American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

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Simon36
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American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Simon36 »

I was wondering about how in the 70s and 80s (and to some extent before that) there was so much American television shown on the BBC and ITV in peak time compared to now.

Does anyone know the reason for the decline now? Channel 4 seems to get the cream of the crop now. I wondered if some sort of ruling came in about it... certainly it can't be a quality measure as the standard of much American television has increased dramatically in recent years...

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by stearn »

An obvious answer would be the sheer number of channels. I don't know how series are packaged and sold, but would there be preferences for showing them on a channel within the fold (so a Fox series on Sky first) rather than outside? 'Brand' would also probably be a factor with channels wanting to be identified a certain way (hence FiveUS) and the rise of the soaps to virtually fill every night of the week.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Mickey »

Wasn't there some sort of guideline brought in, demanding more domestic programming during peak hours? American imports, which had been a mainstay of weekday evening slots, got shifted to weekend afternoons, which usually meant that they got sliced and diced in order to be suitable. It was a horrible shame, especially since "domestic programming" just seemed to mean soaps. I shall never understand why people yelling at each other in a pub is deemed more worthy than Americans shooting at each other and blowing stuff up. The latter is clearly so much more fun.

Yes, I know, I'm such an intellectual. At any rate, ITV wasn't bound by the ruling, it was purely discretionary, but they seemed to want to run with it anyway.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by ctraynor »

[quote="Simon36"]I was wondering about how in the 70s and 80s (and to some extent before that) there was so much American television shown on the BBC and ITV in peak time compared to now.quote]

And to a massive extent before that iirc. Tons of western shows, sitcoms, spy stuff, even Rowan and Martin. But today on BBC and ITV drama has dropped massively anyway, hasn't it? Nothing on in "children's hour" which used to get a fair share of US stuff, Irwin Allen etc.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Doom Patrol »

It may be significant that the vast majority, if not all, American shows are made for commercial channels with constant breaks and aggressive advertising. Possibly they might not always sit well on peak time BBC. Although things such as Orphan Black can do well, that one in particular was tucked away on a Freeview channel. Probably C5 gets the pick of them these days, and they possibly work better in that format.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Steve Williams »

Mickey wrote:Wasn't there some sort of guideline brought in, demanding more domestic programming during peak hours?
Don't think that was ever a hard and fast rule but it was something that the broadcasters clearly desired - and the imports weren't doing as well as they used to. When Dallas and Dynasty ended there wasn't anything that came through that took their place, Will Wyatt mentions that in his book. It's also mentioned in one of the BBC Handbooks that they couldn't find anything to replace Kojak and Starsky and Hutch in terms of their popularity when they ended, it says they tried The Dukes of Hazzard but its ratings were disappointing, hence why after that it was usually confined to teatime.

And also these days it's easier to make new programmes on a lower budget. Despite generally lower budgets, there are far more new programmes on primetime BBC1 and ITV, most nights are all new whereas in the past there would always be a stack of repeats in any given week (they used to repeat virtually all their dramas in primetime, they almost never do that these days). Docusoaps are just as popular but much cheaper and dramas can now be produced on lower budgets and at a faster rate so there aren't the gaps in the schedule that need to be filled with acquired material.

And most viewers prefer British programming. I always used to think it was a waste when they showed a film on primetime on Christmas Day when that slot should have been a showcase for the best of British programming.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by GarethR »

Steve Williams wrote: Don't think that was ever a hard and fast rule but it was something that the broadcasters clearly desired
There was a major political (with a small "p") element. With the Thatcher government starting to take an unwelcome interest in the way the TV broadcasters operated, it was seen to be expedient to reduce the reliance on imported programmes in peak time.
And most viewers prefer British programming
In my experience, most viewers just want to watch programmes they enjoy. They really don't care where they get made.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Billy »

Saying that Baywatch did pretty well right into the 1990s, one of the last hangers-on I think as certainly by that decade imports had mostly gone from BBC1 and ITV primetime viewing.

Then there's Channel 4 which essentially relied on them right into the Big Brother age.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Simon Coward »

Steve Williams wrote:they used to repeat virtually all their dramas in primetime, they almost never do that these days
What era are you thinking of for this happening?
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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Ross »

It seems like another era: stuff like Charlie's Angels, Quincy, The Hulk, Rockford, and the Bionics in prime time.

It seemed to fade out in the mid-Eighties. I remember promises at the time about more British programmes and less reliance on American imports, so Gareth's point about it being politic makes sense. I wonder if the rather odd row over Dallas - which broke a cosy cartel between the two broadcasters - had something to do with it, as well.

Of course, it wasn't just one-hour cop and adventure shows; half-hour comedies were often used in prime time, especially on the BBC. Was Major Dad the last of these or was that more an afternoon show?

I don't recall ITV bothering so much with the comedies. I remember watching The Brady Bunch at around five in the evening in the late-70's. I think Mork & Mindy and Happy Days had similar slots at the weekend.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Mickey »

Ross wrote:Of course, it wasn't just one-hour cop and adventure shows; half-hour comedies were often used in prime time, especially on the BBC. Was Major Dad the last of these or was that more an afternoon show?
"Harry & The Hendersons" is a bit more recent than that one. It aired at 19:35, I think Wednesdays on BBC1. It may have been Mondays. Later in the decade they bought the "Mad About You" format, and made their own version, but they'd have been a lot better off showing the original!

