Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Broadcast Battle: USA vs. UK

I want to talk to you about something very important....... TELEVISION.

Oh yes.... I'm going there. 

There's a question that dates all the way back to the dawn of time (not really)... Which is better, American television or British television?

I've read every fired up argument from every forum that Google would show me. I have to say, people are pretty passionate about their country's telly! So much so that I've literally been incredibly overwhelmed thinking about writing this post.

But I still don't know which is "better"!

I'm going to warn you, I'd say that my taste in American TV is dreadful. But I am fully against Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and that's what's most important.

But seriously, I enjoy shows such as Pretty Little Liars (sue me, it's addicting), Awkward., and The Big Bang Theory. I'm sorry.

Does it help my case if I say I know the entire Big Bang theme by heart? No? Didn't think so....

In all honesty, a lot of the American things I like to watch, Brits hate. Prime example being The Big Bang Theory.


So I've made a list (shocker) of what I have deemed as some major differences between television in the UK vs. USA, and you can determine for yourself which is better.

(I'm going to warn you now, it's long. Go make yourself a cuppa tea or grab a bowl of popcorn. Or both!)

(Disclaimer: I am an American living in England (duh) trying to see both sides. This is also from my perspective being in the young adult/emerging adulthood phase of life. Don't hate me for what I have to say.)

Emphasis on Good TV - Does it bring people together?

A known phrase here in England is "when the weather gets bad, the TV gets good!" So a lot of emphasis is put on "good television" to the point where it's a pride factor. It's lighthearted and a communal activity. And the only thing better than good TV is the Christmas Specials of good TV! Nothing brings people together on Christmas more than an episode of "The Royle Family" after your roast.

In America, I don't feel as though it's about "good TV" as much as it is being current and in the know with popular TV. Seriously, I don't even know how many times I've been pressured to watch "Grey's Anatomy". No I don't care how popular it is or how much it made you cry that one time; I'm not interested. (Still have yet to see one episode) It's also not really deemed healthy to have so much emphasis on TV. Although, when people are more interested in watching season after season of shows, I can kind of see why.

Humor - Or technically, humour since I live in England now.

Humor can seriously be split into 87 different subtitles of it's own, so bear with me. 

I'd say the biggest difference on what constitutes good television (that is, if it's not meant to be a drama) is the sense of humor.

American comedy is completely different to British comedy, but also think of the amount of people American sitcoms have to impress. American TV has more obvious humor. And of course, who could miss that fake laugh reel in the background? British comedy, on the other hand, is more quick and witty.  

One thing that England definitely does right (among lots of other things) is something called "wall to wall comedy panel shows." Basically it's two teams of comedians that make fun of, well, anything and everything!

In my opinion, I think this hasn't really caught on the States because of how controversial it can be. (The closest thing I can compare this to is Chelsea Lately. Instead of 2 panels of competing comedians, it's 1 panel of 3 comedians. But if you've read her books, which I have because I have a little girl crush on her, you know how censored it really is) I say that because typically on these shows, BRITISH comedians always end up making fun of BRITISH news, BRITISH people, and BRITISH lifestyle (i.e. dull weather, cuppa tea, Nectar Points... don't even get me started on Nectar Points).

Now if a show like this was aired in America with AMERICAN comedians making fun of AMERICAN news, AMERICAN people, and AMERICAN lifestyle, it wouldn't be funny, it would be unpatriotic. Am I wrong? America prides itself for being strong and united. Now turn that into a mockery, and you've got something unAmerican.

Personally, I don't feel that way. I repeat: I don't feel that way. If you've read my blog for more than 10 seconds you'd know that I think the best thing you can do is laugh at yourself. But not everyone feels the same. You've got to remember, American TV has to impress a population spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and that's just on the national level. You can't please everyone.

Content - How can they say that on national television?! 

The Fiance (remember him? Yes I do have a life outside comparing America and England) told me that as a kid he used to watch the show "Bottom".

I watched it and thought, "OHMIGOD! You watched this as a kid?!" (In case you don't know, it has a lot of rude humor. Hilarious, nonetheless. Watch the Christmas episode right now.)

Well, British kids are exposed to a lot more at an early age, and it's acceptable. Example: football (soccer for the other side of the pond) is just as rude as things seen and heard on TV, and kids are exposed to football extremely often.

