Turnabout is Fair Play

by Kieran Healy on February 13, 2006

Andy Hamilton on this week’s News Quiz, quoted from memory: “What gets me about these hardline clerics in Iran and Iraq is how they think Sharia law should apply over here. How would people in Iran feel if they woke up one morning and found that Lambeth Council had wheel-clamped all their cars?” (“Or invaded,” one is alas tempted to add. But it was a good joke all the same.)

Incidentally, Radio 4’s The News Quiz, when set against NPR’s execrable Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, joins the long list of cultural objects that serve to illustrate the difference between Britain and the United States. Others include The Office (UK) vs The Office (US), Yes Prime Minister vs The West Wing, and so on.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Crooked Timber » » Hugh Laurie
02.13.06 at 3:13 pm
Crooked Timber » » Best TV miniseries
02.17.06 at 12:51 pm

{ 94 comments }

1

willie mink 02.13.06 at 10:12 am

Sorry this is off-topic, but hey, David H is back, and he’s bigger and scarier than ever! His new book-length attack on the academy comes out today. He’s called on his troops to write glowing reviews of it at Amazon, without of course having read it. On his blog he writes, “I’m asking my supporters to get and read The Professors and post reviews that will drown the postings of these luddites and alert visitors to Amazon to its actual contents.”

Go to Amazon and at least give “no” votes to the bogus positive reviews.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/0895260034/ref=cm_rev_next/102-5318644-5720960?%5Fencoding=UTF8&customer-reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=283155&s=books&customer-reviews.start=11

2

Paul Gottlieb 02.13.06 at 10:26 am

I’ll have to call bullshit here! The American version of The Office is excellent, and excellent in different ways from the original model. The West Wing and Yes Prime Minister are in no way analogous, so the comparison is stupid (though, to be fair, we have no decent political satire to compare with Yes Minister). I lived in London for a year, and no culture whose idea of television included “Open all Night”, “The Two Ronnies”, “One man and his Dog”, and 24 hours of snooker every week should be casting stones

3

Dirk 02.13.06 at 10:32 am

Yes, and I am sick of Commonwealth snobs dissing the US verion of The Office. With the demise of Arrested Development, The Office is the best comedy on US television right now. I don’t care how it compares with the UK version and neither do most viewers.

4

CM 02.13.06 at 10:34 am

So what’s execrable about it?

5

Simstim 02.13.06 at 10:36 am

The News Quiz has its blindspots, such as when the chairman, Simon Hoggart, got exposed as a player in the Blunkett Affair. HIGNFY dealt with that sort of problem a lot better in my view.

6

des von bladet 02.13.06 at 10:39 am

Foolish Merkins, you’re different and that’s bad.

(For bonus points, see if you can’t spot which part of this Kieran didn’t say. Hint: italics.)

7

Dan Drezner 02.13.06 at 10:43 am

C’mon Kieran — you’re talking apples and oranges with Yes, Prime Minister and The West Wing, and the U.S. version of The Office holds up pretty well — and improved markedly once it departed from the UK scripts.

If you really want to go down this path, tho — at least the U.S. had the good ense never to import Neighbors.

8

Adam 02.13.06 at 10:58 am

I disagree with your statement about Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, but I would defend, to the death, your right to say it.

9

Delicious Pundit 02.13.06 at 11:00 am

“Excreable” is inaptly placed. It seems to modify West Wing and Office (US). Take that away and the sentence, on its own, is definitely true (although West Wing is not my cup of tea; the characters all seem to talk alike). The Office (US) is not as merciless towards its characters as the UK version, where we liked Tim, but also understood his self-laceration as kind of accurate — he is a little weak.

I could go on. but my own office calls.

10

Martin James 02.13.06 at 11:01 am

There seems to be an insuperable problem with a rational theory of democracy and political states.

Its the denominator problem. What size group should count as a political unit?

Other than the extremes of universalism and one person, one political unit, what rational basis is there for any other size for the political unit?

Analagous problems occur with the concept of a just punishment and duty-to-self versus duty-to-others. How big is the sense of “fair play”?

If one is too insecure to be a radical libertarian and too cosmopolitan to be an historico-ethno-nationalist, what choice is left but flavors of universalism?

The sooner we get a global culture, the better, I need to know whether to buy my daughter a burka, a sari or a mini-skirt.

11

Kieran Healy 02.13.06 at 11:17 am

I’m not saying the Brits unequivocally come out ahead on this comparison, just that, e.g., U.S. television would never produce a show like Yes Prime Minister, and vice versa for the West Wing.

