LEND LEASE: Britain and the U.S. have a strange relationship when it comes to TV. Visiting London a few years ago, I found the city in the middle of Friends-mania, with posters for the show in every newsagent and stories on the stars on the cover of every magazine. This was before Ricky Gervais’ The Office made its lightning run on the Golden Globes and landed a surprise Emmy nomination, which led to NBC’s surprise hit U.S. adaptation of the show.
These two examples sum up the “special relationship” between both countries, at least in terms of TV – U.S. shows will become massive hits in the UK, despite a year or more delay in broadcasting current seasons, while British shows become cult hits before being bought up and Americanized, with dubious success.
According to Jim Shelley, TV critic for the UK’s Guardian, he’s feeling inundated with quality U.S. TV right now. Already addicted to 24, Prison Break and the Sopranos, and relapsing into his Lost, habit, he was suddenly addicted to a raft of U.S. crime procedurals. “I had serial killers and paedophiles coming out of my ears (not an attractive image, I know),” wrote Shelley in Wednesday’s Guardian.
“Then, suddenly, in the last few weeks, the number of original, powerful, utterly enjoyable, American dramas went into overload. Entourage arrived, Heroes appeared, and the dizzyingly dazzling House was back.”
Quality British shows such as Prime Suspect and Waking The Dead come in short bursts, as two-part TV movies or in six-episode seasons, but American shows arrive in installments of up to twenty or, in the case of 24, twenty-four. Shelley was drowning in U.S. primetime drama, when, amazingly “four more popped up, all featuring high-class (Hollywood) actors: Ray Liotta in Smith, Stanley Tucci in 3lbs, Delroy Lindo in Kidnapped and James Woods in Shark.”
Lucky for Shelley, three of these four shows have already been cancelled, so he might have time for a pint by July, but on this side of the Atlantic, the news is dire. According to Tim Goodman, Shelley’s counterpart at the San Francisco Chronicle, a whole bunch of British shows have been bought up for Americanization in the wake of the (surprise – total, absolute bloody surprise, let’s face it) success of NBC’s The Office.
Nighty Night, Suburban Shootout, Viva Blackpool, The Thick of It, The IT Crowd and Footballers Wives are all being produced by everyone from ABC to HBO, with producers like Darren Starr and David E. Kelley involved. As predicted here, BBC’s time-travel cop show and personal fave Life On Mars is being adapted – by Kelley – for ABC. Did I say adapted? I meant ruined. That’s not a prediction; that’s a fact, and you can take it to the bank.