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SOCIETY : Big little screens: MEDIUM


Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 4/2019 vom 20.03.2019

Was schauen Sie sich am kommenden Wochenende an? Game of Thrones, Sherlock oder The Handmaid’s Tale? Britische und amerikanische Fernsehserien waren noch nie so beliebt wie heute – und sind eine wunderbare Möglichkeit, Ihre Englischkenntnisse aufzubessern


The chances are that in the past seven days, you watched or talked about at least one English- language TV series. Maybe it was Game of Thrones, Big Little Lies or Bodyguard? The current popularity of British and American television programmes is unprecedented. How is it, though, that these two countries produce so many high-quality and addictive ...

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... series? We look at the market for television in the UK and the US, present you with the tops and the flops, and look at which new series are coming up soon.

British television: a golden age

When it comes to entertaining TV, Britain is currently very much at the top of its game. Thanks to their quality, originality and idiosyncratic humour, British TV programmes are being viewed around the world: in the past few years, the UK has exported more than 600 TV shows, about six times as many as Germany.

Dramas, in particular, are enjoying a golden age. Take detective series Sherlock, which attracted up to four million viewers per episode, or the period drama Downton Abbey, which dominated the nation’s TV screens.

The British enjoy a personal relationship with their TV programmes, which form part of the public consciousness and popular culture. They also provide an ideal vehicle to present the UK’s strong storytelling talents and creativity.

In addition, TV is monitored by the Office of Communications (Ofcom) to make sure programmes are top-quality. This government-approved body regulates Britain’s unique mix of commercial, private and public-service broadcasting (PSB) TV channels to keep broadcasting standards high.

The bottom line: there’s money in TV

The industry also has lots of cash. In 2003, the Communications Act came into force. It gives British TV producers ownership of the programmes they create. This allows them to financially exploit their ideas in the UK and overseas. Amber Vassiliou of the Producers’ Alliance for Cinema and Television (Pact) explains: “It made a small, cottage TV industry into the nearly three billion pound industry it is today. And the money that producers make from selling their IP around the world can be reinvested into growing their businesses and making quality TV programmes.”

Of course, British TV is also successful simply because it’s British, adds Vassiliou.

Foto: imago/Prod.DB

“Lots of countries love British culture and given that English is such a widely spoken language, it’s easy for other countries to buy UK content, and audiences will understand it quite often without the need for subtitles or dubbing.”

The UK is also technologically ahead of other European countries and there’s a wider acceptance of Pay TV: some 80 per cent of Brits use an online service to watch TV, such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer, and over 40 per cent of UK households own a TV connected to the internet, more than any EU country except Spain, says Alex DeGroote, owner of media sector strategy consultancy DeGroote Consultancy. Subscription video on demand is also much bigger in the UK than in other markets.

The UK is Europe’s binge-viewing capital, continues DeGroote. Bingeing is now the norm among young people: more than half (53 per cent) of those aged between 12 to 15 enjoy weekly watch-a-thons, compared to just 16 per cent of over-65s.

Flops: British TV at its worst

Naked Jungle
On this show, popular British TV personality Keith Chegwin, known as “Cheggers” to his fans, walked around in his birthday suit. With only a hat covering his privates, he encouraged naked contestants to give their best on a jungle assault course. What on earth were those producers thinking?

Will there be another series? Benedict Cumberbatch as the sharp, stylish and rather eccentric private detective in the British BBC seriesSherlock


Heil, Honey, I’m Home!
This offensive sitcom ran for just one episode and was about the life of a fictional Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun who didn’t get along with their Jewish neighbours. Talk about bad taste.

Minipops
Let’s not forget Minipops either, a show with children dressed and dancing provocatively like the original adult performers while singing completely unsuitable songs.

Tops: British TV classics

Coronation Street
First shown in 1960 and still going strong (it has six episodes per week), Coronation Street is the world’s longest-running TV soap opera. It is set in fictional Weatherfield, in inner-city Salford. Instead of glamorous, unrealistic soap-opera stars, the characters are working-class and down-to-earth. The series has a strong storyline and a lot of light-hearted humour.

Doctor Who
This is another long-running classic that has a firm place in British popular culture and has developed a cult following. The first episode was broadcast in 1963 and the show is just as popular today. The Doctor is an eccentric but friendly time lord who journeys through space and time in a machine known as the TARDIS. From the outside, the TARDIS looks like a 1960s-style blue police box, but as every viewer knows, “it’s far bigger on the inside”.

Foto: mauritius images/Collection Christophel

British classics: (from left) romance in the world’s longest-running soap,Coronation Street , a winning line-up inStrictly Come Dancing and the popular costume dramaDownton Abbey As the character of the Doctor is centuries old, he conveniently regenerates every now and again, allowing a new actor to become the next Doctor. The latest regeneration, a woman Doctor, is a first.


Strictly Come Dancing
Strictly, as we Brits like to call it, is in a league of its own. It has become an essential part of Saturday-evening viewing and is consistently one of the most watched TV programmes in British TV. The format is simple: a professional dancer and a celebrity dance in front of a panel of judges and are given marks out of ten for their performance. The worst dancers are voted off the show until one winning couple remains. It’s all about glamorous costumes, sparkling chemistry on and off the dance floor and complete escapism.

Comedy: unplanned but entertaining moments

Sometimes, things go so wrong that it makes TV history. In 2017, American Professor Robert Kelly’s children gatecrashed his serious live BBC interview about South Korea. His wife came running in after the kids before crawling out again, trying — unsuccessfully — to stay off camera. Whoops!

