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Wedding Sets

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV, BiogTV, British Shows on American TV, Reviews, TV Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2013 by Tom Steward

G and I are getting married next year so she now has a reason-and not just a fetish-for watching bridal programmes and I can’t say no to the wedding show. Actually, I don’t much mind them. On the whole, they’re blissfully free of the snipe and snark that accompanies most reality TV formats and seem genuinely good-natured. Given that they’re about such a self-contained event, wedding reality shows are incredibly varied. At its most basic, you have behind-the-scenes bridal shop programmes like Say Yes to the Dress, I Found the Gown and My New Frock Rocks (ok, I made that last one up!). There are a couple of variations on the format. First, a CSI-style Atlanta-based spin-off of SYTTD which Stepford-clones the original, save for a few biscuit-and-gravy aphorisms. Secondly, Randy to the Rescue, a travelling version of the above which loses the cosy bridal lounge in favour of a swag truck and opens like a deleted scene from Duel.

Randy to the Rescue: Say Yes to the Dress meets Duel

Then there’s a host of reality shows which cover the planning stages of the wedding. These can take the form of exploitomentries like Bridezillas where control freak brides-to-be are made to seem sociopathic by having Bernard Herrman-style strings played under their every move. Or shows about the wedding planners themselves, such as My Fair Wedding with David Tutera in which couples try to turn around their faltering wedding plans by sending plea letters to the eponymous Santa Claus of nuptials. Tutera is like the anti-Simon Cowell. It’s clear from his wry facial expressions he’s thinking all kinds of bitchy things about his tasteless clients but he keeps it all in, even going to the lengths of surgically removing all features from his face so that he never betrays a discouraging emotion again.

David Tutera: The anti-Simon Cowell

The closer we get to the actual ceremony, the more game showy the genre gets. Four Weddings has brides competing against each other for a free honeymoon as they score each other’s wedding day. It’s an irresistible format, one familiar to British and Australian audiences from the disgustingly addictive dinner-party contest Come Dine with Me, and keeping the contrasting backgrounds and lifestyles of the contestants which makes for such entertaining conflict. In keeping with the congenial tone of the genre, though, the brides rarely resort to sideswiping, even in their private interviews. Nonetheless, they love to complain and scrutinise on a sub-atomic level (Note to engaged couples: get plenty of food to people in a timely fashion and you’ll be fine) and many brides are clearly rattled by anything outside their socio-economic comfort zone. Other ceremony-based formats include the devil-child aborted wedding prank show The Real Wedding Crashers, rightly taken off the air after three ruined wedding days.

Four Weddings and a New Orleans Funeral

Wedding shows are not simply an American TV phenomenon either. In the UK there’s a longstanding tradition of bridal reality programmes like Don’t Tell the Bride, where, incredibly, a bride-to-be hands power-of-matrimony over to the groom and their respective family and friends, abiding to live with the results while she abstains from involvement until the wedding day. What seems like the stuff of pre-nuptial nightmares actually turns out pretty well most of the time. The grooms’ eccentricities and fashion blind spots are easily forgiven by their fiancées given the amount of effort they’ve expended, and their natural male thriftiness leads to creativity as much as it does catastrophe. Family and friends form a nice counterbalance which seems to prevent some of the impending design disasters that waft through the idea stages like an unreasonable fart.

Wedding Day Banana Skins

Four Weddings is actually a UK format but I should keep quiet about its native origins as G doesn’t like it when I spoil her favourite shows with copyright trivia, especially when it exposes the uncomfortable truth about the new British colonisation of American pop culture. It probably does explain why the scoring system on the show is so complicated since we like our game shows impenetrable to non-maths majors. One British contribution to wedding TV I’m sure G is happy about, though, is the point-and-prod sub-culture circus that is My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, in which the gaudy ritual excesses of wedding design in the British traveller community are pressed up against the zoo-bar like glass of TV screens in middle-class homes. Fortunately, it’s possible to ignore the judgemental treatment of minority groups and celebrate the elaborate visual spectacle of dresses that Grace Jones would call tame and the superficial goodness of the cartoon kitsch splashed across everything from morning make-up to late night send-off.

Life-size novelty toilet roll holders recalled to factory

But this blog post is not just a sign of impending nuptials but also the result of a field trip. Last Sunday G and I attended a bridal show at the Hotel Del Coronado (bear in mind when G first met me I was wearing a cookie-monster t-shirt) where we met bridal shop fashion director and star of SYTTD Atlanta Monte Durham. Though G didn’t take me up on my suggestion that we bring her DVR list for Monte to sign, she did manage to snag some pro-bono gown consultancy (my gal’s a scrimper at heart!) and we left bathed in the warm glow of his refinement and Southern gentlemanliness. The wedding trade is a swollen industry and bridal shows are undoubtedly inflating the bubble but they lack the mean-spirited edge of other televised business ventures and, thanks to the Montes of the genre, are mainly harbingers of happiness.

Watching Telly with Americans

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Americans watching British TV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2011 by Tom Steward

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a taste of my own media medicine. I’ve been watching British TV with an American and absorbing rather than catapulting those oh-so-clever anthropological field notes about the bizarre idiosyncracies of a national TV culture. And what’s even more humbling is that I’ve been doing it with someone far, far better at it and more succinctly expressive than me (see-that sentence only needed one ‘far’). G stayed with me in July and from time to time we embarked on the daunting prospect of sitting down to watch British TV. I say ‘daunting’ because I want G to move here next year, and it felt like the onscreen lack of Real Housewives after their most recent divorces and Kardashians sporting the previous week’s surgical alterations might set back the emigration propaganda campaign several ages. G found a lot of British culture in catch-up mode, especially when it came to fashion, so finding programmes on TV we had watched together in the states months before weren’t too much of a surprise for her, though it was pleasantly for me. I thought we were at least three or four years behind. Turns out we are on the meat (great drama, comedy and reality) but not on the gristle (celeb fucking and shitcoms)-thanks ITV2!


Keeping up with the Kardashians...barely.



But we had a bigger problem than an out-of-date hat. British TV was ‘weird’, ‘so weird’ and ‘weird’. For G, it was as if Britons had collectively decided to substitute a working TV set in the corner of the room for a 19th Century ventriloquist dummy with its mouth sprung to repeatedly gawp the word ‘Mummy’. I vigorously protested this as a case of cultural alienation but didn’t exactly have the backing of the TV stations themselves, who throughout the month defected to G’s side by broadcasting footage of old men arguing with Simon Cowell about the existence of a Worzel Gummidge musical before Pertwee-lisping through pop hits or swapping their tried-and-tested flagship mobile spectacle reality shows for season finales where half, quarter and minus wits get berated in four rooms by several regional accents. Round One to G.

The Apprentice Indoors

 And Round Two to her as well. It was through G that I realised something that had never before occurred to me; that American TV, even the rough stuff, is by and large far more innocent and sanitary (I mean this more than sanitized-you’ll see why when I tell you what show made me realise) than British TV. What was the breakthrough programme? Why-eye, Geordie Shore, the Return-to-Oz style dark sequel to Byker Grove. An identically-designed British re-make of MTV reality hit Jersey Shore, it eschews the likeably harmless original premise of laughing at mutantly muscled, beboobed and tanned buffoons for an exponentially grotty and lewd indoor dogging video and creepily crass cock-size discussion show. All the lovably hare-brained schemes and dopey catchphrases of the original sunk  sewage-like into ruthless dirty-dicks campaigns of professional fornication and fuck-punctuated verbal cesspools. I initially thought this was just censorship differences but it’s also about our predilections as a nation for sleazy Sodom-and-Gomorrah docs set in seventh circles like Ibiza and late-night town centres. Why we want these on TV baffles me just as much as why we want them in reality. G said all that in one word: ‘nasty’.

Byker Grove was never like this...

Some of G’s confusion derived from how British TV was scheduled and broken down. She found the advert breaks interminably long, which at first I refused to accept from an American, until I realised that US TV commercial interludes are short but frequent, and just because UK TV is covertly irritating in its spread of adverts doesn’t mean it’s any better, worse in its sneakiness possibly. US TV timings are rigorously routinised-all programmes begin on an hour or half-hour. We’re far more casual with our timings, at least on terrestrial TV-a 10-minute documentary on bees here, a 10 no 12 minute news spot there, oh look, there’s an independently-made short film that’s exactly 3 minutes long for some reason. I can see how it would irritate someone brought up on regimented TV time, but I was left feeling rather proud of our irregular randomness.

There were some notable successes. G was an instant addict of Come Dine with Me, proving that it is a faultless universal formula (something like ‘Idiot + House + Cooking x4=Compulsive Sneering’) and that the world is brought together by its response to the show’s contestants with the global chant ‘Where do they get these people?’.

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