12

Kieran Healy 02.13.06 at 11:19 am

Neighbors is of course an Australian disease, not a British one — a kind of bird flu of the mind — though you’re right that the U.K. was uniquely susceptible to infection by it.

13

Chris Bertram 02.13.06 at 11:20 am

The UK is certainly much worse at cop shows and hospital dramas than the US.

UK cop shows (bad): The Bill.
UK cops shows (good): Cops, Between the Lines.

US cop shows (superb): Hill St Blues, HLOTS.
US cop shows (good): NYPD Blue, CSI, L&O

UK hospital shows (bad): Casualty, Holby City

US hospital shows (superb): ER, House
US hospital shows (ok): Chicago Hope, St Elsewhere

But good or bad the UK shows all nearly seem characterized by a grittier aesthetic than the US ones and the US ones are often very upfront in steering the drama towards a corny moral message or having the writers let us know how smart they are in a really obvious way (cf the way in which cultural references are handled in Sopranos, 6FU, West Wing etc).

Exception from all criticism is hereby made for the greatest, grittiest cop show ever, HLOTS, may the execs who cancelled it burn in hell forever.

14

soru 02.13.06 at 11:21 am

I need to know whether to buy my daughter a burka, a sari or a mini-skirt

Maybe a really short burka?

soru

15

tom bach 02.13.06 at 11:30 am

Wait Wait is awful; the US Office is worse the UK version; Snooker rocks; nothing in the UK approaches the Simpsons in quality or wit. However, over-air-tv in the UK is by and large much worse than the US. On the plus side, the afternoon movie selections were great and they had both the Thunderbirds and Stingray.

16

Ginger Yellow 02.13.06 at 11:34 am

A more relevant/interesting point of comparison for The West Wing would surely be House of Cards/To Play The King/Final Cut.

17

Chris Bertram 02.13.06 at 11:37 am

A more relevant/interesting point of comparison for The West Wing would surely be House of Cards/To Play The King/Final Cut.

Or, to lower the tone by several notches, First Among Equals.

18

bob 02.13.06 at 11:41 am

Yes, Wait Wait is execrable, but at least you can hear Whad’Ya Know? on NPR!
http://www.notmuch.com/

19

des von bladet 02.13.06 at 11:42 am

Re: 10. There seems to be an insuperable problem with a rational theory of democracy and political states.

There does indeed; there most certainly does. But the absence of a rational universe to apply their many theories to somehow never seems to stop them. It is a very great mystery, for sure.

20

abb1 02.13.06 at 11:43 am

Come on, wait-wait is not that bad.

NYPD Blue is good? I suppose, if you don’t mind Soviet-style sozrealism.

21

Brendan 02.13.06 at 11:45 am

All the stuff about quality and acting and so forth misses the real reason British TV is so much better than American TV. British (terrestrial) TV is better than American (terrestrial) TV because there’s so much swearing nowadays on British TV and as everyone knows swearing rocks.

22

Ray 02.13.06 at 11:49 am

ITYM swearing is the fucking dog’s bollocks

23

otto 02.13.06 at 11:50 am

The general flavour of US/UK comparisons is that US TV shows depict the educated/professional classes as heroes, whereas the UK counterparts do not (compare ER and Casualty, Westwing and Yes,Minister).

That’s all of a piece with 1920s feel of US politics and society more generally.

24

Ginger Yellow 02.13.06 at 11:50 am

The man Brendan has a point.

25

Ginger Yellow 02.13.06 at 11:52 am

There’s not a chance in a million that a US network would make The Thick Of It, which is far and away the best thing on telly in the last few years.

26

Russell Arben Fox 02.13.06 at 11:53 am

Chris,

I agree that HLOTS was about as good as television police dramas have ever been, though I’m not as upset with it’s cancellation as you are. The series, even once it was on solid ground with all pistons firing, was almost purposefully rickety: the writers were always introducing plot points that were never resolved, shifting terrain on viewers and performers without warning, abandoning half-finished conflicts and ideas because they just didn’t seem to know how to resolve. It was part of that show’s whole shaggy-dog charm. For it to just slam to a close one day struck me as perfectly appropriate.

And what’s with calling St. Elsewhere only “ok”? That show–which really was only nominally about a hospital–was top notch.

27

Bobcat 02.13.06 at 11:55 am

The Simpsons is no longer a good show, and hasn’t been since about season 8.

