Thursday, March 14, 2019

"America And England: A Distinctive TV Difference"

I am not talking – at least not today – about the differing “Business Models” between the two countries, as in, as I was once informed by a BBC television executive:

“England needs money to make shows; America needs shows to make money.”

The British executive was referring in the second half of that equation to the fact that the “Mother Lode Bonanza” in American television is syndication; the more episodes you crank out the richer you are.  (Dick Wolf, anyone?  Banks save their money with him.)  In England, it’s like, “Thanks for letting us do this.  We shall attempt not to be overly profligate.”)

I am also not referring to the “language difference”, wherein what America calls a
“season”, Great Britain calls a “series.”  (What Great Britain calls what America calls a series I have no idea.  They appear to be one word short.) 

What I have noticed – and am passing along for your possible interest – is the fact that… well, consider this recent example that came rushing – or more arriving at its own speed – to my attention.

I have to stop here to do some research.  Try to occupy yourselves in some worthwhile fashion while I’m away.

(Note:  There will be no accompanying musical interlude.  Humming to yourselves is permissible; actually actively encouraged.)  Okay.  Here I go.


A little longer than that.


A little shorter.


Okay, there.

Saturday nights, we watch the English (the American-meaning) “series”, Midsomer Murders, a mystery set in a quaint country hamlet, where at least three people are “bumped off” in every episode, meaning the place will shortly be empty.  (Although the town’s traffic difficulties have decreased.)

We don’t watch every episode.  Sometimes, we actually go out.  So, having apparently missed one – an episode that from a casting perspective proved crucial – we tune in, to discover that DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) “Tom Barnaby”, played by John Nettles, has been replaced by his cousin DCI “John Barnaby”, played by Neil Dudgeon.

Otherwise, the show is exactly the same.  Killers still dispatch a trio of local victims on a weekly basis.  There’s just a new person catching them.

As they say in cricket, to display frustrated annoyance,

“How’s that!?!

They change the guy,

And they don’t even give him a new name?

We’re a little behind here in the “Airing Schedule.”  (Meaning we are watching old episodes.)  My assiduous research reveals, that after thirteen (the English-meaning) “series” of a show that debuted in 1997, actor John Nettles elected to retire in 2011, and Midsomer Murders has successfully proceeded with his same-named replacement, completing its 20th (the English-meaning) “series” in 2018.

Apparently, English audiences don’t care who plays DCI Barnaby.

(Interesting Side-note:  Nettles left after completing 80 episodes.  In America, during the same thirteen-season period, Americans would have produced, minimum, 286 episodes.  Any surprise Ricky Gervais amassed tons more money selling The Office to the States than he did from the original, made at home?  End of “Interesting Side-note.)  

The thing is,

We don’t like John Barnaby.

We like Tom Barnaby.

Not because of “familiarity.”

Tom Barnaby was better.

John Barnaby puts us to sleep in the middle of the episode.

We watched Tom Barnaby all the way to the end.

Even though, no matter who starred,

We could never follow the story.

We stuck with it because the guy.

This is not the first time this befuddling phenomenon has occurred.  Over its run, England’s New Tricks delivered seven actors, covering four roles.  Though that was admittedly an ensemble, the first three were the best.

A more appropriate example?

Death in Paradise.

Wherein the crime-solving genius detective has been played by three different and disparate U.K. actors.

While the show’s conceptual premise remains exactly the same.

Call me crazy, but I prefer continuity with my lead characters.

One Matt Dillon.

Not replaced later in the series by "Pat" Dillon.

On those rare occasions when American actors quit a hit show, they do so because of “creative differences”, which means they wanted more money and the producers said “No.”  English actors, from what I have learned, just leave.

A guy saying, “genug”?  (“enough”), and walking away into the sunset?

To me, that’s just selfish.

English actors:

You stay put till the audience gets tired of you.

That’s the way that that works.


Rinaldo said...

This happens precisely because each year is called a "series" in the UK. There is no ongoing contract. It's all over after each year, and if the producers want to continue, the following year they approach each participant and have them sign a new contract for 6 (or 8, or whatever) more episodes. That's why we so often see cast changes in those shows; there's no long-term obligation, and nobody is locked down into the distant future.

angel said...

Just you wait until Season 8 of Death in Paradise, which begins airing on KCET April 1st. Huge cast changes. ACK!

YEKIMI said...

Can't remember what British show I was watching but had to laugh when one of the cast members was talking about a TV show that's "Been on the air for 30 years! That's like 16 episodes!" Don't think anyone in the room got it but me.

cb said...


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Yekimi: That sounds like EPISODES, which is only partly British.

Earl: "Series" in UK is used not only for individual seasons but the collection of all seasons.