Thursday, November 02, 2006

I am trying to understand British Television

Something very odd occurred to me last night: I really don't understand British television.

I don't mean I don't understand the society that is being portrayed or the diction that is being used, but rather, I don't understand how things are scheduled based on the fact that every series I've ever seen that originated from their airwaves is less than 10 episodes in a series, though 6-8 seems to be the median length of a series.

I mean, think about it:

Blackadder - 6 series of 6 episodes each(with some extra specials).
Chef - 3 series which produced 20 episodes
The Young Ones- 13 episodes over 2 series
The Office - 14 episodes over two series
Red Dwarf - 52 episodes over 8 series
Spaced- 14 episodes over two series etc.

Whereas in the North American market, a single season is usually longer than the length of an entire run of a particular British show, and I am sure that the third season of the American version of the Office is going to be more than 14 episodes, and for the most part, we know what day, time and months of the year it is going to be shown every year, and I am just wondering how British television works... do they announce which series are going to be on throughout the year at the beginning of the fall season, or can one be surprised to find a new series starting in a time slot that a familiar favorite once occupied?

And what of reruns... do series occupy the same slot after their initial run for another go-around or what? I am struggling to comprehend how all these short series get put together over the length of a year, and how things shift around if a show doesn't film episodes for years. This whole thing is a complete mystery to me.

But I am in no way maligning these series for being so short... because to paraphrase Shakespeare, brevity truly is the soul of wit... but this problem has sort of left me witless.


Lee said...

I'm always confused how the american system for some shows (stargate and battlestar galactica) has a break halfway through the season for a couple of months - I find that really odd.

MC said...

I can't explain why they did that for Battlestar Galactica that second season, though it does seem to roughly correspond to the American Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's nexus.

DutchBitch said...

Just don't even trĂ½ to understand it.. it's useless... and be happy you are not trying to comprehend the Dutch system... phew... I've stopped caring...

David B said...

I think, traditionally, UK comedies are written by a single writer or sometimes two. US shows are, I believe, more of a community of writers. I think this is often the explanation of why our series tend to be so short. It doesn't mean ours tend to be of a higher quality. We have *lots* of dross that doesn't get broadcast abroad.

Andrew said...

The whole idea of seasons seems odd to me. I suspect the differences are down to advertising.

If you have predefined seasons where all the best shows of a particular type start at the same time the advertising costs, and therefore revenues, for that, on all networks, must be much higher.

In the UK the major competition for so long was between 1 commercial station and the BBC, so even though they were competing for ratings they were not competing on commercial terms.

In this system the advertisers are choosing whether to advertise or not. There is no real competition between commercial broadcasters and so the stations are best served by spacing out programmes across the year.

As for the length I agree that it is probably due to most series, comedy ones especially, be created by individual talent, or by independent production companies and not by permanent creative teams employed by the networks.

Anonymous said...

I have the same issues with US shows; even the ones on the networks are boasting Fall Finales as they go off of the air for reruns over our holidays here in the US.

I think (not that I know) that most British comedies don't jump the shark; that could be it?

MC said...

Dutchy: Now I guess that is something I am going to have to look into now I guess.

David B: I wasn't so much questioning how brief series run, because it seems that the British system seems to be more fluid in terms of casting and the like, but how programs go together. I know on American television for instance, you know that if you tune into a major network at 10PM on a weekday, you are 95% sure to see a drama, and before reality shows took a huge bite out of television schedule, there were timeslots that season after season you could count on to find a scripted comedy year after year after year.

Andrew: My question is when you start watching a show, are you generally aware of how long the run is going to be or does the end of the cycle come as a surprise. And while the fall season is still a huge event annually in North America, there is movement towards a much broader year-long strategy now, though I am gathering that international television is great strides ahead of us in this department.

Hilly: I think that's why Fox's decision a few years back to start some of their series at the beginning of January to allow them an uninterrupted run may be duplicated elsewhere.

Jeremy Barker said...

Perhaps they have shorter runs due to commercial considerations. Look at U.S. shows that cost millions per episode - maybe that's not a sustainable model elsewhere.

We are seeing that on the CBC, where they are moving towards shorter-run series, mostly because they can't aford longer. And I agree with you - shorter can be better.

P.S. - I loved The Young Ones

MC said...

I notice the Comedy Network/Comedy Central does a lot of short run shows too.