The Rambler :: blog

Thursday, November 06, 2003

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So, as we watched London become obscured in cordite smoke and explosions last night, milady and I were talking about US TV vs UK TV, prompted by the fact that The Office has been sold to the USA, where it is being remade for a US audience (oh, and apparently Ricky Gervais is due to appear in Alias, which is just weird). And the thing is, why is it that American TV seem, in general, to make better sci-fi/thriller series, and the UK - again in general - make better comedy? Because it's not a budget thing - Buffy, and the X-Files, for example, were pretty low-budget to start with; yet since Doctor Who, British TV just hasn't come close to anything the USA has produced in the genre. The idea we settled on was that the big sci-fi/thrillers have had great big narrative arcs that have sustained them over at least one series - usually several. 24 (pretty soon to be 72, mark my words) [Update: er, it appears it already has, oops...], Buffy, X-Files, Babylon 5, etc. etc. all have giant narrative arcs; whereas comedy is much better suited to episodes (although, actually, the best part of The Office was the development of Tim and Dawn's relationship over the two series). And for some reason British writers/producers tend to think in episodes (see also Doctor Who, in fact), and American ones think on a much grander narrative scale (hey, even some of the comedies, like Friends, have big storylines). So maybe it does come down to budget after all - are British producers and commissioners too scared to produce anything large-scale, that can't be pulled half-way through? Or too scared to commission a series that simply has to run to 10, 12, 24 episodes? It's also notable that even when the big, 'writerly' projects do make it to British screens, they'll be in two feature-length episodes (Henry the Eighth, The Lost Prince), or episodically, to the point of wilfully jettisoning the narrative structure of the original (Canterbury Tales). And this is not a point of criticism - everything mentioned here has, at the least, been pretty good, and most is excellent - but it's an interesting point of national comparison.

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