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Steve Williams »

Simon Coward wrote:
Steve Williams wrote:they used to repeat virtually all their dramas in primetime, they almost never do that these days
What era are you thinking of for this happening?
Well, in the eighties during the summer you'd get repeats of the last series of Bergerac or Shoestring, and up to the mid-nineties you'd have repeats of Casualty and London's Burning in the summer. You generally don't get that kind of thing anymore, Doctor Who has only been repeated in primetime once in its current incarnation for example. Eighteen months ago they did a repeat run of Call The Midwife in primetime but abandoned it after three weeks because of poor ratings.

Unless they're shows like New Tricks and Midsomer which offer a complete story in one programme they tend now not to repeat continuing dramas because you have to commit to showing the whole thing, and viewers don't need to see them again.

Gareth's point about it being political is right but also it was desirable for the British broadcasters to look committed to British programming in prime slots. I do think it is the case that viewers prefer British programmes, though, when BBC1 showed Chicago Hope in primetime it didn't do anything like Casualty does. The Simpsons lasted three months on primetime BBC1. Even mainstream stuff like House never played on primetime on the main channels.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Steve Williams »

Mickey wrote:"Harry & The Hendersons" is a bit more recent than that one. It aired at 19:35, I think Wednesdays on BBC1. It may have been Mondays. Later in the decade they bought the "Mad About You" format, and made their own version, but they'd have been a lot better off showing the original!
Course, you could also count The Simpsons when it first arrived in the UK, BBC1 showed that in primetime. ITV tried a few US sitcoms in the late nineties when they were trying to revamp their post-News at Ten schedules, they bought Veronica's Closet and Dharma and Greg, they didn't do much.

Mad About You was remade by ITV, they remade quite a few US sitcoms in the nineties. The Upper Hand was a big hit but Loved By You, which Mad About You became, wasn't. They also had an Anglicised version of Married With Children, Married For Life with Russ Abbott, and The Brighton Belles of course. When they adapted That 70s Show as Days Like These, they said they'd taken into account the previous attempts and so the US producers were far more closely involved and as part of the deal, the original series would never be shown in the UK to avoid comparisons, and they didn't even show the cast any episodes. Course, it did the worst of all of them and within a year That 70s Show was on Channel Five.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Juswuh »

The X-Files had a run in primetime on BBC1 around 1996. But it was arguably already past its most popular by then.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by GarethR »

Steve Williams wrote:The Simpsons lasted three months on primetime BBC1
I'm convinced the BBC shot itself in the foot by trumpeting its acquisition of The Simpsons, and then starting with season 1. That first season really isn't very funny, not in the way it would become in a few season's time, and I'd never recommend it to anyone as a way into The Simpsons - it's just not necessary to start at the beginning.

Back in about 1993, long before I had access to Sky, I remember watching the initial sell-through VHS release of a few season 1 episodes and thinking "I just don't get it, what's so great about this show?" A few years later I got to know somebody who suggested I'd enjoy The Simpsons, and my response was "No thanks, I've seen it, it's crap" - but then he showed me a few season 4 episodes, and I was an immediate convert.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by prisoner5 »

In the '60's & '70s the U.S imports were the gloss, adventure, and glamour in the b/w schedules, not many channels to choose from and restictions on how many hours they could broadcast, along with a limit on the number of american prog's they could air.
Perhaps the first big "cliff-hanger" high interest climax to a U.S. series was THE FUGITIVE, i remember being glued to this every week on ITV.
The inclusion of FLIPPER in the kids slot was something to look forward to while dad would love the many cowboy shows in primetime. COMBAT with its never ending gunfire and explosions, these could never had been made by U.K. channels, so we really looked forward to them.
One last thought to ponder, imagine life back then without ITC with all its shows aimed at sales abroad, the U.K. wouldv'e been a very grey place.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Richardr1 »

Among other factors mentioned, the following come to mind as possibilities:

1 - the channels didn't have the money they have today. The BBC in the seventies couldn't even afford to run Radio One or BBC Two full time, and cut costs elsewhere with cheap imports as well as repeats, as did ITV. The country is a lot richer now, and the income of the main broadcasters is a huge degree higher

2 - Imports are not as popular as UK produced programmes with the bulk of viewers - the odd one promoted by the BBC or ITV at peak time in the past decade or so have flopped

3 - Competition means that bought in programmes can be purchased by other channels if a long term deal hasn't been agreed. Thus, to take an example, Sky could outbid the BBC for a hit US show if the BBC haven't previously bought out future series. Thus they are higher risk from that point of view (albeit less so than, say, sport).

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by David Savage »

Simon36 wrote:I was wondering about how in the 70s and 80s (and to some extent before that) there was so much American television shown on the BBC and ITV in peak time compared to now.

Does anyone know the reason for the decline now?

