apples to apples if we are putting their best shows up against all of American TV. Furthermore, those of us who watch PBS are a select group of TV viewers not really representative of our country as a whole or of the UK as a whole. I will watch almost every Ken Burns special while I will never watch “The Bachelorette.” That doesn’t mean I am a better judge of quality; it means my viewing habits differ from many others. My preferences are not necessarily of higher value; they may be elitist and arrogant. I wish a lot of popular shows appealed to me, but I generally tend to like the shows that end up having short runs, e.g. “Deadwood,” or “Carnivale,” or “Harry’s Law.” I thought all of those were smart, entertaining shows with great characters and important messages, but not enough people agreed with me.

I haven’t always picked unpopular shows. I was a big fan of “Law & Order” when it first appeared in 1990, and I liked “CSI” when it started in 2000, but they both had so many spinoffs they became diluted and bastardized, in my opinion. Too much of a good thing can also wear thin.

If we look back through the years we can recall many great American TV shows that have set the standard for TV around the world: westerns, sci-fi (like Twilight Zone, Star Trek), crime, comedy, soap operas, etc. I don’t want to bore you with a list of excellent American TV shows throughout the history of TV, but the list would be long and contain many that were groundbreaking at the time and would be listed in the canon of outstanding TV shows throughout the world. They also led to many actors becoming more prominent.

I love many British TV shows and feel lucky to have access to them. And, yes, some of them have inspired some good American shows. I see no reason to have to rebuke American TV in order to express one’s appreciation of British TV. From what I can tell, these two countries exchange many themes and actors in the field of TV and movies and we are better off as a result.

I’ve had my say and feel better now! I will move on to other topics.

Originally posted 2015-07-05 21:22:26.

3 thoughts on “About British TV

  1. Linda D.

    Good comments Karen. We watched very little British TV when we were in Port Isaac just to see what it was like. We found ourselves CRAVING news programs but found very few. We are used to having LOTS of news – local, provincial, Canadian, and international. We watch news because we like that kind of programming. There were many U.K. “game” shows, and shows that were similar to what American TV has. Canadians watch mostly U.S. channels I would suggest, although our government has laws that provide for “Canadian content” to be shown at set percentages. Some of that is pretty interesting – TO CANADIANS (and possibly others). I don’t think ANY of these countries – the U.S.A, the U.K. or Canada, (and likely other countries), can have bragging rights about their brand of television. Most of what is on is pure crap. We LIKE British television PROGRAMS which we usually get on Public Broadcasting Channels who try to provide quality shows to augment mainstream television offerings. I certainly feel that many of these British programs are REALLY GOOD and well worth watching. But, there ARE some really good shows on American TV and Canadian TV – again, often PBS shows that are fantastic. I suppose one has to be on the hunt all the time to find programs which are enjoyable, educational, and entertaining – according to our taste – no matter where they originate from. I’m with you, making sweeping condemnation about any country’s TV is just silly.

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thanks for the vote of support Linda. I know the show “Orphan Black” is a Canadian production and excellent. I’m not sure how many Canadian shows we get here.

    I neglected to mention the news, and I do like watching BBC news even here in America at times. It’s good to get news from a number of sources since each channel has a slightly different emphasis. But CNN seems to be everywhere and I think Fox is in many countries too (to my dismay).

    We really have to set PBS apart from the majority of channels, whether in U.S., U.K., or Canada.

  3. Linda D.

    Hi Karen!

    We are getting re-runs of Doc Martin on Vision TV at the moment. It is SO much to watch having been there! I can recognize many of the locations and it gives me a good laugh and a lot of great memories! You’ll really enjoy that too! I might even get out my DVD’s! I contacted our PBS Station, (we get it from Seattle), and we will get Series 7 in January. Of course, I’ll be searching for an alternative or trying to buy it on Amazon once it is available.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *