Friday, 22 February 2013

Five UK shows I wish BBC America would broadcast

Me petitioning the BBC to show more programs in the USA (actually I was working and that didn't cross my mind, sadly).
I do love American television. I really do. There's just something so garish and gluttonous and appealing about it. Watching US TV is like going for a sneaky midnight drive-thru meal: It's so wrong it's just perfectly right.

But sometimes I miss the hearty, reliable stodge of Old Blighty's television. I miss smooth deadpan voiceovers and useful signals that commercials are going to begin. 

BBC America is there for those moments, but only sometimes. It's catered more to the American Anglophile rather than to the British expat market, and is filled with Dr Who and Top Gear re-runs.

Here are five shows that are quintessentially British, and that I think BBC America would do well to show. Not only because I want to watch them myself, but also because I think Americans would get a kick out of them.

1. Come Dine With Me


Premise: Complete strangers host dinner parties for each other. They judge and rate each other's evenings, and at the end of the week the winner takes home a thousand bucks.

This daytime TV format turned prime-time hit has all the elements of British society. 

First, it's like a disastrous cooking show with amusingly amateurish results. Secondly, it has that keyhole voyeurism we all enjoy from the likes of house-buying shows and MTV's Cribs. Third, it has a competitive element and, of course, a supremely sarcastic voice-over. 

My American Mom-In-Law loves it. BBC America actually used to show it, but then stopped for seemingly no reason. Perhaps Americans couldn't believe how terrible Brits are at cooking, or why we have an obsession with poking around in other people's wardrobes. Either way, America has about thirty seasons to catch up on by now. Shame.

2. The Great British Bake Off

Premise: Talented, lovely, chipper Brits prepare baked goods in a marquee on the grounds of an English stately home. It is exactly as twee as it sounds.

Mark and I tried the infamous eight plait bread from the latest series of Great British Bake Off. We were quite proud!
Not quite up to Paul Hollywood's standards though.
The Great British Bake-Off was a surprise hit in the UK because it captured a zeitgeist for patriotic escakeism. It is the complete antithesis to every competitive cooking program on American television.

Unlike Cupcake Wars or Cake Boss, Bake Off is understated and charming. The competitors are all nice. Two baking pros, a formidable bread-master and an exacting cake lady, interact with a female comedy presenting duo for a lilting cookery show that, surprisingly, oozes with subtle innuendo.

Late last year US channel CBS ordered an American series of Bake Off, although the women's institution that is Mary Berry already announced that she would not be involved. I'm very excited, but also intrigued to see if the charming and gentile format will translate well to this brash and proud country. Regardless, I hope whoopie pies are involved.

3. Coronation St


Premise: Working class people living on a cobbled street in Northern England work in an underwear factory, go to the pub and have marital affairs. Almost every day. For over fifty years. It's The longest television soap in the world.

The whining drone of the theme tune was the punctuation to my evening since I was very young. I grew up on a diet of soap operas at dinner.  My undergrad dissertation supervisor even had a PhD in Corrie.

If you've never seen it before, take a look at this classic scene where a young character advises an old neighbor on how to get rid of the weeds in his paved back yard. It's that perfect balance of voyeurism, banality and jovial innuendo that makes the show, along with irresistably trashy yet brilliant story writing.

It saddened me that emigrating meant I would have to resort to nefarious means of accessing my daily fix of this domestic drama. The great news is that Hulu started streaming the show on a two week delay just last month, but I still think BBC America should syndicate the show for the expat market.
This is actually Valley Forge and nothing to do with Coronation St

4.  Have I Got News For You / 8 Out of 10 Cats


Premise: Well known public figures and comedians sit at a large desk for a weekly quiz, and make timely quips about the news, providing large helpings of off-the-cuff sarcasm and political cynicism.


The USA has its own attempts at political satire, sure. The Daily Show (and its spin-off The Colbert Report) are decent, and many Brits actually watch the international editions. Stewart and Colbert satirize the format and sensationalism of most US cable news shows: One person, one desk, lashings of hyperbole and caustic humor based on the strangest political truths.