Also, I’m surprised no one mentioned The Wire and Homicide as good cop shows.

And The Sopranos is a pretty good show, too, no?

28

Aki 02.13.06 at 12:16 pm

Queer as Folk (UK) vs Queer as Folk (US)

29

Martin James 02.13.06 at 12:24 pm

Soru:

Maybe a really short burka? Perfect! In fact, I’m going to market it in Denmark!

All this TV and radio talk is so 20th century.

But I am curious as to the UK equivalents of

Springer,
The Super Bowl,
Leno and Letterman,
Home shopping network

I don’t know about the UK, but one episode of the incomparable Iron Chef made me realize the USA is an uncultured wasteland where food is concerned.

30

Ginger Yellow 02.13.06 at 12:27 pm

Bobcat: I don’t think the UK has any direct equivalent for the Sopranos – partly because of the shorter seasons and partly because we only blow bigs bucks on (non-soap) drama when it’s set well in the past. Britain just doesn’t seem to do well written, multi-series, high production value serious dramas.

31

Adam Kotsko 02.13.06 at 12:28 pm

I think the world would be better served if NPR affiliates simply went off the air on Saturday mornings.

Has anyone ever heard “Piano Jazz” (it airs on Sunday mornings in Chicago)? It’s a good thing that there’s no FCC regulation against putting drunk old women on the radio.

32

Ginger Yellow 02.13.06 at 12:32 pm

Springer: Trisha (even more meretricious than Springer)
The Super Bowl: The FA Cup Final, although there is no equivalent to the US’s Superbowl Ads phenomenon
Leno and Letterman: no direct equivalent (as in a daily chat show based on the news), but probably the likes of Graham Norton and Jonathan Ross
Home shopping network: QVC is alive and well in Britain, along with its many

33

abb1 02.13.06 at 12:41 pm

I think the world would be better served if NPR affiliates simply went off the air on Saturday mornings.

What about Whad’ya Know? What about A Prairie Home Companion?

34

abb1 02.13.06 at 12:42 pm

Cartalk?

35

Russell Arben Fox 02.13.06 at 12:45 pm

“Also, I’m surprised no one mentioned The Wire and Homicide as good cop shows.”

Bobcat, Chris and I were referring to “Homicide: Life on the Streets” as “HLOTS.” So don’t worry, it has been duly noted.

36

soru 02.13.06 at 12:46 pm

I don’t think the UK has any direct equivalent for the Sopranos

Spooks/MI5 maybe.

Also, Life on Mars goes in the UK cop shows (superb) category – expect to see it, or a remake, in the US some time soon.

soru

37

tom bach 02.13.06 at 1:22 pm

Whether or not the Simpsons is a good as it was is not the issue, is it?

Germany has something like Letterman/Leno Harald Schmidt, I think it is/was, who is/was dreadful. And someone sort of like Conan only funnier: Stefan Raab’s TV Total.

38

Grant 02.13.06 at 1:55 pm

Wait, Wait…the Worst, Worst on public radio in the US

39

Christine 02.13.06 at 2:19 pm

Since Chris Bertram mentioned House on the US side, an obvious question is: Hugh Laurie in House, or Hugh Laurie in Blackadder?

(And since no-one else has done it, I apologise on behalf of all Australians for Neighbours. But it would have gone away long ago if the Poms weren’t so susceptible. The infection there is so deep that even recent transplants from the US are affected: what else can explain why Madonna seems all of a sudden to be imitating Kylie Minogue?)

40

Tyrone Slothrop 02.13.06 at 2:26 pm

Wait, Wait is much better live, before they take out all the unscripted bits and the parts that might offend someone, somewhere, and before they start editing in redubs of segues, etc. Sadly, this is not really all that redeeming vis-a-vis its qualities as radio programming.

41

tim bayliss 02.13.06 at 2:29 pm

It’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” (singular, not plural) – a state of mind, not a set of thoroughfares.
It’s being shown every weekday on the Mystery Channel in North America right now. They’ve just got into the final season, which Channel 4 in the UK purchased but never showed. TV executives are annoying on both sides of the pond.

42

LowLife 02.13.06 at 2:52 pm

I have to say that Upstairs, Downstairs was better than Nob’s Hill. But That Was The Week That Was was not much better than That Was The Week That Was and that might be (correct me if I’m wrong) because David Frost was responsible for both. I understand that All In The Family was taken from a British comedy, though, not have seen the British version I’m not qualified to offer an opinion. Nonetheless, I shall. I doubt if the Archie and Edith characters were in anyway better protrayed than here but I’m willing to bet that the British scripts were funnier. BTW, none of this post is meant to portay my age.

43

taalinukko 02.13.06 at 3:32 pm

I am so getting Karl Casell’s voice on my home answering machine…

44

Russell Arben Fox 02.13.06 at 3:33 pm

Sorry to have messed up the title of your series, Tim; the extra “s” was a mistake. (And hey, it’s good to see you blogging! I kind of figured you’d be a natural for it. You and Munch. Seen much of Pembleton, lately?)

45

Adam Kotsko 02.13.06 at 3:39 pm

Prairie Home Companion comes on at night, not in the morning.

46

John Quiggin 02.13.06 at 3:43 pm

There was a time when The Bill was pretty good by comparison with most US cop shows. But that was a long time ago.

47

Tad Brennan 02.13.06 at 3:44 pm

Hey, go easy on “Piano Jazz”–marian mcpartland does some amazing interviews. You should hear her interview with Teddy Wilson, who played on all of the greatest recordings with Billy Holiday and Lester Young. It turns out he was a huge Horowitz fan (Vladimir, not David, thank god) who would try to catch VH concerts wherever he could.

Yeah, the show drags sometimes, but McPartland is a national treasure.

48

JRoth 02.13.06 at 3:48 pm

I’m baffled by the opprobrium aimed at Wait, Wait but, more importantly, stunned that any of you have a single kind word for that smug, witless waste-of-airtime Whaddya Know? Unctuous host, tiresomely dull “musical” accompaniment, and earnestly ignorant “real people” contestants. If any of you would rather listen to Joan from Omaha than Charles Pierce… well, I just don’t even know what to say. Which is why I don’t belong on the radio, whereas Pierce or Paula Poundstone do.

49

Giovanni Ribisi 02.13.06 at 3:57 pm

Who wants to listen to Charles Pierce? He’s awful, one of those guys who is not nearly as funny as he thinks he is.

50

abb1 02.13.06 at 3:58 pm

It’s not witless, Feldman is very good.

51

nick s 02.13.06 at 4:03 pm

The Carell Office has matured into its own thing, in a way that hasn’t happened in quite a while for US adaptations of British comedies. If you only saw the early episodes, when they were still taking their cues from the original, you should give it another look.

As for WWDTM, it’s like all NPR, save perhaps Car Talk. I don’t know whether they add the holier-than-thou in the production studio, but it reminds me that the relative lack of condescension from the BBC’s speech radio is a thing to be cherished.

52

abb1 02.13.06 at 4:20 pm

I don’t know whether they add the holier-than-thou in the production studio, but it reminds me that the relative lack of condescension from the BBC’s speech radio is a thing to be cherished.

Well, the NPR is paid for by contributions. People who contribute are upper middle class Americans. We get what we’ve paid for.

53

Rahul Sinha 02.13.06 at 4:36 pm

Coupling (UK) vs Coupling (US)? No contest, I’m sure you would all agree.

Chris Bertram, for great police dramas, Prime Suspect?

As mentioned before, between House of Cards and Yes (Prime) Minister, surely West Wing is outweighed (and would we all treasure WW so much if there wasn’t a Republican in office?).

What is our (the US) Foyle’s war?

Even Rome is a BBC/HBO production, and therefore cannot really be in our corner (shot in Italy, staffed by British actors and actresses… its a draw at best).

-RS

54

Kieran Healy 02.13.06 at 4:43 pm

It’s not witless, Feldman is very good.

Aw, no — he’s unlistenable. I have a broken alarm clock in the garage that has better timing than him.

55

TheDeadlyShoe 02.13.06 at 4:45 pm

Hmm, does Adult Swim broadcast in the UK? I mean.. Harvey Birdman. Yeah.

56

Urinated State of America (M.A. Cantab) 02.13.06 at 4:45 pm

“I lived in London for a year, and no culture whose idea of television included “Open all Night”, “The Two Ronnies”, “One man and his Dog”, and 24 hours of snooker every week should be casting stones”

Man, those are a lot of what I miss about the UK.

US hospital shows: very good. Also the short-lived Gideon’s landing (the hilarious episode where one of the doctor’s mistook a testosterone patch for a nicotine patch) and Gray’s Anatomy. Don’t know why the UK hospital shows suck by comparison: think the almost-holy place of the NHS in UK makes the grittiness and base ambition shown in the US shows harder to do.

And yes, NPR is worse than Radio 4, but it’s still the better than most US radio.

57

John Isbell 02.13.06 at 5:03 pm

What’s really missing on US TV is sheepdog trials. You’d think Animal Planet could fit it in between the funny videos.

58

otto 02.13.06 at 5:39 pm

And yes, NPR is worse than Radio 4, but it’s still the better than most US radio.

Alas, with the passing of Morning Sedition, Morning Edition will have to do.

59

Henry (not the famous one) 02.13.06 at 5:54 pm

On the subject of Homicide and its creaky plot lines: that may be the result of the fact that it was taken from a book written by a Baltimore Sun reporter who spent a year with a squad of homicide detectives, dealing with cases that did not always get wrapped up in any way. The first season episode with the child murder suspect whom Pembleton tried and failed to break? Straight out of the book. Likewise the suicide of I forgot his name.
Of course the plot lines did get creakier as time went on. But it was a hell of a show. I’m told The Wire is its equal.

60

Henry (not the famous one) 02.13.06 at 6:06 pm

The worst knockoff has to be “Says You,” that attempt by the NPR affiliate in Boston to do a US version of “My Word.” Panelists who laugh at their own jokes, whose invented definitions are witless and who don’t know what words like “juggernaut” originally meant.

61

Brendan 02.13.06 at 6:33 pm

I’ll tell you what the BBC (or any British channel) has no equivalent for: The Shield.

62

dr ngo 02.13.06 at 6:45 pm

FWIW, All In the Family was based on Till Death Do Us Part, as Sanford and Son was based on Steptoe and Son. (I can’t remember the name of the UK show on which Three’s Company is based.)

In both the first two cases, the US version was much softer, with more effort to be “lovable,” particularly in comparison with TDDUP. Equally funny, but in a different mode of laughter. But exactly the same point could be made of the TV M.A.S.H., as opposed to the (American) movie on which it was based.

For better or worse, American network television has been permeated by the idea that if you want viewers to “invite you into their living room” week after week, you’d better not be TOO nasty or grim. Cable, on the other hand, has no such compunction, and I’d put the best of US cable (including Sopranos and the not-yet-mentioned The Shield) up against British TV at its best.

And, at the other end of the scale, match Hee-Haw with Benny Hill.

Signed,

Longtime Anglophile

63

dr ngo 02.13.06 at 6:46 pm

WRT The Shield, make that “not-yet-mentioned-at-the-time-I-was-composing-this.”

64

sharon 02.13.06 at 6:53 pm

The US version of Queer as Folk was fucking criminal.

I’m currently wondering what an American version of Shameless would look like. (Presumably Ian would have to be Californian, blonde, buff, and at least 25, for a start.) Or anything by Paul Abbott, come to think of it.

65

Chris Bertram 02.13.06 at 6:59 pm

The first season episode with the child murder suspect whom Pembleton tried and failed to break? Straight out of the book. Likewise the suicide of I forgot his name.

1. The Adina Watson case.
2. Crosetti.

and I was so besotted with Sgt Kay Howard (Melissa Leo).

66

Chris Bertram 02.13.06 at 7:00 pm

Oh and the book was David Simon.

67

tim bayliss 02.13.06 at 7:25 pm

Thankyou for your good wishes, Russell (at 45 above). As you may know, Frank Pembleton moved to LA to work with Kojak. He and Mary and the kids are doing fine, though he gets tired of explaining that the “X.” in his name is a Catholic thing, not a Nation of Islam thing. Munch is too busy chasing sex criminals in NYC to do much blogging. As for me, I’m not blogging either – just passing through here on my way to a higher state (Washington, or maybe Oregon).
Oh, and Kay Howard (see 66 above)? I preferred her sister – though it’s true, she did look remarkably like her.

68

Backword Dave 02.13.06 at 7:45 pm

I’m a Brit, and I agree that “Yes, [Prime] Minister” doesn’t compare to “The West Wing”. But so what? I agree that “I Love Lucy” doesn’t compare to “Phoenix Nights.”
I’m not trying to troll. I often agree with Kieran. When I don’t (as here), I assume that he’s merely expressed himself badly.
This may be a shocking concept, but can we agree to promote good TV (or other media) on their merits, rather than national prejudices?

69

schwa 02.13.06 at 7:52 pm

In re Harvey Birdman – absolutely nothing that Adult Swim tries to pass off as “comedy” is funny to non-Americans, unless you count The Boondocks as comedy.

