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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But we had a bigger problem than an out-of-date hat.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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Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, BiogTV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2011 by Tom Steward

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS (THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!)

I’m now at the end of my stay in America so I thought I’d round the trip off with the Top 5 TV moments from my final two weeks:

1. Donald Trump agreeing to be interviewed on Good Morning America and then refusing to answer any questions. Who says Americans don’t get irony?

2. After weeks of sounding like a malfunctioning motivational speaker robot, Celebrity Apprentice contestant and consecutive mental-of-the-week Gary Busey was appointed project manager on a task to create a steak franchise but couldn’t get past the question of cow slaughter methods or comprehend that a man called Meatloaf didn’t know how to cook meat.

3. Steve Carell’s final episode playing Dunder Mifflin office manager Michael Scott in The Office: An American Workplace as he fittingly screws up his own leaving party, blows his own deadline for saying a personal goodbye to every person in his office, and takes off his microphone before his epitaph.

4. Gretchen Rossi from The Real Housewives of Orange County denies taunting her partner Slade Smiley (not a Marvel comic journalist character) about gaining weight as a montage of clips is played in which she habitually slanders him with ‘Tubba Wubba’  in a variety of unconnected everyday situations. Examples: ‘Get on the scales….Tubba Wubba!’/‘I love you no matter how fat you are….Tubba Wubba!’. Let’s hope she never has to take the stand in a major court case.

5. Retro Night on station KOFY during a marathon of Robert Stack Prohibition-set detective series The Untouchables as the rather doddery presenter reads to camera inaccurately from printed Wikipedia notes (‘So this show was made in the ‘20s’) before interviewing special guest Matt from accounts:

Presenter: So how long have you worked at the station?

Matt: Oh, only a few months.

Presenter: And what did you do before?

Matt: A few accounts-related jobs at other places.

Presenter: Thanks Matt. And now back to our programme…

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