There's a difference in the nature of the dramas now; the ones that got the peak time airings over here: The Incredible Hulk, BJ and the Bear, Charlie's Angels, Fantasy Island, The Six Million Dollar Man, etc. were mostly family-friendly light viewing, with strong kid appeal, ideal for early evening. The really raved about US dramas now tend to be from the pay networks and have strong adult themes and content, so they're not going to get those slots, or be aimed at a general, mainstream audience here. Even the more "mainstream" shows like House tend to be quite adult, usually rated 15, and many of the recent US dramas require real involvement and commitment from the viewer, sometimes over a whole series; they're not the light, frothy stuff the major networks used to produce.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by GarethR »

Richardr1 wrote: 2 - Imports are not as popular as UK produced programmes with the bulk of viewers - the odd one promoted by the BBC or ITV at peak time in the past decade or so have flopped
Viewers really, truly don't care where a programme was made. All that matters to them is whether they enjoy it. Neither the BBC nor ITV has had a fantastic record of choosing the right imports in more recent years.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Juswuh »

GarethR wrote:Neither the BBC nor ITV has had a fantastic record of choosing the right imports in more recent years.
So which ones should they have chosen?

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Mickey »

Not that simple a question. David makes a good point above, in that TV output has changed, and you don't get those same family appeal shows anymore. Drama is darker, with a stronger serial element, and tends to be aimed more at an adult audience, so it wouldn't sit nearly so well in a peak time slot. One recent exception that I would suggest would be "Sleepy Hollow", Fox's new runaway hit. It's such good fun, with great leads, and so much going on. Probably a bit too scary for the younger kids, but fine for the post 8pm crowd.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Cole »

Richardr1 wrote: ...
3 - Competition means that bought in programmes can be purchased by other channels if a long term deal hasn't been agreed. Thus, to take an example, Sky could outbid the BBC for a hit US show if the BBC haven't previously bought out future series. Thus they are higher risk from that point of view (albeit less so than, say, sport).
This was the point that I was going to make on this subject; Sky's financial clout giving them the opportunity to have exclusive rights to HBO imports, for example. No more Mad Men on free-to-air.

But there is another aspect: The X-Files was shown on Sky TV before it was shown on the BBC. Maybe that was something that could have been done around twenty years ago because Sky subscription wasn't that big. Now that Sky's receivers are widespread in the UK, showing a series on prime-time BBC/ITV after it had already been on Sky1 wouldn't look very good.

Channel 5 seem to get away with shows that have already been on other channels, like The Waking Dead, but you can imagine the negative press if the BBC still did this.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Juswuh »

US imports that had their place until more recently were the talk shows - Oprah, Ricki Lake, Jerry Springer etc. They had a freakshow factor that you just didn't see on British talk shows. Then the British shows followed their lead, with dismal consequences.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Nick Cooper 625 »

Cole wrote:But there is another aspect: The X-Files was shown on Sky TV before it was shown on the BBC. Maybe that was something that could have been done around twenty years ago because Sky subscription wasn't that big. Now that Sky's receivers are widespread in the UK, showing a series on prime-time BBC/ITV after it had already been on Sky1 wouldn't look very good.
Really? The Sky 1 with 0.8% audience share, compared to BBC1 with 21.5%, ITV with 14%, and even BBC2 and Channel 4 with 5.8% and 4.9% respectively?
"Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo." [Wells]

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Cole »

Nick Cooper 625 wrote:
Cole wrote:But there is another aspect: The X-Files was shown on Sky TV before it was shown on the BBC. Maybe that was something that could have been done around twenty years ago because Sky subscription wasn't that big. Now that Sky's receivers are widespread in the UK, showing a series on prime-time BBC/ITV after it had already been on Sky1 wouldn't look very good.
Really? The Sky 1 with 0.8% audience share, compared to BBC1 with 21.5%, ITV with 14%, and even BBC2 and Channel 4 with 5.8% and 4.9% respectively?
Well, yes; any excuse to pop at the BBC, which I qualified when I wrote:
Channel 5 seem to get away with shows that have already been on other channels, like The Waking Dead, but you can imagine the negative press if the BBC still did this.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Al Dupres »

I believe Channel 5 actually stopped showing The Walking Dead on their main channel shortly into the last run, and just played it on 5 USA.

Al

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by GarethR »

Inevitably, the impact of imports has been lessened by their easy availability as torrents. Who needs to wait and watch them on a UK channel when you can download them in HD quality the same night they get broadcast in the States? Fair enough, not as many people bother to do that as is often claimed, but it's still a factor.

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Re: American Shows in British TV: Then and Now

Post by Duncan »

GarethR wrote:Inevitably, the impact of imports has been lessened by their easy availability as torrents. Who needs to wait and watch them on a UK channel when you can download them in HD quality the same night they get broadcast in the States? Fair enough, not as many people bother to do that as is often claimed, but it's still a factor.
Indeed - and the added bonus of not getting 1080i/50 speed up - I watched the first episode of season 8 of Dexter from FX (or whatever channel) as it was shown in the same week as the US - but the voices all sounded wrong

Fortunately as you say, other methods of watching them are available and of course for the big hitters there are Blu-ray releases as well.

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