As a kid grown up in America, I feel as though we are more sheltered to content. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I have no idea. But it's just like the controversy over violent video games; do they cause more violence? Does more mature content make kids act or speak differently?

The F-word among other words (I sound like such a wuss, "The F-word", like I'm that goody two shoes girl in the 4th grade covering her ears at the word "crap". For the record, I say the F-word quite often, just not on here.) is also a very common word heard on national television.

"Say what?!!!" says every American.

Yes, basically anything after 9 PM is free range, including the F-bomb.

Now while we are on the subject of content, I want to bring up this point: Kids from America age differently than kids from the UK.

That sounds ridiculous.

Almost as ridiculous as these guys. The Inbetweeners doing their thing at Thorpe Park.

What I mean is, the norms for certain ages are different in the two countries and I think that drastically changes how television content is displayed.

Take drinking for example. Americans drink legally at 21 while people in the UK drink legally at 18. This makes their experiences so different! 

What does that have to do with television? Content and exposure. Exposing television viewers at the adult age (18+ years) to "adult content" (i.e. drinking) is inevitable in both countries. Television shows have to reflect the laws and norms of the audience, making something "normal" in the UK actually "racy" in the States. Lot's of these norms start earlier in the UK. Since the growing up years are more accelerated in the UK, so does the content that is "normal" to show.

Instead of sheltering certain ages, I feel that the UK takes a more "this is real life, this is what happens" approach. America takes more of a "if we don't show it, it doesn't exist" approach. Out of sight out of mind.

So exposure at an early age is not only different in both countries, it's also based on the norms of growing up. 

If we are trying to decide which is better, it all depends on what you're looking for in your television experience (or what you want your children's television experience to be). I personally enjoy not having it so censored in England; it tells it like it is. So British TV wins for me. No faffing about or dilly dallying around the subject matter just to make it "acceptable".

Familiarity - Have you heard of this show?

I honestly think American television is more well known and therefore more universal. But that doesn't mean it's better.

If you ask people in the UK to name some American TV shows, you get things like Friends, Frasier, Glee, etc.

"Could I BE wearing anymore clothes?!"

But if you ask someone in the USA to name British TV shows, most of the time they can't. Maybe you get the occasional person who enjoys Dr. Who or there's that person whose sister's friend of a friend told them to watch The Inbetweeners that one time. Other than that, it's not such common trivia.

There's many reasons why that could be the case, but I think the main reason is simply that most everything in America is well known throughout the world. It's not just the TV, it's the entire industry that Hollywood created, along with brand names for food, drinks, electronics, games, etc. America wants it's name out there, and is pretty successful at that.

At the same time, many American TV shows are based on British TV shows. (View that list here. I'm out of school and have a degree now; so it's acceptable for me to use Wikipedia.) So the familiarity is there, it's just not necessarily giving originality credit in the right place. (There are also many British TV shows that are based on American shows, although it's not as hefty of a list. View that list here, and just look at the types of shows that they are...)

Budget - Bigger isn't necessarily better.

It's no surprise that America does television "over the top". They hire the best writers, the most upcoming actors, and buy the biggest and most elaborate sets. They entertain in the form of aesthetics as well as through the script.

But it's no secret that the UK can't afford the luxuries of Hollywood. At the same time, the scenes don't need to be supernatural, out of this world, or mind blowing for it to be good. I bet British TV would be through the roof amazing if they had a similar budget to the Hollywood budget. (The Fiance says, "Give Ricky Gervais loads of money and see what he can do with it!")

Now with budget comes advertisements in the form of commercials. Because let's be honest, who really is paying for the TV show you're watching. Could it be those 12 Pepsi commercials you saw during the break?

Well what about the BBC? No adverts because it's a public service; they have to be impartial. Obviously, this doesn't give them the budget that Pepsi gives, but it's still well liked (probably an understatement). Because of the no adverts rule, shows are l o n g e r. There's no 8+ minutes of commercial break time to account for. There's no mid-show cliff hanger while they cut away to a kitty litter advert.

More TV to provide for. Less of the money to do so.

Thank you, BBC, for Sherlock Holmes!