It doesn't quite compare to the rigors of political satire in the UK though, where politicians are invited to get mercilessly mocked by some of Britain's brightest comedic minds. Occasionally the presenters themselves get embroiled in news stories and become the brunt of the unrelenting punchlines.
The skill of these shows is making the humor seem unrehearsed and almost throw-away. This is what makes them so British. HIGNFY excels at this, but Cats has a special place in my heart because I worked on the show (where I got to work with the charming Jimmy Carr and meet the legendary David Hasselhoff).

5. Blue Peter / Newsround


Premise: One is a magazine show about making popular items from toilet paper tubes; the other is the most trusted and cogent news source in the UK. Both are kids' shows.


Here's one I made earlier…The famous Thunderbird Tracy Island craft make is on display at the BBC Television Centre.
What will happen to it when the BBC moves out of the building?
Blue Peter is like the Scouts for coach potatoes, complete with badges. It's also the world's longest running childrens' TV show, featuring a mishmash of celebrity culture, sports and activities, fundraising appeals and arts and crafts.

The show has had some defining moments: making a popular toy (the Thunderbird island above) out of paper mache and soft cheese containers; having a baby elephant poo in a studio live on TV; and breaking the news to young viewers that the goldfish in the studio garden were killed after drunken soccer players broke in.

Newsround is not Aaron Sorkin's latest HBO drama; it's a long running news broadcast specifically for children. It's one of the best news shows on television due to the BBC's remit for balanced reporting and its ability to simplify complex news stories. Perhaps Sorkin's Newsroom would have been more entertaining if it had been about a kids' news show instead.

Kids in the UK graduate from Sesame St and progress onto Blue Peter and Newsround before becoming sensible, civic-minded citizens. Or at least they used to before the Disney Channel became more popular. Kids just aren't into toilet tubes like they used to be.

Fun Fact: There's a video in existence of myself interviewing the current Newsround newscaster, the lovely Ore Orduba, while he pretends to be Jessica Alba. No - you ain't ever gonna see it.

What are your favorite UK TV shows? Do any of these sound more appealing than Sherlock and Downtown Abbey?


  1. I love British TV. The quality of the nature and history shows on the BBC is so impressive. Although, I do confess to my Hulu fix of Real Housewives and Nashville occasionally.

    1. It'll be a sad day when Attenborough dies, for sure. Nature shows won't be the same without him!
      I'd never considered what a US-UK expat might miss TV-wise…

  2. I sometimes wonder what Americans think of British TV - particularly the BBC - based on BBC America's schedules. Especially given that a fair amount of it is non-BBC programmes.

    1. There was an evening recently we all somehow ended up watching Keeping Up Appearances. What's weird is that I think the class-based humor is lost on Americans. I think they don't realize that it's a play on the aspirational middle classes, so the whole premise of the show is misunderstood, and Americans think all Brits behave just as strangely for no reason whatsoever.

  3. I cant vouch for this stuff, but thought you might consider giving it a look:

    1. I'm aware of IP proxies, particularly Tunnel Bear which is a paid-for service. But I'm not sure the legality of them. Tunnel Bear advertises itself as an opportunity to 'experience the internet from another country' so it doesn't encourage using the likes of iPlayer, 4oD and Netflix (which is different from nation to nation), but it's pretty clear that's what people use it for. I don't think it's illegal to use these programs, but might be breaking the TOS of the likes of iPlayer. Murky waters, and I might do a whole post on it one day because I'm a sucker for media law :P

  4. You met Jimmy Carr?! Amazing. I think one of my favorite episodes was the week he was outed for having dodged taxes. I've really grown to love the UK panel shows, especially the two you mention as well as Nevermind the Buzzcocks and (can't believe I'm admitting to this) Celebrity Juice. The latter two are on a much different level, but equally hilarious. I'm not sure those programs would be popular in the US, but you never know...I can definitely understand why you miss the shows you miss though! Come Dine With Me is another fave, and I've gotten into Lewis recently.