9 August 2014

Britain's finest dramas are taking the US by storm

David Brent, in The Office
When The Office's David Brent made the jump across the pond, Ricky Gervais's much-loved character from Slough was transformed into a small-time Pennsylvanian office supplies manager for its US audience.  The Westminster drama The Thick of it, meanwhile, was teleported to Washington DC.

But now, it seems, the days of American TV bosses giving British shows the Hollywood makeover treatment are over.

Call the Midwife
Industry experts say Americans have finally got a taste for British TV and record numbers are tuning in - from the several million watching Downton Abbey and Sherlock to those catching Call the Midwife and Broadchurch.

NBC has recently signed up three seasons of the fantasy-adventure Merlin and given it prime-time billing, which was previously unheard of for a British programme.

This reflects a dramatic change in US viewing habits (perhaps they're getting more used to our accent!).
The first programme in the fourth series of Downton Abbey noted a record of over 10 million viewers, the highest rated drama season premiere in the network's history.

This show has achieved a cult following, with American fans organising Sunday night viewing parties, buying millions of dollars worth of themed merchandise and chatting endlessly about the plot twists on social media.

The quintessentially British detective show Sherlock, meanwhile, reaches up to four million viewers an episode.  The put it into context, home-grown programming such as PBS's own nightly Newshour brings in around 2.7 million viewers an episode.

Now our funny accents seem to be accepted, and our shows are no longer written off as niche and eccentric.  People have become used to seeing English accents when watching British programmes and interesting snips on such sites as YouTube so have become more used to hearing our voices.

It helps that British programmes are seen to be of good quality, rather than the formulated rubbish people have been being served.

The Paradise
Deals with ITV, BBC and Channel 4 have given them rights to lesser-known programmes such as Call the Midwife, Luther, The Musketeers, The Paradise, Broadchurch and Last Tango in Halifax.

Amazon is now the exclusive on-line hosts of the ITV shows Mr Selfridge (himself originally an American (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Gordon_Selfridge)) and Downton Abbey and is reaping the rewards.  While Amazon and Netflix do not release viewing figures, each show is thought to be in the millions.
Apparently the latest figures show that sales of British TV shows around the world rose to £1.22 billion in 2011/12.  The US is the most lucrative market, with sales increasing by 11% to £475 million in 2012 - accounting for a greater percentage of the British TV export market than ever.

A UK tax break introduced in April last year is helping.  The credit allows big-budget productions, where costs run to one million pounds and over an episode, to recoup 24% of their expenses.

To American's historically British TV just meant costume dramas and people with funny accents, now it's become part of popular culture.  US audiences are looking for something of a better quality than they are finding in the cluttered US media landscape.  The UK has a rich history of storytelling, and is delivering some of the best TV currently available anywhere.

From the Sunday Telegraph, 20 July 2014

Historically, not all TV series shown in the US have been 'made over'.  For instance, I have a friend who lives in North Carolina and she's always been very keen on the Poldark series, set in Cornwall, and broadcast in the 1970s (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poldark)

To see hilarious (and I don't use that word very much!) spoof video of Downton - made for Red Nose Day in 2011: 
Part I: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5dMlXentLw; and 
Part II; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3YYo_5rxFE


And whilst we're on the subject of Call the Midwife, the programme reminds me of my mother.  Dorothy was called up in 1943 and decided to train to be a nurse.  (aside: as part of her training she worked in London,nursing amongst others the famous conductor Sir Neville Marriner (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-28711725)).

Anyway, once qualified (see
(http://smalefamilyhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/nurse) Dorothy trained as a midwife, working in a less well-off part of Plymouth.  She looked very much like Jennifer in Call the Midwife.  
Dorothy in mid 1940s when she was studying to become a nurse
So when I watch the series I always think of my Mum agoing about her work, not that many years before Call the Midwife was set (early 1950s) - Dorothy retired from being a midwife when I was born, in 1951. 

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