The downside to having to please the general public is that you get shows like Bargain Hunters, Houses Under the Hammer, and Flog It. I'm sorry, I have to say a big ol' WTF BBC to that. If I see one more show about antiques or dilapidated houses, I will lose my marbles.

Season size - Quantity or quality?

A typical season in the UK is 6 episodes. 6 episodes?! That seems like nothing!

But think about the amount of filler episodes you've had to go through in a 12+ episode season. Sure, it got a few laughs, but was there anything really substantial happening that was vital to the storyline? Not really.

America definitely favors quantity over quality while the UK favors the opposite. 

Maybe 6 is too little, maybe 12 is too much. Who really knows?

(That Sherlock Holmes from the BBC pictures above has 3 episodes per season. 3 mind blowing episodes.)

(Insert natural pause in my monologue to regroup and sum up key points)

The jist of all this is to say that American television and British television are different. It's like comparing peanut butter and pickles. Both have their flaws and both bring something unique to the table. They both have different standards for "quality". Lots of Brits think American TV is crap. A lot of Americans just wouldn't get British TV.

I think as far as being something globally impressive, American TV wins. You can't compare the special effects and sheer over the top energy that is American TV. It's made to be global and it's made to be known. But impressive doesn't mean better.

I also think that if we are comparing content and natural talent, not simply trying to "please" an audience or make millions, British TV takes the cake. But again, that doesn't deem it generally better, either. However, I do have the confidence to say that the comedy genre is better by far. (But you have to be able to keep up with it. I've been practicing my British comedy watching skills for years now and still sometimes I'm still like "huh??")

It's all a matter of YOUR opinion and what you like to see on the telly! Good TV to you may be bad TV to someone else.

As for me on this side of the pond, I loves me some good comedy: The Inbetweeners, Russell Howard's Good News, 8 Out Of 10 Cats, and A League Of Their Own. I've also been known to like QI, Sherlock Holmes, Fresh Meat, and Skins.

Come on, everyone loves Stephen Fry!

What's YOUR opinion? Is American TV or British TV better and why? What do you like to watch on TV? What's important to your television viewing experience? Something to make you laugh? Something suspenseful?


  1. you know they're going to remake Have I Got News For You for the US? I really hope it works - I love that sort of thing!

    1. They are?! Wow that's news to me (no pun intended)!! I wonder what comedians they're going to use...

  2. great post!

    um i LOVE bbc's sherlock holmes and i LOVED their robin hood show from a few years ago :)

    i will admit, i watched grey's anatomy for the first maybe three seasons then it got to be too much drama,etc so i stopped. i also cannot stand the kardashians!

    have you ever seen "the soup"? it is where the host makes fun of us Americans/shows/celebs. so sort of like your British comedian shows....

    1. Thank you!!
      Yeah I've seen the soup. Mostly love it! but with every E show there's so much emphasis on just making fun of other E shows and reality TV stars (Chelsea Lately is the same but I think hers is wayyy funnier)

  3. I love British tv, and miss it, but we have a UK IP address so I still watch some of it here. I like bad tv though (I love, love Made In Chelsea), and the UK has some trash tv, hence why I like it :)

    1. I see adverts all the time for Made In Chelsea. I need to watch these bad shows just once, like the only way is essex and made in chelsea,just to say that I have! The only problem is The Fiance controls the TV most of the time, AKA I watch endless amounts of football and Family Guy!

  4. Great post! We took our American tv over with us, and instead of getting the converter and paying the tv license and for service we just didn't have tv service... and it was nice. We watched the shows we wanted online and wasted a lot less time sitting in front of nothing good.
    Now that we're back, we still don't have tv service. Paul wants it eventually, but so far our brokeness has prevented that. I'm hoping it sticks. I like not having tv service.

    Also, Sherlock was GREAT. WTF is with Series 3 not even starting filming until late 2013?!?!?!?!?!?!!

  5. people are pretty passionate about their country's telly! So much so that I've literally been incredibly overwhelmed thinking about writing this post.
    uk tv overseas

  6. I'm a Brit and I HATE British TV! I like documentaries, animal, cop reality etc but everything else is just crap.

    Now give me US shows any day. Crime, comedy, sci fi etc


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