The House of Cards/West Wing comparison is apt — and very, very hard to pick between. I think I’d take WW, at least the Sorkin seasons, but only just barely. (On another level, it’s still a good illustration of the cultural divide, because the thought of American television portraying a prominent public figure as an utter bastard in the mold of F.U. is laughable. It might try, but you’d end up with a cartoonishly one-dimensional bastard à la Donald Sutherland in the mercifully euthanised Commander in Chief).

Any discussion of superb hospital shows cannot omit Scrubs, even though it’s far from the traditional formula.

70

Backword Dave 02.13.06 at 7:57 pm

I’m a Brit, and I agree that “Yes, [Prime] Minister” doesn’t compare to “The West Wing”. But so what? I agree that “I Love Lucy” doesn’t compare to “Phoenix Nights.”
I’m not trying to troll. I often agree with Kieran. When I don’t (as here), I assume that he’s merely expressed himself badly.
This may be a shocking concept, but can we agree to promote good TV (or other media) on their merits, rather than national prejudices?

Nothing, but nothing, on UK TV compares to the invincible CSI. Grissom (from Red Dragon, for those who like movies), the square-jawed cast, and the triumph of the scientific method. It’s propaganda, but it’s our propaganda.

(Of course the clever and the rational don’t always win in real life. Look at election results in the US from 1980 onwards, and the UK 1979 to 1992 and 1997 onward. I liked Major: he was a prole, just like me, and he tried.)

71

Kieran Healy 02.13.06 at 8:42 pm

Dave, I think I’m trying to say that good U.S. TV and good U.K. TV are typically very different products, and that there are some kinds of good TV that you can’t imagine the other country doing well — not that the U.K. uniformly produces better TV than the U.S.

72

DonBoy 02.13.06 at 10:31 pm

Life On Mars is the rare show that would both need to be translated radically in an American version, and would not be a waste of time doing so. I have a longish piece on it from the viewpoint of an American who lived in the UK as a teenager in the early 1970s here.

Three’s Company was based on Man About the House. I was back in the US for TC and had never seen the original, but when I first saw the Regal Beagle, I announced to my viewing companion “This is an adaptation of a British show! I guarantee it!” Because it looked like every British sitcom’s “they all go down to the pub” scene.

And for those who know current TV in both countries: is there currently anything as routinely on-target and vicious as (the first half of) The Daily Show in Britain, or is it more a matter of “about time you Yanks figured out how to do that right”?

73

phil 02.13.06 at 11:10 pm

Nothing, but nothing, on UK TV compares to the invincible CSI.

Waking the Dead? Maybe not to CSI, but it sees CSI:Miami off in short order.

74

Ted 02.13.06 at 11:35 pm

Benny Hill?

75

nick s 02.14.06 at 12:35 am

Life On Mars is the rare show that would both need to be translated radically in an American version, and would not be a waste of time doing so.

Ooh, must see.

There was a British version of That 70s Show that had a short, unhappy run — it got pulled, which is rare — under the title Days Like These. Although the 1970s provided many UK-US crossovers, it’s much harder to translate a deliberate portrayal of that decade.

is there currently anything as routinely on-target and vicious as (the first half of) The Daily Show in Britain

The opening segment? Probably Bremner, Bird & Fortune rather than HIGNFY. But the British don’t have as good source material, in terms of the woeful ‘news’ organisations that Stewart skewers.

76

Don N 02.14.06 at 12:45 am

The News Quiz better than Wait, Wait! The sophmoric and damn stupid, unwatchable Office (UK) better than the juior and somehat stupid office (US). What the heck is Kieran up to. This better be satire. The last good show from UK to lesson the US is Rompole, and that is so long ago that I don’t belive it counts.

Office, my goodness. I challenge US viewers to watch the UK version and not gag.

Don N.

77

d c walker 02.14.06 at 1:47 am

Poor old ‘Neighbours’ has come in for a bit of a thrashing – and it is, with the greatest of respect, spelt with a ‘u’ – which, don’t get me wrong, is fully deserved. But I’m sure the reason it was never bought by a US network is that there more than enough US produced crap TV and they don’t really need to import crap Australian TV.

Although the US did import a tragic soap from Oz called ‘Prisoner’, which I think aired as ‘Cell Block H’. I wonder if Queen Bea and Vinegar Tits had their voices dubbed – does crap translate?

Oh yes, one more thing. Not even in Australia do we have the poor taste to air ‘Neighbours’ twice a day.