Then there was the technical error that left newsreader Huw Edwards sitting in silence and twiddling his thumbs for four minutes at the start of BBC News at Ten.

And finally, the iconic moment when Lulu the elephant crashed the TV set of the children’s show Blue Peter. She went to the toilet in front of viewers and stood on presenter John Noakes’s foot before pulling her keeper to the floor. Never work with children or animals

By Lois Hoyal

Fotos: Collection Christophel; INTERFOTO/Mary Evans/Ronald GrantArchive; ddp; Illustration: iStockphoto/iStock.com

TV in the UK in numbers

27 million homes have a TV

Average daily viewing time is 3.73 hours

45 ads are seen daily per person

Blue Planet II was the programme with the most viewers (14 million) in 2017

Rugby Six Nations England versus Ireland was the sports programme with the most viewers (8.9 million)

(Sources:barb.co.uk, statistica.com )

American television: stars and hypes

America is the purveyor of some of the most badass television available on the planet right now. From dystopian drama The Handmaid’s Tale to medieval-like epic Game of Thrones, American television is riding high.

“There’s something out there for everyone,” says Daniel Holloway, executive editor of television coverage at Variety in Los Angeles. As he points out, the country has increased production in recent times. Last year alone, over 500 new scripted shows were created, including some highquality drama in adventurous formats with big budgets to match.

Movies, long considered superior to prime-time television, are being left in the dust. Networks such as HBO and streaming services like Netflix are delivering the cleverest, most nuanced stories and a level of aesthetic excellence that would have been unimaginable on the small screen a couple of decades ago. As Holloway notes, the country’s biggest acting talents all want to work in television.

“The trend is towards big-name talent,” he says. “There’s virtually no movie star who won’t do a TV show now.” Take Amazon’s new series Modern Love, based on the long-running New York Times column on real-life love stories, which has attracted stars like Anne Hathaway and Andy Garcia.

The rise and rise of American television goes back to the late 1990s/early noughties, when network hits like HBO’s The Sopranos raised the bar. Here was a relatable yet very complex story, with clever takes on the great universal themes of love and loss, sex and death, war and peace. In Tony Soprano, we found an unscrupulous Mob boss whom we disliked, even as he charmed — all against the backdrop of family life in the New Jersey ’burbs.

It was, Holloway agrees, a tipping point in American television. “The Sopranos really elevated the level of storyline and showed something bigger could be done,” he says. “The writing and the acting was so excellent that it still goes toe to toe with some of the best dramas out there today.”

This moment of television greatness was followed by many others throughout the noughties. Take The Wire, the Baltimore drama covering policing, politics and poverty with literary style, exposing the dark side of the American dream over five exciting seasons. Add to these other network epics that led us into the current decade, such as Dexter, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. These high-end shows were united in their hopeless world view, focusing on unsympathetic male leads. That darkness is still present in more recent hits, says Holloway. But there’s a lot more diversity these days, with shows like HBO’s Westworld, set in a wild west theme park in which robots allow human clients to live out their fantasies, evolving beyond its sci-fi roots to reflect the real-life #MeToo movement. In Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the emphasis is on the experience of oppressed women in a fascist regime.

“Television is more responsive and more reflective of society because it has become the dominant medium, with more creative resources and more money,” says Holloway. It’s a trend that looks set to continue, especially among streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, which are paying out billions of dollars for scripted content. With new players such as Apple entering the market, the future of television seems secure.

But it ain’t all about money. “Television has always been a place where there’s, frankly, been a lot of good writing happening,” says Holloway. “It’s in the bones of television. It’s always been a writers’ medium, rather than being directordriven. Because of the volume required for a traditional series, there’s no time for one director to come in and execute a sweeping vision.”

Quite simply, Americans seem to have a talent for creating the stories that keep us watching on our televisions and laptops. What’s the secret? “We spend a lot of time watching it,” says Holloway. “If you’re an American and you’re alive, you’re literate in television.”

This year: best of the bunch

This looks set to be a vintage year for American television, with a number of epic viewing moments coming up.

All eyes are on the finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the expansive fantasy on the ruling families of the seven kingdoms of Westeros. You don’t have to be into dungeons and dragons to enjoy the plots and the cinematic camerawork. Newcomers may have time to do some catching up before the final series begins but, be warned, this is television at its most addictive.

How many have you already seen? Posters for some of the recent cult TV series


If you haven’t done so already, take a look at Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, back in fighting mode for a third season this year. Based on Margaret Atwood’s book of the same name, which describes a dystopian world in which women are forced into sexual servitude to repopulate the planet, the televised adaptation has already gone darker than the novelist’s vision.

Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, the explosive women’s prison drama that has smashed stereotypes on gender, race and sexuality, is entering its seventh and final season this year.

Moving on to darker terrain, fans of true crime should make time for Netflix’s The Central Park Five, a four-part miniseries based on the highly controversial case of five black and Latino teens from Harlem who were wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman jogging in New York’s Central Park. And Netflix won plaudits last year for The Staircase, a docuseries that examines the case of a novelist who was convicted of murdering his wife.

Finally, if you are looking for something a little lighter, Netflix’s Tales of the City is an adaptation of the cult Armistead Maupin novels about the colourful occupants of a funky San Francisco house. Olympia Dukakis plays Anna Madrigal, the transgender landlady who sticks neatly rolled joints on to the doors of her new lodgers. Back in the late 1970s and 1980s, Maupin’s novels broke new ground in describing LGBT culture.

By Lorraine Mallinder

Fotos: PR