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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Does it matter if BBC1 doesn’t air any American TV shows?

IMDB’s Studio Briefing reports:

BBC1 Won’t Air Any U.S. TV Shows

British television, one of the most reliable markets for U.S. television shows, is cutting back drastically on its spending abroad — and BBC1 may not air a single U.S. TV series next season, BBC1 controller Jay Hunt told the British Broadcasting Press Guild on Tuesday. “It is very unlikely that we will show U.S. series in primetime.” Hunt, however, hedged a bit later in her remarks, saying, “If something came along that, to be blunt, blew my socks off, I might change that, but part of what I’m proud of is our record in domestic production and I want to keep that being really strong.”

And…? So…? Perhaps this is payback for the U.S. networks taking great BBC programs and destroying them with remakes instead of, you know, just airing the original British programs in the first place?
I don’t really believe that, of course, and of course I recognize that this means that a formerly consistent source of revenue for the American networks will be cut off. But hey: that’s what’s happening to everyone these days. If we’re forced to live with it, I’m sure the networks will manage, too. Naturally, they’ll do that by firing the little people, not by cutting the salaries and bonuses of the executives. Because they’re doing such great jobs.

But as far as viewers are concerned, so what? More and more people are watching stuff online these days anyway — in less than authorized ways, if the powers that be are shortsighted enough not to give viewers authorized alternatives to the tube.

Does it matter if BBC1 doesn’t air any American TV shows?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)



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  • Cathy

    I went to England a few weeks ago and was looking forward to discovering some new British shows in my downtime. But when flipping channels at the hotel, there seemed to be more US shows airing during primetime than British shows. I mean, they show new episodes of American Idol twice – we don’t even do that here! If BBC1 cuts back I’m sure it would be annoying for Brits to miss out on the good American shows, but hopefully they’ll get some better British shows to replace them (and not more reality programming).

  • Mark

    I’d rather see the BBC invest in creating new shows as opposed to buying American shows. I think we’re not far from a total breakdown in national barriers in TV broadcasting, anyway — I already watch a fair amount of BBC TV via BitTorrent (and I would happily pay whatever the BBC license fee is for it if I could). The only downside for BBC viewers I can see is that most US TV shows show four times as many episodes in a season than British shows, so I expect there will be a lot more in the way of reruns and crappy quick-to-air reality shows for them.

  • Gee

    But there are virtually no American programmes on BBC1 anyway, certainly during prime time. If any are shown they tend to be on BBC2, which caters for more minority interests. For example, “The Wire” aired on BBC2 recently. I would have liked to see what it was about, having read plenty of good reports, but it was on at 11.30pm stripped across the week. No good if you had to go to work the next day or missed an episode.

    For the curious, here’s the current BBC line up, with the UK available channels linked right at the bottom of the page.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/tv/

    Much US TV in the UK is shown on Sky and other digital commercial (ie. non-BBC) channels eg Five USA.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_US

  • Gee

    Sorry to spam, but here’s a better link to the BBC1 schedule. The other BBC channel links are at the top right of this page.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcone/programmes/schedules/london

  • RogerBW

    It’s worth remembering that most American shows were being bought by subscription broadcasters even before this; if you don’t want to be several years behind on American shows, you tend to have to have a cable or satellite subscription already. (Or use other means, obviously.)

  • As Gee has noted, BBC1 is practically free of US shows anyway. It’s a far cry from when I was a lad, in the days when you couldn’t move for Dallas, Dynasty and the contemporaneous work of Glen Larson. There’s a whole cable channel, FiveUS, devoted to the kind of American shows my sister adores: the slick crime dramas featuring a middle-aged expert in forensics (or something) and his team of beautiful, characterless young sidekicks. Not that British TV is any better – for every Doctor Who or Life on Mars, you’ll find a slew of mundane dramas, usually involving hospitals or idiosyncratic detectives. (Mind you, the second series of Ashes to Ashes, which is ending as I write, has been surprisingly absorbing – much more so than the lacklustre first one, which I never really took to.)

  • RogerBW

    I think there’s still some slight feeling that the BBC, uniquely in the UK being funded by a source other than advertising, shouldn’t be spending its money on buying in the sort of thing that other channels will show if the BBC doesn’t buy it – rather, it should be doing the stuff that’s too “non-commercial” or risky for other TV producers to take on.

    Mind you that certainly isn’t a majority view at the BBC itself.

  • Barb

    I don’t see a real reason why the BBC would need to air American shows because of the way they are structured. There are more than enough other networks in the UK that do air the shows (and probably incorporate the necessary commercial time). If you think about it, American television doesn’t air UK shows either on the network channels either (PBS and cable do not count) – instead we are stuck with mediocre remakes of those fine shows.

    Merlin is the first that I see breaking that mold though I doubt it’ll pave the way for more to follow (i.e., we will still be stuck with reality-tv based BBC-America channel, hunting for the shows in public TV or finding the shows on DVD overseas).

  • NorthernStar

    This really isn’t anything American TV producers need to worry about.

    As others have mentioned, the BBC show very little US TV and those few that it does (Heroes, for example) are placed on BBC2 which is a minority channel.

    The BBC currently has seven TV channels, but there are countless more advertisement-funded and subscription channels which happily buy up US TV to fill up its shedules.

  • RyanMcN

    Actually, it could be simple economics – most American TV costs a fortune to produce. I can’t find a link to it at the moment, but for the first time alot of the US networks are buying a bunch of Canadian shows for their summer and fall lineups.

    It seems that years of being a stand-in for US locations has created a highly skilled production industry up here that’s significantly cheaper, and can create shows of equal production quality… =)

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