78

Keith Gaughan 02.14.06 at 2:55 am

Want something to compare to The Daily Show? Well, how about Brasseye? Not quite the same, but the intent is similar enough to make them comparable.

79

Jake 02.14.06 at 2:56 am

Normally I stay the fuck out of the water here because it’s way over my head, but yay! Teevee!

I’ve been watching some of U.K.’s “The Mighty Boosh”, and I think it’s very anagalous to Adult Swim stuff, say Aqua Teen Hunger Force. And this is purely anectodal, but I know two Austrians that swear by Space Ghost.

I agree that Adult Swim has a narrow target demo, and in it’s more extreme forms (zB 12 Oz. Mouse) it becomes so absurdist as to lose all but the most stoned of teenagers, but Space Ghost, Sealab, and ATHF are all, to my mind, seminal pieces of comedy that really did change how people laugh, esp. people around my age (early 20s).

I’m not saying that the Mighty Boosh is indebted to Adult Swim (or, more accurately, Williams Street), or that without Adult Swim you don’t get the Mighty Boosh, but the blend of pure absurdity combined with tiny moments of characters just small-talking to each other is something that I don’t think existed, say, thirty years ago.

And don’t bring up Monty Python, because while they were absurd, there was nearly always a straigh man in the skit, someone to say double you tee eff?. Adult Swim and the Mighty Boosh feature characters in surreal situations who take no more note of it than most people would to seeing the mailman. A spider that raps about candy is an annoyance; putting the Techno Mouse that’s taken a gram of speed and two microdots into the Ambient Hutch is part of the daily grind.

80

Jack 02.14.06 at 3:00 am

For the daily show there was The Day Today and Brass Eye. Another radio spin off.

Chris Morris was even better during his brief sojourn on the Radio 1 breakfast show. It all eneded after he rang John Gummer asking for a reaction to an as yet unmade Labour policy statement. Gummer was told that they didn’t know which way the Labour party was going to come out and asked for a reaction in either case. He obliged with equally mouth foam in both cases and both were broadcast. The Day Today and even Brass Eye (even if immortalised in Hansard over “cake” dealers) are tame by comparison.

81

Ray 02.14.06 at 7:47 am

How about The League of Gentlemen? Any US equivalents?

82

finnsense 02.14.06 at 7:59 am

The main difference between US and UK TV was that back in the day, UK TV comprised small gems of a few episodes, whereas the US TV was full of copious amounts of quite good stuff. Think Yes Minister/PM (24 episodes max), Blackadder (24 episodes), Fawlty Towers (12 epsiodes), I’m Alan Partridge (12 episodes), the office (12 epsiodes).

Then compare US TVs best: ER (4 million episodes), the West Wing (ditto), Friends (200 million episodes). These days the US does quality and quantity.

The Brits are good but you could watch all the good TV in about a week. You could watch all the good US TV for a few hours every day.

83

Ginger Yellow 02.14.06 at 8:26 am

Brilliant though they were, neither The Day Today nor Brass Eye were trying to do quite what The Daily Show does. The events they covered were fictional. I think they do a better job satirising the infotainment culture and media hypocrisy (if only because they were so funny and prescient) than TDS, but TDS does a better job with the political culture. Britain doesn’t seem to be very good at regular topical news satire (not since That Was The Week That Was, anyway), possibly because we don’t have the late night chat show tradition. Have I Got News For You is extremely tired and wasn’t that great in its prime. Absent Ali G, Rich Hall and Ricky Gervais,the 11 O’Clock was awful, and even with them was only OK. Meanwhile new boy Mock the Week is more akin to Whose Line Is It Anyway than anything else, and Broken News is, well, broken.

Going back to the original comparison it strikes me that there is a US counterpart to the UK Office, and it’s The Larry Sanders Sanders Show. I think it’s true to say such shows are much more likely to get made in Britain, but the US does produce them occasionally, and can make them just as well.

84

Republic of Palau 02.14.06 at 8:28 am

I can’t resist, I must delurk for this.
What about the BBC’s The Thick of It, and the insane Nighty Night, and Channel 4’s Peepshow, which I was lucky enough to get on DVD at Christmas, although it’s not shown in NL.

I can’t see US television producing anything like these comedies, now or in the future.

85

Mrs Tilton 02.14.06 at 9:40 am

Tom Bach at #37:

Germany has something like Letterman/Leno Harald Schmidt, I think it is/was, who is/was dreadful. And someone sort of like Conan only funnier: Stefan Raab’s TV Total.

Now I really cannot let that pass unchallenged.

(Old) Harald Schmidt wasn’t ‘like’ Letterman/Leno, it was explicitly modelled on Letterman. Indeed, self-deprecating jokes about ripping Letterman off were a running gag on the show, which far from being dreadful was, to my mind, often rather better than the American original. (Certainly better than more recent Letterman.)

(New) Harald Schmidt is the same Schmidt, but streamlined (two nights a week only; monologue/duologue with ‘producer’ Manuel Andrack; SFAIK no non-musical guests and not always one of those. Schmidt did have Adam Green on, though. Green is huge in Germany).

Not to argue that Conan’s funny, but he’s certainly funnier than Raab. But then, so too is having your eyeballs removed by slow rough rubbing with white-hot steel-wool dipped in Tabasco suace.

Schmidt is an exception to the rule that Germans are unfunny (and never more unfunny than when doing comedy). Raab emphatically isn’t.

86

alex 02.14.06 at 10:31 am

A couple of other shows that have not been mentioned yet and that would not, I think, be made in the US…

Best UK hospital series? Cardian Arrest – savage but , my doctor friends used to admit, all too accurate.

School series? The under-rated Teachers – again, a series sufficiently jaundiced about education as to be unlikely to find a US counterpart – and certainly not on network TV.

No UK equivalent to preposterous but highly entertainnig trash such as Boston Legal.

That said, Desperate Housewifes owes something, or is at least related to, Footballers Wives.

87

Frank 02.14.06 at 10:39 am

OZ v Porridge?

88

Alison 02.14.06 at 11:48 am

Best UK hospital series? Cardiac Arrest

I also liked ‘Bodies’ – which has had 2 runs on BBC2. It’s set in an obstetrics ward, and it uses explicit imagery that I literally never thought I would see on TV. it’s got a sharper adrenaline kick and more interesting characters than any hospital drama I’ve seen, even including early ER which was fantastic. One of those shows where I have to get up and walk about because I am so agitated and upset by events on screen.

89

dave heasman 02.14.06 at 1:49 pm

“McPartland is a national treasure.”

An English national treasure. Sure she’s kind of bland, but the shows are an invaluable archive. And almost everyone goes on the show; Shipp to Mehldau seem to respect her.

90

nick s 02.14.06 at 4:28 pm

Absent Ali G, Rich Hall and Ricky Gervais,the 11 O’Clock was awful, and even with them was only OK.

The 11 O’Clock Show was essentially a rip-off of the Craig Kilborn-era Daily Show, with Daisy Donovan in the Beth Littleford role.

91

Frank 02.14.06 at 5:25 pm

Shameless v the Waltons?

92

The Pirate Captain 02.14.06 at 8:21 pm

At least we had the good sense to ignore Oasis after a few years.

93

The Pirate Captain 02.14.06 at 8:29 pm

Also, come on, before you get too hard on American comedies, we made Arrested Development and My Name Is Earl. And Seinfeld. I like to think that makes up for King of Queens and Moesha.

Plus, we got Deadwood. “House of Cards” and “I, Claudius” are the only British dramas that even come close to Deadwood.

94

drill_here_fore_seismics 02.15.06 at 7:47 am

As no one’s mentioned them yet- BBC3, (the originator of ‘Bodies’), also came up with the legal drama ‘Outlaws’ (BAFTA nominated, but not picked up for a second series) and ‘Conviction’ a fairly gritty police procedural, which did have distant echoes of ‘The Shield’ (a member of the police team trying to cover up a murder he’d committed). Both failed to get the attention they deserved.

Also, while heavily indebted to ‘OZ’, ‘Buried’ on Channel 4 was an intriguing prison drama that didn’t make it past the first series. It was very downbeat and dour as I recall.

After watching a few shows like these it struck me that UK television is perfectly capable of producing drama on a par with the best of US television, but seems to lack the commitment or courage to back them beyond 1 or 2 series. I rememebr ‘The Cops’ dying a fairly slow death as each series seemed to have less and less episodes.

Certainly in the case of ‘Outlaws’, which was critically acclaimed and BAFTA nominated, all that was missing was the audience, which the BBC didn’t seem to be arsed to chase, with a real lack of promotion for the show and constantly shifting it around the schedule. In the end a second series was not commisioned, so there was less chance of an audience growing organically.

Comments on this entry are closed.